Long Reads Pick of the Week: March 29, 2014

I couldn’t decipher the photographs at first.

They arrived linked in an e-mail from a friend, with a tagline that read: Amazing. They were color portraits, shot recently, seemingly of old men who’d lived a little. At least that’s what the evidence suggested: They were dressed as old men, and the camera seemed to regard them as old men, if from another time, like the ’40s or ’50s. But there was something in the eyes, and sometimes the hands, even the carriage of bones—a softness that made me wonder.

The more I gazed upon the photographs, the more I noticed something else. In image after image, the faces possessed an otherworldly quality. That’s as close as I can come to it: Their eyes seemed to look steadily, unabashedly at the camera—or up at the sky, as if they might float away.

These were burrneshas, the text read, or women who dressed and lived as men, in isolated regions of northern Albania, a land of ultraconservative mores. There were strict rules and reasons for this transformation, ones that had been established some 500 years earlier, as part of a medieval canon of laws known as the Kanun. Today possibly only a few dozen burrneshas still exist—and the tribe is fast dwindling.

In The Mountains Where Women Lived as Men, we learn of an unusual tradition in the Albanian Alps where women with limited options in life pledged to be burrneshas – in their conservative society, they took the oath to live like men, with all the burdens and liberties that entailed.


Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List

I’ve never participated in a blog meme before but now’s a good time as any, especially considering my blogger’s block.

I got the idea from Nishita, who in turn got it from the meme hosts themselves – The Broke and the Bookish.

top ten tuesday

So all I have to do is list ten bookish things that I’m dying to do. That doesn’t sound too difficult. *cracks knuckles* Let’s go!

1) Host/attend a pyjama party in a bookstore. I wouldn’t mind just if I just met fellow bookworms and talked about books, after which all of us would curl into our respective corners and bury ourselves in our books for a bit of bedtime reading. But bonus points if the party is book themed – filled with quizzes, games and costume competitions.

2) Travel the world (or at least a country) in a bookmobile. It could be a travelling bookstore, which would do nothing to cover my travelling expenses but I don’t think I’d care, or a portable library where people can exchange their books for one of mine.

3) Make a day trip to the Delhi Book Fair. This is a very recent addition to the list and only because I read Facebook status updates about people going to the fair armed with empty rucksacks and wheeled suitcases. I was told that the Frankfurt, London and Bologna Book Fairs don’t focus on retail so Delhi has become my Mecca. I dream of flying there from Bombay with an empty suitcase and returning with a bag full of books.

4) Work in a bookstore. I’m willing to create my own position in case a bookstore doesn’t have any openings. For example, Caretaker of Stray Children, Top Shelf Reacher (owing to my freakishly tall body), Dispenser of Sellotape and Miscellaneous Stationery (while promoting and/or prepping for store events).

5) Make pilgrimages to London, the Warner Bros. Studio and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

6)  Meet J. K. Rowling and just say thank you. But I will probably pass out or sob too hard to function the moment I spot her, so maybe I should write the words on my forehead instead.

7) Read books faster than I can buy them. My ultimate goal is to actually have zero unread books before I buy a new one. But considering that my willpower absolutely crumbles in a bookstore and the fact that this ridiculous books-by-the-kilo sale looks like it’s going to be a regular affair in the city, this may be more of a lifetime goal.

8) Visit a bookstore in every new place I visit. And thanks to the aforementioned lack of willpower, buy a book as a souvenir to remind me of my trip, ignoring the fact that I have a hundred unread ones back home.

9) Catch up on the classics. Since I don’t come from a reading family, nobody ever told me which books I was supposed to read. So I grew up with an eccentric collection of books, which was great because it expanded my reading horizon but it also ended up leaving me way behind on the must-reads.

10) Spread the reading bug to as many kids as I can and help them discover the wondorous worlds that await them. (It’s more difficult to convince grown-ups that books are good for them.)