Celeb Shelf: Filmmaker and author Devashish Makhija reveals his favourites books and fondest bookish memories

1) When did you get into reading? School or college or later?

I was a born reader I think. I used to sleep with little walls made of stacks of books all around me even as a child. I felt as if books would protect me from the big bad world. It didn’t turn out to be entirely possible!

2) Which is your favourite book? How has it made an impact on you?

The graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass, drawn by David Mazzuchelli is a book I go back to often. It straddles the word and the image in ways I didn’t imagine possible.

3) Who are your favourite authors? Why do like them?

My favourite authors are:

a. Dashiel Hammett for the sharp incisive blasts of emotion he injects in his prose.

b. Ernest Hemingway for how he arrives at the heart of the human

condition.

c. Alice Munro for the delicateness with which she makes us feel.

4) Which is your favourite genre?

I love graphic novels (the medium, more than genre). My favourites in this genre are Blankets by Craig Thompson, Scalped by Jason Aaron, Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, and the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Marc Antoine Mathieu and Milo Manara.

5) How do you take out time for reading amid your busy schedule?

I can’t. Most of my reading was done years ago. Mostly, these days, I return to what I’m already familiar with in bits and pieces, for solace.

6) How many books do you read in a month?

In the past few years, near zero. Perhaps one book every three-six months, since I’ve been writing nonstop.

7) What have you been writing?

My writing output in the past decade has been: A collection of 49 short stories titled Forgetting; two children’s books; stories for about a dozen anthologies; my newly published novel Oonga; over 50 poems published variously; eight short films (that I directed as well); and about ten feature film scripts (three of which I managed to make, the rest of which I continue to hustle to find backing for).

7) From where do you get book recommendations?

Serendipity.

8) eBook or physical book? Why?

Never read an eBook in my life. There’s so much reading one needs to do online on screens, so when I do get to reading a book, I refuse to read it off a screen.

9) What’s on your ‘currently reading’ shelf?

There is: Disinformation’s You are being lied to, The RTI Story by Aruna Roy and The Women in Cages by Vilas Sarang’s.

10) Any special bookish memory you would like to share?

There are so many bookish memories! For starters, there is...

a. The Calcutta book fair when I was a child, it was during 1980s-90s. The standing in line for hours to get into a stall, as if it were a temple of some sort.

b. The thudding heart when digging through heaps of second hand books.

c. The not-eating-lunch for years and saving those five rupees to buy second hand books.

d. The endless miles trudged by foot with a tearing bag full of newly acquired second hand books, to save the 1 rupee 50 paise on bus fare, so I could buy another raggedy old book with it some day.

11) Book adaptations you have watched and loved. Why?

Some of those done by Stanley Kubrick. Some of his films are adaptation miracles. His films show us how not to treat a book as sacrosanct, and build a new beast from just the thematic, philosophical core of the material at hand.

12) A book you want to see being made into a film.

If I can help it, none. Let books be books. Make films of stories hitherto untold.

13) Classic (one or more) you haven’t read but claimed to have read?

I would say Shakespeare. Except for the three-four in our school curriculum, I’ve read none of his writings. But, whenever someone speaks in awe of Shakespeare’s oeuvre I quietly nod my head in smiling agreement, trying to not let on that I am mostly uneducated in his work.

14) Any vintage or first editions on your book shelf?

I had hundreds. Calcutta was a city of the vintage. I would trawl the back alleys and raddiwala shops for vintage editions (especially those raddi shops around the consulates, where expats on their way back to their countries would dispose of their collections by weight). I had box loads of rare books I had acquired for next to nothing, and had nursed back to health. When I finally divorced Calcutta in January 2019, I sold/gave away every last one.

15) Have you ever saved money to buy a book?

All the books I owned (very rough count = 8,000 plus, before I passed on 90% of them) were bought with money I saved rupee by rupee by not eating lunch for years, not taking buses and trams and walking instead, not watching movies, not drinking Limca, mending tears in my shirts over and over so I wouldn’t have to buy new ones, wearing the same one pair of shoes for seven years straight, using the same backpack for 18 years straight… I could go on and on. Books were an addiction. I have cured myself of this addiction somewhat only over the last five-six years.

16) If asked to choose three books from your bookshelf which would those be? Why?

a. City of Glass graphic novel

b. Conversations by Walter Murch and Michael Ondaatje.

c. Reasons for Belonging, which is an anthology of Indian poetry... for the obvious reason, I keep

going back to these again and again and again.

17) Books you would recommend to our readers? Why?

a. The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher, because it’s a starter of all kinds of fires

within.

b. The Conductor by Laetitia Devernay’s, because it’s a wordless wonder.

c. Any short stories by Alice Munro, Nadine Gordimer, Raymond Carver, because they make us think deeply about our humanity.

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