The events that followed the partition of India and Pakistan are perhaps one of the saddest and terrible tragedies that have afflicted both the nations. Even today, a stubbing numbing pain remains in the hearts of those who experienced it.
The Partition Museum at Amritsar is located just a few minutes away from the Golden Temple. The striking red-brick Town Hall building hosts the most poignantly articulated memories of an event that deeply shaped the collective consciousness of citizens of India and Pakistan. The Partition Museum was inaugurated in 2017. The heart of Amritsar seems just the right place for this structure of living memories.
In the book, Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory, author Aanchal Malhotra, looks tenderly at how people experienced partition by viewing what refugees carried with them across the border. Material things can tell powerful stories. These objects speak of how their owners experienced the partition- emotionally. You can sense that feeling when you walk through the Partition Museum.
The Partition Museum echoes a moment in history through the eyes of the people who experienced it. It is rightly established as a People’s Museum. One of the most meaningful and touching aspects of the displays here, are the artefacts and collections that are so generously donated by partition survivors and their families. These objects are very precious- they are the symbols of a life before the event that tore many lives apart. Some of these are practical things and some are sentimental. These include utensils, trunks and clothes, wedding sari, a jewellery box and a tin box.
As one moves into the museum and through the sections, there is a sombre silence, despite the place often being quite crowded. There are comprehensive displays of objects and information on the walls and around the rooms. Whenever possible, there are art displays as well as screens and headphones to see and hear detailed commentaries. Right from the time before partition, the independence movement, the early demands for separate countries, and ultimately the actual event of the Partition followed by the painful consequences, all have been etched in the museum.
The partition and women’s experiences of it is also a background to many novels. The Women’s Courtyard by Khadija Mastur (This is a translation by Daisy Rockwell. Mastur’s novel was first published in Urdu in 1962, titled Aangan) and tells the tale of four generations of women living in the family, against the background of partition. A Gujarat here, A Gujarat there by Krishna Sobti, also has the partition looming over the events that take place in the novel.
Out of pain, art is often born. Partition led to numbing terrible pain for common people. The visitors also get to see the horrors of partition expressed through art and literature in the museum. Artists painted horrors of the time, while writers wrote about the same. Train to Pakistan by Kushwant Singh has become a classic of sorts in this realm.
Another book, The Begum, also alludes in detail to this event. This is a biography of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Pioneering First Lady. She was intensely involved in the cause of a separate nation for Muslims. The book talks about her life, but due to her deep involvement in the struggle for freedom, one gets in-depth information about the events that preceded partition, and what happened thereafter. One also gets a background perspective of the genesis of the Two-nation theory even before India got independence. What comes through in this book is the fact that no one realised the extent of bloodshed and the agonising events that the partition would lead to.
And while we think of the partition, there is another body of voices that have been largely unheard. There are many Indians, in Britain, who have also experienced the painful event. In Partition Voices by Kavita Puri we read about stories of South Asians who were once subjects of the British Raj, and are now British citizens. The genesis of this book is personal as the author’s father revealed to her the horrors of partition. He was but twelve when he along with millions of other Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims was caught up in the aftermath. However, he supressed the pain. There were many like him. These voices are now being heard.
I think about these books that are so relevant even so many years after the hastily drawn border created horrors in the lives of the people, and still continues to impact the collective consciousness of the next generation.
The museum offers a multi-media experience across fourteen galleries. In addition to the objects, the archive includes oral histories, documents, and footage. One cannot even imagine the unspeakable horrors that people may have experienced during those times. Their website is extremely informative as well.
Venice, the most romantic of the cities in the world. There was a time when Paris topped the list, but I suspect those days are over. Venice has charmed people for centuries and continues to do so. There is something mystical about a city on water. However cliched it may sound, nothing quite prepares you for the pleasant surprise when you board a waterbus and cruise the lashing waves of the Adriatic sea to enter the Grand Canal, the main waterway of Venice. But once you arrive in the city that rests on water, you can be sure that its mystical charm will not elude you…
We stayed quite near St. Mark’s Square, which put us right in the middle of all the action. No regrets here! The heart of Venice, this square is a pulsating hub of the city.
If you’re a fan of beautiful interiors, there is a lot for you here. Our hotel, Hotel Royal S Marco, had rooms decorated in the traditional Venetian manner. This immediately gave me what I like to call, “the Venetian Décor bug!”.
Just by-the-by, if you are also keen on Venetian décor, you may refer to Venetian Interiors: 50 Irreplaceable Sites To Discover, Explore, and Champion for inspiration on contemporary Venetian interior design and decoration. Another book, Venetian Gardens, offers a ‘green’ insight into the city. It uncovers the gardens of Venice.
Books are one thing, but make sure you buy a few souvenirs to give your home a touch of Venice. As you stroll around the city and the little shops dotting it, look out for the Murano glass items, some wonderful masks, lots of books and some enticing images of gondolas. Some of the artwork depicting the famous landscapes of Venice and the buildings, is also noteworthy.
I picked up a copy of Giacomo Casanova – The Story of my Life in one of the many bookshops that dot the town. This is the perfect book to read when in Venice. After all, Casanova, the legendary seducer was born here. In fact, he built such as reputation for himself that today, the very definition of a Casanova is a man who is passionate about women and has many lovers! The book is a translation of the autobiography of the most notorious lover and is filled with tales of his amorous conquests! Of course, Venice, the city has a strong presence in his work.
Those who love Venice will be pleased to find the magic of the city evoked in many timeless classics. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, beautifully brings out the days of the bustling hub in the days before the infamous plague. It is the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author in his early fifties, who seeks travel as a way to resolve the writer’s block. Underlying tones of erotic homosexual love pervade the book, as do certain philosophical principles.
Venice is often the setting of Donna Leon’s mysteries. The author of the highly acclaimed internationally bestselling Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series favours Venice!
The book trade and the publishing industry flourished in Venice centuries ago. The old-world charm of that legacy still remains and you can feel it as you move about the market place. You may want to buy antique books or notebooks with the most exquisite binding. While there are several shops selling editions of popular classics and books bound with the authentic Venetian touch, we found Charta Venezia very charming. You may read our story on the shop here: https://www.bookedforlife.in/the-reading-nomad/bookbinding-magic-quaint-streets-venice/. My purchase from the store was a couple of exquisite hand painted leather bookmarks depicting scenes from my favourite books!
There is the old Rialto bridge, standing proudly, just like it did in the days when this bustling market place was crowded with book publishers. Yes, Venice used to be a hub of book publishing! Bound in Venice by Alessandro Marzo Magno traces the dawn of the book in the city on water.
The Doge’s Palace used to be the seat of the Venetian government in the past. We did the “Secret Interior’s Tour” where we visited secret passageways and prison cells, as well as the cell of Casanova, who was imprisoned here. We took a peek outside from the “bridge of sighs” where prisoner’s sighed in despair as they watched their city for the last time before being taken inside the dungeons. I would highly recommend a visit here, preferably with a pre-booked guided tour, which will give a different perspective to the trip.
It is hyped, but then you can’t really go to Venice and not ride on a Gondola! They may be overpriced, but if you don’t mind spending that extra buck, it is an experience to traverse through the narrow water ways and feel transported into a magical land! And yes, you could read The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli. Set in Renaissance Venice, this is the story of Luca Vianello, the heir to a renowned gondola-making enterprise. He finds himself drawn to restore an antique gondola. His dream is to take a girl for a ride! This interesting historical fiction book is intrinsically linked to the gondola.
Kids and Venice? Before you wonder let me tell you it is not that bad an idea either. Yes, navigating the strollers is a workout. But, get past it and there is a lot to fascinate little minds.
When children read some books about Venice before the trip here, it will enrich their experience. For 7-10 year olds, Carnival at Candlelight, from The Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne is my favourite when it comes to this. Follow the adventures of Jack and Annie as they head back in time to Venice of the late 1700s. With the help of a research book, a book of magic rhymes, and a set of mysterious instructions from Merlin, the children will save the beautiful city from a flood. And if your kid happens to be a Genonimo Stilton fan, The Mystery in Venice would be a good accompaniment.
Venice For Kids by Tullio F. Altan, a book available on kindle is an apt touristic introduction to kids of all ages. Venice: A 3D Keepsake Cityscape (Panorama Pops) is a little keepsake pop-up book that gives information in 3D.
We did not have the time to do a mask-making workshop when we were there, but I think it would be quite interesting to do it. I was quite fascinated by the plague-doctor mask that I saw there!
And yes, while you’re in Venice, how can you not visit “the most beautiful bookshop in the world?”, at least that is what the owners say so! I would not entirely disagree. We navigated though the little pathways and bridges and walked our way right into the Libreria “Acqua Alta” meaning “Book Store of High Water.”
There were books everywhere. Since we were in the flood prone Venice we were not surprised to see that books, maps and knick-knacks were stored in wash basins and bathtubs. They were stacked right till the ceiling. There was even a gondola filled with books, but of course! We made our way through the crowded book alleys within the shop into the fire escape, which is a staircase made entirely of books overlooking the canal.
One of the best things to do in Venice is to wander about and lose yourself in the narrow lanes. We loved moving about, soaking in the venetian charm, waving out to passing Gondolas and marvelling at the architecture. The city reveals and unravels itself slowly. Once you’ve gone past the touristy trappings, you might just uncover a bit of the spirit of wondrous Venice! Are you ready to be booked in Venice?
Far from the maddening crowds of Mumbai, I have come to the peaceful Mcleod Ganj in mid-October. An important suburb of Dharamshala, it is also known as, “Little Lhasa” or “Dhasa” due to the numerous Tibetans inhabiting it. Portraying the colourful culture of the Tibetans, the pleasantly cool Mcleod Ganj, also houses numerous bookshops. Indeed, a book lover must pay a visit to Mcleod Ganj bookshops. However, I have been really attracted by one bookshop named – BookWorm. Based near the Mcleod Ganj Square, it is easily accessible to everyone. I saw many foreigners frequenting it and buying quite a few books. They seemed pretty fascinated by the unique Tibetan stories.
BookWorm encases several books, right from Classics, Children’s Fiction, Crime, Romance, History, Tibetan Culture and Education. Also, it keeps Cambridge English Grammar books, poetry volumes, and various books to learn French, English, the Standard Tibetan and Hindi. I rummaged through the books and many caught my attention- A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton, Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown by Jeff Kinney, The Mystery Of The Burnt Cottage by Enid Blyton and Two States by Chetan Bhagat. What an eclectic mix, I must say!
BookWorm is a family shop owned by Mr Lhasang Tsering and his family. He writes poems and shares it with everyone by printing them on varied coloured bookmarks. Some of his poems that touched my heart are – Tibet With My Eyes, Why Tibet? and Thank You India. They are a part of his poetry collection – From Tomorrow and Other Poems. You may also enjoy reading his other books – Ocean of Melody, Wondering, Hold On, Three Nevers and Random.
He is quite famous in the Tibetan Community for his works as well as thoughts for a free Tibet. He shares, “… India gave Buddhism to Tibet — the life-force of Tibetan life and culture. Today India has rendered crucial assistance and helped to save Tibetan religion and culture.” His son, Legdup Tsering is an avid reader. He recommends worthy books to his friends, family, customers and the talented children of Mcleod Ganj.
Though tiny, BookWorm engulfs a huge world of different stories. One book – The Tibetan Folk Tales by A. L. Shelton, particularly lures me and I quickly buy it. I hope that after reading it, I shall look at life in a different way.
The Lhasa Dialect, also known as the Standard Tibetan is majorly spoken in Central Tibet and by the Tibetan Exiles. The lay Tibetan Literature stems from their rich ancient tradition. It includes short stories, poetry, epics, mime, dance scripts, plays and a lot more. It has a massive collection of work mostly translated in to various Western languages. With a history of 1300 years, the most famous category of Tibetan Literature away from Tibet are the epic stories, especially the Epic of King Gesar.
A poor reading habit amongst the Tibetans as well as the people of Mcleod Ganj stirred the idea of creating this Mcleod Ganj bookshop in Mr Lhasang Tsering. His son is all praise for the father, “Opening the bookstore has never been a challenge for my father. It is his love for reading that he wishes to share with everyone. The tourists readily buy plenty of books to read while travelling. The locals, too, are very nice and supportive in spreading the word about BookWorm”.
BookWorm has another branch in Manali run by Tenzin Sherab, cousin to Legdup Tsering. This intellectual family aspires to gift a healthy reading habit in every place possible. If you visit Mcleod Ganj or Manali, then, do visit this Mcleod Ganj Bookshop. From BookWorm, I am sure you will take back a lot more than just books and stories!
For more information on Bookworm:
Did you know that Venice was one of the ancient seats of the book trade? Bookbinding as an art flourished in the venetian society. If you walk around the maze of lanes in Venice today, you are sure to stumble upon some great book shops where books are objects of art.
One such haven is a store named Charta. The store has a long history and has been present since 1975. Its customers cross over generations. Dario Ustino, Venetian son of a Venetian mosaicist runs the store. The store has many beautiful products: Books, bookmarks, art prints and furniture and accessories as well.
Books have never lost their place. There is a more important enhancement for ancient, illustrated and valuable books. These books will never be replaced with the internet. With time there will be a tendency to publish only valuable books with a nice personalized cover to keep in a timeless collection. Restoration and classic books are increasingly demanded and the bookbinders are really too few in the world.
The process is very classic and innovative at the same time. The restoration and cleaning of the pages are carried out using traditional methods, while the binding is made with an innovative technique using leather cloth and gold leaf with the care of reproducing a cover that is consistent with the era of the book. All our books are original edition, restored and rebound with creative binding in leather and other decorations. Each work is one of a kind.
Miniature bookcases are a very important passion for my husband Dario Ustino, the creator of most of our work. He has a collection of vintage Victorian pieces and with local artisans he also manages to produce copies of miniature bookcases with different themes.
Lovers of good books need to travel a lot to find vintage books, which are sometimes in bad condition. Then, they need to find a good bookbinder who can handle the restoration of books.
To buy our masterpieces you must come to Venice in our unique store of charm or on our website www.chartaonline.com
Not long ago, I chanced upon the library of the future. It is not very often that one enters a library and does not see racks and stacks of books. Instead, quite akin to a posh lounge, there is comfortable communal ergonomic seating arrangement, carrels, private desks with computer terminals, artificial plants and trees to add a dash of greenery and a huge map of the open spaces of Mumbai, on the wall.
Located on the first floor of the Discovery of India building at Worli, the Nehru Centre Library, is a place one may gently stumble upon, and never want to leave again!
Designed by eminent architect I.M. Kadri, the library and reading room provide a comfortable and welcoming ambience to the reader. Out of the sight of a visitor but very easily accessible is the other larger section of the library which houses the entire rich and diverse collection of materials. The majority of the collections are in English, but there is an enviable list of titles in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Sanskrit. The collections adhere to a diverse mix of subject areas including classical literature, fiction, art, Chinese painting, science, architecture and so on. In fact, the collection boasts of a select number of books on almost every subject. In decor and spirit, the library exudes the aura of a space that belongs to the digital age.
It is very important because librarians today are facing a great challenge. Today we have people saying that libraries don’t have footfalls, people have stopped reading etc. So there is a great challenge. If a librarian doesn’t feel challenged, he is mistaken.
The idea behind it was to provide a form of literary activity to promote reading. As a part of the library’s services and to reach out to the community we conduct these literary activities. It could be a discussion on a particular book, a conversation with an author or a talk on any literary topic. Our options are endless and we don’t limit ourselves to any particular theme. We could have a book that has been recently published and received good reviews, or we have a book launch or an author interaction.
The idea is to have a variety of events, all based on literature. Over the years, since a decade in fact, we have had at least one literary event every month. We have a database of about 1000 readers on our mailing list and, over the years, we have reached out to a diverse group of people who have evinced interest in the events. The book club is informal. It is free for all. Interested people have to register their attendance. We do, however, insist that people should register for the event only if they plan to attend.
Only those people who are really interested in the subject attend, and they go back really enriched. In the recent past, we have organized talks on Amrita Pritam, Munshi Premchand and Jane Austen.
Just for your information, apart from the book club, we also organize meet-the-author workshops for kids wherein those children’s authors living in Mumbai can present their book to children, read from it, and also conduct interesting activities based on it. In the past, we have hosted, among others, some famous children’s authors like Katie Bagli, Deepak Dalal and others.
Our library is a hybrid library. We have a traditional collection of books as well as a digital database of information resources. We have a digital catalogue which is an open source catalogue. This means, a reader can access the online catalogue from any part of the world and search it for his/her subject of interest.
Options to search by are author, title, subject and series. An ‘Advanced Search’ option also helps the reader look for any specific information. In addition to books we have listed all the other information resources such as DVDs, maps, magazine and journal articles listed in a keyword thesaurus, art catalogues, comic strips, board books for little children, archival audio recordings of lectures held at Nehru Centre and so on. The home page of the OPAC has some interesting features. Front covers of new arrivals, some useful links to other libraries and a fast link to the Amazon Books page when you click on a book cover are some of these features. We subscribe to about 200 plus journals and 12 newspapers. These are scanned everyday for articles of probable interest, after which the article is indexed in a specially devised alpha-numeric index.
At present, we have about 2,50,000 magazine and newspaper articles in 200+ subjects which will be soon made available to the reader in soft copy. Of course, the reader will only be able to see the metadata on his subject of interest and full articles will only be available in the library.
As a futuristic and innovative infrastructure plan, we already have an online catalogue, digital services and a beautifully landscaped reading room. We started thinking about what more could we add. Since most people like to read on portable devices these days, we thought we should also ‘keep up with the Jonases’, as they say!
We thought of taking an Amazon Kindle subscription to about a million books in which we provide readers with Kindle stations, that is, fixed Kindle devices and give them an opportunity to read books of their choice from a huge selection. Of course, this is still in the planning stage. Hopefully, we should be able to implement it soon.
Collection-wise, the library is 30 years old. But, space-wise it’s relatively new. We moved into this new space about 4 years back on Children’s Day. Since then the idea has been to increase footfalls and get the community, the neighbourhood, more students, more academicians and scholars, more people involved. This has happened. We are more visible now, and people just love the reading room! We have had all types of positive responses!
People tell us that the reading room looks like an airport lounge or a five-star hotel foyer! Anything but a library’s reading room!
Now, we want this to grow. We want to reach out to more people. Like libraries in the west, we don’t want to have any rules. You may have noticed that we don’t have any board saying “Silence please”! We allow readers to get in their portable devices. As long as they don’t disturb others around them, it’s ok! Although we provide internet wired connections for a nominal charge, we plan to go wireless soon. For scholars and researchers, we have provided special carrels. A scholar working on thesis, a researcher researching a topic, a writer working on his/her new book – all can use these for their work. They only need to write to the librarian explaining the nature of their research or writing and its duration after which a carrel is allotted to them. It has been our pleasure to have some eminent scholars/writers work on their thesis/research at the Nehru Centre Library and we are happy to say that they have gone back completely satisfied with the facilities that were offered to them. We want more writers, scholars and researchers to also come in.
We have had very interesting reactions from different kinds of people. We are a public library. This means that we do not limit people based on age, academic or economic background etc. Thus, we get kids right from 2 year olds to senior citizens who are over 80! We like to attend to and interact with all of them and address their specific requirements. The library staff tries to understand the needs of each and every reader, which is unique and reader-specific and challenging. We show all first-time visitors to the library and give them a detailed orientation about our services. Our aim is that the reader should come back again.
A senior citizen from Bandra who is an avid reader and was looking for a good library where she could read a book, a magazine or a newspaper in comfort had this to say. The minute she entered she exclaimed, “Wow! Can I live here?” I will always cherish this reaction. We have a beautifully curated collection. We go through each and every book that comes to us from our vendors and select it to be added only if it is going to add some value to the collection. To further explain how curated our collection us, we had another reader who spent a long time going through the books on the shelves. When he was done, he came out and told us that he felt depressed! On being asked the reason for feeling so, he replied, “It will take me a lifetime to read this wonderful collection!”
When people come in they ask us, “Are you sure this is a library?” This space is indeed unique as it is landscaped beautifully, the lighting is comfortable, there is air conditioning and the furniture is ergonomic. Thus, we keep getting these heartening reactions as new readers keep visiting us!
Not at all! The digital infrastructure is supplementary to the print. Print will never die. As you know, even Amazon has opened physical bookstores a few years ago! Everything comes full circle.
Some years ago, we saw people veering away from the printed word. But there are instances where we have seen families coming closer because of books. In our ‘Let’s Read Together’ initiative which is held in entire month of May every year, we invite parents to bring their children’s own books and read to the children in the library. They can even bring along their children’s friends with them. We’ve had instances where the mother or the father, even grandparents, read out to the child or the child’s friends. We have seen parents motivating their children to read in different ways. Sometimes they read to them. At other times, they pick up a book of their choice and read. The child observes the parent reading and picks up a children’s book from our collection and reads too. So digital can be supplementary and can only act as an add-on to one’s love for reading. I do agree that a digital device has advantages of portability. Yet, it cannot ever replace the physical book!
The swanky and peppy place defies the ‘old-school’ conception of a library as a silent place where one can read books in isolation. With its enviable collection and great infrastructure, the Nehru Centre Library is the modern hub of knowledge where access to information is provided free of cost (being a community library) even while offering the best of digital facilities. Yes, reading has become fashionable once again…and the library is a ‘cool’ place to be!