Thirteen Instagram handles booklovers must follow


Published on 22 May in Scroll.in

insta

If you’re still looking for book recommendations and the kind of book pictures and videos that make you want to hit the ‘Like’ button (so that, you know, your friends know you’re cool that way) on Facebook, you’re so last year.

The place to be is Instagram, and the hashtag to use is #Bookstagram. But since that will mean a problem of plenty, we picked a baker’s dozen of handles for you to follow.

Just literary

@theparisreview
Every now and then, one must pause and reflect upon some words of wisdom. But not just any words. Here you’ll find snippets of previously published poems and past interviews with iconic writers, along with illustrations and their most memorable covers. The literary magazine was founded in 1953 and is one of the most-widely read journals today.

@epicreads
If you’re into Young Adult fiction – reading it for a friend if not for yourself – this is the account you should be following. A bright community for YA book lovers pin-points the hottest teen books.

@fictionnotfriends
Talia is all of 16, lives in London, and has a penchant for books and travel. She blends her reads with some of the most stunning backdrops – the ocean, the rocks, the London Eye, and more! Her perspective on books is most swoon-worthy.

Book people (who doesn’t love them?)

@hotdudesreading
He’s got the looks and he’s got the books. So, stop everything and take note of the three most interesting words for, ahem, a female booklover – hot, dudes, reading. Follow for regular images of scenes of hot dudes reading straight from the streets and subways of New York City. Could it get better than this?

@subwaybookreview
What’s the most common way of passing time while traveling in a train? Yes, we know it’s Whatsapp. But this handle goes on to prove that the NYC subway has some of the most interesting readers in the world – native Americans and tourists included. They’re constantly reading – from Toni Morrison to Greek myths, and Agatha Christie to David Foster Wallace. Best of all, each picture comes with a short review of the book photographed. This is a lovely black-and-white account of strangers reading on the subway. Wouldn’t it be great if someone archived the book-people here in India too – on the Delhi metro or in Mumbai locals?

Food and design (books too)

@bookbaristas
NYC-based college grad Natasha describes herself as “Just a book person recommending you hot drinks and hotter reads”. She’s got the combination of books and brews right, and the stylish pictures work impeccably in her favour (she’s got over 94k followers). You won’t get many book recommendations here, but you’re sure to get ideas on how to style your reads with a brew! Also, she owns super cool socks.

@coffeeandbookss
Is there a better pairing than coffee and books? Echoing our thoughts here is Tanbir Minhas, who records her book-coffee moments in beautiful rustic cafés and indie bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. And her recommends are worth watching out for. There’s an eclectic mix in there – from Jhumpa Lahiri to Haruki Murakami, Henry Miller to Voltaire, and Ray Bradbury to Gillian Flynn. (Don’t miss the extra ‘s’ in the handle.)

@imjustahuman
Anna is a Ukrainian student who’s in love with books, just like the rest of us, but what sets her apart are the creative pairings she does with her favourite reads. Be it flowers, fruits, coffee, cake, candles or lights, Anna’s got everything going great.

Pets. Yes, pets.

@ernest_hedgingway
“Ernest is a persnickety hedgehog with a love of books, antiques, and sleeping. These are his adventures.” Nikki, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma is a reader, writer, photographer, cook, creator, dreamer, believer (phew)… according to the bio on her blog. She owns a pet hedgehog whom she’s lovingly christened after you-know-who. Tiny Ernest spends his days with Nikki discovering the joy of reading. At times he’s found solving a crossword puzzle, other times he’s seen resting upon a pile of books. Oh, he has his own book too!

@catbookbclub
Cats and books. That should break the internet. Sleepy cats, inquisitive cats, bored cats, curious cats – each one sprawled and perched over one or more books.

@dogbookclub
There are dogs. There are books. What’s not to love? This handle captures all those moments when the furry canines interrupt your time with books. The captions are the funniest and in all caps because hey, “BOOKS ARE EXCITING”, right?

Bookstores

@strandbookstore
New York City’s landmark bookstore has been around since 1927. The 86-year-old bookstore holds 18 miles of books and has three floors of used and rare books on Broadway and 12th. Here you’ll find pictures of author events held inside the store (readings and signings), along with shelfies and giveaways. Every now and then, the staff post their book recommendations too.

@chroniclebooks
Chronicle Books, the San Francisco-based independent publisher, is an Instagram pro. The company publishes books on food, architecture, interior design, and home & garden, and children’s books. And they never get their frames wrong.

Small Talk with Wendy Doniger: Vatsyayana’s status update


Published on 30 August, 2015 in Mumbai Mirror

With her new work, author and academician Wendy Doniger hopes that she can change the mistaken belief that the Kamasutra is a ‘dirty book’.

For the past few months, liberal India has tried hard to come to terms with a triggerhappy mode of censorship. By recently attempting to block 857 pornographic websites, the government only helped precipitate a crisis of personal freedom. In an atmosphere that is undeniably charged, the release of a book by the controversial Wendy Doniger will surely be considered provocative by some. Given the fact that the American Indologist is now attempting to interpret the Kamasutra in a new light, the fire, her detractors could argue, is again being carefully stoked.

9789385288067_AuthorThe Mare’s Trap: Nature and Culture in the Kamasutra is Wendy Doniger’s latest addition to her commentary on Indian textual traditions. It contradicts the otherwise coloured perception of the text. Unveiling new and positive aspects of the Kamasutra that was composed in the third century CE, Doniger takes the onus upon herself to remind Indian audiences that “the Kamasutra was an occasion for national pride, not national shame”. Though the book contains detailed discussions on penis sizes, the liberating sexual desires of women, gender inversions and same-sex relationships, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago insists that despite the contentiousness of the subject matter at hand, her work ought not to become another subject of controversy.

“In the present puritanical climate of India, with ‘pornography’ a legal issue once again, I do fear that anything to do with sex, including the Kamasutra, will excite controversy,” she confesses. Doniger believes that it is only etymology that can help place the Kamasutra on a pornography shelf. “The word ‘pornography’ in English means ‘prostitutes’ writings’, and the Kamasutra claims that an early version of its text was commissioned by prostitutes. But in the real sense of ‘pornography’, meaning obscene and titillating writings, the Kamasutra is absolutely not pornographic. It is a very serious and quite unique sociological study of the world of leisure and pleasure in ancient India. And therefore it really should not be controversial at all.”

Doniger’s earlier book, The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009), won two prestigious awards in India — the Ramnath Goenka Award in 2012 and the Colonel James Tod Award in 2014 — and then, quite suddenly, became the cynosure of sudden controversy when Dina Nath Batra, a retired headmaster, filed a lawsuit against the book’s publisher Penguin India. After fighting for four years, the publishing house agreed to cease publishing further copies of the book and pulp the remaining editions in February last year.

To hardline audiences like members of Batra’s activist organisation Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, Doniger’s books possibly come across as an attack on age-old beliefs and traditions, but the author, in her defence, claims to only be stating fact. In one of the chapters in The Mare’s Trap, she dissects three passages from the Kamasutra that allude to women’s exclamations of pain in reaction to physical abuse. Rather than being indications of their wish to escape or refuse, these cries are considered tricks to excite their male partners during the act. In the context of present-day violence against women, Vatsyayana’s assertions do seem clearly problematic.

“My book argues that one of the basic agendas of the Kamasutra is to reveal how deeply violence is embedded in everyone’s sexuality, and therefore how necessary it is to have a book like the Kamasutra to show people how to tame that violence, to cultivate a sexuality that is mutual between men and women. This could go a long way toward helping people deal with the unacceptably high incidence of violence against women in India today, and elsewhere in the world,” says the History of Religions professor.

Later in the book, Doniger also questions modern barriers that are ignorant about the fluidity of sex. She adds, “I think it’s a terrible shame. The Kamasutra is more open-minded about same-sex relations between men and women not only than any other ancient Indian text, but than most ancient cultures. Since the time of the Kamasutra, though, much has happened to India and the complex political and religious history of the subcontinent has caused India to lose touch with this and other very liberal aspects of its ancient culture.”

My bookshop won’t tell you what people are reading: A bookseller’s lament as he waves goodbye


Published on 9 August, 2015 in Scroll.in

An interview with Ajit Vikram Singh, owner of Delhi’s beloved Fact & Fiction bookshop, which has announced its closure.

DSC_0934It is around five in the evening when I reach Fact & Fiction, one of New Delhi’s oldest independent bookstores, whose owner, Ajit Vikram Singh has announced his decision to shut shop. For every booklover in Delhi, it’s a time to mourn, however briefly.

There was a time when I too, like many others, used to frequent the bookshop, at times to buy books, and at others, when I ran out of money, to simply hang around and browse. Today, as I sit across the table from Singh, poking him with questions that he is probably tired of hearing and answering, I am amazed the irony of my own much-delayed visit. We have all delayed so much that the shop has to close down. Over to Singh.

Response to stimuli
“Running a bookshop is a very organic thing,” begins Singh, “you don’t stuff it full of books that you like. I started Fact & Fiction back in 1984 with very few books. When those books sold, I put more of the same kind on the shelf. It was a response to stimuli and that’s how it grows. You put the best books on the subject that works. This wasn’t the mix when I started – it kept changing over the years.

“It’s been a long time coming. I didn’t want to lose interest in books till the very end; I was still ordering books and I was still trying to stay engaged, I mean I can’t think of it as the end. It’s not a business, it’s my life. I’d hate to bid adieu but I don’t know, I don’t see any space, I don’t see any other avenue.

“The book trade doesn’t seem to want bookshops like ours. Since all these e-tailers have come in, the book trade has just gone their way. They’ve extended all support, all help to them, put all their focus on them, and they’ve just let booksellers like us be. Let this event be a reminder to the trade that they’ve got to include and support everyone the best way they can.

“After thirty years, I think it is bad news for me too. Earlier, going to the bookshop was a regular affair. Obviously things have changed over this period of time. But till the shutters come down, I’ll keep ordering books.”

I urge him to begin from the beginning.

Starting point
“I loved books and I wanted to do something with books. I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged reading. My father was an omnivorous reader. He read everything – from Batman comics to Chandrakanta, and from science fiction to philosophy. He was a great role model for me. My mother too was an avid reader and she read in Hindi.

“Buying books as a kid was one thing that I will always cherish. Personally, I went through several phases of reading. At times science fiction, other times occult, and a lot of non-fiction and history books too. People who start a bookshop think that they’ll spend all their time reading, but unfortunately, after being at the bookshop the whole day, when I go back home and pick up a book to read, I realise that sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”

Where do old books go?
“Books in India are cheaper than anywhere else in the world. If price was such a big concern and the readership was so motivated, why isn’t there a second-hand book trade in India? This is a question that I’ve been asking myself for so many years now.

“Real estate prices are higher in New York and London, but all of these cities have a very healthy and thriving second-hand book culture. Here, either the book goes to the pavement or to the rag-picker, or – worst case scenario – gets pulped. There is no system of retaining the books.

“I’m told Calcutta has a College Street, but it’s all largely textbooks, and same is the case with the Daryaganj market. From among a thousand books you might find a handful of classics or contemporary fiction or non-fiction. Basically, the reading culture is not there. The education system in India does not promote reading as a thing of enjoyment. Reading shouldn’t be an ordeal but maybe it’s made to appear so.

“The kinds of books most Indians are buying are either related to their professions, motivational books, or quick reads. Or they keep oscillating between the seven or ten most-hyped books. They don’t have the time to discover or pursue other books.”

What triggered the decline in demand?
“Some of it is because retail sale in the area (where Fact & Fiction is located) has suffered collectively. Many shops have shut down, so there’s a general decline because of this. Secondly, parking has become chaotic and people don’t like to come here. The Vasant Vihar area in itself has become very a problem because accessibility has become very limited thanks to the new flyovers. It’s a combination of a lot of reasons.

“The presence of e-tailing has really grown leaps and bounds in a short time. They’re now advertising on television and newspapers. They create this uncertainty in the market, so that you always feel that something is available at a cheaper price, even if it is not. The psychology has changed, as a retailer you don’t feel confident. Consumers may not get a discount here and they may not get a discount online as well, but the attitude is such that they’re always looking for that elusive lower price.”

Change in buying patterns
“One cannot make out the trend of what everybody else is reading by looking at my bookshop, because it has a slant towards certain kind of books and I’m attracting those kinds of people. I have nothing against the new crop of authors, clearly people are reading them and therefore they sell, but the unfortunate part is that they don’t lead you to reading something else, something better.

“For example, the good thing about the Harry Potter series was that people who read Harry Potter went on to read books by JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and a whole genre of such authors. It dispelled a myth that children can’t read 600-page books, that they’ve got Attention Deficiency Syndrome.

“These books elevated the genre of fantasy fiction, and I am truly grateful to the Harry Potter series for that. But a lot of these contemporary Indian authors don’t seem to be leading readers anywhere else. They don’t get you into the process of discovering other new writer or of going after something else. They have a fan following and they just make their readers wait for their own books.”

Meet the four books from India in the €25,000-Frank O’Connor Short Story Award longlist


Published on 2 May, 2015 in Scroll.in

Jhumpa Lahiri, who won for ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ in 2008, is the only previous winner with an Indian connection.

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The eleventh edition of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award Longlist has four Indian authors’ works in the running – A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories by Siddhartha Gigoo,Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa by Damodar Mauzo, Passion Flower: Seven Stories of Derangement by Cyrus Mistry, and Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy.

The long list is, well, long. A total of 90 collections of short stories from all over the world are on it. The €25,000 prize is given to “the best collection of stories published in English for the first time anywhere in the world”. Named after the short story writer Frank O’ Connor, it is also currently the world’s richest prize for a short fiction.

The 90-strong list will be whittled down to a shortlist of about 6 books in late May, with an announcement in June. The prize-winner will be revealed in July. Meet the Indians in the fray:

A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories, Siddhartha Gigoo
Author Siddhartha Gigoo is having a great year. First, one of his stories – The Umbrella Man – from this won the Asia regional prize in the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Award. And now, the anthology itself has made it to the 2015 Frank O’Connor Short Story Longlist.

The stories are varied, but they follow a shared theme: the inability to control one’s life. A researcher uncovers bizarre secrets about a dying clan, a perfectly normal municipal commissioner suddenly goes mad, two inmates who share a love for chess are unable to escape from a prison even after it is not a prison anymore, and a refugee traverses through time to find a lost friend. Gigoo’s prose is simple and straightforward; he seamlessly weaves in themes of exile, conflict and loneliness into stories that don’t despair but offer slivers of hope.

Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa, Damodar Mauzo
The Sahitya Akademi award winning Konkani author Damodar Mauzo writes about everyday people and their simple lives in Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa. A helpless farmer who must sacrifice his beloved animals to survive through poverty, the parents of a differently abled child and their efforts to put together a normal and embarrassment-free birthday celebration for him, a woman who is forced to concur with the wishes of her husband and mother-in-law, and eleven others.

Translated from Konkani into English by Xavier Cota, the stories bring to light the nature of human relationships that change with time, and the emotions and challenges that give rise to dilemmas of everyday life. Mauzo worked on the collection over several decades and the fiction is set in a Goa of the 1970s, still untouched by commercial tourism.

Passion Flower: Seven Stories of Derangement, Cyrus Mistry
The DSC Prize winning author Cyrus Mistry’s first collection of seven short stories reveals a side of human psyche that is dark and crudely real. Mistry plays with household elements like prejudice, suspicion and insecurity to stitch together stories that seem strangely familiar, as if we’ve all been witness to them before, but have been trying to avoid them all along.

A 34-year-old man whose life changes after he encounters a ghost in the washroom of a public library, a young mother who’s going mad between the demands of a newborn baby and a supposedly cheating husband, a story of two childhood friends who are now rivals at work, a man obsessed with finding everything about an elusive species of Passiflora, and several other tales. Morbid and real, the stories are compelling and precise, just like short fiction is supposed to be.

Don’t Let Him Know, Sandip Roy
Journalist and writer Sandip Roy’s debut book of short fiction is one that revolves around the theme of family and homosexuality. The stories are interconnected to each other and revolve around the lives of the Mitras – Avinash Mitra is a closeted gay man who keeps this fact hidden from his wife, Romola, for the longest time. What he doesn’t know is that Romola is fully aware of his orientation and preferences, but remains silent by choosing to ignore what she knows. Their son Amit later finds out through a decade-old letter the truth about his father. Betrayal is another of the strong themes that hovers like a bad omen and secrets have a life of their own.

Why Jeffrey Archer’s magic in India never fades


Published on 14 March in Scroll.in

The writer was in the country for the eleventh time – to launch his new book ‘Mightier than the Sword’.

I was in the ninth grade when I first read Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel (1979). It was an overwhelming read, more than 600 pages long, and I was so proud to have finished it.

I’d borrowed it from the school library after a teacher had recommended the book for its masterful plot about two men – born on the same date but unknown to each other – whose fates and facts of life are intertwined in many unusual and striking ways. The book remans Archer’s bestselling work, and is about to enter its 100th reprint.

jeffSet in India

Archer’s fondness for India is known to all. The 74-year-old writer was in the country last week for a five-city tour at Crossword Bookstores to launch and promote his latest book, Mightier than the Sword, the fifth in the series of his Clifton Chronicles, which follows the life and times of Irish poet Harry Clifton.

While the earlier books are set against the socio-political backgrounds of England and USA, the sixth in the series, Archer revealed, will have eight chapters played out in Mumbai. Offering his audiences a sneak peek during the Pune launch, he said he would make his protagonist, Sebastian (son of Harry and Emma Clifton), fall in love with an Indian girl.

Old-fashioned appeal

Archer’s style of storytelling is simple; his stories are, however, full of twists, revelations and unpredictable endings. They may not be great works of profound prose, but what works for him is the fact that his readers are more interested in the story than in the telling of it. Which is why, perhaps, his most favourite Indian author is the inimitable R.K. Narayan.

In a country like India, where there are readers of all kinds, an author like Jeffery Archer, whose books are known to well-paced and “unputdownable”, is greatly revered. And it’s not just his novels that are a rage here. His short story collections which include A Quiver Full of Arrows (1980), A Twist in the Tale (1988), Twelve Red Herrings (1994), To Cut a Long Story Short (2000), Cat O’Nine Tales (2006), and And Thereby Hangs a Tale (2010), are equally popular.

India has always been a loyal audience and a lucrative market for books by foreign authors, but Archer is a favourite. This was his eleventh visit to the country, which confirms that the admiration is mutual. “There were almost 500 people in each bookstore and the audience was a mix of both college-goers and adults. The response was phenomenal,” says Lipika Bhushan, Marketing Consultant, Pan Macmillan India.

A perennial bestseller here

But certainly, it’s more than just his fondness for India or vice-versa that ensures this stardom. It’s remarkable, for in a country where in the last few years or so, popular reading culture has been dominated by an Amish Tripathi, a Chetan Bhagat or a Ravinder Singh, Archer, a foreign author, continues to rank high on the charts when his books are released.

After all, his books are not the typical boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love tale; he brings a bit of everything to the table: an autobiographical account of his near-bankruptcy experience (Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, 1976), a fictitious version of the legend of Seward’s Folly through a mysterious letter to a son from his father (A Matter of Honour, 1986), and a dramatic and contemporary retelling of Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo (A Prisoner of Birth, 2008), among others.

What makes Archer strike the bull’s eye in India, then? Part of the reason is reputation: those who have grown up on his easy-to-read but gripping stories continue to buy his new books. But that’s not all.

This may sound like ironic in the age of Murakami and Franzen, of Atwood and Mitchell, but to many Indian readers, Jeffrey Archer continues to represent the best of global fiction. The more ‘cerebral’ among mass market readers have their Dan Brown or even their John Grisham, but for thousands, Archer is the best writer of English novels that they can read. And that might explain why the 74-year-old former peer who has actually served time in jail keeps coming to the country every time he writes a new book. India reads Archer like few other countries in the world do.

This is where the Ibis docks


Published on 13 March, 2015 in Mint

The Spring Fever 2015 literary festival will host an open-air library and a preview of Amitav Ghosh’s third book in the Ibis trilogy

For a week starting Saturday, visitors to the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi will be able to browse through 2,000-plus books from Penguin India and Random House India across segments like literature, politics, business and self-help.

GulzarFor, like previous years, the eighth edition of the Spring Fever literature festival, being organized by Penguin Random House India in collaboration with the Visual Arts Gallery, will also feature an open-air library. “Spring Fever was launched initially to celebrate the joy of reading; it still does, but on a much larger scale,” says Hemali Sodhi, publisher (children’s and young adult titles), Penguin India.

The library is accessible to everyone during the day and book lovers are welcome to browse and buy books. “The festival gives audiences a platform to come together as a community and celebrate books in all forms,” says Sodhi. Author Amitav Ghosh will open the festival with an exclusive preview of his much anticipated book Flood Of Fire—the third book in his Ibis trilogy, the previous two being Sea Of Poppies (2008) and River Of Smoke (2011). Ghosh will talk about the book and read short passages from the manuscript. The book will be published in May.

There will also be sessions like “Can India Make It?” on 16 March, with journalists T.N. Ninan, Mihir Sharma and Aakar Patel (a Mint Lounge columnist), among others, discussing the state of the nation. The session, “Shabdon Ki ‘Social’ Factory”, on 17 March will include writers Pankaj Dubey and Yasser Usman and politician Shashi Tharoor, who will deliberate on how social media and condensation of language affect writing. Author Gurcharan Das, economist and author Bibek Debroy, art critic and writer Alka Pande, among others, will explore the presence of love and desire in the Indian classics in “The Romantics” on 19 March. “Ek Akela Iss Shahar Mein”, on 21 March, will see lyricist Gulzar, a festival regular, reciting verses from his new book, Another 100 Lyrics.

The festival is known for its literary conversations each evening and post-session cultural performances. Look out for a musical performance by New Delhi-based desi rock ‘n’ roll band Faridkot on 14 March and Dastan Alice Ki—an Urdu rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There—to be performed by Poonam Girdhani and Ankit Chadha on 17 March.

Spring Fever 2015 will be held from 14-22 March, at India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road. Library timings, 11am-7pm; sessions begin at 7pm. Click here for the schedule and registration.

Five must-read travel books about India


Published on 7 February, 2015 in Scroll.in

Whether they urge you to visit the places or not, these will surely enlighten you the way no guidebook ever can.

People take to fiction more easily than non-fiction, especially when it comes to books. And amidst the non-fiction spread, it takes a while, even for the “avid reader” who undertakes the annual book-reading challenge on Goodreads, to warm up to literature from the travel genre.

Certainly, there’s no dearth of such books in the retail or online market, but the intuition of readers seems rather tangled. Perhaps it’s easier to pick up a bestseller that everyone’s reading or it’s safe to stick to classics are unlikely to go wrong. But as a result of this, travel literature unwillingly takes a back seat.

In fact, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to say that travel books are usually bought when the reader decides to travel. The book is hurriedly ordered with an intention to prepare for the best and worst of the city or country in question. Whether or not he or she visits the same spots, eats the same food, or stays at the same hotel, is a different matter, because, let’s admit it, everyone sees and experiences things differently.

Travel literature is a tricky genre. Contrary to popular belief, it may or may not urge you to visit the place being written about. Not every description of a sunset or sunrise will make you envious of the writer. And adventure in the real sense of the word could mean anything – signing up for a week-long walking tour of villages in Madhya Pradesh under the scorching summer heat; sharing a compartment with a self-confessed kidnapper on the train to Assam; or prodding into the caste-ridden history of toddy shops in Kerala.

We bring to you five such books written about India, by Indian authors, who’ve mastered the genre of travel writing by making the read not enticing but uniquely gripping in every way possible.

Following Fish – Travels Around the Indian Coast, Samanth Subramanian
From a proud moment of mastering the craft of eating Hilsa in Kolkata, to daring the act of swallowing a murrel live, a notorious tradition that claims to cure asthma in Hyderabad, Subramanian’s discoveries along the coastal states of India are centred on anything and everything that is remotely connected to fish. Nine extremely well-researched essays, made witty by an almost organic sense of humility, narrate his encounters with the aquatic species in many forms – recipes, cultures, religions, superstitions, and the fishing business. His writing follows the wonderful long form narrative, clear and lucid, and is complete with humorous anecdotal facets that probe the lives of people influenced, inspired or affected by fish.

P.S. The book is enlightening enough to please everyone, especially those who squirm at the sight/smell/sound of fish.

If It’s Monday, It Must Be Madurai – A Conducted Tour of India, Srinath Perur
It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve been on a conducted group tour before, but after reading Perur’s book, you might be keen to sign up for one. No, it does not celebrate the idea of itinerated tours with strangers; in fact it does quite the opposite, but in doing so, it quite naturally reveals the intimate ways of people’s lives, at times surprising the reader with perceptive thought bubbles of the reticent author.

Perur’s purpose, on the face of it, may be to encourage a chuckle out of the reader at the description of a bumpy camel safari in Jaisalmer, but the fact that he, bound by the “times we live in”, spoils the moment of overnight camping in the middle of a desert by calling a friend to brag, is an utterly human act that many of us would relate to. Out of ten such introspective and generously entertaining essays, it’d be unfair to pick just one favourite.

Around India in 80 Trains, Monisha Rajesh
Train journeys can be described as exhilarating and frustrating in the same breath, and Rajesh’s book about the ever-so-stubborn functioning of Indian Railways touches flawlessly upon both. Accompanied by her photographer friend, Rajesh set out in the winter of 2009 to train-travel through India.

In between her qualms and complains – from “shitting in zigzags” (in a moving train) to getting squished in the local train from Andheri to Churchgate – you’d also sometimes find her staring through the train window, its corners covered in dust, at the rapidly changing landscape outside. Part-memoir, part-travelogue, the book reveals the tangle of prejudices shared by many Indians, quite interestingly through the eyes of an Indian-origin author.

Hot Tea Across India, Rishad Saam Mehta
Two things unite us Indians like nothing else does – gossip and tea. While the former flows freely whenever there’s some room for conversation, the latter is not too far behind an accompaniment. Mehta’s clever subject – a cup of hot tea found on every highway in India – builds the base of this light-hearted book. There are places and people we’ve faintly heard of but know nothing about, and between countless sips of different kinds of tea, lay the hurdles Mehta braves with a smile on his lips and a Bullet by his side. It’s a feel-good book with everything else in place – the good, the bad, also the ugly.

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India Pankaj Mishra
Mishra’s focus on twenty small towns and cities of the North, West, South, and East of India makes this book what it is – sincerely remarkable. First published in 1995, it allows a comprehensive glimpse into the minds and lives of certain characters – a businessman from Ambala who appraises the author as a prospective son-in-law, a Jain teenager from Rajkot who uninhibitedly speaks of his hatred for Muslims, a young man from Allahabad who is battling his own reservations against homosexuality. The book opened up stories that we were to confront two decades ago, that we’re confronting even today.

Arunima Mazumdar is a Delhi-based journalist.