Perennial classics and undiscovered gems that articulate the diversities and dichotomies of the nation
Ashish Mehta | August 28, 2015 | New Delhi
In the beginning, as usual, was the word.
In 1904, when Mohandas Gandhi boarded the train for Natal for what would have been just another dreary journey, his new friend Henry Polak thrust a slim volume in his hands. “The book was impossible to lay aside, once I had begun it. It gripped me,” Gandhi was to write later, describing “the magic spell of the book”. He instantly resolved “to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book”. John Ruskin’s Unto This Last changed not only Gandhi’s life but the very foundations of the Indian freedom movement.
For Gandhi, and his contemporaries, books and pamphlets, ranging from ancient scriptures to obscure 19th century tracts, provided the template that helped them make sense of the project they were undertaking. But for those books, the idea of India would have been different, however marginally.
In turn, the founding fathers of the nation and others after them went on to pen their inspirations and aspirations, completing a ‘virtuous cycle’ and forging a veritable canon for us. Undeniably, the books of the founding fathers of our nation and the works of the likes of Premchand and Dinkar inspired countless people to join the freedom movement. In this Independence Day special edition, we present our pickings from the canon.
If not an attempt at a canon-in-the-making, this exercise can also be seen as the ubiquitous journalistic trick of ‘listicles’ – The Five Books That Best Capture India. But, then, as the literary theoretician Umberto Eco puts it, “The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.” (Take, for instance, Gandhi’s own bookish listicle: “Three moderns have left a deep impress on my life and captivated me: Raychandbhai by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book, The Kingdom of God Is Within You; and Ruskin by his Unto This Last.”)
When not one but two senior editors, both baptized in the JP movement, spoke the same words on different occasions – that “you must read X to understand India” (X being Gora plus Ghare Baire for one and Raag Darbari for the other), we thought it would be worthwhile to make a master list of readings that make the idea of India comprehensible. We turned to some of the most discerning readers of our times to name roughly five (or more, or less) books that they think best explain India – and have played a part in defining it, too. We are grateful to them.
Who knows what it will lead to when one day, out of an understandable readerly enthusiasm, someone will thrust one of these tomes in the hands of a weary traveller and say “you must read this”?
(Inputs by Geetanjali Minhas, Puja Bhattacharjee, Swati Chandra, Shivani Gaurav Chaturvedi and Yoshika Sangal)
In Maharashtra, the epicentre of India’s devastating second wave, several NGOs and civil society organisations have been at work to combat the pandemic – by spreading awareness about precautions, by helping the slum-dwellers book appointment for vaccine, by providing meals to the marginalised a
The cumulative number of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed the landmark of 17 crore on Monday as the Phase 3 of the nationwide vaccination drive expands further. India is the fastest country to administer 17 crore Covid vaccine doses – China took 119 days and USA 115 days
India is battling the second wave of Covid-19 and infections are spreading into the interiors of the country, says Dr Anurag Bhadouria, National Spokesperson, Samajwadi Party. It is precipitated by the elections in five states, the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar and also panchayat elections in many states, he says
The CoWIN system, the overarching digital platform for citizens seeking appointment for the Covid-19 vaccine, is introducing a new four-digit security code” in the application from Saturday to minimise a peculiar error and subsequent inconvenience to citizens. “It has been notic
Mumbai, once the epicentre of the pandemic in India, has emerged as a model for all others in mitigating the crisis. The supreme court on Wednesday said the central government should adopt and take lessons from the Mumbai model to manage liquid medical oxygen supply for Covid-19 patients in Delhi.
A Functioning Anarchy? Essays For Ramachandra Guha Edited by Srinath Raghavan and Nandini Sundar Penguin Random House India / 392 pages / Rs 650 In a long and versatile career spanning thirty-five years, Ramachandra Guha has prod