From climbing watch towers in Greece to tracing criminals in Russia, we find out where celebrities go after being inspired by their favourite books.
We’ve all experienced it. Books so vividly written that they turn into movies, for your mind. Be it Salman Rushdie’s elucidation of snow-capped Kashmir (in Shalimar The Clown) or Orhan Pamuk’s description of Istanbul’s streets (in Museum of Innocence), words have the power to inspire. While some take refuge inside the worlds created within books, others grab their passport, pack their bags and head out, to create stories of their own. We speak to popular actors, writers, stand-up artistes and more to find out which books fuelled their imagination and galvanised them into action.
JJ Valaya, designer
The Delhi designer and photographer says nothing inspires him quite like the visual medium. His preference for pictures over words explains the hundreds of coffee table books in his library, of which the one on Topkapi architecture by Kemal Cig, Sabahattin Batur and Cengiz Koseoglu is much favoured. “The book came first, followed by research online of the museums I wanted to see up close in Istanbul,” he recalls. The visit, “a curation trip”, took place over five years ago, and exceeded expectations. “I am a sucker for Islamic sensibilities and their contribution to art and craft is extraordinary. I have a natural affinity to the Asian side of the city,” he confesses, referring to the fantasy skyline of minarets and domes. But Constantinople, situated on the other side of the Bosphorous Strait, has its charm, too. “On three visits, I’ve stayed in three different places—from the landmark Ciragan Palace Kempinski to an airbnb in a luxury apartment to a boutique hotel, Ibrahim Pasha in the historical Sultanahmet district.’’ Getting there: Return flights to Istanbul at Rs 46,939
Anita Nair, author
A few years ago, while in England, Nair visited Jane Austen’s home in Hampshire. She walked through the rooms, looking at the Pride and Prejudice author’s lace collars, crosses and the desk where she wrote. But she says it was a one-off thing, as she feels visiting homes “is voyeuristic. I prefer going to places written about in books”. Like the time she went to the town of Assisi in Italy, to see where the acolyte, Brother Leo, was buried. “I was struck by him after reading Nikos Kazantzakis’ book, Saint Francis. Leo didn’t have a calling, but he was as devout—his allegiance, was to St Francis. So I wanted to know if they had buried him nearby and I was happy to discover that he was,” she shares. The author of Ladies Coupe had also made a trip to New Orleans, where Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, had honeymooned. “I was curious to know what two completely selfish people like them would have done in a city like that,” says Nair, who stayed at the YMCA and frequented Pat O’Brien’s, the pub that created the rum-based cocktail, Hurricane (Rs 566). Getting there: Return flights to Rome from Rs 36,080; and to New Orleans from Rs 87,325
Kenneth Sebastian, standup comedian
This funnyman is also a nerd. He loves astrophysics—from the big bang theory to black holes. He owes his interest in the ‘Universe’ to scientist, Stephen Hawking, and his 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time. While the book simplified the subject of ‘Cosmology’ for Sebastian, it got him equally intrigued with the grand university it was set in. “The book is set in Cambridge University. Hawking compares the dimensions of its hallways to that of the Universe. How can universities be inspiring? I understood better when I visited the Princeton University in the US (last May while on a comedy tour). The architecture was overwhelming, almost the way Hawking describes Cambridge in his book,” he says. Some day, he hopes to visit the British University. “I hope I get invited there for a show. It’s on my bucket list,” signs off the artiste. Getting there: Return flights to Cambridge from Rs 1,41,031
William Dalrymple, author
Travel has always been a circular journey for Dalrymple. “When you read, you want to go somewhere; when you are there, you read some more and you want to go somewhere else,” laughs the author. His last holiday was to the Mani Peninsula, in southern Greece, following in the footsteps of his travel writing guru, Patrick Leigh Fermor. The book, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, he says is “a love song to the middle prong of the trident-shaped southern coast”. Last summer, the 51-year-old spent his time, driving through its wild landscapes. “It’s not what you’d expect from a Mediterranean landscape—it is too bleak,” he says, adding that he is going to Corfu next, which he knows mainly from childhood readings of Gerald Durrell. Getting there: Return flights to Athens from Rs 41,861
Samit Basu, author
For Samit Basu, the one place he always wanted to visit was New York,inspired by Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and its poetic take on the metropolis, where Allen talks about the skylines and boulevards of the city. His dream came true last year, when he made it to The Big Apple. “New York has always been known for its art galleries and museums, but all the while I was there, I decided to walk around the streets, with two fellow New Yorkers,” he says. According to him, the city is all about its streets (especially the Midtown Manhattan region). “Like the 39th street through which Hulk ran down or the Madison Square Garden or the Fuller building at 175 Fifth Avenue which served as the headquarters of Daily Bugle where Peter Parker worked,” adds the author of The Adventures of Stoob. Getting there: Return flights from Rs 74,207
Rana Daggubati, actor
The actor is fond of gritty crime dramas, and authors Frederick Forsyth and Mario Puzo top his list of favourites—like Forsyth’s The Cobra and The Day of the Jackal, and Puzo’s The Godfather. “A lot of them make references to Russia, especially Moscow. It’s not a place that we Indians think of visiting. I have a lot of Russian friends in Goa, but I still have to plan a trip to Russia.” Another destination on the Baahubali star’s list is Afghanistan, inspired by Forsyth’s The Afghan. “The books talk about that part of Afghanistan where people still hold on to their old traditions quite strongly. I’d like to explore their food and culture,” he shares. Perhaps next year? “I will read a lot of travel magazines, figure out my itinerary and then convince my friends to join,” says Daggubati. Getting there: Return flights to Kabul from Rs 48,685
Elena Fernandes, actor-model
For this half Goan-half Peruvian beauty, it was The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott that sent her to Indonesia. “The book is set in Vietnam, but it inspired me to head to Bali. I saw so many similarities between the places in the book and those I visited—from the colouring of the buildings to the landscapes,” enthuses the London-raised supermodel, who featured in the Kingfisher Calendar 2013 and 2015, apart from winning critical acclaim for her performance in Kapoor and Sons. She recommends the Ramada Bintang Bali Resort in Kuta, for a peaceful and secluded stay. “Stop at Padang-Padang beach if you’re a surfer, and Amed beach, backed by hills and palm trees, if you’re looking for a quiet break,” shares Fernandes. Next on the agenda for this history buff is a tour inspired by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Getting there: Return flights to Bali from Rs 37,319
David Abraham, Designer
The Delhi-based creative director of the brand, Abraham & Thakore, agrees that the books he reads colour his holidays. “When I had made my first trip to Myanmar, I had just picked up Amitav Ghosh’s historical novel, The Glass Palace.” The collective memoir of the displaced, which begins with an 11-year-old orphan in Mandalay, Burma, gave the designer a sense of place and time that persisted during his stay at the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, originally the Rangoon Rowing Club. “It had lots of Burmese teak and incredible views of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Our driver took us to street stalls serving local snacks like tea leaves cooked with little fish and shrimp. I visited the sprawling British Scott market in Yangon and brought back a huge number of bold lacquer objects that I still own,” he recalls. Getting there: Return flights to Yangon at Rs 33,937
Pria Kataria Puri, designer
People who are spiritually inclined tend to gravitate towards nature, and designer Puri is no exception. Just back from a 20-day break in Kashmir, she tells us that she was inspired by authors Doreen Virtue and Brian Weiss. “Spirituality is a subject I love reading about. Virtue is one of my favourite authors. I remember reading a chapter on ‘grounding’ in her book Chakra Clearing. She explains the importance of making contact with the ground to feel the energy of Mother Earth. After reading that, I realised Kashmir was the ideal place to connect with nature,” says Puri, adding, “I visit Kashmir at least twice a year, partly because I’m half Kashmiri and partly because of the books I read.” Revealing that she can still hear the birds chirping and feel the stillness of the mountains though she’s back in Mumbai, she shares that it was on her visit last month, that she found the inspiration for her next collection, Firdaus—Persian for paradise.
By Rashmi Rajagopal, Anoop Menon, Surya Praphulla Kumar & Barkha Kumari