Recently, the good people of Times of India Bangalore asked me to answer some fun questions on books for a weekly column of theirs called 'Shelf Esteem' (ha ha, whatay pun). It was a listy kind of thing and everyone knows where I stand on lists. I promptly filled in the answers and they appeared yesterday, causing much joy among my friends and relatives. (Don't think anyone else read it!)
Since my long answers to the questions ensured that all of what I wrote could not fit in their compact column, here is the full questionnaire.
Read it and then answer these questions for yourselves!
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What are you reading right now?
Toggling between two books – an old favourite (Jeffrey Archer’s The Prodigal Daughter) and a new one (Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights). The first one is still as enjoyable and the second one may just become my favourite Rushdie novel.
Which book, author or series do you reach out for when you want a comfort read?
Satyajit Ray’s delightful Feluda and Professor Shonku stories – that were my staple reading as a child – still come to my rescue. Several other Bengali authors – Rajsekhar Basu, Lila Majumdar, Narayan Gangopadhyay – are great sources of comfort.
Ramachandra Guha’s cricket books, Mental Floss’ trivia books and Roger Ebert’s movies reviews are books I keep coming back to.
Name one book you picked up at the airport that blew your mind.
Many years ago, the bookshop attendant at Calcutta airport recommended a book (that turned out to be the third in a series) – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I was hooked from the first page and when I landed in Patna an hour later, I walked across to the Departure section and bought Books One and Two. Finished all three books over two sleepless nights and have been a JKR-devotee ever since.
Who are your favourite contemporary writers, and your favourite writers of all time?
Contemporary: Amitav Ghose, JK Rowling, Gillian Flynn among the celebrities. Arnab Ray and Sidin Vadukut among the young writers.
All-time: Apart from the ones named in the ‘comfort books’ list, Saradindu Bandopadhyay (creator of Byomkesh Bakshi), Bill Watterson, Douglas Adams, Bill Bryson are all-time favourites.
Which was the last book that made you laugh?
Sahil Rizwan aka The Vigil Idiot came up with a full book of his trademark retelling of iconic Bollywood movies earlier this year – 42 Lessons I Learnt From Bollywood. It was the kind of book that made you choke on snacks and spill water all over yourself with its zany brand of humour.
Name one book you wish everybody would read.
(Would it be too much self-publicity to plug one of my books here? Oh yes, it will be!)
I wish all of India would read Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Shei Samay (translated in English as Those Days), a stunning piece of historical fiction based in the times of the Bengal Renaissance. It is an example of how rich regional literature in India actually is. Also, how popularity and quality can coexist in the same book.
Which was the last book you just couldn't finish?
By and large, I finish books. A recent book that took the most effort to finish was Pranab Mukherjee’s autobiography. His sincerity and scholarship are in no doubt but he chose to concentrate on the minutiae of Congress governments and the Gandhi family.
Name one book that is on most must-read lists but you haven’t cracked a page.
I just could not go beyond the first chapter of Shantaram. The exotic India from the POV of exotic foreigner did nothing for me. I had started reading it when I heard of a Mira Nair film on the book starring Amitabh Bachchan. I remember wondering that it would all of their considerable talents to swing this book into a worthwhile film. Thank God the film got shelved!
If you had to get the PM of India to read one book, which one would it be?
The Complete Yes Prime Minister (by Jonathan Lynn and Anthony Jay). While at it, I should get him to send copies of Yes Minister to his Cabinet colleagues.
Are you a book hoarder or do you read every book you buy?
Unfair question to ask after forcing me to name two books I could not finish/start! But I am a book reader, I read pretty much everything that I buy.