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Love that brings heaven and earth together

A magnificent drama based on an episode from the Rig Veda, Vikramorvashiyam is filled with dramatic turns of event, music and dance. The scenes, characters and dialogues are at once lively and theatrical as well as sensitive and speculative. Believed to be the second of Kalidasa’s three plays, Vikramorvashiyam is an undisputed classic from ancient Indian literature. A.N.D. Haksar’s brilliant new translation gives contemporary readers an opportunity to savour this delightful tale about star crossed lovers, King Pururavas and the celestial nymph Urvashi.

 

To enable you to feel the full extent of the intensity of the drama and emotions in this play, we find ourselves compelled to give you a glimpse into this magnificent story.

~

Front cover of Vikramorvashiyam
Vikramorvashiyam||Kalidasa

Chitraratha: Great Indra heard from Narada that Urvashi

had been kidnapped by the demon Keshin. He then ordered

the army of celestial singers to get her back. On the way, we

heard from the bards about your victory, and have come here

to you. She must salute Indra, together with you and me. For

you have indeed done what he wanted, sir. Look,

Long ago did the sage Narayana

present her to the king of heaven,

and now she has been rescued

by you from the demon’s hands. (14)

 

King: No! It is not so!

It is indeed by the power of

the wielder of the thunderbolt,

that his allies defeat the foe:

from his mountain cave, even the echo

of a lion’s roar can terrify elephants. (15)

 

Chitraratha: This is quite well said. Modesty does indeed

ornament valour.

 

King: This is no time for me to visit Indra, the lord of a hundred

sacrifices. You should yourself take this lady to meet him.

 

Chitraratha: As you wish, sir. Ladies, this way.

 

(The nymphs mime to leave.)

 

Urvashi: Friend Chitralekha, though this saintly king did save

me, I cannot say good-bye to him. So, please be my mouthpiece.

Chitralekha (approaching the king): Great king, Urvashi says

she wants to express her gratitude to you and, as for a dear

friend, to carry your fame to great Indra’s realm.

 

King: Do go, till we meet each other again.

 

(The nymphs mime mounting to the sky, together with the

celestial singers.)

 

Uravashi (miming great reluctance): Alas! My string of pearls

has been caught in the vine of a creeper plant. Chitralekha,

please set it free.

 

Chitralekha (with a smile): It is stuck hard, and is difficult to

disentangle. But I will try to do it.

 

Urvashi: Remember your words!

 

King (to himself ):

Creeper, to me your deed is dear,

it delays for a while her going,

and her side-long glance at me

as she turns away her face, I see. (16)

 

Charioteer: Noble lord,

Having hurled into the sea

the demon who had great Indra wronged,

your wind-like arrow has again

come back to its quiver now,

like a serpent to its burrow. (17)

 

King: Then, bring back the chariot so that I may mount it.

 

(The charioteer does so and the king mounts the chariot. Urvashi

gazes at him and sighs as she exits with her friend Chitralekha.)

 

King (looking towards where Urvashi has gone): Alas! My

desires did look for something hard to attain!

As she flies to her father, the sky,

this divine damsel has torn

the heart out from my body,

like the mate of a royal swan

pulls a stalk from a lotus bloom. (18)

 

(Exit all.)

 

End of Act One

Different perspectives of the same time and story

The Language of History by Audrey Trushchke analyses a hitherto overlooked group of histories on Indo-Muslim or Indo-Persian political events, namely a few dozen Sanskrit texts that date from the 1190s until 1721. This book seeks, for the first time, to collect, examine and theorize Sanskrit histories on Muslim-led and, later, as Muslims became an integral part of Indian cultural and political worlds, Indo-Muslim rule as a body of historical materials. This archive lends insight and perspectives into formulations and expressions of premodern political, social, cultural and religious identities.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter titled Local Stories in Fourteenth-Century Gujarat and Fifteenth-Century Kashmir.

*

Different perspectives, different storytellers, always complicate the narrative; that’s good because what we are trying to make sense of is complex.

—Githa Hariharan, 2016 interview

As Indo-Muslim rulers made further inroads into parts of the Indian subcontinent from the fourteenth century onwards, authors developed locally based traditions of Sanskrit historical writing that detailed this political trend. In this chapter, I investigate and compare two regional traditions that took off in the fourteenth century and fifteenth century, respectively: Gujarati prabandhas and Kashmiri rajataranginis. Gujarat and Kashmir had both witnessed Muslim-led military activities and, at least in parts, Muslim- led rule for centuries prior to the inauguration of these respective bodies of Sanskrit texts. Both sets of materials narrate some of that history as relevant to their region. Additionally, because they are plural rather than single texts, these materials allow me to compare authorial choices and see trends and exceptions within a deepening interest in Indo-Muslim history among premodern Sanskrit intellectuals.

Front cover of The Language of History
The Language of History || Audrey Trushke

The Gujarati and Kashmiri materials that I discuss here differ from each other in numerous ways. Four Gujarati texts were composed within a tight time-frame, dating between 1301 and 1349. A trio of Kashmiri works stretch across more than three centuries, with Kalhana penning his Rājataraṅgiṇī (River of Kings) in 1149 and two successors writing in 1459 and 1486, respectively. The two series of texts were authored by men belonging to different religious communities: Shvetambara Jains (prabandhas) and Kashmiri Brahmins (rajataranginis). They exhibit distinct styles and foci. Nonetheless, both constitute regionally based Sanskrit traditions of history writing in areas shaped, relatively early on, by Muslim-led political activities. I consider Gujarati prabandhas and Kashmiri rajataranginis together here, not as two sides of the same coin but rather as two distinct local traditions. When read against each other, these series of texts enable us to sketch out the increasingly complex contours of Sanskrit historical writing on Muslim-led incursions and rule in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

 

Pairing Difference in Gujarati and Kashmiri Materials

The Gujarati and Kashmiri works both addressed local audiences, although delineated in rather different ways. Jain monks envisioned the four prabandhas I discuss below as being inspirational to the Jain faithful. Two authors, Merutunga and Rajashekhara, penned collections of stories about Jain ascetics and laymen. The other authors—Kakka, Jinaprabha and Vidyatilaka (Jinaprabha’s continuer)—structured their narratives around Jain pilgrimage destinations. Extant manuscript evidence indicates that the four prabandhas were often read in and around Gujarat. In contrast, Kashmiri Brahmins penned the first three rajataranginis for a more politically defined audience. Kalhana, who completed the inaugural Rājataraṅgiṇī in 1149, claimed to write for others who lived through the vicissitudes of sovereignty. For Kalhana, this was a personal subject since his father had been ousted from the court of King Harsha (r. 1089–1101), leaving Kalhana unemployed. Kalhana’s chronicle found a reception, a bit ironically, among those who enjoyed royal patronage, and Jonaraja and Shrivara, the authors of the next two rajataranginis—who imitated Kalhana in style and focus—were court poets of the Shah Miri dynasty. The Rājataraṅgiṇīs of Jonaraja and Shrivara doubled as extensions of Kalhana’s text and as official court chronicles for an Indo-Persian polity.

Despite the distinct origins of these two bodies of historical materials, the founding authors of both local traditions envisioned the same key antecedent: the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Kalhana alludes to the Mahabharata throughout his work and also assigns his chronicle the same unusual aesthetic goal attributed to the epic in the Kashmiri thought of his time, namely, inducing quiescence (śāntarasa) in the reader who would shun the world after perusing the monstrous cycle of politics. Merutunga, who penned the earliest prabandha work I discuss here, was more direct. In an opening verse, he billed his Prabandhacintāmaṇi (Wishing-Stone of Narratives, 1305) as ‘pleasing like the Mahabharata’. Neither Kalhana nor Merutunga refer to any of the historical materials that I have dealt with earlier in this book, which accords with the generally fractious nature of Sanskrit historical writing on Indo-Muslim political events. But neither did these authors posit their works as clean breaks with the Sanskrit literary tradition. Rather, the authors imagined themselves as updating established ways of writing about past events in Sanskrit, modernizing (or early modernizing?) them for new times and in response to new occurrences. Analysing the prabandhas and rajataranginis together here underscores the self-proclaimed continuity of both sets of authors as well as their differences in interpreting what it meant to write political history in Sanskrit.

Kalhana and Merutunga headline focusing on the present as a crux of their innovation. Again, Merutunga is more forthcoming. In an opening verse, he claims that his work narrates recent history (vṛttaistadāsannasatāṃ), which sets it apart from old stories (kathāḥ purāṇāḥ). Kalhana indicates his emphasis on recent history by becoming more precise and verbose as he comes closer to his present day, such that his later chapters, on events increasingly close to his own time, are far longer and denser than his earlier ones.9 More than half of Kalhana’s Rājataraṅgiṇī concerns the sixty years prior to the text’s composition. In this emphasis on recent history, Kalhana’s Rājataraṅgiṇī is a far cry from the Mahabharata epic that was always, even in its own internal frameworks, about times and people that were long gone. More generally, the prabandhas and rajataranginis I discuss here concentrate on the lives of real, historical people and sometimes include specific dates and citations of sources. Their authors coupled these historiographical innovations with an incorporation of stories about how Indo-Muslim political actors were shaping the contemporary political and social realities of Gujarat and Kashmir, respectively. By reading these two bodies of works side by side, we can see both their shared similarities and substantial divergences that added texture and depth to the growing tradition of Sanskrit historical writing.

**

 

 

‘May’ the odds and the books be ever in your favour

‘May’ is a word filled with promises and possibilities. It is also a word that conveys blessings and best wishes. These are emotions the entire human race has been expressing and feeling toward one another constantly through this difficult period that has spanned over a year. A homograph to this word that is so laden with potential and compassion, is the month we have now stepped into. May ‘may’ have a lot to offer you in terms of comfort and relief, but what we certainly have to offer you this month is an array of our latest releases. May they bring a little light, love, laughter, knowledge and hope into your lives.

 

Front cover of Hisila
Hisila||Hisila Yami

Hisila

In this fascinating book, Hisila Yami traces her journey from being a young Nepali student of architecture in Delhi in the early eighties to becoming a Maoist revolutionary engaging in guerrilla warfare in Nepal. Yami was one of two women leaders who were a part of the politburo of the Communist Party of Nepal, which led the revolutionary People’s War.
This lucidly written political memoir may talk about gaining political awareness, joining protests, being imprisoned, participating in the People’s War, and later her experiences as the first lady and a minister. But, at the same time, it’s also a narrative that offers glimpses of her personal life. She candidly writes about falling in love and marrying a fellow politician, Baburam Bhattarai, who went on to become the prime minister of Nepal. From how she balanced her political life with motherhood to what it meant to be a woman in the communist party that launched a civil war, Yami narrates an unforgettable account of a remarkable life.

 

Front cover of Three Rays
Three Rays||Satyajit Ray

Three Rays

Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), through his life, philosophy and works offered a unique aesthetic sensibility, which took our cinema, art and literature to a new height. Ray, an ace designer, music composer, illustrator and a gifted writer, gave us the iconic Feluda and Professor Shonku, loved and revered by millions of readers.

Celebrating his centenary birth anniversary, Three Rays: Stories from Satyajit Ray, the first book in ‘The Penguin Ray Library’ series, opens a window to his brilliance. With more than forty previously unpublished stories, autobiographical writings and illustrations by Ray, this volume opens a window to the Master’s creative genius.

 

 

Front cover of Secrets of Devine love
Secrets of Devine Love||A.Helwa

Secrets of Divine Love

Secrets of Divine Love draws upon the spiritual secrets of the Qu’ran, mystical poetry and stories from the world’s greatest prophets and spiritual masters to help you reignite your faith, overcome your doubts and deepen your connection with God. Practical exercises and guided meditations will help you develop the tools and awareness to overcome the inner critic that prevents you from experiencing God’s all-encompassing love.
Through the principles and practices of Islam, you will learn how to unlock your spiritual potential and your divine purpose. This insightful book uses a rational yet heart-based approach towards the Qu’ran that enlightens and inspires towards a deeper intimacy with God.

 

 

 

Front cover of Believe
Believe||Suresh Raina, Bharat Sundaresan

Believe

Believe, Sachin Tendulkar told him – and he took it to heart, getting the word etched on his arm as a tattoo.

In this book, Suresh Raina takes us through the challenges he faced as a young cricketer. He was bullied as a child, but he overcame every adversity life threw at him and never gave up. This is the story of the lessons he learnt and the friendships he built.

Peppered with invaluable insights – about the game and about life – that Raina acquired from senior colleagues, this book will make you believe in the power of hard work, love, luck, hope and camaraderie. It is a journey through the highs and lows in the career of a man who saw his world fall apart and yet became one of the most influential white-ball cricketers India has ever seen.

 

 

Front cover of Languages of Truth
Languages of Truth||Salman Rushdie

Languages of Truth

Salman Rushdie is celebrated as a storyteller of the highest order, illuminating truths about our society and culture through his gorgeous prose. In his latest collection of nonfiction, he brings together insightful essays and speeches that focus on his relationship with the written word and reinforce him as one of the most original thinkers of our time.

Gathering pieces written from 2003 to 2020, Languages of Truth chronicles Rushdie’s intellectual engagement with a period of momentous cultural shifts. He delves into the nature of storytelling as a human need in what emerges as a love letter to literature. Rushdie explores what the work of authors from Shakespeare and Cervantes to Samuel Beckett, Eudora Welty, and Toni Morrison mean to him. He delves deep into the nature of ‘truth’, revels in the vibrant malleability of language, the creative lines that join art and life, and looks anew at migration, multiculturalism and censorship.

Enlivened by Rushdie’s signature wit, Languages of Truth offers his piercingly analytical views on the evolution of literature and culture as he takes us on a tour of his own exuberant imagination.

 

Front cover of Nehru, Tibet and China
Nehru, Tibet and China||Avtar Singh Bhasin

Nehru, Tibet and China

On 1 October 1949, the People’s Republic of China came into being. Power moved from the hands of the nationalist Kuomintang government to the Communist Party of China headed by Mao Tse Tung. All of a sudden, it was not only a new China that India had to deal with but also a Tibet which was under increasing pressure.

Clearly, newly independent India, with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at its helm, was navigating choppy waters. Its relations with China deteriorated, eventually leading to the Indo-China war in 1962. Today, more than six decades after the war, we are still face border disputes with China that seem to routinely grab headlines. It leads one to question what exactly went on during the emergence of a new China and why have we repeatedly failed to arrive at a solution?

Based on meticulous archival research, this book analyses the events from 1949 to the Indo-China war in 1962 and its aftermath to uncover answers to these burning questions.

 

Front cover of A Childhood in Tibet
A Childhood in Tibet||Thérèse Obrecht Hodler

A Childhood in Tibet

Tendöl Namling turned 60 in 2019. She was born at the time the Dalai Lama fled from Lhasa and the uprising of his people by the Chinese People’s Army was brutally suppressed. She lived 22 years under Chinese rule. As daughter of a high government official, she underwent the ordeal of ‘re-education’ with full force. All she had from these years are painful memories and crumpled photographs of her with friends and cousins in Lhasa, smiling as if nothing happened. When Tendöl turned 10 her brother was arrested and her mother sentenced to ten years in prison. Tendöl was sent to work in road construction for several years, following which she was allowed to start an apprenticeship as motor mechanic. Thanks to the efforts of her family in exile, Tendöl was able to leave Tibet in 1982. After twenty years of hardship she landed in prosperous Switzerland. She struggled to start her life all over again, but never gave up.

In Tendöl’s words, ‘this little book is dedicated to all the Tibetans who continue to rebel against the Chinese occupation’.

 

Front cover of The Light of Asia
The Light of Asia||Jairam Ramesh

The Light of Asia

‘The Light of Asia’ is an epic poem by Sir Edwin Arnold that was first published in 1879. It quickly became a huge sensation and has continued to resonate powerfully across the world over the last century and a half. Weaving together literary, cultural, political and social history, Jairam Ramesh uncovers and narrates the fascinating story of this deeply consequential and compelling poem that has shaped our thinking of an ancient sage and his teachings. He brings into this unusual narrative the life of the multi-faceted poet himself who, among other things, was steeped in Sanskrit literature.

Sir Edwin Arnold’s English rendering of the Bhagavad Gita was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourites. He was also in many ways the man who may have shaped Bodh Gaya as we know it today.

 

 

Front cover of China Room
China Room||Sunjeev Sahota

China Room

A multigenerational novel of love, oppression, trauma and the pursuit of freedom, inspired in part by the author’s own family history, China Room twines together the stories of a woman and a man separated by more than half a century but united by blood.

Mehar, a young bride in the rural Punjab of 1929, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days working in the family’s ‘china room’, separated from the men. When Mehar develops a theory as to which of them is hers, a passion is ignited that puts more than one life at risk.

Spiralling around Mehar’s story is that of a young man who, in 1999, travels from England to a deserted farm, its ‘china room’ locked and barred. In enforced flight from the traumas of his adolescence-his experiences of addiction, racism and estrangement from the culture of his birth-he spends a summer in painful contemplation and recovery, before finally finding the strength to return home.

 

Front cover of Amader Shantiniketan
Amader Shantiniketan||Shivani, Ira Pande

Amader Shantiniketan

Padma Shri and late Hindi author Shivani’s memoirs of studying at the experimental school set up by Rabindranath Tagore, the Ashram, this charming memoir is a loving homage to a grand institution and its legendary gurus. Written from the perspective of a child, it retains the freshness and innocence of an age when experimental education was not merely a trendy movement. Shivani’s vivid pictures of the Ashram and portraits of her teachers and fellow students remain as alive as they seemed when she first wrote this memoir nearly fifty years ago.

Along with the moving tributes she wrote when some of her beloved contemporaries passed away, this slim memoir is a sort of diptych that captures the spirit of the Ashram and the liveliness of its inmates, many of whom went on to become iconic. Shivani’s recall of her time there takes the reader into an enchanted garden that remains as inspirational to her as it was when she went there a lifetime ago.

 

Front cover of The Spirit of Enquiry
The Spirit of Enquiry||T.M. Krishna

The Spirit of Enquiry

As a vocalist in the Karnatik tradition, T.M. Krishna eludes standard analyses. Uncommon in his rendition of music and his interpretation of it, Krishna is at once strong and subtle, manifestly traditional and stunningly innovative. His work is spread across the whole spectrum of music and culture, politics and the social sphere; he is at once philosophical, aesthetic and sociopolitical. He asks important questions about how art is made, performed and disseminated. Unabashedly given to rethinking classical paradigms, he addresses crucial issues of caste, class and gender with nuance and openness.

T.M. Krishna’s key writings have been put together for the first time in this extraordinary collection. The Spirit of Enquiry: Dissent as an Art Form draws from his rich body of work, thematically divided into five key sections: art and artistes; the nation state; the theatre of secularism; savage inequalities; and in memoriam. This collection reflects the critical and cultural engagement of one of our finest thinkers, public intellectuals and practitioners of art.

‘Gestational learning’: A glimpse into learning a new language

One of India’s most incredible and enviable cultural aspects is that every Indian is bilingual, if not multilingual. Delving into the fascinating early history of South Asia, Wanderers, Kings, Merchants reveals how migration, both external and internal, has shaped all Indians from ancient times. Through a first-of-its-kind and incisive study of languages, such as the story of early Sanskrit, the rise of Urdu, language formation in the North-east, it presents the astounding argument that all Indians are of mixed origins. It explores the surprising rise of English after Independence and how it may be endangering India’s native languages.

Here’s an excerpt from the book in which the author introduces us to the concept of gestational learning through a personal anecdote, about the process of learning a new language.

*

Indian English comes to most of us not in measured steps, visible day by day, as would happen with a foreign language we learnt in class at school, but mysteriously, gestating inside our heads invisibly for years before it is ready to be ‘born’.

My first glimpse of gestational learning came from observing my daughter. Her first language was Hindi, but English was a language she heard every day at home being used by adults. There is a common belief that children can learn any language they are exposed to before the age of five. Yet while she was hearing English all the time, when she spoke it was only in Hindi.

When she was two and a half, we went abroad for a few months. If she thought that English was something only adults spoke, maybe in a playschool she would meet children her age who spoke English and pick it up from them. But it didn’t happen: she stuck to Hindi, and I had to be her translator.

Front cover of Wanderers, Kings, Merchants
Wanderers, Kings, Merchants || Peggy Mohan

And then one evening back in Delhi, when she was four, she overheard her father and me wondering in English who to leave her with so that we could go out. She started to cry.

She understood! And then about a week later, she suddenly started speaking to us in English, a bit hesitantly at first, but in full sentences, with the accent of a fluent Indian speaker of English. When I remarked on her speaking English, she looked nonplussed.22 She did not even notice that she was doing anything different from before, she was simply . . . talking!

It is interesting to speculate on what all must have been going on inside the black box that is her mind. The first thing to note is that while Hindi was spoken to her emphatically in sing-song ‘motherese’ and with full eye contact, English was something she encountered in profile, as it were. Adults talking among ourselves, but not directly to her.

When we make films for young children, we use point-of-view shots, with close-up frontal images of people talking directly into camera. If the shots on the screen are profile shots, of people speaking to each other but not directly to children who are watching, their eyes stray away from the screen. They do absorb what is happening, but they do not give it their full attention. They have a clear idea of when they are being spoken to, and what speech can be treated as background noise.

It is not clear how the background noise from conversations in another language gets absorbed and eventually comprehended. In linguistics, we believe that children are born with innate clues as to what to expect when they encounter languages, allowing them to construct complete representations in their minds. But the English adults speak between ourselves is not the stripped-down code that we would use to a child, because it is not meant for a child. Adults’ sentences are longer and more complex—our speed of speech is faster, and we use much, much more vocabulary to refer to things that are not a part of a child’s world, including abstract things.

Out of this rich diet, children do eventually sort out basic sentence structure, leaving up in the air a large number of things that cannot make sense to them right away. There is a strong relationship between how difficult incoming data is to sort out and how long a child will delay before beginning to speak. In multilingual homes where two or more languages are used from the start for exactly the same things—with the two parents speaking the two different languages—children do grow up bilingual or multilingual, but they tend to start speaking later. And when they do, they are set to become ideal translators, as they can say exactly the same things in their different languages.

**

For a fascinating insight into learning a new language and the import of languages for a culturally diverse country like India, read Peggy Mohan’s Wanderers, Kings, Merchants.

Preparing for a pandemic

Author’s Note: We didn’t write a generalist guide for the future imagining a once in a lifetime pandemic. This is not the moment of celebration we would have chosen for the book. There’s so much else that needs your love and attention right now. Now that we’re here, we hope the book can offer some comfort and optimism about humanity making it through difficult times, and things getting better. 

Now That We’re Here by Akshat Tyagi and Akshay Tyagi is a generalist guide about navigating the future in times of a pandemic. A playful mix of social science and technology, the essays on Data, Design, AI, Behavioural Economics and other important themes provide a peep into what’s coming. The following excerpt is from the chapter Viral Economics, written as the pandemic was unfolding.

Even though the collapse of economic prosperity is terrifying, the mourning of its fall should not turn into an endorsement for its previous design. Our economic growth has been highly inequitable, especially so over the last few decades. When your income drops from INR 70,000 a month to INR 40,000, it pinches hard. But even before the crisis, the average monthly income in India was below INR 12,000. We are still an extremely poor country, and we keep forgetting that fact until the next flood, drought or recession arrives.

Our public education hasn’t prepared us to understand the urgency of a pandemic. What you read in this book on data, complexity, economy and technology should be considered basic education. We were so busy bickering over Tipu Sultan’s mention in our history textbooks that we forgot to learn about the history of the Spanish flu and why there wasn’t anything particularly Spanish about the 1918 influenza pandemic.

It is important to maintain civil order by converting a difficult fight against the virus into a temporary celebration of essential workers. But in a different world, our government would be able to explain to us a virus’s non-linear growth graph, and we would pay our workers far better than we do. Making people bang pots and pans is okay only if we understand what we’re dealing with and how long it’s going to last. Otherwise, we are all at the mercy of our beloved leader and his wisdom.

With his utterances about injecting disinfectants and recommending unproven medical cures, Donald Trump may have made daily briefings look like a bad exercise in democracy. But they at least showed us how competent he was as a leader in handling emergencies, helping Americans divert him to other interesting things in the next election. To not show oneself at all during a moment of national crisis or conflict is a signature feature of tyrants. Stalin and Hitler were absent from public appearances for much of the war.

A country of 1.3 billion people with very high linguistic diversity, no universal access to devices for listening to a live broadcast, an unstable electricity supply and a two-hour difference in mean solar times between its easternmost and westernmost points shouldn’t be reliant on a charismatic head of state’s address to the nation. No leader can appeal to the sensibilities and convenience of such a diverse population in an hour’s time.

Front cover of Now That We're Here
Now That We’re Here || Akshat Tyagi, Akshay Tyagi

 

Our Internet penetration is at the highest-ever point in our history, our data rates are the cheapest in the world and journalism is bleeding to death because of its open access—so why then were we still busy rioting as late as February 2020! Arundhati Roy called the madness of communal sickness our version of the coronavirus before we officially got sick with Covid-19.

A pandemic lays bare our structural injustices. Just like with any other disease, the poor are at a disadvantage here too. Pre-existing medical conditions and weak immune systems both increase vulnerability and are, not so surprisingly, correlated in part to one’s economic standing. Little access to nutrition, poor hygiene, few resources shared by more members in the family and safety hazards at repugnant jobs are all risks that Dalits and Muslims have faced for all of our developmental history.

When Ebola spread in a slum in Liberia, the area was sealed off with the help of armed forces. At the rioting of residents, indiscriminate fire helped restore the desired calm. You never heard about this because it didn’t happen in a gated community of rich citizens in a politically significant country.

There is no bright side to a pandemic. In fact, ignorant optimism hurts more when the threat is a respiratory virus. Leaders who tell false stories to trick people into staying calm destroy public trust in leadership and create greater chaos. A pandemic is also the time when more and more of us grow comfortable with the idea of compromising our liberty to let the government act. Naomi Klein, a strong advocate against neoliberalism’s worst, has been warning for a decade that emergencies should not be allowed to worsen inequalities and decrease political transparency.

We cannot buy our way out of this virus, but as we wait for medical solutions to arrive we should remain vigilant about the ad hoc measures offered by our governments.

A pandemic is the worst time to stop holding your government responsible.

**

 

The book explores how our friendships, jobs, health and democracies are changing, and why we must prepare for this new unpredictable world. There aren’t any easy answers, but Now That We’re Here let’s be vigilant and kind.

The magic of Rabindranath Tagore explored

7th May commemorates the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. His eminence as India’s greatest modern poet remains unchallenged to this day. Tagore was a pioneering literary figure, renowned for his ceaseless innovations in poetry, prose, drama, music and painting, which he took up late in life. His works include novels; plays; essays on religious, social and literary topics; some sixty collections of verse; over a hundred short stories; and more than 2500 songs, including the national anthems of India and Bangladesh.

Born in 1861, Rabindranath Tagore was a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. He started writing at an early age and by the turn of the century had become a household name in Bengal as a poet, a songwriter, a playwright, an essayist, a short story writer and a novelist.

In 1913 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and his verse collection Gitanjali came to be known internationally. At about the same time he founded Visva-Bharati, a university located in Santiniketan, near Kolkata. Called the ‘Great Sentinel’ of modern India by Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore steered clear of active politics but is famous for returning his knighthood as a gesture of protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919.

Here is a compilation of some of his work, to celebrate the man.

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The Magic of Tagore

The Magic of Tagore ||.

A special limited-edition collection of the most beloved works of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, one of the greatest writers of the Indian subcontinent, featuring two classic novels of profound depth and beauty, and Tagore’s ground-breaking work of poetry. These classic works have been reissued by Penguin Random House India on the occasion of Tagore’s birth month.

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Nationalism and Home and the World

Nationalism Home and the World || .

Combining two classic texts by Rabindranath Tagore, this special edition features a new Introduction by eminent scholar Sugata Bose. Nationalism is based on Tagore’s lectures, warning the world of the disasters of narrow sectarianism and xenophobia. Home and the World is a classic novel, exploring the ever-relevant themes of nationalism, violent revolution and women’s emancipation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagore: The World Voyager

Tagore: The World Voyager || Sugata Bose (Translator)

For long considered untranslatable, Tagore’s songs express most profoundly his romantic and religious perceptions. Prof. Bose aims to convey the artistic value of Tagore’s songs beyond the limits of his province. The first part, ‘Oceanic Songs’, introduces the lyrics and tunes of the songs to a foreign audience through a narrative of Tagore’s travels during which he communicated with the wider world. Since Tagore wrote only forty of his nearly 2500 songs on his journeys abroad, the second part presents a selection of ‘songs in five genres’. This book endeavours to reach Tagore’s songs to people beyond the borders of India, transcending the barriers of language on the wings of music.

 

 

 

 

 

The Postmaster: Selected Stories

The Postmaster || .

Poet, novelist, painter and musician Rabindranath Tagore created the modern short story in India. Written in the 1890s, during a period of relative isolation, his best stories—included in this selection—recreate vivid images of life and landscapes. They depict the human condition in its many forms: innocence and childhood; love and loss; the city and the village; the natural and the supernatural. Tagore is India’s great Romantic. These stories reflect his profoundly modern, original vision. Translated and introduced by William Radice, this edition includes selected letters, bibliographical notes and a glossary.

 

 

 

 

 

Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems

Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems || .

The poems of Rabindranath Tagore are among the most haunting and tender in Indian and world literature, expressing a profound and passionate human yearning. His ceaselessly inventive works deal with such subjects as the interplay between God and mortals, the eternal and the transient, and the paradox of an endlessly changing universe that is in tune with unchanging harmonies. Poems such as “Earth” and “In the Eyes of a Peacock” present a picture of natural processes unaffected by human concerns, while others, as in “Recovery14,” convey the poet’s bewilderment about his place in the world. And exuberant works such as “New Rain” and “Grandfather’s Holiday” describe Tagore’s sheer joy at the glories of nature or simply in watching a grandchild play.

 

 

 

 

My Life in My Words

My Life in My Words || Uma Das Gupta (Editor)

A unique autobiography that provides an incomparable insight into the mind of a genius. The Renaissance man of modern India, Rabindranath Tagore put his country on the literary map of the world when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. My Life in My Words is, quite literally, Tagore on Tagore. The result is a rare glimpse into the world of Tagore: his family of pioneering entrepreneurs who shaped his worldview; the personal tragedies that influenced some of his most eloquent verse; his ground-breaking work in education and social reform; his constant endeavour to bring about a synthesis of the East and the West and his humanitarian approach to politics; and his rise to the status of an international poet. Meticulously researched and sensitively edited, this unique autobiography provides an incomparable insight into the mind of a genius.

 

 

 

A Grain of Sand: Chokher Bali

A Grain of Sand || .

Chokher Bali is Nobel Prize-winning author Rabindranath Tagore’s classic exposition of an extramarital affair that takes place within the confines of a joint family. A compelling portrayal of the complexity of relationships and of human character, this landmark novel is just as powerful and thought-provoking today as it was a hundred years ago, when it was written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gora

Gora || .

When Gora had no name, caste, and religion, the circumstances gave him the name – goramohan, caste – Brahmin, and religion – Hindu. While he turned out to be a true advocate of Hinduism, the religion rejected him calling him an outcaste and an untouchable. In this classic masterpiece, Tagore represents the tragedy of Gora in the form of problems faced by all Indian religions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He: (Shey)

He (Shey) || .

Tagore wrote Shey to satisfy his nine year old granddaughter’s demands for stories. Even as Tagore began to create his fantasy, he planned a story that had no end, and to keep the tales spinning he employed the help of ‘Shey’, a “man constituted entirely of words” and rather talented at concocting tall tales. So we enter the world of Shey’s extraordinary adventures, encountering a bizarre cast of characters, grotesque creatures and caricatures of contemporary figures and events as well as mythological heroes and deities – all brought to life through a sparkling play of words and illustrations in Tagore’s unique style.

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell Song

Farewell Song || .

Rabindranath Tagore reinvented the Bengali novel with Farewell Song, blurring the lines between prose and poetry and creating an effervescent blend of romance and satire. Through Amit and Labanya and a brilliantly etched social milieu, the novel addresses contemporary debates about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing, the nature of love and conjugality, and the influence of Western culture on Bengali society. Set against the idyllic backdrop of Shillong and the mannered world of elite Calcutta society, this sparkling novel expresses the complex vision and the mastery of style that characterized Tagore’s later works.

 

 

 

 

Gitanjali

Gitanjali || William Radice (Translator)

Gitanjali (Penguin Hardback Classics) is a collection of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. This is the English translation of the original Bengali poems. Gitanjali became immensely popular across the globe and was eventually translated into several languages. The book is known for its unmatched style of presentation, fresh poetic structure and spiritual musings.

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Share this with someone who is fond of – or needs an introduction to – Rabindranath Tagore’s work!

 

The quest for an egalitarian society

It all began in the late-nineteenth-century Kerala, with a Dalit man flamboyantly riding a bullock cart along a road. What might sound mundane was actually a defiant form of protest, as riding animal-pulled vehicles was a privilege reserved for the upper castes.

Featuring several such inspiring accounts from the lives of individuals who tirelessly battled divisive forces all their lives, Makers of Modern Dalit History seeks to enhance the present-day Indian’s understanding of the Dalit community.

Backed with thorough research on historical and contemporary figures such as B.R. Ambedkar, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Gurram Jashuva, K.R. Narayanan, Ayyankali, Soyarabai and Rani Jhalkaribai, among many others, this book promises to be a significant addition to the Dalit discourse. It opens a path to initiating an overdue discussion centred around Dalit identity, history and politics.

~

Makers of Modern Dalit History cover
Makers of Modern Dalit History||Sudarshan Ramabadran, Guru Prakash

Bhagwan Das, author of In Pursuit of Ambedkar, says:

 

The newspaper used to publish a lot of things about Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose and Jinnah but hardly a thing about the untouchable communities. I used to wonder, ‘Who is our leader?’ I asked Abba this, and he replied,

‘Umeedkar, the one who brings hope,’

which is how Abba saw Babasaheb Ambedkar.1

 

Original thinker, scholar, jurist, legislator, economist, public policy leader, development practitioner and chief architect of the Indian Constitution, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was all this and more.

His thoughts were crisp, his views precise and clear, and words unabashed and unapologetic on every platform he spoke from. The more one reads about Ambedkar, the more one admires his unique intellect and understands his significance, the circumstances under which he jolted the status quo and truly sought disruption in calling for complete annihilation of the caste system.

Ambedkar saw society like no one else from the prism of brute force and caste-based discrimination. Thus, he stood for the cause of all-round empowerment of the socially disadvantaged till his very last breath. Even when he was on his way to England for the first roundtable conference in 1930, it is recorded that he wrote in a letter to ‘Dadasaheb’ Bhaurao Gaikwad how the people there were sympathetic towards him and that he was happy to see them inclined to favour the demands of the untouchables.2

As a child, Ambedkar, a Mahar, was made to sit separately in primary school because of his caste.3 When someone served him water, it was from a height to avoid physical contact with him; he was even denied a haircut because he hailed from the Mahar community.4 All this is just a glimpse of the treacherous  discrimination that a six-year-old Dalit child had to go through.

Who would have thought then that this child, born on 14 April 1891 in the tiny military village of Mhow, would one day establish himself as one of the founding fathers of independent India? Ambedkar came from a financially stable family, which enabled him to have a primary school education. However, this access never could remove the ‘untouchable’ tag from his consciousness. The thought of being ‘untouchable’ plagued his mind, especially when he was denied the services of a barber or a

driver because of it.

During his primary-school days, he was treated differently and ridiculed solely because he was a Mahar. This left a huge impact on him. However, Babasaheb took the fight to the orthodoxy, and at no point did he give up. For it is these very incidents that made him realize that the fight for the dignity of Dalits had to begin and be a constant one, until his very last breath. He recorded the experiences of untouchability faced by him in the newspaper Janata, which he founded in 1929.5 Dhananjay Keer’s biography, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Life and Mission, published in 1954, also recounted all of Babasaheb’s experiences.6

While his journey to educate himself was excruciating, he was determined to venture into the unknown. His secondary education was funded by the Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the erstwhile ruler of Baroda (now Vadodara), and he studied at the Elphinstone High School in Bombay. Ambedkar’s quest to arm himself with education never ceased, be it when he was in Columbia University, the London School of Economics or Gray’s Inn, where he excelled in academics. The years spent in Europe and America made him feel the stark difference in the treatment he received there and the treatment meted out to him in India.

In 1942, when he founded the All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF), which he later dissolved to found the Republican Party of India, he also initiated scholarships for Dalit

students to study abroad.7

Ambedkar was always a firm advocate of education. He believed that if this revolution for the marginalized was to be won, access to quality education was crucial. He was never violent in his methods. He knew that equipping oneself with education would ensure a battle of dignity for the Dalits that could be fought and won. It was only after education that he felt empowered, for he believed only power could defeat power. Ambedkar being elected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1926 and him founding the Independent Labour Party in 1936 are testimony to how crucial political representation was for Dalits.8

This focus on education was inculcated in him by his teacher at Columbia University, Professor John Dewey. Ambedkar has often said that he owes his intellectual life to Dewey, who was an American philosopher and psychologist but, above all, a reformer of education. Dewey was also one of the central figures associated with functional psychology, philosophy and progressive education.9

Very few Indian leaders have been educated in America. Ambedkar studied with the best minds at Columbia University in the three years he spent there. When he enrolled, he took a number of courses, including railroad economics. He was keen to learn from the top-ranking professors at the university.

All his life, Ambedkar sought the complete eradication of caste, for only this, he believed, would lead to an honourable society. As Bhalchandra Mungekar writes in his introduction to The Essential Ambedkar, ‘Ambedkar’s basic arguments were against institutionalization of caste-based isolation and discrimination

prevalent in the Hindu mind.’10

~

Makers of Modern Dalit History is a essential read for anyone who wishes to understand the Indian experience in its totality.

The queen of Jhansi lashes out at the British

The rani embraced Damodar at the gates of the palace, with the British officers and soldiers looking on.

Then she turned to face Major Ellis. Her expression was grim, almost forbidding.

‘May I know the reason for your visit, Major Ellis?’ Her tone was casual, but her eyes were stormy.

Major Ellis bowed, feeling unusually nervous. ‘I bring a message from Lord Dalhousie, Your Majesty.’

‘Follow me, then.’ The rani strode into the palace and the soldiers hurried to keep pace with her.

In the main audience chamber, she seated herself on the throne and gestured to Major Ellis to speak.

The major cleared his throat several times before he felt able to utter a word. But speak he did because he had to. ‘Your adopted son, Damodar Rao’s right to rule has been rejected. So, by the Doctrine of Lapse, this kingdom now belongs to the British.’

‘Main apni Jhansi nahi doongi!’

The queen’s voice rang out, firm and true. It echoed all around the royal audience chamber and even along the corridors beyond. The Jhansi officers and guards who heard it sprang to attention and stiffened their backs with pride, almost without realizing it.

‘What did she say?’ the British officer behind Major Ellis muttered to his companion.

The other officer, who understood Hindustani well, translated quickly: ‘She said, I will not yield my Jhansi.’

Major Ellis was clearly uncomfortable, more so when Rani Lakshmibai turned her gaze on him. He had never seen the young queen look so angry. Her face was flushed, her eyes glittered with rage and her fists, partly hidden by her pearl bracelets, were clenched so tightly in her lap that her knuckles shone white.

She sat, proud and erect, on her throne, silently demanding a response from him. He turned his eyes away, unable to justify the decision made by the British.

Front cover of Queen of Fire
Queen of Fire || Devika Rangachari

 

She went on, her fury unabated. ‘Is this how the British repay loyalty? Generations of Jhansi rulers have supported them—have supported every step they have taken in this country, whatever our private feelings on the matter. So tell me, Major Ellis, what have we got for our pains?’

‘Your Majesty,’ he replied, his voice low so that those around had to strain to hear it. ‘I am a friend of Jhansi and a true supporter of your cause. But my hands are tied. I have no other option than to follow the orders of my superiors.’

‘You witnessed the adoption ceremony!’ she lashed out. ‘And you carried the news of it to your superiors. If they now doubt its validity, then it is clear that they don’t trust their own people. Don’t trust you. Yet you bend to their will and follow their unjust orders?’

Her words rankled but he had to answer. ‘I am sorry, Your Majesty,’ he said steadily, ‘but the British will now take over the governance of Jhansi. You will receive a monthly pension and may stay on here at the palace. I need to lock up the treasury and the military stores. Your money and weapons belong to the British from here on. All your soldiers will be dismissed, except a few that may remain for your personal safety.’

All eyes were on the queen; it was as if the very chamber was holding its breath. Sounds drifted in from the soldiers amassed outside the building—the murmur of voices, the clearing of throats, the shifting of feet—harmless in themselves, but indicative of the British military might mere steps away. It gave the rani no option but to obey.

To Major Ellis, the rani’s silence was more ominous than her words.

Her face was white and her hands trembled slightly as she signalled to her elderly prime minister, Dewan Rao Bande, to hand over the keys to Major Ellis.

This was a terrible blow, indeed. The British had been sniffing around various kingdoms, hoping to pounce at the first sign of weakness, which is why it had been so crucial to adopt Damodar and have it ratified. And all had seemed to be well for a while. Now her anger was directed equally at the British and herself. How could she have let her guard down and been so complacent! She should have known that the British would not give up so easily. Yet anger would not get her anywhere, she quickly realized. She would have to think fast and on her feet. She would not give up, she vowed to herself. Somehow, she would get her throne back and ensure Damodar’s succession.

Right now, Jhansi was like an ant before an elephant. But ants could bite and she would make sure this one bit hard . . .

 

Imprisoned and the choice to be set free

It is the searing month of June. The rebellion against the British has just begun and Awadh is up in flames. Hindus and Muslims have joined hands to overthrow the foreign rulers and set India free. Some Indian rulers have started to enter into alliances to fight the firangis, while others have thrown in their lot with the foreigners. Amid all this, Riyaz Khan, a young solider from the army of the Raja of Mahmudabad, saves a group of Britishers from fellow ‘mutineers’ and escorts them to the safety of Lucknow. In this group is Alice, who falls in love with Riyaz and eventually becomes an informer for the rebels.

Here is an excerpt from the The Break of Dawn by Khan Mahboob Tarzi translated from Urdu by Ali Khan Mahmudabad from Riyaz Khan’s imprisonment.

The room in which Riyaz was imprisoned had just one skylight. After a while, he started feeling very hot and lay down on the floor. He thought of his old parents. After an hour or so, he heard the sound of a door opening but kept lying where he was. Someone with a heavy step came inside. Riyaz crooked his neck to see who it was and, recognizing him, immediately stood up.

The man was one of the people he had saved from his comrades near the Sarayan. The old man smiled and came forward to shake his hand. Riyaz, too, greeted him with a smile and said, ‘You recognized me?’

‘Yes, I was just informed,’ said the old man. ‘And I cannot forget my saviour. We do not forget those who help us.’

Riyaz replied, ‘And in return for that help, I have been locked up in this dark, airless room.’

‘Mr Riyaz, the Indian armies are mutinying, and you too are a junior officer in one of these armies.’

‘Yes, but I never caused you any bodily discomfort or pain.’

‘This is why I have come, so that I can take you outside,’ the old firangi said. ‘I have just told the chief commissioner what a brave and merciful young man you are. You are different from those rebels who are slaughtering Englishmen.’

‘I am against killing and terror,’ replied Riyaz. ‘But I am not complaining to you that you have locked me up in this small room in the heat.’

‘Come. Come outside with me. My name is Joseph Filton.’

Riyaz left the little room with him. He was drenched in sweat. Mr Filton took him towards the gardens and motioned at a two-storey building. ‘I am staying in Maisher Mall, Mr Gomes’s house. Come and meet Sir Henry Lawrence. I am sure you will be happy to meet him, and you will know that we are not what the Indians think we are.’

Mr Filton entered the Residency gates. There were armed guards everywhere. Mr Filton took Riyaz to the chief commissioner’s room. Riyaz saluted the officer as they do in the army and stood before him.

Sir Henry Lawrence was sitting in a chair and staring at Riyaz, as if he was trying to read his thoughts from his facial expressions. Riyaz didn’t like the sunken cheeks and the whitish complexion. Sir Henry stared at him for two minutes and then, in a superior voice, said, ‘Please sit down, Mr Riyaz. I appreciate your services, but due to the circumstances I have no choice but to have you arrested.’

Riyaz sat down on a chair near Sir Henry’s desk. Mr Filton also found a chair and started speaking to Sir Henry in English. Riyaz had developed a rudimentary understanding of English since joining the army. Mr Filton was praising Riyaz, on whom Sir Henry had his eyes

fixed. As soon as Mr Filton fell silent, Sir Henry said to Riyaz, ‘You seem like a civilized young man. By saving my fellow Englishmen and women, you have done my people a favour. You are a good fellow. Living among the mutineers, you are merely supporting them on principle.’

‘I am grateful that you have acknowledged my deeds. But I have done no favour to you or to your people by saving those Englishmen and women. I have merely done my duty. The humanitarian code dictates that we are all bound to each other through basic rights and duties.’

‘You seem like a well-educated man, Mr Riyaz,’ said Sir Henry. ‘If you leave the mutineers, I see a very good future for you.’

‘We have a difference of opinion,’ Riyaz solemnly replied. ‘I can see what you are implying, but I have nothing to say about it.’

‘Listen, this mutiny is just a little blip. It will last for a few days at the most. The Indians are breaking the peace and spreading discord. Neither are they united, nor do they have any one leader. All they want to do is kill and loot, and that is exactly what they’re doing. We are fighting for a purpose, and however much you disagree with that purpose, you cannot refute the fact that if the mutineers are allowed to do whatever they wish, entire cities will be uprooted and human life will have no worth.’

‘I am here in front of you as a prisoner,’ Riyaz replied emphatically, ‘which is why this conversation serves no purpose. Even if we assume the impossible—that we will change each other’s views—this will not make any difference to the rest of the armies, as I am not their representative.’

‘Well, why don’t you just decide for yourself then? You seem like a promising young man, and if you help us, we will reward you in good measure. We will make you someone.’

Riyaz bowed his head, pausing to think about what to say. ‘In the current circumstances, I cannot help you in any way.’

‘Try to understand my position,’ Sir Henry said tersely. ‘You are a mutineer and will be hanged, but I am giving you a chance to think about my offer.

The Break of Dawn, originally published in Urdu under the title Aghaaz-e-Sahr, is a thrilling page-turner and a reminder of a time when Indians of all classes and creeds came together to fight for the honour and freedom of their homeland.

Where to start reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s books

With authors as accomplished as Lahiri, it might be hard to decide where to start with her books, especially when her new novel Whereabouts has just released. Fret not, we’ve got you covered.

As an Indian-American born in England to Bengali parents, Jhumpa Lahiri is the quintessential immigrant. That is perhaps why her insight into the immigrant experience manifests so beautifully through her writing, even tugging at the heartstrings of those individuals who are far removed from such circumstances. Her writings range from fictional to autobiographical in nature, and she has even found success as a translator through her prowess in Italian.

Soon after she made her debut in the literary world with her collection of short stories, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Award. A gifted story weaver with an acute awareness of the ‘alien’, she won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Award for Fiction, and many more. Since her list of accomplishments is as long as her list of contributions to literature, we thought we’d ease things out for you by telling you which books to get your hands on first, to enjoy Jhumpa Lahiri’s genius to its full potential.

 

Whereabouts
Whereabouts | | Jhumpa Lahiri

 

Whereabouts(2021)

Jhumpa Lahiri’s skills as a sensitive author come to the fore in her newest novel, Whereabouts. What’s most distinctive about this novel is the fact that Lahiri has written it in Italian and then translated it into English herself. Her unnamed narrator talks about how solitude has become her “trade”, but shortly after she says it “plagues” her. This quest takes shape allegorically as she wanders through the city connecting with her widowed mother and her friends.

The novel comes together in forty-six short episodes named by their location such as ‘On the Sidewalk,’ ‘At the Ticket Counter,’ ‘By the Sea,’ In My Head,’ and so on. There is a vague sense that the protagonist never quite fits in and her wanderings seem to be a quest to find somewhere to belong. There is something very sad yet beautiful about the entire story. Whereabouts is a novel that beautifully captures the life of a solitary woman in suspension.

The New York Times’ review says ‘Whereabouts is like a photographer’s contact sheet. As our eyes move across the images, sensitive to each reframing, a loose narrative emerges of an Italian woman at a crossroads in her life.’

 

Unaccustomed Earth
Unaccustomed Earth | | Jhumpa Lahiri

 

Unaccustomed Earth(2013)

Unaccustomed Earth is Lahiri’s second collection of short stories. As with many of her other works, the stories delve into the lives of immigrant characters interacting with a mixed cultural environment. They focus on second-generation immigrants making and remaking lives, loves and identities in a nation not quite their own. We follow brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and lovers, in stories that take us from Boston and London to Thailand and India. Unaccustomed Earth is a perfect example of the author’s signature style, which includes beautiful prose, poignant wisdom and a taste of some of the innermost workings of the heart and mind of an immigrant.
Blending the individual and the generational, the exotic and the strikingly mundane, these eight haunting, exquisitely detailed and emotionally complex stories are intensely compelling elegies of life, death, love and fate. They represent the dazzling work of a masterful writer.

With regard to this book, The Independent remarks that ‘Lahiri has taken material that is familiar, melodramatic even, yet managed to touch the heights of literary achievement by telling the story on a broad canvas.’

 

In Other Words | | Jhumpa Lahiri

 

In Other Words(2015)

Most of Lahiri’s fiction carries autobiographical elements within it. She draws from her own experiences, enabling her to be more believable and relatable to her readers. However, In Other Words, takes this a step further as it in itself is an autobiographical work of writing. Its subject is that of the author’s love, devotion, commitment and desire to possess a language that was not hers.

A young Lahiri had visited Florence shortly after graduating from college, and this began an affair between her and the Italian language. She tried studying it for years but eventually comes to the conclusion that moving to Rome along with her family is the only way to master it. In Other Words is Lahiri’s meditation on the process of learning to express herself in another language and the stunning journey of a writer seeking a new voice.

This book will truly give you a glimpse into the workings of Jhumpa Lahiri’s mind if that is what you are looking for.

 

The Lowland | | Jhumpa Lahiri

 

The Lowland(2013)

This critically acclaimed book was #5 on the New York Times bestsellers list. The Lowland accounts for nearly half a century’s worth of American as well as Indian history through the lives of a single-family. It touches upon the Naxalite uprising in West Bengal in the year 1967, which leads to the two central characters drifting apart, and the older brother Udayan losing his life. Following this, the younger brother, Subhash marries his pregnant widow and takes her to Rhode Island where he maintains the fiction that he is the father. The action then shifts to how this lie corrodes their relationship and the confusion that American customs bring with them.

Lahiri gracefully conveys the shifts in constitution and temperament of her characters. She makes chaos, confusion and pain serene and spins entire lives around such emotions.

The Washington Post in a review for The Lowland says for Lahiri “Her prose, as always, is a miracle of delicate strength, like those threads of spider silk that, wound together, are somehow stronger than steel.”

 

The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories | | Jhumpa Lahiri

 

The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories (2020)

A Penguin Classic, this collection of short stories was hand-picked, compiled, translated and edited by Jhumpa Lahiri. More than half of these Italian stories have never appeared in the English language before. She has taken tales from forty different authors with varied backgrounds that have moulded her interest in the language and its literature. Dating back to over a hundred years, these stories bring to life the geography, private passions and dramatic political events that took place in twentieth-century Italy. Her choice of authors includes many revered names including Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Primo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Cesare Pavese, Leonardo Sciascia, Italo Svevo and Giovanni Verga.

‘Lahiri’s selection of (mainly 20th-century) stories owes its existence to an appetite for Italian literature,’ says The Telegraph in its review of the book.

 

 

The Clothing of Books | | Jhumpa Lahiri

 

The Clothing of Books (2016)

Another autobiographical book, this work of writing concerns a topic very close to every reader and book collector’s heart. You can hear “never judge a book by its cover” a billion times, but that won’t stop you from wanting a book with an attractive cover or feeling dissatisfied with a cover that doesn’t meet your expectations. In this personal reflection, Lahiri explores the art of the book jacket and its importance. She presents both, the perspective of the author as well as that of book lovers and readers. She talks at length about the covers that she likes and those she doesn’t. She is particularly a fan of what she calls the “naked book”, which is a minimalistic book jacket.

She probes into the complex relationships shared between texts and images, authors and designers, and art and commerce. Lahiri reveals what book jackets and designs have come to mean to her. She is so enraptured by the art and the role of the book jacket, that she explains that sometimes, “the covers become a part of me.”

If covers are what attract you to a book, this book makes you realise that it’s okay to love pretty jackets!