Read To Win

If a writer gifts a book, it must be really worth reading, right (even if it’s their own)?

Ten writers talk of the last book they gifted someone.

So many books (still). So little time (and it’s getting worse). Here’s one way to cut through the clutter and discover what book to read next. We asked, authors answered.

Shashi Tharoor

I gifted two books – Manu S. Pillai’s The Ivory Throne and Sanjeev Sanyal’s The Ocean of Churn – to my US-based sons. They are both very interested in history but neither book is published yet in the US, and I wanted them to have these to add to their knowledge of their motherland!

I have also just gifted my own book, An Era of Darkness, to an old British friend I had briefly shared an office with as a junior UN official in the early 1980s, to tell him what his compatriots did in India!

Jerry Pinto

I gave a friend of mine Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders. This is because her mother suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and I thought it might be of some help.

Easterine Kire

The last time I gifted a book was to my niece Kevi Kevichüsa at New Year. The book was, incidentally, A Naga Village Remembered which I had written in 2003. Because both my niece and her husband are from the village which I wrote about. It is also a portion of village history that has shaped the identity of the village today. My niece is a creative stay-at-home mother of two, and an artist and a fabulous storyteller. I felt she would connect to the story in the book and pass it on to her children someday.

Karan Mahajan

The last book I gifted was the appropriately-titled Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow. I gave it to a friend because it was right before me in a bookstore – we were in a bookstore together – and I recalled the joy the book had given me, and wanted to pass the experience on to another person. This friend is a fantastic novelist and I felt he would connect with Bellow’s passionate deployment of ideas in his narrative, and the attention paid to the confused lives of writers.

Manu Joseph

I recently gifted Stasiland by Anna Funder and The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo to the writer and dancer, Tishani Doshi. Stasiland tells the stories of East Germany’s ordinary victims, and has an absorbing, sentimental and literary style of narration. Giving the book is a part of my old campaign to make novelists and poets I admire to venture into journalism, or to use that moronic word “non-fiction”. The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl is a little known, under-appreciated and brilliant novella which the novelist Tabish Khair had introduced me to. An insight of The Nice Old Man... is that what decides the punishments for our sins is not the nature of the sin but our age.

Anushka Ravishankar

The last book I gifted was I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. It’s supposed to be a book for young adults, but I believe that a really good book works for any age. The last few books I’ve gifted have been picture books and YA books – all to adults! And they have loved them. If you read Markus Zusak, Frances Hardinge or Philip Pullman, you realise how specious it can be to divide books into categories of adult and children’s books. I gave the book to a friend who is going to have a lot of time on her hands, and who I know loved Zusak’s The Book Thief.

Amish Tripathi

I gifted Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to my brother. It’s a thought-provoking book, to understand the volatile times we live in and to help us make a blueprint to survive, even thrive, in this atmosphere. It’s exactly the kind of book my brother would like.

Preeti Shenoy

The last book I gifted was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to my best friend.

Paul was a brilliant neurosurgeon who before becoming a doctor had majored in English literature. Cancer struck him at 36, and claimed his life by 37. The book is not only poignant and powerful but is poetic too. What makes this a “must-read” are the questions he asks and the answers he finds. Throughout his life, Paul had sought to find the answer to the question “What makes life worth living?” and in the face of death, he finds it.

Having just finished the book, I was in that strange state of calm, having been made acutely aware that there exists a place, where life meets death and, despite death having the final say, life wins. I gifted this book as I wanted my friend to experience all that I did while reading it. There are some books that change your perspective towards life. Paul’s book is one of them.

Sarnath Banerjee

The last book I gifted was Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s collected works from Penguin. The book was given to a friend, Frank Loric, who is a French translator.

I live in Europe and my problem with lot of Europeans is that their understanding of modernity is very euro-centric and that’s often very detrimental. They are very enlightened in terms of their politics and humanitarian projects, like those in Syria for example. But the real understanding of how people are elsewhere, how a Syrian person is in Syria, that’s somewhat limited. This often happens when you come from a dominant culture where everyone has adhered to your culture.

So, I think Arvind is important for the understanding of a certain kind of indigenous modernity and a good way of understanding how people think. I was actually looking for an Akhil Katyal, who is my current favorite poet from Delhi, but I couldn’t find a book by him. But Arvind is a classic.

Janice Pariat

The last book I gifted a friend was Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road. Because he had it on Kindle, and I said that didn’t count, so I bought him a paper copy. Because it’s devastatingly beautiful, and will break his heart, and that’s what friends do. They gift each other books that will break their hearts.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.