A lot of memes are hosted by a lot of blogs and none of them have caught my fancy so far. When I saw this
particular meme in one of my favourite blogs, Nishita’s Rants and Raves, I was super thrilled. The task was to make a list of ten books that sums up our country for us. This fun exercise (as Savidge prefers to call it) was originally put up by Savidge in his blog Savidge Reads. ( Actually it was put up weeks ago and I’m a tad late !). I’ve been paying more attention to The Glass Bangle these past weeks, and what better way to restart posting here than through such an interesting meme. Well anyway, here goes.
My list includes books which aim to throw a light on the people of India in the present as well as the immediate past. I’ve mentioned only the books which I’ve read.
- Meanwhile Upriver by Chatura Rao – This book which so beautifully portrays life in the temple city of Benaras is one of my favourites. The author has drawn a magnificent canvas peopled with striking characters. Life in an ashram, which is still a mystery to so many of us, has been captured brilliantly by Chatura. The exotic coexists with the mundane as reflected by the story of the child Shiva and Yamini, a schoolteacher. An evocative picture of life in one of the holiest of Indian cities.
- Swami and Friends by R K Narayan – If Shiva in Meanwhile Upriver is a child of this generation, Swami is a child in pre-independent India. He’s a mischievous schoolboy living in Malgudi, the fictitious town set in South India which was immortalised by R K Narayan. Swami’s antics and the people he comes in contact with takes us back to life in the thirties. The period is different but the troubles assailing a young mind is something we can identify with even today.Both these children show different aspects of an Indian childhood.
- The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan – This is another one of my favourites. It traces the journey of Zoya Solanki an advertising executive in Delhi. I love it for its realistic look at life in todays India, shorn of mind numbing angst and complicated family relationships. There’s a generous dash of humour, a touch of romance and a peek into India’s passion, cricket. A must read for the fantastic characters and the crazy humour.
- The F-Word by Mita Kapur – The picture of a country is incomplete for me without a foray into its culinary delights. Mita Kapur takes us on a roller coaster ride through the cuisine of North India. We get to see the inside workings of a typical Indian kitchen. Through this memoir she regales us with amusing stories featuring her extended family and her culinary adventures.
- The Wedding Wallah by Farahad Zama – This is a charming book about Mr. Ali and the wedding bureau he starts after retirement, solely aimed at the rich. Mrs. Ali his wife, and his able assistant Aruna are the other main characters. Farahad has done such a wonderful job of describing life in an ordinary household in the town of Vizag. Mrs.Ali is the more practical of the duo and she worms her way into our hearts. Beautiful portrayal of life in modern India with a tinge of humour running through.
- Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke For Directions by P G Tenzing – The author was in the Indian Administrative Service, took early retirement at 43 and went on a trip across India on his Enfield Thunderbird. He started at the southern most tip at Thiruvananthapuram and covered 25,000 kms before ending his journey at his home state of Sikkim. This travelogue is peppered with anecdotes about the unusual people he meets and the strange situations he finds himself in. A light read, it certainly brings India alive to the reader. Sadly, the author passed away within one year of the publication of his book.
- Nine Lives by William Dalrymple – Nine Lives is not only about nine people but also about nine parts of India where they come from. From the labourer in Kerala who also happens to be an avid Theyyam performer to the blind Baul singer in West Bengal, Dalrymple delves into the complexities which have shaped them and in the process gives us a glimpse into the minds of diverse characters who all form a part of this rich mosaic that is India. A fascinating book, Nine Lives is a riveting read which is sure to leave its imprint on your mind.
- Chasing The Monsoon by Alexander Frater – The monsoon is such an integral part of our country and Alexander Frater has undertaken the difficult yet delightful task of following it from the Southern state of Kerala, to the North Eastern state of Assam. This is not a tedious, bland narrative but a description of a joyous journey sprinkled with humour and written beautifully. We get a feel of India through the people the author meets and the landscape through which he travels.
- The Discovery Of India by Jawaharlal Nehru – This work is a comprehensive look at the history of India and the birth of a nation. It’s a big tome and not for the faint hearted, but well worth the time you spend. Pandit Nehru uses the English language like a magic wand and writes so poignantly that it’s easy to get lost in the book. This is actually a collection of letters he had written to his daughter Indira to explain the wonder that is India.
- Speed Post by Sobha De – Many an eyebrow is sure to be raised by the inclusion of this book. I’m not a fan of Sobha De’s fiction but this book was a real eye-opener. This is again a series of letters which Sobha has written to her children. The author has successfully portrayed the worries, joy and concerns of an Indian mother which I’m sure will be almost similar to what mothers all over the world go through. I’ve included this book to give a tiny insight into a modern Indian woman’s mind.
This has been such a pleasurable exercise for me, almost a journey by itself. I felt like reading all these books again and strangely there’s also a desire to know more about the parts of India that I’m unfamiliar with. Mention of bikes and food and India makes me want to strap on a backpack and set off….