With Jhumpa In The Park

Indian authors are entering the audio books market.


What would you say if I told you that Jhumpa Lahiri and Rohinton Mistry have been accompanying me on my daily walks in the park and Deepak Chopra has been chatting with me about spirituality in my car as we negotiate the traffic jams into Manhattan?


Yes, it’s all thanks to audiobooks, that little miracle which make it possible to have your eyes and hands free for jogging, driving or commuting, even as you listen to the best books. It is one of the great unsung, unknown joys of our frenetic, multitasking lives, this delicious ability to be involved in something totally creative even as you chop onions or iron a mountain load of clothes. You can be listening to Salman Rushdie as you run errands!

I first discovered the audio tapes of Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance in the local library, and used them in my battered journalist’s tape recorder the next time I went for my 3-mile walk in sprawling Eisenhower Park, which is reputed to be even larger than Manhattan’s Central Park. It was the perfect way to “read” Mistry – with no distractions, no ringing telephones or doorbells. Just the fabulous greenery and seagulls and squirrels dashing about – and yes, I got my one-hour walk out of the way too.

It’s increasingly hard to cram literature into our tightly packed day, but audiobooks are a fun way around the problem. If your subway commute is loud and noisy and chaotic, you can calm yourself by shutting it all out with Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. 
For the elderly, the blind or those with failing eyesight, audiobooks open up a whole new world and depending on the subject, can bring famous authors, experts and travelers into their bedroom.


Audiobooks have been in the mainstream market for almost half a century, and one of the earliest publishers is Listening Library, a division of Random House, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. According to Katherine Sungarian of Random House, one of the main purveyors of audiobooks, audiobooks sell about 10 percent of the print edition. One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on your point of view) of audiobooks is that they are frequently abridged, so it doesn’t take long to catch up on bestsellers that everyone is reading, but you have no time to get to.

It seems a bit strange that tapes are still being produced when most people have moved on to CDs. Says Sungarian: ” Tapes are still being produced, because that’s what the market demands. Many people listen to audiobooks in their cars and while most new cars have CD players installed in them, not everyone is driving a new car.”

The good news for lovers of fiction by South Asian writers is that several books are available on audio from Salman Rushdie to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Not all books are available on audio, but Rushdie fans can pick up East West: Stories, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury or The Moor’s Last Sigh.

V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River as well as his latest – and perhaps his last -novel Magic Seeds are both available on audio in unabridged versions. Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices is also available on audio as is Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Family Matters are both available on audio.


For those that need their Pico Iyer fix, there’s Falling of the Map. This wonderful travel book can take you on a tour through the world’s loneliest and most eccentric places, from Iceland to Bhutan to Argentina, even as you stand in line at the local bank or pick up your drycleaning in your neighborhood.

Kirkus Reviews called it “Immensely resonant: a funny, stimulating, eminently humane work.” The book is read by David Chase, who is British, and has recorded over 800 books. He has received eight Earphones Awards, and has been designated one of the Golden Voices.

A new wrinkle on the audio game is the digital audio book, which can be downloaded and heard on the computer, burnt to CD or transferred to an Ipod or MP3 player.

Sites like offer over 18,000 audio titles., an audio book rental site, offers a book club that gets you unlimited audiobooks on CD every month. Several other websites offer free audio book downloads. Most book store chains, and public libraries, also stock a selection of audiobooks.

The Indian author with the largest number of audiobooks is definitely Spirituality Guru Deepak Chopra. He must offer solace to commuters stuck in traffic jams, in between the beep of their horns!


His pearls of wisdom can be picked up in several audiobooks, including Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide, The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents: Guiding your Children to Success and Fulfillment, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga: A Practical Guide to Healing Body, Mind and Spirit, and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to Fulfilling Your Dreams.

Now that’s a quick way to become a super parent, make a ton of money and achieve all your dreams – all the time mopping your kitchen floor!

Sungarian of Random House points out that audiobooks are an excellent literacy tool: ” Children can enjoy books that are a few levels above their reading level because listening comprehension can be stronger than reading comprehension. They also benefit from hearing proper inflection and learn new words while listening to audiobooks.”

While there are thousands of mainstream children’s books to choose from, some Indian titles are appearing too, including The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divarkaruni, which takes young readers half way across the world to Kolkata into the adventurers of three young travelers.

For teens, there is a charming book called Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami, who is well known in the U.K. for several novel,s including Changing Places and Annie’s Game and also wrote the novelization of the movie Bend it Like Beckham.

Sarita Choudhry of Mississippi Masala and Kamasutra fame reads Jhumpa Lhiri’s The Namesake

The story deals with the fabulous Dhillon sisters,Amber, Jazz and Geena, known to their friends in school as the Bindi Babes. Their fun lives – and problems – are narrated on audio by U.K. actress Nina Wadia who has starred in Goodness Gracious Me, which won her an EMMA award, and in White Teeth and Bend it Like Beckham.

Indeed, one of the great bonuses of audiobooks are the narrators, usually topnotch actors. Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance for instance, has been read by the great actress Madhur Jaffrey, for the Oprah Audio Book Club, conveying all the power and pathos of Mistry’s novel.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, the first novel by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, takes us from Calcutta to Boston, deep into immigrant lives spanning decades.

The book is read by actress Sarita Choudhury who has acted in Mississippi Masala and Kamasutra and was recently seen in the powerful theater production of Sakharam Binder. Divakaruni’s The Conch Bearer is narrated by Alan Cumming, who won the Tony Drama Desk award for his performance in the revival of Cabaret.

But perhaps there’s nothing quite like having the author himself read to you! Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist – a colorful, over the top tale of the Raj – is read by the author himself.

You’re not going to forget the chameleon-like Pran Nath Razdan, son of an Indian woman and fathered by an Englishman, as he reinvents himself again and again. Especially when you hear it right from the author’s mouth.

It’s a cozy relationship as you walk in the park listening to Hari Kunzru’s voice as he relates the story right in your ear. We may grow up but we never lose our love of tall tales, of having someone tell us about far off worlds and fabulous people, of dreams and desires. Now they are here, whispering in your ears.  

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