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.
The Mumbai Lit LIve Festival is drawing to a close. Last night the Bookwallah crew had dinner in a house overlooking Mumbai harbour before jumping on the last train to Bandra where the eloquent and gutsy author Annie Zaidi took us on a night ramble through the sleepy back streets of Mumbai. It was a beautiful evening that wound to a close at 3.00 am when Ben Law and I took a cab back to our hotel (and both fell asleep as the taxi sped along Marine Drive.)
This morning I woke early and then headed off to the National Centre for Performing, Arts where the festival is being staged, to participate in a panel on cross cultural narratives with Pakistani author Moni Mohsin.
There’s almost been too much to blog about over the past few days and I have three unfinished posts tucked away in a draft folder which I’ll upload when I reach Goa tomorrow. But the cross cultural narratives panel set me thinking about the whole dilemma of sharing complex stories, about the new direction that fiction, and especially fiction from across Asia, will move in over the next few decades.
A couple of months ago I was interviewed by the Asian-Australian Children’s Literature and Publishing project along with other Australian children’s and YA authors who are venturing into writing cross-cultural stories (PDF). There’s so much more to share.
Last night I unwrapped my advance copies of The Lilliputians.
In the wake of the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent speech on the Asian Century it seemed especially appropriate to be opening the parcel of books while sitting in a hotel in Mumbai.
The Lilliputians is the Indian edition, published by New Delhi publishers Young Zubaan, of my novel India Dark.The original title of the novel was Escaping Lilliput so I was pleased to have this edition have a title closer to my original concept.
Several chapters of the novel are set in Mumbai – or Bombay – as it was called when the children in the story spent Christmas here, just over a century ago.
Although the 21st century may be tagged the Asian Century, history illustrates that the titles we give things are simply shaped by the narratives we tell ourselves.
Every era is rich with stories that we either ignore or choose to engage with. The children who toured India and south-east Asia in the early 1900s must have felt they were living in a very Asian century.