A list of books our most creative compatriots read
Steaming cups of tea and a spot in the sun are the perfect antidote to the city’s chilly winters. Nothing complements this more than a book. We asked some of India’s best known writers, artistes and intellectuals which books were keeping them warm this Yuletide season. History, historical fiction, and literature from conflict zones, are the toast of the town. From the renewed interest in Tagore’s works to early 20th Century Swedish crime fiction, here are the books that have found a place on the shelves of India’s diverse intelligentsia
Christmas cheer has not spread to all corners of the world. The choice of acclaimed author, translator and Palestinian activist Githa Hariharan is a reminder of that. “Seeking Palestine,” she says, “It is, as the title suggests, individual and collective experiences of seeking, waiting, living for, and being or becoming Palestinian. The second book, I am reading, Dreaming of Baghdad by Iraqi activist and writer Haifa Zangana, mines memory for personal and political understanding of the Iraq of the 1970s”.
The taste for history runs strong as Return of A King by William Dalrymple finds a place in the dramatist Danish Husain’s reading list. On the sensitivity of the book, he opines, “It captures an important part of Afghan politics. It draws parallels to the modern contemporary situation and gives quite a good understanding of the geopolitics of the region.”
Love and war are forever intertwined. And our list stands testimony to it. “In Twentieth Wife, Indu Sundaresan recreates the unbelievable love affair that carried on between Meherunissa and Jehangir across decades, before they were finally united. This is a beautiful fairy tale romance that brings alive all your childhood and teenage beliefs of endless and undying love,” claims fashion designer Payal Jain, of her choice. Popular children’s author Mariam Karim Ahlawat’s picks Jacques Lacan, A Feminist Introduction by Elizabeth Grosz for this Christmas even as she underlines the problems underlying the study of such literature. She contemplates, “It discusses literary theory, feminism and psychoanalysis. In India we do study Lacan, Kant and Freud in courses. The difficulties this presents for students in our country where experience, thinking patterns and value systems differ so vastly are not acknowledged.”
Arvind Gaur, eminent theatre director and social activist, is reading Barbara Walters autobiography, Audition. Gaur says , “It is a memoir by the most important woman in the history of television journalism. It is an inspiring and riveting collection of her interviews of heads of state, world leaders, stars, celebrities and even murderers”. And can a cult classic like Fountainhead ever go out of style? Star chef and anchor on Food Food, Saransh Goila is all praise for Ayn Rand’s perfect man embodied by ‘Howard Roark’. “I had heard stories about it when I was in college and I can say it lived up to its reputation. It’s unusual that a novel written almost 60-70 years back could still connect its readers considering that it is difficult to sustain that amount of conviction in 2012,” he adds.
As Rand was writing her best known book, India was struggling for her independence. The history, after the much sought after independence, is what captures musician Raghu Dixit’s mind. Popularly known as India’s cultural export, Raghu is fascinated by India After Gandhi. In his words, “It is such a huge book but quite a good historical account of India after independence since most of the history read at school stops at independence. It’s written by Ramachandra Guha and all I can say is he is a phenomenal historian”. India evokes a colourful response from ace photographer Hari Menon Professing his love for travel photography his current choice is legendary photographer Raghubir Singh’s Ganges. “This book is about snapshots from the origin of the Ganga through its entire journey across the country. It’s a rare collection of photographs, which I think is impossible to capture now”, he adds.
As Ganga daintily flows in to the Bay of Bengal, we are reminded of Tagore’s evergreen charm and lucidity. Actor Rajit Kapur, echoes this view. “I have never read Tagore but I am doing an evening dedicated to him soon. So this seemed like a good opportunity to explore his works. It gives quite a valuable insight into his philosophies. But the translations are in archaic English and sounds alien. I’m searching for better translations and definitely looking forward to Gulzar Sir’s translation of his poems,” he wistfully adds.
What Byomkesh Bakshi did for Bengali literature, Martin Beck did for Swedish crime fiction. Theatre personality Sudhanva Deshpande is all praise for the crime thriller series starring police detective Beck by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Comparing it to likes of Henning Mankel, he claims, "It’s fabulous and well told, especially its depiction of crime not as an action of a deviant individual but a culmination of surrounding and societal mores. I am reading The Man on the Balcony, the third in the series of ten books. After I read the first two, I just had to continue”.
From war-torn nations to ancient love affairs, objectivist philosophy to feminist iconoclasts, the motley list affirms Tagore’s glorious words ‘Where the mind is without fear’. To another year of literary diversity, let the county awake.