Champaca’s Book of the Month: A people’s movement
Editor’s Note: We feature the brilliant recommendations of our partner, the Champaca Bookstore, in the Read section twice a month. FYI: Champaca is an independent women-run and founded bookstore and children's library in Bangalore.
‘River Of Stories’ by Orijit Sen
‘River Of Stories’ by Orijit Sen is a graphic novel that documents the history of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a long struggle of a people against the state. This beautiful book tells us the story of an environmental and people’s movement against the building of the big dam. Sen captures the story of the river and its people, and the articulations and protest of the oldest inhabitants of the land. He observes and documents the details of that time and place vividly: the people, the river, the plants and trees, the farms and villages and protests.
We hear of the origin myths of the river in the voice of Malgu Gayan, an adivasi singer and storyteller. We are shown the tragedy of modern development which led to the destruction of a whole ecosystem and cultural identity and history of a people. It is a difficult book to read, knowing that the mighty Narmada is now a trickle, and the people of the river are now displaced and dispossessed. And yet, the book reminds us to recall the importance of humans gathering in dissent and protest to demand and ask for what they believe in.
A fine collection from our shelves
Are you reading with us in the Champaca Reading Challenge? We’ve put together a list of prompts designed to help us, and you read widely and more diversely. This month we are reading books with a green cover. If you have seen our logo and visited our store, with the luscious avocado tree and our many plants — you know we love the colour green! We pick prompts that encourage multiple possibilities. Read on for our recommendations. You can choose one of these, or even all five!
‘All Creatures Great and Small’ by James Herriot. Our favourite country veterinarian, James Herriot narrates his daily encounters with the people and animals of picturesque Yorkshire Dales. Set in the 1930s and 40s and first in the series of six, this semi-autobiographical work introduces us to Jim, a newcomer to the town. Written in vignettes we get drawn to the routine of his early morning calls to cold farmlands, his encounter with a raging cattle, a touching delivery of a lamb and her twin stuck in their mother’s birth canal and follow as the town grows increasingly fond of this earnest vet. Warm and humorous, Herriot's books have been a comfort read for generations!
‘Her Body And Other Parties’ by Carmen Maria Machado. In this collection of short stories, Machado writes conjuring the eeriness of fairytales and a brand of black humour akin to Angela Carter’s. In ‘The Husband Stitch’, one of the short stories in the book, we follow a young woman who was born with a green ribbon tied around her neck. She tells her husband and later her son of her one rule — do not touch or undo the ribbon. The story is narrated in a way we imagine fairy tales are narrated to children, coming with its own stage directions — on what kind of voice to use for a character and how to depict the tension in a scene. We hold our breath as the ribbon becomes a symbol of power and control in this highly charged narrative and wait till the inevitable unravelling comes to be.
‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro, a Nobel Prize Laureate and Booker Prize winner has written prolifically across genres like historical fiction (‘The Remains Of The Day’), science fiction (‘Never Let Me Go’) and crime fiction (‘When We Were Orphans’). With ‘The Buried Giant’, he ventures into the fantasy genre following the legend of King Arthur, in a world that is reminiscent of Tolkien’s. We are introduced to an elderly couple who set off to travel across a post-Arthurian England, where no one can maintain their long-term memories — losing it to what they simply call ‘The Mist’. They faintly recall they have a son and search for him across a foggy mountainous landscape. Add an elderly Sir Gawain and a dragon to the mix, and this novel makes for an intriguing read.
‘The Details’ by Ia Genberg. Translated from Swedish and written in beautiful prose, the book follows the narrator as she reminisces on all her past relationships amid a terrible illness. In each of the four chapters, we are given privy to a bygone relationship often anchored by a piece of literature. Joanna, her ex-girlfriend, who gifted her a book by Paul Auster, flits in the first recollection. Their relationship, defined by literature and reading at the heart of it, leaves her crazed after they break up and she hears Joanna on the radio saying how she never liked Paul Auster. We register her children somewhere in the background as her roles of motherhood take a step back. We see her fever mimicked in the abrupt beginnings and endings of the relationships she takes us through and we follow engrossed in the narrative.
‘We Come From The Mist: Writings from Meghalaya’ edited by Janice Pariat. An anthology brought together by novelist and poet Janice Pariat, it contains prose, poetry, musical lyrics and visual art from the women of Meghalaya. Songwriting takes an important place in the book because of Meghalaya’s deep oral traditions. With beautiful illustrations by Careen Joplin Langstieh, photographs by Menty Jamir and contributions from writers like Daribah Lyndem of ‘Name Place Animal Thing’ fame, the book in addition to capturing the political turmoil and civil unrest of the land, also brings out themes of queerness and friendship and the everyday life of the people there.
Life at Champaca
We’ve had a number of exciting online events over the past months we’d like to highlight. We had the wonderful Gita Ramaswamy, author of ‘Land, Guns, Caste, Woman’ in conversation with Shruti Viswanathan, from The Equals Project. You can revisit their conversation here.
We also had a wonderful book club for our Champaca Book Subscription in October with the authors of the books joining us! As part of our Reading India theme, we explored Imagined Futures of India that month with two very different books. Analog/Virtual by Lavanya Lakshminarayan is a science fiction dystopia. The other book we read was ‘Dreamers How Young Indians Are Changing Their World’ by Snigdha Poonam, a journalistic account of how young people think of their lives and futures in India. You can watch our interaction with Lavanya and Snighda here!
If you’re in Bangalore, we invite you to come to our lush, leafy store, attend the events and browse through our shelves with cold tender coconut water/ a hot cup of coffee, as per the whims and fancies of the ever-changing Bangalore weather!