A walk through the wonderland of words There are more books than we can imagine, more that we haven’t read, and still more we haven’t even heard of.

We are familiar with the word, bibliophile. It describes a person who loves books and possibly also collects them. However, it’s only this morning that I discovered what describes a person who loves words. Upon reflection, it’s a no-brainer: of course it is ‘logophile’, from the Greek logos, meaning word, reason, plan.

Well, this time round I have no logos-plan for my choice of books to share, nor even reason-logos because the picks are random. It’s just the logos-words that motivated the motley collection. As George Mallory once said when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, ‘Because it’s there,’ the question ‘Why these?’ will invite the response, ‘Because they are there!’ For instance, why Between You, Me & the Four Walls by Moni Mohsin? Because this much-awaited title in the Social Butterfly chronicles has just been published and is as tongue-in-cheek and entertainingly satirical as Moni Mohsin has ever been.

The ‘Social Butterfly’ is a diarist who records her unadulterated impressions of the public and the private in Pakistan. This book covers the years 2014–21. As the back cover records, ‘The world may have moved at a rattling pace since her last outing but the lifestyles of Lahore’s literati, Dubai’s glitterati and London’s desi flutterati have more than kept pace.’ An entry dated December 2015 is headlined ‘Indian FM plans talks on improving relations / Butterfly goes to Mumbai’ reminding readers of happier times between two countries. ‘Guess where I’ve been?’ begins the ‘shrieking’ entry. ‘Mumbai! And guess where I was staying? On Shahrukh Khan’s backside! Ji haan. You can all surrho as you read that. But it’s true. My hotel was on his backside.’ She has a meal at the Taj, goes shopping and also, ‘I saw Ambani’s house, which, between you, me and the four walls, looks like multi-storey car park.’ Nobody in this part of the world, as far as I know, writes so boldly and with such command over political satire as Moni Mohsin. If nothing else, she injects you with a healthy and much-needed dose of guts.


Sifting and shifting through my modest collection, I rediscovered Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Biafra, mostly peopled by the Igbo tribe, seceded from Nigeria and existed briefly as a nation between July 1967 and January 1970. Achebe, one of the most famous writers not only in Nigeria, but in the world, records in this book in elegant and compelling prose, his journey through the violent struggle that affected millions, looking at it from the historical, social, economic, literary, emotional, intellectual and other perspectives. As he peels off each layer of fact and meaning from this account, the discerning reader will see many similarities to what’s happening in the world today, including India. ‘Suddenly,’ he writes, reflecting upon the problems of the Nigerian federation, ‘I realized that the only valid basis for existence is one that gives security to you and your people. It is as simple as that.’ It is as simple as that. But we never learn. We continue to actively engage in the art of ‘othering’ with a view to obliterating entire communities and regions as happened during the Biafran war.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Amish, a community living mostly in the US who value the rural life, simplicity, pacifism and faithfulness to their religion. They eschew technology, instead opting to work their hands and their lands hard; they follow a simple dress code, generally have large families and usually stick to themselves. They are of Swiss, German and Alsatian origin and speak Pennsylvania Dutch, also called Dietsch, Swiss-German and English.

As I try to really hear the many voices speaking up and out through the pages of This Kind of Child: the Disability Story, I learn so much more about darkness and sunlight and myself.

Jodi Picoult is a popular fiction writer who has some 28 novels and a lot other writing to her credit. According to literary critics, she is an unlikely candidate for the Literature Nobel, but around 40 million copies of her books are available worldwide and she’s been translated into 34 languages. Now, if that’s not a sign of popularity… Her 2000 novel, Plain Truth, is set among the Amish community. A newborn baby is found dead; the young mother, Katie, after steadfastly refusing to accept that she was ever pregnant, finally admits to giving birth, but vehemently denies killing the baby. In the run-up to the trial, the girl’s lawyer lives with Katie’s family in the Amish community to get a better understanding of the situation. One thing is clear: the Amish are peaceful people, they will never resort to violence, let alone murder. How then to explain the death of the baby? As Jodi Picoult goes about unravelling the various conundrums in the plot, the reader gets to explore the Amish mind.


Picoult is known for building her novels around ‘issues,’ for which she does a tremendous amount of research. In Small Great Things, the theme is race relations, in The Pact it is suicide, in House Rules it is autism. Plain Truth is no exception and the amount of detail packed into it could wear you down. But then, reading physical books comes with an inbuilt safety feature: you can skip! The caveat is that skipping is an acquired skill: you must lightly skim over the crucial bits and bypass what you feel is unnecessary ones without impinging on the story.

Writing in The Observer some years ago, Louise France commented: ‘Picoult has a formula: choose a subject which is soon to become controversial and tell the story through a rotating cast of characters. Stem cell research, date rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, teenage suicide — here are some of the knottiest moral issues of our times sandwiched between the soft-focus covers of what is commonly dismissed as an airport novel.’ It’s not surprising, then, that many of her novels have been made into films, the most famous among them being My Sister’s Keeper (2009) starring Abigail Breslin and Cameron Diaz.

And so, to unashamedly borrow an unashamedly borrowed cliché, from reel to real life: This Kind of Child: the Disability Story by K Srilata. She is a poet, fiction writer, translator and academic who was formerly a professor of literature at IIT-Madras and now heads the Centre for Creative Writing and Translation at Sai University, Chennai. In This Kind of Child, Srilata collates first-person accounts, interviews and pieces of fiction about ‘the worlds of persons with disabilities and those who love them.’

I have only just started reading the book. In a chapter entitled ‘Beyond Sameness,’ visual storyteller Dhaatri Vengunad Menon writes, ‘Sometimes, a stroke of sunlight in the darkness can mean everything to someone. I am thankful to the teachers who have encouraged me and held my hand through my school days… The master who included me in the band… the teachers who would put aside their red pens to mark my papers in blue… I used to think that my dyslexia would go away sometime in the future, perhaps when I turned twenty. I used to think that life would, at some point, be a little less difficult. But the thing is, I am twenty now and the difficulties haven’t really gone away.’ As I try to really hear the many voices speaking up and out through the pages of this book, I learn so much more about darkness and sunlight and myself.



The columnist is a children’s writer and senior journalist.


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