The Bookwallah’s babies and beyond
In many ways, Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is the baby of The Bookwallah . Although the themes and inspirations for the anthology were the fruit of conversations with Anita Roy and Payal Dhar, but for The Bookwallah, we probably wouldn’t have seen the possibilities for this sort of crazy cross-cultural collaboration. One adventurous idea often leads to another.
There’s a website dedicated to The Bookwallah where you can find out more about The Bookwallah project but briefly, it began in November 2012 when two Australian writers – Benjamin Law and I – toured India by train with three Indian writers – Chandrahas Choudhury, Annie Zaidi and Sudeep Sen. The Australian creators of The Bookwallah initiative, Nic Low and Catriona Mitchell, plus designer Georgia Hutchison and our Indian PR troubleshooter, Mikhail Sen, also journeyed with us for over 2,000 kilometres. While we travelled and talked, Catriona produced a documentary of the trip which is definitely worth watching for anyone interested in innovative ways of thinking about books, writers, readers and cross-cultural adventure.
We travelled from Mumbai to Podicherry with a portable library of hundreds of Australian books and it was at the very end of that time in India that I caught up with Anita Roy in Delhi and began conjuring the idea for Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean. But it was during the many conversations on board trains across India that the glaring necessity of creating cross-cultural books really struck me. Annie, Chandrahas and Sudeep are superb story tellers and we spent hours talking about our lives, the books we love as well as our work. It made me think about the fact that the things we have in common with India are so much greater than our differences.
By the time Chandrahas and Annie came to Melbourne in August 2013 for the Australian leg of The Bookwallah, the anthology was already underway and Annie had been commissioned to create a story with Australia comic book artist and graphic novelist, Mandy Ord.
A human baby only takes only nine months to grow inside their mother but stories often take years to gestate, to grow in the minds of their authors before they can reach the page and then, finally, with the help of many midwifes/editors, come into the world ready to meet their readers. It will be interesting to see, in the years to come, how many other literary brothers, sisters and cousins of The Bookwallah Project come into being.