Being a nation with such an incredible history and vast diversity of subjects, it is no surprise that she has been the subject of literature all over the world. There is so much to write about the country - its extremes, its pluralities and to put it very mindly, its contradictions!
And though it may be difficult to describe the country in one book, it certainly is not impossible.
On the occasion of India’s 66th Independence Day, I bring you a list of five books, which by no means, are the best books about India, or books that encapsulate India in all her diversity, but books that give you an impartial taste of this country. Have a read.
1) India Unbound by Gurcharan Das
Like 1947 was the year of democratic India, 1991 was the year of economic India. There have been many books describing the birth of New India- a nation that had finally spread its wings and was ready to take off. India Unbound by Gurcharan Das is one such book. The book is divided into three volumes explaining the political economy of the country till 1965, from 1965 to 1991, and after 1991 respectively. This book is not a scholarly piece, rather is an informal discourse. Das’ book includes his personal observations, scholarly points and political views - all of which makes this book an interesting read.
2) India- A Portrait by Patrick French
Can a westerner write a book on India, without dwelling on snakes, slums, sufferings and sadhus? Yes, Patrick French can! In this intimate biography that encompasses the nation’s 1.2 billion people, Patrick French interviews a series of people to narrate a story of the most complex post Independence Indian world. What is riveting is the fact that French, in some 450-odd pages covers everything - from our rich culture to numerous individual anecdotes representing people from all strata of the society. Divided into three sections - Nation, Wealth and Society, this book is an absolute read for people who want to know more about this ever-burgeoning democracy.
3) A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
This novel, based in India during the British rule, is easily one of the most definitive works, and rightly Forster’s best work. The book is a searing portrayal of the English mismanagement of India, exploring the many rights and wrongs of the empire - the way in which the native population was oppressed by the colonial rule. The main incident of the novel is however the accusation by an English woman- that an Indian doctor, who is a respected member of the Muslim community and a fellow friend, attempted to rape her. Like any other member of his class, his relation with the British administration is somewhat ambivalent, but he is pleased and flattered when an English woman of the name Mrs Moore attempts to befriend him. It’s a tale of power or rather the lack of it that questions whether two people belonging to different race and culture can remain friends, especially when one belongs to the ruling class. It captures the essence of friendship in a never before seen manner.
4) The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor
This satirical work by Mr Tharoor, whose title and story, draws from The Mahabharata, re-tells the epic tale in the context of the Independence movement up to the Emergency. Figures from Indian history are transformed into characters from mythology and the story of India is retold. The book is written mostly in prose, with poetic interludes that makes the read rather hilarious. Divided into 18 parts, just like The Mahabharata, the story is chronicled by a grumpy old man, who has no regards for his fellow-patriarchs and has lived long enough to tell the story of India’s struggle to establish a democracy. It is a unique take on the Indian history and therefore is a must-read.
5) India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha
India after Gandhi – The History Of The World’s Largest Democracy is easily one of the best reads on the modern events that has happened in India after her freedom. Ramachandra Guha’s experience as a cricket commentator makes for an excellent narration of the events. The story is about the journey of Independent India who is struggling to maintain its democracy, breaking apart due to enormous differences of language and religion among its people, fighting and killing within itself but always coming together again, stronger than ever. The book is very well-researched where it shows that the author has perhaps revisited every possible archive to document India’s history post her independence. The book is a celebration of the survival of our nation and amidst all the hypocrisy and controversies surrounding India, this book will definitely be an eye-opener.