Happy Independence Day! Partition has always been a topic of interest for me - I even did my senior thesis on refugee rehabilitation after the Partition. Reading about untold stories from people who had crossed the border in Aanchal Malhotra’s gorgeous book ‘Remnants of A Separation’, and listening to her on our podcast, got me thinking of all the other untold stories out there waiting to be captured - so many with deadlines, so many that we will never hear.
My mom and I share a Kindle and while I was browsing this month, I came across the book ‘Maid’ by Stephanie Land, and read it in one go. It’s the story of a young single mom in the US who makes her living cleaning other people’s houses. She is more often than not invisible and struggling to make ends meet. She won a grant that helped make her dream of becoming a writer come true and has now won a Netflix deal. The story made me think about the fact that almost all the stories out there are about people in just one particular social class - in urban settings across the world, working white collar jobs, going to the grocery store without worry. I find there are disproportionately fewer stories of people who have lived radically different and most often unimaginable lives available in bookstores - and those that exist often do very well.
An Unlikely Story in an Unlikely Place
Before the pandemic, on one of the family’s travels to Europe, my mom had to go to the hospital for a sprained ankle. In the waiting room, an Asian looking woman struck up a conversation with us in Urdu. She turned out to be Pakistani, from Quetta. She had arrived in Europe three months prior, and it had taken her two full years to travel to the continent.
Along with her children, she had crossed mountains and rivers and experienced many hardships only to settle down in a rather bleak, unassuming town. She said she had nothing but ‘nafrat’ for her new home. I remember my mother and I gaping in silence as she told us of her adventures.
I would love to read a book about that, I remember telling my mom. But we both knew that she would probably never write such a book. With two young children and in a new country, would she have the inclination, skills, stamina? A story such as this also opens up the consequences of exposure. Even if she did record her experiences, how would it reach people?
There are so many stories that people take to their graves - they are lost forever. The audio medium might be an interesting way to retain some of them.
A few years ago I recorded the story of my adopted grandmother who passed away last year. Her father used to cut coconuts from the trees in Kerala, and when she was around 17 she took a train to Delhi all alone in search of work. Over the years, she travelled as house-help to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and more, and her memories of all those experiences was still very sharp - I love listening to those stories even today. With the rise of podcasts, the audio medium holds many opportunities, and that’s something I can’t wait to explore as a producer.
Translations are an important bridge when it comes to diversity in publishing. But but they are far and few between in India. To find out more about translations in India, check out our publishing industry research report here.
Then there are the books written by journalists who have gone to live amongst communities different from their own. Often, in those cases you are still getting a story from a particular view point- transmuted through the teller, someone probably white, with privilege - and that person becomes the host- guiding us through the experience.
In Other Rooms Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin is one of my favourite books. Here’s the description of the book: ‘Moving from the elegant drawing rooms of Lahore to the mud villages of rural Multan, a powerful collection of short stories about feudal Pakistan.’
A Girlhood in Kashmir is another must-read. It’s a fantastic memoir about Farah Bashir’s childhood in war-torn Kashmir.
Here’s our podcast episode with her:
The Perfect Pandemic Escape Books
We love stories because they offer us a glimpse into what could have been. What if I had stayed back in New York for a job? Or chosen one college over another, or one job over another? We all have make infinite choices that can result in infinite lives. And this concept was superbly articulated in The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. The concept is simple - a woman on the verge of death gets transported to a library, where every book represents a different version of her life. All she has to do is pick one, open it up and voila! Enter a life that could have been. In one life she is an Olympic swimmer, in another a housewife, and another a researcher in the Antartica. It’s a brilliant commentary on choices, decision making and happiness. A light, feel-good read, I highly recommend it for anyone who wants an escape during the pandemic.
Speaking of escapes, do check out Susegad: the Goan Art of Contentment by Clyde D’Souza. It’s a book that takes you beyond the beaches of Goa into village life, customs, food, festivals and more, all the while teaching you how to inculcate your own version of Susegad into your life. Ever since my family bought a house in Goa a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated with Goan history and culture - the amalgamation of Portuguese and Indian cultures, the food and people. That’s what led me to discover the location of Bound’s annual writers’ retreat four years ago: we host it in a beautiful at that time undiscovered island in the middle of the Mandovi river in a beautiful 200 year old heritage Portuguese villa.
Here’s a podcast episode of Books and Beyond with Bound where Clyde shares some fabulously funny and heartwarming anecdotes about Goan history, traditions and village life.
Speaking of podcasts, Bound has started a podcasting community called Podsquad - we’re now over a 100 members strong. The group is a resource for sharing insights, sparking conversations. We regularly invite podcasters from India like Varun Duggi, Savitha Nanjappa. Ayushi Amin, Nikesh Murali, Aastha Atray to share insights with us. You can join the WhatsApp group using this link: https://chat.whatsapp.com/H853OktwN6X0tx4o6aBOTQ
That’s it from me. I hope you are keeping safe and reading. Please share your recommendations with me.
About me:I am an entrepreneur, book editor and podcaster. Here is my editing and content consulting website: http://tarakhandelwal.com/. Here is my company’s website: https://boundindia.com/We help individuals tell stories through curated live classes, mentoring, editorial services and podcast production. And here’s the link to my podcast Books and Beyond With Bound, India’s no 1 author interview podcast :
What is this newsletter: A fortnightly (mostly) letter about the books I have read and how the ideas they give me filter into my life, career and opinions.
If you have read any of the books mentioned or have thoughts on any of the things I have written - do write in! Would love to hear from you.
Until next time!
The audio medium is definitely opening up new possibilities! A few years ago, I got my Nani to record her story as a Partition survivor with the Citizen's Archive of India. And I love the unlikely stories section, I so remember a similar(ish) encounter we had in this small town in Tuscany with a Punjabi woman who had migrated there and she could only speak Punjabi & Italian. We struggled to communicate almost since we're more comfortable in Hindi /English, but somehow managed. I guess that also speaks to your point about translation. So many great themes and ideas in here. Happy Independence Day!