Bookstore Hopping in Tamil Nadu

I was in the process of planning my next vacation when I remembered all the bookstores I went to during my last. Whenever I go to a new place, I feel compelled to make a list of all the bookstores I need to visit while I’m there. While this works perfectly when I’m travelling solo, family vacations prove a little trickier. Bookstore hopping during family vacations still work perfectly for me, but they also mean I have a disgruntled parent in tow.

These are the book stores responsible for my holiday book haul.

IMG_20131231_115240Apollo Books sat perched outside my favourite restaurant in Mamallapuram, Le Yogi (the friendliest staff I’ve ever met). We stayed in Mamallapuram for three days and dutifully trotted the bookstore every single day. While I was trying to decide which books to buy on my last day there, I overheard an intense discussion on politics, war and society between two men from Indonesia and Israel. I ended up buying a secondhand copy of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel. The store has a mix of new books, secondhand books, and books in French, German, Russian and Spanish. You can also go in and exchange one old book for another. 

IMG_20140101_122445I  followed my guidebook to visit the Immaculate Conception Cathedral next door, spotted this bookstore and happily rushed inside instead. According to my guidebook, it’s run by the Aurobindo Ashram and had a fairly interesting collection. My favourite find here was Glimpses of Pondicherry by P. Raja and Rita Nath Keshari. 


The bookstore near the Auroville Visitor’s Centre was tiny and looked vaguely cave-like, except it was much more cheerful than a cave’s dark drab interiors. It had a large collection of books by independent publishers including an in-house brand.

IMG_20140102_165937I also visited the Romain Rolland Library near the large Bharathi Park and next to the not-so-large Pondicherry Museum. The shelves at the back on the second floor looked like they had been deserted for a while, a suspicion that was confirmed when I walked into a spider web. This sign was in the non-deserted part of the library and almost made me engage in literary vandalism. Instead, I just settled for clicking a photo of the unnecessary apostrophe.  

Tamil Nadu 673A bookstore full of secondhand books that look like foreign remainder stocks. The most expensive secondhand store I’ve ever visited; the bill at the end startled me a bit. But the sunshiney yellow villa is gorgeous and I found three books from my wish list so I just smiled sagely. Horseradish by Lemony Snicket, The Chronicles of Prydain: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander and Terrible Times: The Eddie Dickens Trilogy by Philip Ardagh in case you’re wondering.

I also bought a book at the start of my vacation from the Mumbai airport and one right at the very end from the Chennai railway station. Yes, it’s a disease. No, there is no cure.


Long Reads Pick of the Week: February 20, 2014


Last December, I got an e-mail from my editor at GQ. A 15-year-old boy in Nepal had supposedly been meditating for the past seven months without any food or water. Would I like to look into this?

I went online. The boy’s name was Ram Bahadur Bomjon. He was sitting in the roots of a pipal tree near the Indian border. The site was being overrun by pilgrims, thousands a week, who were calling this boy “the new Buddha.” He’d twice been bitten by poisonous snakes; both times he’d refused medicine and cured himself via meditation. Skeptics said he was being fed at night behind a curtain, that his guru was building himself a temple, that his parents were building themselves a mansion, that the Maoist rebels, in on the hoax, were raking in tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

I e-mailed my editor back: I was pretty busy, what with the teaching and all, besides which Christmas break was coming up and I hadn’t been to the gym once the preceding semester, plus it would be great to, uh, get an early start on my taxes.

Then we embarked on the usual Christmas frenzy, but I couldn’t get this boy off my mind. At parties, I noted two general reactions to the statement Hey, I heard this kid in Nepal has been meditating uninterruptedly in the jungle for the past seven months without any food or water.

One type of American—let’s call them Realists—will react by making a snack-related joke (“So he finally gets up, and turns out he’s sitting on a big pile of Butterfinger wrappers!”) and will then explain that it’s physically impossible to survive even one week without food or water, much less seven months.

A second type—let’s call them Believers—will say, “Wow, that’s amazing,” they wish they could go to Nepal tomorrow, and will then segue into a story about a transparent spiritual being who once appeared on a friend’s pool deck with a message about world peace.

Try it: Go up to the next person you see, and say, Hey, I heard this kid in Nepal has been meditating uninterruptedly in the jungle for the past seven months without any food or water.

See what they say.

Or say it to yourself, and see what you say.

What I said, finally, was: This I have to see.

In 2006, George Saunders set out to investigate the mysterious legend of a meditating boy in Nepal who hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in seven months. A miracle? A hoax? That’s what the article tries to find out. I hadn’t really felt compelled to read George Saunders’ work after the recent hoopla over his new book but after reading this feature, I’m determined to read a lot more where that came from.

The Incredible Buddha Boy by George Saunders

What happens when you listen to the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone audio book for the first time*

*Only applies to Harry Potter fanatics

hpYou will be skeptical at first. Books always trump the movies but where do audio books fit in?

All doubts will vanish when you hear the words “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

You will realise you shouldn’t have started listening in public because now you’re grinning like a madwoman before you start repeating well-remembered lines along with the narrator out loud.

You will then move ahead of the narrator and mentally repeat lines that you know are about to be read out.

You could never have imagined enjoying an audio book so much.

You will discover that listening to a book as opposed to reading it frees up your mental space enough to have your brain travel in different directions.

You will wonder whether, if the series was told from Hermione’s point of view, the book would have had multiple references to wanting to strangle Harry and Ron for sheer stupidity.

You will find out you have been pronouncing Knuts wrong. (The K isn’t silent?!)

You decide that you absolutely have to find out who the narrator is because he is so stunningly brilliant and you need to know his name so you can put him on your Favourite People list.

You find out it’s Stephen Fry and emit a squeal of excitement. He’s already on the list.

While listening to the audio, you will discover you now have the problem of having three voices in your head – that of the audio book, that of the movie and that of the original mental voice you usually read the book in.

You will yell out predictions of a character’s future in your head when you first hear about ones that are familiar favourites – “You’re going to marry Harry!”, “You’re going to make me bawl like a baby in the last book!”, “You’re going to grow up to be a badass!”, “You’re going to die.” (The last one will be too often for your liking thanks to Rowling’s mass murderering tendencies).

You will be transported back to the time you were ten years old and were reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time. And you will shoot a mental note of thanks to J. K. Rowling, Stephen Fry and the person who first thought of audio books.

You will realise that even after all this time (always!), Harry Potter still manages to give you  goosebumps along your arm and a thrill down your spine.