The Nanda Devi Affair by Bill Aitken

Moving around the tiny market known as Sister’s Bazaar in Landour, I was busy buying jams at the famous Prakash and Co. I was in the area on invitation from JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa. On the trip I met Anil Purohit of Windy Skies after a gap of seven years. While I walked out of the small but famous jam shop, he pointed out another shop by the same name, only they had a small but rich book section too. That is how I ended up buying The Nanda Devi Affair by Bill Aitken.

I do not say this often on this blog but I love reading. And I love reading the books about the Himalayas (even other mountains) above all else. I have to admit that the Nanda Devi Affair did not went off to a flying start for me. I was struggling with the first 25 pages or so. It could be that I was still under the influence of Avomine when I started reading the book on my journey back from Dehradoon in the Shatabdi Express.

For later on I found the book gripping, I did not take much time to finish it. Bill Aitken is a Scottish born naturalized Indian citizen who lives in Mussoorie. I wonder what is it with Mussoorie and authors, so many of them live in Mussoorie!

The book is literally about the intense devotion the author has for the mountain, his Goddess, the Nanda Devi. He treks to the sanctuary many times and weaves in the story around his journeys. That forms the bulk of the book. However there are other treks and regions, like Kuari Pass, mentioned in the book. Having been to some of the regions he writes about, and having seen Nanda Devi from Auli, it was easy for me to identify with the book.

However what stood out for me were three themes. First was his dealing with religion and religious practices surrounding the Nanda Devi.  Even though I am not inclined to religion, I liked his treatment of the subject. He is sensitive to the local customs and comes out clearly in his writings.

book-review-nanda-devi-affair
The Nanda Devi Affair by Bill Aitken

Secondly, he clearly points out the masculine nature of the Uttarakhand rural society where the women go away from their home after marriage and do the bulk of the work for the household. Men are prone to laze around! It rings so true but I wonder why it never hit me in the face while visiting the region. You cannot miss it while reading the book!

But what amazed me most is the critical stance he takes towards mountaineers! Now here is a mere trekker mincing no words about mountaineering and mountaineers. Whatever other books I have read, I have been in awe of the profession! I wonder from where he got the detachment to question the commitment of a mountaineer to the environment.

Of the Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF) he is so critical, labeling them a bunch of bureaucrats far removed for the reality of the mountains. Apparently the IMF at one point was more interested in knowing the name of Sir Chris Bonington‘s father than allowing him to climb in India!

In the Nanda Devi Affair Bill Aitken presents the trekking as well as the society in Uttarakhand brilliantly. For any mountain lover, this is a must read book.

I guess what added to the pleasure of reading was the location from where I brought it, so close to the mountains that have been described in the book!

PS. If you are curious about Tintin near the book in the first image, he is my new traveling companion. Thank you so much Hassaneini for giving it to me. It was such a pleasure meeting you in New Delhi. May we both travel more to the mountains near and far!

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I recently finished reading You Can Make Your Dreams Work: Inspirational Stories of 15 Innovators by Shalini Umachandran. Shalini and I were together on the media trip to South Africa in 2013. We had a grand plan of driving through Botswana (or was it Tanzania) with another of our team member, I hope they still remembers it! We kept in touch through emails.

you-can-make-your-dreams-work
You Can Make Your Dreams Work

So, when I heard about her book, I was happy to read the blogger’s copy which she kindly offered to me! I actually read almost all the book in two sittings. But I could finish off the last two stories much later due to various personal commitments.

The book traces the story of 15 people who left their ‘normal’ jobs to follow their dreams. All the people featured have been successful in their ventures.

To me the most striking story was of Kanishka Sharma who had a family full of people working in media.  He went to train in a Chinese Shaolin Temple in martial arts! Everyone in his family was against it! Now that surely took me by surprise. Of all the wild stories listed in the book, this came across as the most unusual to me. I will not reveal more as that would spoil it for you, but if you wish to read just one story read Kanishka’s.

drifters-inn-old-manali
Nishant’s Drifter’s Inn, Old Manali

Then there is the story of Nishant, who gave up his corporate job to open an inn in Old Manali. When I went to Old Manali last month, I spotted his place, Drifter’s Inn and I did something unusual. I went in and said hello to him, saying I read about him in Shalini’s book. We chatted for a while, he offered coffee, but we were in a hurry so I had to go. All my local friends knew Nishant and he knew them!

There are 13 more unusual stories in a book about people who started women only travel companies, Savile Row suit makers who manufacture in India, a banker who switched to swimming and much more.

Shalini has crafted her stories with care. With each story you enter the world of a person who worked hard to make his/her dreams works. It is an immensely readable book. You will like it even if you wish to continue in your job!

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My love for books is older than my love for travel. But with Chhavi around reading has gone down. So when I got Story of Tublu: An Amazing Journey Called Life from Jahid Akhtar I was not sure how long I would take to finish it. I took it on my trip to Shivpuri and I could actually finish it pretty fast. So, The Story of Tublu is actually a quick read.

story-of-tublu
The Story of Tublu by Jahid Akhtar

I have read Jahid’s blog quite regularly so I feel very happy for him that he has come out with a book. The Story of Tublu as the name suggests is the story of Tublu, but it is equally the story of Maina as well.

The Plot

Bipin and his small boy move to a bigger city because their village is devastated by floods. They find shelter at the house of the Sharmas. Bipin finds employment and Tublu starts school. Reminiscent of earlier days and small towns, the Sharma family sort of adopts the father and son from the village. Growing up, Tublu falls in love with Maina, the daughter of the household, but he remains silent about it. Will he ever be able to find his love? Read the book and find out.

The Narration

The narration is straightforward. The language of the book is easy to understand, you would not be running for a dictionary time and again! It is an easy to read book. The book deals with three phases- when the main characters are in school, when they go to college and when they start working. I think I enjoyed the college phase the most!

The Characters

Tublu comes across as a sweet, mature boy. I do not see any shades of grey in his nature. Maina is more complex. For her life was not so straightforward. She goes through serious ups and downs in her life. There is a long list of supporting cast in the book, Tublu’s friend’s, Maina’s family and Maina’s boyfriend. A lot of characters in the book are nice, sweet and straightforward.

Who Will Like It?

If you are looking for a romantic book which is not simply a love story, you would enjoy reading the book.

PS. I was given the review copy of the book by Jhaid Akhtar.

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The Almond Tree is the debut novel of Michelle Cohen Corasanti. I was quite intrigued by the fact that Corasanti is a female Jew who writes this book in the voice of a Palestine male! To begin with I was not sure if it could be done but after reading the book I have changed my opinion. If I had not known this beforehand, I would have never guessed.

The story is of Ahmad Hamid and his family. It is a story of hope set in incredible suffering. The backdrop of the book is the Palestine Israel conflict. The difference is in the portrayal of the conflict. It is about Ahmad’s family living in the land occupied by Israelis, it is about losing their siblings to bombs and mines.

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

It is about living in constant terror. It is about getting caught in the conflict where the father of the family ends up in jail. It is about children of 12 and less then supporting their family by working as construction labors. It is about possessing mathematical genius in middle of this chaos. It is about Ahmad’s journey from hard labor to a top American university and then back to Gaza and beyond.

This book was a hard read, not for the language. It was not for the plot either, for it is compelling. It is a hard read for the sufferings descried. This book is a tearjerker. All the characters of the book are developed with care. But it is the character of Ahmad’s father that really shook me to the core. He gets such a raw deal in life, yet he inspires Ahmed to hope and continue on the path peace. That would require serious courage, a courage almost beyond human power. For me it was a compelling read, I finished it in a few sittings. The message that stayed with me from this book was to never give up!

PS. I was given a copy of this book to review.

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