***UPDATED ON TUESDAYS***
These are just some of the new and notable books by writers of South Asian origin for the month of December 2022.
For a more complete list in the US, go to the Desi Books Bookshop (US.) For a UK list, go to the Desi Books Bookshop (UK.) Currently, there isn’t a single location to list books published within South Asia although several are included below. Note: The descriptions are mostly from publisher-provided text.
This month’s notable new nonfiction takes us from pre-colonial South Asia to a transnational India and covers religion, royalty, dance, food, Christmas, and more.
Divya Cherian’s Merchants of Virtue: Hindus, Muslims, and Untouchables in Eighteenth-Century South Asia explores the question of what it meant to be Hindu in pre-colonial South Asia. Divya Cherian presents a fine-grained study of everyday life and local politics in the kingdom of Marwar in eighteenth-century western India to uncover how merchants enforced their caste ideals of vegetarianism and bodily austerity as universal markers of Hindu identity. Using legal strategies and alliances with elites, these merchants successfully remade the category of “Hindu,” setting it in contrast to “Untouchable” in a process that reconfigured Hinduism in caste terms. In a history pertinent to understanding India today, Cherian establishes the centrality of caste to the early-modern Hindu self and to its imagination of inadmissible others.
Arup Kumar Dutta’s The Ahoms: A Reimagined History is an epic retelling of the 600-year rule of the Ahom dynasty. In 1228 CE, a group of Shan or Tai warriors, led by a brave leader named Sukapha, left their home in Myanmar and traveled to Upper Assam. Here, they set up the nucleus of what would become the powerful Ahom empire. Till it was annexed by the British in 1826, for nearly six centuries, Sukapha’s descendants reigned over a greater part of the Brahmaputra Valley. Few dynasties in the world have enjoyed such a long period of almost unbroken rule. It was primarily due to the Ahoms that the pre-colonial Assamese nation was born. Their reign witnessed the synthesis of disparate tribes of the Brahmaputra Valley and the evolution of a distinct Assamese language, culture, and identity. The Ahom dynasty was one of the greatest political entities of medieval Asia, equal to, if not greater than, its better-known counterparts in other parts of the world. The history of the Ahoms is replete with tales of war, bravery, brutality, love, loyalty, treachery, and treason. This book seeks to imaginatively acquaint readers with the fascinating saga of the dynasty along with the major events during its rule.
Rumya Sree Putcha’s The Dancer’s Voice: Performance and Womanhood in Transnational India theorizes about how the Indian classical dancer performs the complex dynamics of transnational Indian womanhood. Putcha argues that the public persona of the Indian dancer has come to represent India in the global imagination-a representation that supports caste hierarchies and Hindu ethnonationalism, as well as white supremacist model minority narratives. Generations of Indian women have been encouraged to embody the archetype of the dancer, popularized through film cultures from the 1930s to the present. Through analyses of films, immigration and marriage laws, histories of caste and race, advertising campaigns, and her own family’s heirlooms, photographs, and memories, Putcha reveals how women’s citizenship is based on separating their voices from their bodies. In listening closely to and for the dancer’s voice, she offers a new way to understand the intersections of body, voice, performance, caste, race, gender, and nation.
Farokh Talati’s Parsi: From Persia to Bombay: Recipes & Tales from the Ancient Culture is a journey, in more than 150 recipes, into the world of Parsi culture through food, feasts, and family favorites-featuring original four-color photography. “Jamva Chalo Ji,” a simple yet celebratory phrase in Parsi-Gujarati, translates literally as “Come, let’s eat!” Although, it doesn’t take much cajoling to gather a crowd around a Parsi table. Laden with lamb stews, quails stuffed with biryani, salads of fennel and peas, and semolina pudding, each spread is rich with the sumptuous Persian and Indian flavors of cardamom and masala, coconut, and mango. In Parsi, chef Farokh Talati invites home chefs to join the feast in the first major cookbook of its kind. Featuring step-by-step photographs that teach the best way to crack a coconut at home, press homemade paneer from scratch, and preserve the most piquant pickled vegetables possible, Parsi is a guide not only to a unique cuisine but also a culture and family story preserved in its flavors. With recipes for staple chutneys and spice pastes traditionally ground by hand, soothing baked eggs and savory masala oats shared in the morning, platters of lamb-herb kebabs and cucumber-pomegranate salads shared at night, and rich raspberry wafer ice cream sandwiches and mango buttermilk pudding that pay homage to the sweet tooth of Talati’s youth, Parsi is rich with the flavor of a culinary tradition well worth relishing. Combining Talati’s decades of experience as a professional chef in London’s restaurant scene with recipes passed down from the home kitchens and dining tables of his ancestors, Parsi celebrates both festive dishes and everyday meals with a ringing “Jamva Chalo Ji.” Come, let’s eat.
Edited by Jerry Pinto and Madhulika Liddle, Indian Christmas: An Anthology captures the distinctive magic of Christmas in India. Edited and with introductions by two of India’s finest writers, Jerry Pinto and Madhulika Liddle, it is a splendid collection of essays, images, poems, and hymns—both in English and translated from India’s other languages—which showcase the variety of Christmas celebrations across the country. Damodar Mauzo, Vivek Menezes, Easterine Kire, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Elizabeth Kuruvilla, Jane Borges, and Mary Sushma Kindo, among others, write about Christmas traditions and celebrations in Goa, Nagaland, Kerala, Delhi, Ranchi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Shillong, and rural Jharkhand. Arul Cellaturai writes tender poems in the Pillaitamil tradition to the moon about Baby Jesus, and Punjabi singers compose tappe-boliyan about Mary and her infant. There are Mughal miniatures depicting the birth of Jesus, and paintings by Jyoti Sahi and Sister Marie Claire inspired by folk art. And photographers from near and far capture images of Christmas time in Aizawl, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Kochi. Charming family traditions, ‘chutnified’ Christmas lunches and dinners, quintessentially Indian versions of Christmas decorations and rituals—all find a place in the pages of Indian Christmas, a first-of-its-kind collection that pays tribute to a great Indian festival. It is a unique and beautiful book to possess and to gift.
Kuzhali Manickavel’s Conversations Regarding the Fatalistic Outlook of the Common Man is a collection of 40 dialogues that melds the classical philosophical tradition of Plato and Socrates with the anarchic freedom of a mid-1990s chat room, and tops it all off with a dash of Senthil-Goundamani comedy. Not really, but anyway. Manickavel interviews children on the subject of ghosts, shoe racks, and gender-neutral pronouns. She speaks to adults about Hindi imposition, hipster racism, and iskisk deospray. She chats with Niira Radia about banana cabinets. She pesters anyone who will listen about Bollywood movie tropes and babies raining from the sky. Puzzles are posed, hypocrisies exposed, and awesome bargaining strategies disclosed. Come listen.
Ipsita Roy Chakraverti’s Way of the Witch is a captivating guide to the implements and tools of Wicca, a Pagan witchcraft tradition. It describes in meticulous detail the goddesses worshipped as part of it, and the important spells, powerful natural crystals, and charms used by the worshippers of this tradition. Featuring excerpts from the author’s diary, the book also offers a glimpse into the life of one of India’s most famous witches. This is a perfect manual for the budding witch and a spellbinding read for those interested in the craft.
Jitendra Dixit’s Bombay After Ayodhya chronicles how the past three decades have been a period of unprecedented flux in Mumbai. In the aftermath of the riots, a split in the Mumbai underworld led to new equations in politics, which changed the demography of the city and led to the rise of new townships. After a brief lull, blasts and terrorist attacks rocked it once more in 2002, a cycle of violence that culminated in the horrific 26/11 attacks in 2008. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992 was followed by riots across India. Mumbai had always been susceptible to communal violence, but the violence in December 1992 and then again in January 1993 was unprecedented. Two months later, in March, serial blasts rocked the city, killing over 250 and injuring 700. Communal strife was followed by gang wars and natural calamities, all of which changed the city forever. Jitendra Dixit grew up in Mumbai and has reported from the city for much of the three decades he writes about in this book. This is a deeply felt biography of a city, which has transformed from a city of mills to one of malls, where the number of skyscrapers has multiplied along with their height, where local trains have become longer and yet remained overcrowded. It is the city of Bollywood, yet constraints of producing films in the city have led filmmakers to move out. Its iconic festivals, such as Ganesh Utsav and Govinda, once primarily celebrated by the poor and the middle class, have become commercialized. Along with key events and people that have shaped the evolution of present-day Mumbai, Bombay after Ayodhya also documents the change in the city’s character, from its physical appearance and civic issues, to real estate and politics.
Independence, Partition, crime, horror, coming-of-age, and queer love. These are just some of the themes from this month’s new and notable fiction.
Aanchal Malhotra’s The Book of Everlasting Things is her debut novel. On a January morning in 1938, Samir Vij first locks eyes with Firdaus Khan through the rows of perfume bottles in his family’s ittar shop in Lahore. Over the years that follow, the perfumer’s apprentice and calligrapher’s apprentice fall in love with their ancient crafts and with each other, dreaming of the life they will one day share. But as the struggle for Indian independence gathers force, their beloved city is ravaged by Partition. Suddenly, they find themselves on opposite sides: Samir, a Hindu, becomes Indian and Firdaus, a Muslim, becomes Pakistani, their love now forbidden. Severed from one another, Samir and Firdaus make a series of fateful decisions that will change the course of their lives forever. As their paths spiral away from each other, they must each decide how much of the past they are willing to let go of, and what it will cost them. Lush, sensuous, and deeply romantic, The Book of Everlasting Things is the story of two lovers and two nations, split apart by forces beyond their control, yet bound by love and memory. Filled with exquisite descriptions of perfume and calligraphy, spanning continents and generations, Aanchal Malhotra’s debut novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
Manohar Malgaonkar’s The Princes is also set in India, 1938. The life of Abhayraj, the heir of Maharaj Hiroji, the ruler of the princely state of Begwad, is not unlike that of many young princes caught between two worlds-indeed, two eras. On the one hand are the traditions of the feudal, close-knit community ruled by his father that he is bound to follow, and on the other the pressures of independence as British dominion over begins to wane. Seeking a path of his own, Abhay joins the Indian army and fights in the Burma campaign during World War II. On his return, however, he is forced into a conventional marriage, and after his father’s dramatic death becomes the Maharaja, to rule for just forty-nine days before he is compelled to merge his state with free India in 1948. Hailed as an unusual historical saga at the time of its release, The Princes was first published in New York in 1963 and was selected by the Literary Guild of America as a novel of the month that year. Available now in a beautiful new edition, it offers an enthralling, intimate glimpse into life in India’s princely states through the story of a royal family caught in a struggle for survival, in a nation embracing democracy for the very fir
Harimohan Jha’s The Bride (tr. Lalit Kumar) is billed as A Suitable Boy in Maithili. Thirteen-year-old Buchia is quick-witted and pleasant-looking, but in the competitive marriage mart of Bihar, her family needs to be resourceful and wily to find the right groom to uphold their pride. When a match is made with C.C. Mishra, English educated and recently graduated from Banaras Hindu University, everyone believes that a happy ending is near. But unknown to them, the groom dreams of a partner who writes poetry and plays tennis; is more-or-less a carbon copy of the film star Devika Rani. So, when he discovers that his new wife cannot even recognize the letters of the alphabet, their future begins to look less rosy … When it was first published in 1930, Harimohan Jha’s Kanyadan blazed through the Maithili reading world and became the inspiration for numerous Indian novels and films. Translated into English for the first time, this delectable story about Indian matchmaking will charm readers with its cast of imperfect but unforgettable characters.
Bushra Rehman’s Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion is an unforgettable story about female friendship and queer love. Razia Mirza grows up amid the wild grape vines and backyard sunflowers of Corona, Queens, with her best friend, Saima, by her side. When a family rift drives the girls apart, Razia’s heart is broken. She finds solace in Taslima, a new girl in her close-knit Pakistani-American community. They embark on a series of small rebellions: listening to scandalous music, wearing miniskirts, and cutting school to explore the city. When Razia is accepted to Stuyvesant, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, the gulf between the person she is and the daughter her parents want her to be, widens. At Stuyvesant, Razia meets Angela and is attracted to her in a way that blossoms into a new understanding. When their relationship is discovered by an Aunty in the community, Razia must choose between her family and her own future. Punctuated by both joy and loss, full of ’80s music and beloved novels, Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion is a new classic: a fiercely compassionate coming-of-age story of a girl struggling to reconcile her heritage and faith with her desire to be true to herself.
Vinaya Bhagat’s The Girl in the Mist is a crime novel. When she loses her parents in a car accident in Boston, Diya Mathur’s world collapses around her. As far as she knows, she’s a young woman alone in the world now, her parents having been her only living relatives. Until a mysterious letter arrives from India, claiming to be from her extended family that she’d never heard of. Suddenly, Diya has a chance at being part of a family again. She decides to take time out of school and go to India to meet her newfound family. But soon after Diya arrives there is a spate of what appear to be animal attacks around her and her family. As bodies and tragedies pile up around her, Diya finds out more about the secrets her family is hiding, including the curse of the Chakwa–a shapeshifting trickster with the feet of a large beast–which legend has it, has been responsible for tragedies in her family for centuries. Diya’s no longer sure that her parents’ car crash was an accident. Will the monster that ruined her parents’ life now destroy her happiness? Or will she manage to defeat it at its own game? With the help of her newly discovered friends and family, Diya must fight not just the monster from her nightmares, but also make sense of a fast-unraveling web of lies that makes up her life.
Satwik Gade’s The Alice Project is about a young man. Alice’s greatest pleasure in life is hanging out with his friends Nitin, Iyengar, and Bakchod, mostly at the chai shop outside their old college. He has a job he doesn’t hate, friends he likes, and a life that is vaguely happy. Sure, it might be time for him to embrace adulthood, and yes, he can’t quite visualize his future clearly, but none of these concerns are big enough to push him out of his comfort zone. Until a series of events—the death of a college friend, and a budding romance—start to shape his personal life, and Alice is forced to reckon with the fact that his life will change, whether he wants it to or not.
Jatin and Suparna Chawla Bhasin’s The Haunting of Delhi City : Tales of the Supernatural is set in a Delhi we think we know well, but don’t. You know Delhi for its rich cultural tapestry, history, and monuments. You love it for its food–kebabs, chole-kulche, golgappe, and chaat. But do you know about the dark shadows that lurk in its all-too-familiar haunts—the arcades of Connaught Place, the gullies of Mehrauli, the lawns of Lutyens’ Delhi, or the pillars and arches of the tombs in Hauz Khas? This is a Delhi that reveals the presence of the supernatural at every corner-ghosts as real to us in stories as they are in our imagination. Exquisitely chilling, each of these tales holds a piece of the city and its people-especially the ghosts.
A lighter month for poetry but we have works exploring ancient poetry forms in Urdu and a huge anthology. A treat for poetry lovers everywhere.
Rivers Going Home: 71 Poets in Solidarity edited by Ashwani Kumar is an anthology that originated from ‘Poetry Live’ — a curated experience on the social media platform, Instagram, where poetry readings were led by the Indian Novels Collective and Mumbai’s much-loved bookstore Kitab Khana. Poet and critic Arundhathi Subramaniam, who inaugurated the series on 31 March 2020 with a reading of The Tent by Rumi, described the initiative as, “an act of faith in poetry in troubling times”. Given this background, it was natural for poets in the anthology to shine through this ‘immaculate choreography’ in verse — miracles and mirages of poetry waiting to happen, now and in the future.
Anisur Rehman’s Hazaar Rang Shaairi: The Wonderful World of the Urdu Nazm is a comprehensive collection presenting the best of Urdu nazms from the sixteenth century to the present times. Selected, edited, and translated by Anisur Rahman, the one hundred and forty nazms in the book trace the evolution of the form right from its roots in the Deccan to various geographies across South Asia where it flourished and acquired its plurality. The dazzling English translations published along with their transliterated originals make for pleasurable and illuminating reading. Hazaar Rang Shaairi: The Wonderful World of the Urdu Nazm is a book for everyone who is curious about how poetry colors our lives.
Gopi Chand Narang’s India’s Freedom Struggle and the Urdu Poetry: Awakening is about how poetry, especially Urdu poetry, played a very significant role in India’s freedom struggle. This book explores the poetic contributions going back centuries of colonial rule, which became songs of freedom and captured both the poignancy and fervor of revolution, protest, and hope. Urdu became one of the essential languages in colonial India, used by both political leaders and many young revolutionaries in speeches and writings as slogans for freedom and a call to action. Poets such as Josh Malihabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Sahir, Makhdoom, Kaifi Azmi, Majaz, Majrooh, and Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote highly patriotic poetry which was used not only to inspire and help mobilize people but also to offer criticism of existing socio-cultural practices in India and promote reform and equality. This work – a creative and selective translation of the book Hindustan Ki Tahriik-e Aazadi aur Urdu Shaa’yiri by Professor Gopi Chand Narang – includes English translations of poems from rare historical manuscripts as well as banned and witnessed poetry confiscated by the British. It looks at key events in India’s struggle for freedom through the prism of literature, language, poetry, and culture while also delving into the lives of poets who became the voice of their generation. This book is an essential read for students and researchers of colonial and postcolonial literature, cultural studies, comparative studies, history, and South Asian literature and culture.