Book Box | The little library garden at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival - Hindustan Times
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Book Box | The little library garden at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

Feb 03, 2024 08:43 PM IST

Books and films like Annapoorani and Animal, and even Marathi mutton and bhakri pop up in the library garden at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai.

Dear Reader,

Shantanu Ray Chaudhri, Michaela Talwar and Aditi Mediratta ( seated l to r) at the David Sassoon Library Garden(. Photo courtesy author) PREMIUM
Shantanu Ray Chaudhri, Michaela Talwar and Aditi Mediratta ( seated l to r) at the David Sassoon Library Garden(. Photo courtesy author)

At the David Sassoon Library, a sculpture of cascading books opens out into a little garden. People are discussing Naked, a murder mystery set in Mumbai, co-written by Aditi Mediratta and Michaela Talwar. Despite the provocative title and the swear words inside, the book has not offended anybody, the authors say. At least not yet. But times are changing.

Today, a book like Kiran Nagarkar's Cuckold, which humanises Mirabai, would never be published. Or Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph, which features encounter killings and a bearded man based on real life, says publisher Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri. Just look at the film Annapoorani, withdrawn from a streaming platform. For an artist and a society, censorship is a slippery slope. Objectionable as it is, for instance, a film like Animal should have space to exist, the panellists agree.

Aditi Mediratta recently re-read Summer Term at St Clare's, her favourite Enid Blyton book. "I kept waiting for Carlotta to be slapped, but she was simply scolded and scolded and scolded. I realised the book had been sanitised”, she says regretfully. She’d rather the original remained sacrosanct, and that the book was read as a product of its times, a conversation starter around the ethics of hitting children.

Harish Bhat and Asad Lalljee (extreme right and centre) ( picture courtesy author)
Harish Bhat and Asad Lalljee (extreme right and centre) ( picture courtesy author)

The talk moves to the workplace. There is a bard in the boardroom; the talented Titan and Tata teaman Harish Bhat. This corporate storyteller, author of books like Tata Stories and Office Secrets, has added poetry to his repertoire with the publication of Restless Lives, his book of poems. "Be curious, be playful, tell stories; to convert the corporate take into the human take is an alchemy", he reflects.

Read us a poem, says Asad Lalljee, the Madison Avenue moderator. Lalljee, who returned to this city as cultural curator of all things south of the Sea Link, has a rapid-fire round today, complete with a prize hamper we hear, in Karan Johar style. The conversation veers to Marathi mutton bhakri and it stays there, with restaurant recipes and recommendations.

The evening turns into night. The lanterns strung over the garden, and the fairy lights draped over the palm trees shine bright as the talented trio of Pheroza Godrej, Ranjit Hoskote and Sudhir Patwardhan enter. When they start to talk about their friend, the poet-painter Gieve Patel, there is so much love, admiration and camaraderie that you feel lucky to be there, in that charmed circle. They talk of art, of curating exhibitions, of poets and art critic Ranjit Hoskote as a young writer and art critic for The Times of India, writing in a style never seen before. Decades after he first met Gieve Patel, Ranjit reads aloud from To Break and to Branch, his essays on the poet’s painting and sculpture.

Pheroza Godrej, Ranjit Hoskote and Sudhir Patwardhan ( l to r) (photo courtesy the author)
Pheroza Godrej, Ranjit Hoskote and Sudhir Patwardhan ( l to r) (photo courtesy the author)

I leave soon after, revitalised with reason, and with reading lists. The little library garden has been the perfect portal for ideas on life, work and art, each seductively swaddled in a story.

More such stories to come your way soon, as I head to Jaipur this weekend, to drink in the words of literary prize winners, historians, architects, scientists and scholars in what is the largest literary show in the world.

Until next week, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com

Books referred to in this edition of Book Box

Naked co-written by Aditi Mediratta and Michaela Talwar

Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar

Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph

Restless Lives by Harish Bhat

Tata Stories by Harish Bhat

Office Secrets by Harish Bhat

To Break and to Branch by Ranjit Hoskote

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