5 Books About India to have on your bookshelf

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Freedom at Midnight

by Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre

For those interested in the partition.

The pair of Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre have written several books together which combine their investigative journalism techniques with historical research. They have written about Paris, New York & Israel and embarked on the Indian Independence together.

The leads of this story are Mountbatten, Jinnah, Nehru & Gandhi. The premise is the Independence of the nation. This book has had painstaking research and uncovered old documents which will make us go through the core people involved in partition. However, since the only major person alive during the writing of this book was Mountbatten, the book does portray him in a good light.

The partition & last few weeks to Independence from the eyes of the ones making decisions about it is a topic which will always be close to our hearts.

 

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The Discovery of India

by Jawaharlal Nehru

India from the eyes of the man who established its principles.

Today when the current PM does not even mention India’s first Prime Minister in his speeches, it is even more imperative that we read this book to know the man who led our nation through the most perilous times and made us a secular democracy when no major world leader of that time thought that we could survive.

Nehru was a brilliant writer and this book is a testament to that. True to the title, it is the discovery of India from the eyes of Nehru. The India that we see through his eyes is glorious, strong, independent, proud and a nation of a very rich cultural heritage.

The book is also a reflection of Nehru and the vision he had of India.

 

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India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

by Ramachandra Guha

India’s lesser-known history.

This is the finest book on Indian history I have read. It is over 900 pages but totally unputdownable & very interesting. It takes us through a newly-independent India until the early 90s which was a period that not a lot of us know about.

The book is painstakingly and well researched and is very well-paced. It takes us through the nation’s journey and the major events that took us to this decade. It shows a nation which started low but has slowly & steadily climbed up & stands to be at the frontier in the coming decades.

 

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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

by Amartya Sen

India as a culture & society from the Nobel prize winning economist.

This is Amartya Sen’s most famous book and it explores India and it’s culture and history through sixteen of his essays. It tells us about India’s long argumentative tradition which is so important for remaining a secular democracy.

 

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India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age

by Gurcharan Das

Indian economy from the eyes of the man who saw it.

Gurcharan Das was the CEO of P&G India from 1985 to 1992. He grew up with the nation & was at the helm of one of the biggest FMCG companies during the high-growth transition phase.

While his other books are okay, this one was really good. It takes us through India’s economy, it’s challenges, the ’91 reforms and the people behind it. It is a breezy read & well-written which touches the periphery of Indian economy and how we have stumbled through to the era of high growth.

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5 Books About India to have on your bookshelf

Hampi – The Ruins of Our Future

In the 14th century, Vijayanagara was one of the biggest cities in one of the richest empires in the world.

And in the 21st, Vijayangara’s ruins at Hampi have featured prominently on the hippie trails in India.

The temple town of today is comfortably harboring its contradicting place as a Heritage Site with rich Indian history and it’s reputation of being a town for hippies. It is so frequented by Europeans & Israelis that even their cuisine is present on the menu of almost every restaurant here.

While it was easily accessible and had people from across the world at one point, the Hampi of today is difficult to reach.

One can go either by the road or the train. The bus journey is 7 hours from Bangalore, 6-7 hours from Goa and 14 hours from Mumbai. It is almost 17 hours from Mumbai & 9 hours from Bangalore by train. The buses & trains drop you at Hospet and from there you take an auto, cab or a bus till Hampi which is about 15km away.

Surrounded by the river Tungabhadra on one side & hills on the other three, the city’s strategic location made Bukka Raya I, the second king of the Vijayanagara empire, move the capital here.

Several travelers from Europe, China & the Arab region and other parts of the world came here and have written records of this magnificent city. Today, it is a sleepy temple town filled with tourists and the locals.

Founded in 1336 by Harihara I, the Vijayanagara empire extended from south of the Tungabhadra river from the eastern to the western coast. From thereon, the empire expanded in the south up to Sri Lanka and current-day Orissa in the north.

It was the most powerful & the biggest empire in India at that time.

As I dust off my history knowledge, I remember being taught the history of Northern India and the kings who controlled Delhi. Muhammad Bin-Tugluq was the ruler at that time, and the Vijayanagara Empire was not covered as much in detail.

Yet, Vijayanagara Empire ruled over entire South India and parts of the North as well. The Empire traded in spices, crops, textiles, minerals and ship building primarily. It traded with China via its east coast & the Arab empires from the west coast.

The river Tungabhadra passes through Hampi and divides it into two parts.

 

On one side is where the ruins of the Vijayanagara city are present. The elephant stables, watch tower, Zanana and several temples & ruins are on this side. You need to spend a day exploring these ruins & while you do, do take some time out to appreciate the work done by archaeologists and historians to revive history from plain rocks & boulders.

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Narasimha Vigraha

Teaching of history in schools needs to be as practical as science for it to be understood & appreciated.

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Virupaksha temple

Some of the most prominent Hindu temples were built in South India during this reign and one of them was the Virupaksha Temple which is on this side of the island.

The searing sun, dry sand and the boulders transplanted me back to the 14th century when life revolved around this temple in the city. Its ruins turned into a bustling city alive with a heart, filled with ambition and people from across the world. It was a metropolis beating at the heart of the empire and striving to be the best in the world.

Very much like today’s Delhi or Mumbai.

The Tungabhadra becomes a small stream at the middle & after jumping over a few rocks, we come to the other side of the town. This is a place stuck in the past, the narrow dusty paths surrounded by rice & sugarcane fields on both sides makes it seem like the clock stopped ticking here a long time ago.

The wider part of the river is on this side & so is the Tungabhadra dam. A boatman takes us on the river in a small coracle. He takes us mid-way and starts turning the boat in circles right there. As he increases the speed our visions blur and our laughter submerges with the serenity of the place.

As it approaches sundown, we head to the Anjaneyahdri Hills which is known to be the best spot to view the sunset here. We climb up the hill & take up a spot. A small girl & a few boys have climbed up with us & are selling tea now.

More and more people come on top of the hill & one of them starts playing the guitar. As the tunes fill the air at the top, we witness the sky change its color from yellow to orange and finally all that remains are just shades of blue.

If you observe closely, you can see the ruins on the other side from here. It is the ruins of a city which is aging gracefully as it makes its peace with the idea that its heydays have gone by.

Its place has been taken up by cities like Delhi & Mumbai and it makes me wonder, what would these cities’ ruins look like decades from now.

 

Hampi – The Ruins of Our Future

From My Bookshelf

India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy

India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

by Ramachandra Guha

 
 
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This is one of the most inspiring and the best books I have read.
 
I remember studying History in school and it was always till 1947. After India had won its independence, we switched to Civics. India After Gandhi covers that phase in India’s History between 1947 till the 90s, when our generation was born.
In fact, this book should be taught in schools. We know about the various dynasties that ruled our country, even before there was an India. And we know of the people who were at the forefront of the Indian Freedom Struggle. But sadly, not many of us know who were at the forefront in upholding the notion of “India” and its democratic principles in spite of being written off by foreign media at the end of every decade.
 
It took the strength and determination of a lot of people to give India its geographical boundaries and its principles. This book is about those people and of the difficult circumstances under which these principles were held.
This book is an epic adventure and that is because of its content and the way it has been written. You will not feel like you are reading History, but are travelling through time and space and will not be able to keep the book down once you have begun. In fact, the only reason why I am not giving this book 5-stars is because, at 800 pages, it is still not comprehensive enough.
 
I wish there were more details about this era of our nation.
Kudos to Ramachandra Guha.
 
 
Love and Longing in Bombay

Love and Longing in Bombay

 
 
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This is the first Vikram Chandra book I have read and is a collection of short stories. Somehow the reference to the city was not there as much as I was hoping in these stories but the characters are very well etched out and the stories are very engaging. Vikarm Chandra delves deep into the emotions of the people and he makes the characters come alive. In fact, one can feel the emotions within oneself after the stories are over.
 
I plan to read more of his books in the future.
 
 

The Great Indian Novel

 
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This is the third book in recent months I have read about the phase between 1947 till the 80s of India; the other two being Midnight’s Children (https://wordsofashex.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/from-my-bookshelf-4/) and India After Gandhi.
 
However, all three books are extremely different and yet brilliant.
 
Shashi Tharoor takes characters from the Indian epic The Mahabharata and places them in the period from India’s freedom struggle till the 80s. So you have Ganga Datta who replaces Gandhi in the freedom struggle and Dhritarashtra (the blind king) replacing Nehru (who himself was known as a blind idealist). All the major characters of the Mahabharata are transplanted in the Indian history as Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Indira Gandhi, etc.
 
The story is told through the narrator Ved Vyas (author of The Mahabharata and a veteran politician in this book) as he tells Ganapathi to write his story. The book is beautifully written and the format is one that captures the imagination through some really nice prose. After all, who would think of using characters of an epic and supplant them in a nation’s history, bringing them to life and making them flawed human beings.
 
 
From My Bookshelf