It was with great delight that I entered into the studios of WNYC on Varick Street to sit down and talk with Arun Venugopal, who was guest hosting the Leonard Lopate Show. We talked about the costs of the Green Revolution, of Hindu priests who asked, “What is your duty?” to a farming family considering going organic, of holy waters. Our conversation ended too quickly, and I didn’t quite get to elaborate on my answer to his last question, about the direction PM Modi is taking the country. I said Modi has a choice. What I felt like I didn’t make clear enough is that he can develop India at the expense of the environment, the direction he seems to be heading now, or choose to tap into the exploding number of opportunities to develop in a more sustainable way, providing a model for the world. I’m rooting for the latter, and met the people in India who hope so too.
Falmouth Public Library is a stately building on sweet little Main Street in Falmouth, the corner of the Cape near Woods Hole, littered with PhDs and farmer’s markets and ferries bound for the islands. There was a nice turnout, and it was great to meet my doppleganger, a woman whose mother had come from India around the same time as mine and also married a fair-skinned American. Good conversations, during the Q&A, and after. A Punjabi man arrived late, straight from his English classes, and he told me about how he once worked for the water department there. “There is no good water in Punjab,” he said to me, shaking his head. “No good water.”
Typewriters, music, teen tent, children’s stage, guerilla haiku, sunny skies, throngs of people (80,000 I heard), authors from every genre, and the occasional raptor overhead. It was a fine weekend for the Decatur Book Festival, celebrating its tenth year. It was great to sit down with Anna Badkhen, author of Walking with Abel: Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah, in a conversation led by writer Anjali Enjeti in the plush red-carpeted Decatur First United Methodist Chapel. We discussed being an outsider, the uniquely American phenomenon of climate change denial, how much we trust digital equipment, whether to step into our stories (or, rather, admit to doing so), and, of course, vultures.
I love WCAI, the local NPR affiliate here on the Cape & Islands. I love the way sounds surprise me on it, as it shifts from reporting on Syria to a thirty-second Sonic ID of a boy describing the revving of an engine — vroom! vroom! — or a clammer telling stories from the old days. But I especially love the soothing voice and inquisitiveness of Mindy Todd on her show The Point. So it was with great pleasure that I got to sit with her for an hour in the cool WCAI studio this morning and talk about A River Runs Again.
And then, one can’t pass up the opportunity for a popover from the Pie in the Sky bakery across the street, so I didn’t. What should come lumbering by but a massive load of oceanographic equipment from WHOI, with solar panels and whirligigs and a tremendous aura of mystery and intrigue. #Ifuckinglovescience.
A River Runs Again book tour got off to a lovely start on a sultry night in Cambridge, where — in spite of summer ending and the school year starting — a great crowd of folks came out to the fiercely independent Porter Square Books. Thanks to my friend and wonderful talented musician, Mark Erelli, for snapping a few photos.
Lots of book tour events are lining up. Check the calendar here for all updates & details.
- Wed., Sept. 2 (7:00 pm): Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
- Thurs., Sept. 3: WCAI The Point with Mindy Todd (Cape Cod NPR)
- Sat., Sept. 5 (11:15 am): AJC Decatur Book Festival, Atlanta GA
- Wed., Sept. 9 (7:00 pm): Falmouth Public Library, Falmouth, MA
- Thurs., Sept. 24 (7:30 pm): Wellfleet Preservation Hall, Wellfleet, Cape Cod, MA
- Wed., Sept 30 (12:30 pm): UVA Medical Center Hour, Charlottesville, VA
- Tues., Oct. 13 (3:00 pm): Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC
- Thurs., Oct. 15 (6:00 pm): NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, NYC, NY
- Sat., Oct. 17: Texas Book Festival, Austin, TX (details TBD)
- Oct. 23 – 25: Indo-American Arts Council Literary Festival, Hunter College, New York, NY (details TBD)
- Sun., Nov. 1: The Axe & Fiddle, Cottage Grove, OR
- Mon., Nov. 2 (7:30 pm): Powell’s on Hawthorne, Portland, OR
- Tues., Nov. 3 (7:00 pm): Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
- Thurs., Nov. 5 (7:00 pm): San Francisco World Affairs Council, San Francisco, CA
- Tues., Nov. 17 (6:30 pm): Sturgis Library, Barnstable, Cape Cod, MA
- Sat., Nov. 21: Miami Book Fair International, Miami, FL (details TBD)
Hope to see you. If not, there’s always this. 🙂
A few weeks ago, the Christian Science Monitor included A River Runs Again in its list of the Ten Best Books of August. Just today, they’ve published a lovely review of it by Peter Lewis. A close reader, he writes with eloquence and wonderful turns-of-phrase, comparing India to a Rube Goldberg contraption that’s been thrown out of whack by environmental upheaval. He writes:
Meera Subramanian’s A River Runs Again tells five tales of India at the crossroads – a filigree of cautionary and celebratory stories – voiced with dignified passion….
Subramanian navigates these rough waters between baneful emergencies and precarious signs of enlightened attitudes with the right degree of cautious optimism.
It’s official. A River Runs Again is now available in bookstores across the US. (Of course, Amazon has been sending it out for weeks.) To find out which independent bookseller near you will be stocking it, check here, or call up your local library and encourage them to purchase a copy for their collection. Then you, too, can look like this man:
It will be coming out in India, as Elemental India: The Natural World at a Time of Crisis and Opportunity, soon!
For years now I’ve been referring to the book I’ve been working on as Elemental India. It still may retain that title when it comes out in India, but here in the United States, now that the manuscript is handed in, the facts checked and checked again, the galleys scanned for typos, and the cover art completed, it is time for a rechristening. Somewhere along the way, it became A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka. The team at PublicAffairs have been amazing to work with and we’re all looking forward to August 25th, when it shall be released. Stay tuned for news on book launch and fall events, and don’t hesitate to be in touch if you have ideas or suggestions.
I spent a good chunk of last winter stepping into women’s kitchens in rural India to see what was cooking. Rice. Rotis. Dal. Curries. But regardless of the meal, most rural homes were cooking over open fires. With the incredible support of a Fulbright-Nehru fellowship, I was working on a book about environmental stories across India, including doing research and reporting about what — if anything — was helping women move away from the polluting form of cooking with biomass. Today, the journal Nature published my piece that tells a little bit about what I found. Deadly Dinners (a heavy-handed but unfortunately devastatingly accurate title) begins:
After returning from her nine-and-a-half-hour shift as a security guard, Savita Satish Dadas begins plucking fenugreek leaves from their stems for dinner. She and her two children, along with three of their cousins, gather in a shed-like structure next to their house in the Satara District of Maharashtra, India. As goats and cows settle in for the night a few metres away, Dadas and the children sit down on a packed dirt floor around the family hearth.
Whisps of smoke rise up from their chulha, the Indian name given to a traditional cooking-stove fuelled by wood and other organic matter often gathered from the countryside. Dadas’s stove, like several of her neighbours’, is sculpted out of clay. But many make a rudimentary three-stone fire — a triangle of elevated points to support a pot — that humans have used for millennia. Dadas feeds roughly chopped logs into the stove and her hands shape moistened flour into bhakri bread, the rhythmic movement illuminated by the flickering flames.
With this simple daily act, Dadas shares a connection with more than one-third of the world’s population, the three billion people who depend on solid biomass fuels — such as wood, animal dung, agricultural waste and charcoal — or coal for their cooking needs.