The boxes of books that I bought in India arrived by sea mail more than a month ago but it took awhile to sort them into some sort of order. So many of them had been bought in a frantic, last minute attempt to get hold of books that would be hard to find in Australia. They smelt very faintly of the docks – a vaguely chemical smell rather than the rich, spicy smell of India. I hadn’t had a chance to read many of the books that I bought in those last few days in Chennai so last night I pulled ‘Victory Song’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni off the shelf and lost myself in Bengal in 1939. ‘Victory Song’ is the story of eleven-year-old Neela who runs away from her village in search of her father who has gone to Calcutta to join the freedom fighters marching to protest against Britain’s occupation of India. It gives a good taste of that era in Indian history and Neela is a great, spunky protagonist. Unfortunately, you can’t buy ‘Victory Song’ in Australia. As with the Phillipines, getting hold of authentic Asian literature, especially children’s literature, is depressingly problematic.
Ruskin Bond is an author that I only discovered this year, while in India. He is one of India’s most famous children’s authors writing in English and I loved reading my way through his collected works. I think my favourite story was ‘Binya’s Blue Umbrella’. Bond has written so many stories for adults and children that it’s difficult to decide which is the strongest of his huge body of work. His stories are poignant and true and full of human strengths and frailties. Thanks to the fact he is published so widely, you can buy his books through Amazon in the UK but, yet again, the complex mess of international distribution keeps his books largely unknown in Australia.