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India@75: 15 recently published books that uniquely chronicle Indian realities

Many Indias, many perspectives

August 14, 2022 / 01:00 PM IST
(Representational image: Prasanna Kumar via Unsplash)

(Representational image: Prasanna Kumar via Unsplash)

Arundhati Roy once said, “India lives in several centuries at the same time.” This is why perhaps the country remains a perennial puzzle for everyone, for it’s impossible to uncover the ‘whole truth’ about anything in India.

But below is a list of recently published books that not only wrestle with India’s complexity adroitly, but also unravel a crucial understanding of its culture and politics, often employing a unique lens to tell these stories.

Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India: Rukmini S.’s work shows why not to take any data about India at face value. Not because the data is flawed but because it will never be able to speak the whole truth about the country. From who’s the middle class to the relationship between religious intolerance and education, she exposes fault lines and debunks myths in simple language and thoughtful commentary. (Context, an imprint of Westland)

Footprints of a Queer History: Life-Stories from Gujarat: For its rich, unassuming storytelling of oft-neglected queer lives—their dynamic and everydayness—in Gujarat, Maya Sharma’s latest book is a force to reckon with. Because queer stories get editorialised and are often presented to cater to the gaze of cis-het people, it’s easier to find sanitised narratives. Which is why it’s a joy to read Sharma’s book, which tells stories of trans men, lesbians, and those who defy all labels. (Yoda Press)

Gods, Giants and the Geography of India: When mythology gets passed down as history, the risk it poses is immense. For writing about this overlap through engaging stories, without ignoring hard facts, especially for young readers, Nalini Ramachandran deserves special praise. The illustrations by Sharanya Kunnath make reading this book a pleasant visual experience as well. (Hachette)

The Silent Coup: A History of India’s Deep State: Josy Joseph is an authority when it comes to commentary on politics, defence, and security issues. Like his previous book, The Silent Coup is an absorbing account of the functioning of security establishments in India. (Context, an imprint of Westland)

Mountain Tales: Love and Loss in the Municipality of Castaway Belongings: Saumya Roy’s work captures and records stories of people who have made their livelihoods in and around garbage dumps. In an eye-opening and highly accessible way, Roy has outlined for us the dangers that trash townships have always been facing and how ignorant successive governments and civil society have always been towards them. (Hachette)

Metronoma: Scenes from the Delhi Metro: What did it take to develop the Delhi Metro, and what’s it like for the people of Delhi NCR to have it? From architects to politicians, Rashmi Sadana interviewed commuters and non-commuters to capture its significance in vignettes. (Roli Books)

Hope Behind Bars: Notes from Indian Prisons: Edited by Sanjoy Hazarika and Madhurima Dhanuka, the book explores what an Indian prison looks like, are jails really reformative institutions, and does an ecosystem like a prison help both prisoners and the administration remain ‘sane’? (Pan Macmillan)

Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence: Shrayana Bhattacharya's book draws on economics and Bollywood, to explore the vulnerability, and lack of agency and independence of Indian women through fandom. (HarperCollins Publishers)

Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak: Women who used to work in a Nokia factory that laid them off, a researcher, and a theatre practitioner doubling up as a translator meet over tea and talk about being a working woman in India in this book written by Madhumita Dutta and illustrated by Madhushree. Their conversations offer insights into the world of working women in lower-income localities of India. (Zubaan)

Better to Have Gone: Love, Death, and the Quest for Utopia in Auroville: Akash Kapur’s rich account of Auroville is an incredible story of how a township that wanted to transcend set societal norms came to be one of the most detested (for a while) for surrendering rationality to pursue a goal that its long-dead founders had set, but it fell in incapable hands in their absence, leading to mayhem in the lives of Kapur’s wife’s family and others. (Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster)

10 Indian Art Mysteries That Have Never Been Solved: Penguin’s 10s series’ latest is this wonderful book that enlists 10 art mysteries that remain to be unravelled. If Buddha, who had shaved his head before going on a journey towards enlightenment, never wanted his image for idol worship, then why does he looks the way he looks to us now—curly hair, long earlobes, and a well-sculptured body? Why are women absent in art histories? And what’s bewildering about Pithora paintings? These and several other questions Mamta Nainy poses in this book, which even though is targeted at young readers will be enjoyed by all. (Duckbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House)

Wanderers, Kings, Merchants: The Story of India Through Its Languages: Peggy Mohan’s book offers relief and assurance that the country’s linguistic and cultural richness will continue to be documented even when it’s under threat. Above all, it rejects the easy tales that scholars tell about the “origin” of a language and offers a highly engrossing, evidential, and interconnected account of Indian languages. (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House)

In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition: Several families and the nation itself still continue to grapple with the Partition of India. While some don’t want to revisit the horrors of the time, Aanchal Malhotra has shown a distinct resilience in documenting stories told through material memory. In her latest, she records generational histories and offers a rich narrative about the Partition yet again.  (HarperCollins Publishers)

Shaheen Bagh and the Idea of India: Writings on a Movement for Justice, Liberty and Equality: The nationwide anti-CAA movement was the last big struggle before the farmers’ protests that rocked the nation. What’s interesting about this movement is that it was led by women. Seema Mustafa in her book documents the movement sensitively by seeking varied viewpoints celebrating what the movement stood for and what when faced with an unprecedented pandemic like COVID-19 should be our role in ensuring the democratic spirit of India stays alive. (Speaking Tiger)

Sex and the Supreme Court: How the Law Is Upholding the Dignity of the Indian Citizen: The relationship between the country and its people is often understood through the law of the land. It’s welcoming and flourishing if its inhabitants find it easier to conduct their lives, but Indian reality defies all such black-and-white notions of existence. It’s constantly at loggerheads with several ideas that protect the individuality, dignity, and freedom of its citizen. Edited by Saurabh Kirpal, this book is a record of the same told through several famous and infamous cases that the apex court of the country was faced with. (Hachette)

Saurabh Sharma is a freelance journalist who writes on books and gender.
first published: Aug 14, 2022 12:51 pm