The process of reading a book is an art itself and thus the process of reading a book becomes inspiring! Part of the tool belt of any traveler is a good book. Long bus, train, or plane rides can get pretty boring and can give you a lot of “dead” time if you haven’t mastered the art of the 10-hour blank stare.
Especially when you are reading on and about India, there is so much to write about the country, the history, the culture and the people. These authors mentioned below have done a meticulous research about the country.
1. Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
This novel took the literary world by a storm and why wouldn’t it? Once you know the plot, you’ll understand. It is the story of a convict who escapes Australia and finds himself in India. His life and discoveries about the real country, his friends and enemies and the Bombay ‘underworld’ are all a part of the plot. He goes to a village only to come back with the name ‘Shantaram.’ This book shows Mumbai as a site of struggle and handwork but also depicts the people of the city beautifully. It features iconic Bombay haunts such as the Leopold Café (where many crucial scenes are set), Colaba Causeway and the Taj Hotel.
2. All Roads Lead To Ganga – Ruskin Bond
Ruskin Bond’s love for the Himalayan life comes into play through this book, that creates an urge for everyone to visit the Himalayas.The author shows us the breathtaking beauty and the splendour of the hills and Ganga, India’s sacred river, through an epic love story. He describes the simple life up in the mountains and has woven nostalgic stories about the people he has met during his life up there. Yes, the place has gone under changes since the book was written, but reading the author’s narrative will take you places you haven’t been!
3. Nine Lives – William Dalrymple
You only have to indulge yourself into reading one of his books and you will understand the amount of research that goes into it. Nine Lives is a story about nine people, spiritual in their own way, the author depicts about how the lives of these people have changed and are being affected by the modernisation of India. Some of them are neglected; some of them have to be a ‘part-time’ god and the others are shunned by the society. This book is a true reminder of why certain cultures still exist in our society and opens up our mind to view these people under a different light.
4. Man-Eaters Of Kumaon – Jim Corbett
Reading this book before heading out to the Jim Corbett National Park will thrill you. Safari guides and hotel staff have plenty of stories to tell the guests about this great hero. The book shows him as nothing less than the greatest ‘safari-sahib’ who was in relentless pursuit of man-eaters. He figured out that certain animals turn into man-eaters due to the steady disappearance of the forests for their game hunt, and hence started a national park of sorts back then in order to protect the helpless villagers as well.
The book depicts his various experiences with the man-eaters. Gruesome killings are described at times which brings fear into your heart, other stories portray him as a compassionate hunter who is respectful of the natural environment of India. A refreshing change in a book that shows how rich India’s flora and fauna can be and it’s impact on the lives of people.
5. Maximum City: Bombay Lost And Found – Suketu Mehta
Beautifully written book about the great city of Mumbai. The initial reviews had mentioned this book to be just another copy of the Shantaram with stories about the underworld and cops and thugs. But to be fair, the author, Suketu Mehta has managed to spin an original world in the same waters of Mumbai. The movie stars, the stories behind them, and the black money seems unreal but is written in such a way that makes it seem real. The negotiation between the author and the city and how he finally accepts the difference between what he remembers of the place and how it turned out to be is compelling and evokes so many strong emotions inside the reader.
6. Sikkim: Requiem For A Himalayan Kingdom – Andrew Duff
Reading a book about a place before you end up there truly changes your perspective of the destination in more than one way. The book is a great detective work by author Andrew Duff, who dug up all the information during India’s time of independence. The last king of Sikkim with his American wife fought for Sikkim to be an independent country like Nepal and Bhutan, but got caught up in the Indian politics and it was annexed back in 1975. Duff has retraced the steps of his grandfather and has created this informative and thrilling text for his readers. The book acts a great insight into authentic facts and history.
7. The God Of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy is a pro when capturing human emotions and translating to you in her words. This is a story about twins from a small village in Kerala who are stripped of their childhood with traumatic deaths, pushing the reader to explore their emotional depth. The Syrian Christian life of the people there, the smell of the wood fire and fish curry is all innocently woven into an intricate plot around the caste system and the impact of communalism. It is no wonder this breathtaking novel won the Man Booker Prize in 1997!
8. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
This book takes us through time and the changing face of India since its Independence. The author has unhesitatingly, bravely and boldly depicted even the darkest of events and emotions through the eyes of the protagonist, Saleem Sinai. It is probably the courageous candidness of the author that got this book the Booker Prize in 1981, the year of its release, and later, the “Booker of Bookers” honour in 1993 and 2008. This book is a must read.
9. India After Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha
This book talks about Indian history after 1947 and history assumes the form a of a story in this book. It is not everyday that you want a voluminous history book to never end. The book gives an account of almost all watershed events and the amount of research that has been put into the writing of this book is commendable. This book is a must read for anyone who wishes to know about India’s modern and contemporary history.
10. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
This novel, at it’s core is a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, the novel takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a readable tale of their lives and loves. A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humour and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.
11. The Epic City: The World On The Streets Of Calcutta – Kushanava Choudhury
“Sifting through the chaos for the stories that never make the papers”, Choudhury investigates the city where he was born, which he left as a young boy and returned to as an adult in 2001 – when many of his relatives were asking, “Why?” He came back to a city down on its luck in comparison with Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore but one still home to 15 million people, among them the “shouting hawkers and fish-sellers squatted on bazaar floors” that he recalled from his childhood.
If explored properly, you can find the beauty of the whole world within India!
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