The Bookwallah

arriving in Mumbai
The Bookwallah: five writers. A Popup Library. 2000 km by train. 'Arriving in Mumbai'. Photography: Catriona Mitchell.

Winner of the Federal Government’s inaugural Australian Arts in Asia Award in the category of community engagement.

The Bookwallah took five writers and an ingenious travelling library across India by train. Three Indian and two Australian writers journeyed through the cities and towns of modern India in search of stories, conversations and connections.

Poet Sudeep Sen, novelist and critic Chandrahas Choudhury, and journalist and fiction writer Annie Zaidi joined young adult author Kirsty Murray, and non-fiction writer Benjamin Law.

The tour began at the Mumbai LitFest, paused in Goa at Literati bookshop, joined forces with the Bangalore Literature Festival, headed west to Chennai, then finished more than 2000 km away on the coast in Pondicherry.

The writers were accompanied by unique luggage: a portable, pop-up library. Veteran Indian designer Soumitri Varadarajan and Australian designer Georgia Hutchinson created a series of exquisite custom-made suitcases that opened and transformed into bookcases, filled with hundreds of new Australian books. Part library, part art installation, visitors could browse, sit and read, or take part in intimate library events. Books from the library were donated to universities and local libraries along the way.

For the Bookwallah website click here


Project Organiser
Asialink Writing Program, University of Melbourne
Australian Writers
Benjamin Law, Kirsty Murray
Indian Writers
Chandrahas Choundhury, Sudeep Sen, Annie Zaidi
Soumitri Varadarajan, Georgia Hutchinson
Nic Low and Catriona Mitchell
Tour Dates
31 October 2012 – 21 November 2012
29 July 2013 - 1 September 2013, Cowen Gallery, State Library of Victoria
Documentary Film
Showing on 'The Big Screen,' Federation Square 6:30pm every Monday in August
Australian Journey
Join Chandrahas Choundhury and Annie Zaidi at the Melbourne Writers Festival 26- 29 August 2013

bookwallah writers

'The end of the line: The Bookwallah team in Pondicherry'. Photography: Catriona Mitchell.

Chandrahas Choudhury is a novelist and literary critic based in Delhi. He is the author of the novel Arzee the Dwarf, published in German and Spanish under the title The Little King of Bombay. He is also the editor of an introduction to Indian fiction, India: A Traveller’s Literary Companion. He reviews books for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He writes a literary weblog at The Middle Stage.

Benjamin Law is a Brisbane-based writer and journalist. He has been published in over 50 magazines, websites and journals in Australia and worldwide, and his debut book The Family Law (2010) was shortlisted for Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs). His second book Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East is released in September 2012. He holds a doctorate in creative writing and cultural studies from the Queensland University of Technology.

Kirsty Murray is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. Her nine novels plus numerous works of non-fiction and junior fiction are widely studied in schools in Australia as well as in Germany, the UK and the USA. She has been an Asialink Literature Resident at the University of Madras and a Creative Fellow of the State Library of Victoria. Her most recent novel, The Lilliputians (released in the UK and Australia as India Dark), is based on the true story of a theatrical troupe of Australian children that toured India in 1910.

Sudeep Sen is ‘one of the finest younger English-language poets in the international literary scene’ (BBC Radio). Sen’s books include: Prayer Flag, Rain, Aria (A K Ramanujan Translation Award), Ladakh, Letters of Glass, and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (editor). Blue Nude: New & Selected Poems | Translations 1979-2014 (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) is forthcoming. His poems, translated into twenty-five languages, have featured in major international anthologies. His words have appeared in the TLS, Newsweek, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Herald, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast widely on television. He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS and the editor of Atlas.

Annie Zaidi is the author of ‘Known Turf’, a collection of essays that was short-listed for the Vodafone Crossword book awards (non-fiction, 2011), and the co-author of ‘The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl’. Her work has appeared in various anthologies including Mumbai Noir; Women Changing India; India Shining, India Changing; and literary journals including Pratilipi, and Desilit. Her first Hindi play ‘Jaal’ opened in 2012 as part of Writers Bloc, in Mumbai. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a new manuscript of poems.


Explore the Bookwallah itinerary with the interactive map below. Click the blue city markers for dates




Crossing south India by train, the two Australian and three Indian writers risked personality clashes, sleep deprivation, health challenges, unforeseen obstacles and the inevitable mayhem of India, all while delivering some 31 public events in five cities, complete with a travelling pop-up library of Australian books weighing just under 300 kilos!

This is no formal account of the Bookwallah tour. It’s the behind-the-scenes story. Shot en-route with a hand-held camera, it’s a spontaneous, gritty, up-close-and-personal insight into all that unfolded: the highs and the lows, the relationships that formed, and the inevitable fusion of two cultures brought about by the extraordinary circumstances the writers found themselves in.

– Catriona Mitchell (filmmaker)

View The Bookwallah film on ‘The Big Screen’ Federation Square every Monday in August at 6:30pm


bookwallah exhibtion 

The Bookwallah exhibition charts the epic literary adventure of five writers and their ingenious luggage – a travelling library housed in kangaroo-leather suitcases – on a month-long quest to explore Indian writing and culture. 

A free exhibition at the Cowen Gallery, State Library of Victoria from 24 July 2013 – 1 September 2013.



Melbourne Writers Festival is pleased to be bringing the Bookwallah tour to Australia, bringing India's vibrant contemporary literary and publishing culture to audiences right across the east coast.

The travelling authors are Annie Zaidi, Chandrahas Choudhury, Benjamin Law and Kirsty Murray, who will be involved in several Bookwallah events across the Melbourne Writers Festival. Then they will pack their suitcases and jump on a train, heading north to meet audiences at the University of Western Sydney and Brisbane Writers Festival. They will also enjoy a writing residency along the way at the National Trust's Mooramong Homestead.

The Melbourne Writers Festival will run from 22 August – 1 September 2013. View a full list of Bookwallah events.

State Library     Writers Festival     Bhp



In the Media

6 September 2013
Bookwallah tour hosts Indian authors in Australia, Radio Australia
18 August 2013
Have books, will travel, Thuy On, Sydney Morning Herald
26 July 2013
Seeing India by rail with library in tow, Dewi Cooke, The Age
25 July 2013
A tale of two countries writes its way across Australia, Matt Millikan, ArtsHub
February 2013
Mind the gap, Nic Low, The Monthly.
4 November 2012
Only books, no baggage, Anjana Vaswani, News, Mid Day (Mumbai edition)
3 November 2012
Hit the road with this Bookwallah, Lifestyle, Mid Day (Mumbai edition)
1 November 2012
Writers’ pit-stop, Keerthi Basavarajaiah, Lounge, Bangalore Mirror
31 October 2012
The Bookwallah: A unique train journey for Australian and Indian authors, The Siasat Daily
19 October 2012
Six Writers in 2,000-km roving lit fest rail journey,

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