The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

White woman’s burden

Wicked Women of the Raj (HarperCollins, Rs 295) by Coralie Younger gives a romantic and richly described account of European women who “broke society’s rules and married Indian princes”.Complete with photographs, it captures the high-spirited, reckless ambience of the raj, in which Indian princes scattered their wealth and pursued beautiful white women to take home as their wives. But the women themselves are as fascinating and determined as the rajas. Not always from the highest levels of European society, their consciousness of their power, both as beauties and as members of the “master” race, makes them the real heroines of these tales.

Mr Naipaul’s Round Trip and other essays (Penguin, Rs 295) by T.G. Vaidyanathan is a collection of writings by the striking personality known as TGV to his peers in Bangalore. He taught literature and film criticism, played first division cricket and wrote about everything from psychoanalysis to umbrellas in a characteristically provoking style. Although he writes with depth and compassion about literature — the essay on Naipaul determines the title, on cricket — his involvement with it forms the basis of his friendship with Ramachandra Guha, who writes the foreword, — and on film, as on Shatranj Ke Khilari, he is at his most entertaining and wittily profound when his subjects are chosen from everyday moments, like secondhand bookshops and stainless steel culture.

Ants, ghosts and whispering trees: An anthology of oriya short stories (HarperCollins, Rs 295) edited by Paul St-Pierre, Leelawati Mohapatra and K.K. Mohapatra brings together twenty-two of the most remarkable Oriya short stories written over the last one hundred years. At the head of the collection stands the father of modern Oriya prose, Fakir Mohan Senapati, whose autobiography is a classic of Indian literature. The short stories in the collection, which have been translated by the editors themselves, focus largely on life in the countryside. The portrayal of village life changes, as Orissa changes — or persists — through the years. The book is important because it not only opens up the world of Oriya literature for the non-Oriya reader, but because it also provides further evidence of the extraordinarily rich tradition of short stories in Indian regional literature to the world.

Blood against the snows: the tragic story of Nepal’s royal dynasty (Fourth Estate, £8.99) by Jonathan Gregson reads like a fast-paced thriller. Yet it is the true story of the world’s only Hindu kingdom. Gregson packs in much of the history of Nepal’s bloodstained royal inheritance and its troubled politics together with the drama of the last tragic and hideous episode of murder in the palace. The author’s gift lies in arranging his amassed facts with clarity and logic, so that the analysis naturally follows the lines of the narrative.

Faith: filling the god-sized hole (Penguin, Rs 250) by Renuka Narayanan is the kind of mixed bag of milk-of-human-kindness reflections that makes the perfect DIY faith book. It is important to appreciate the author’s use of contemporary issues, because what does come through the inevitable woolly-headedness of such entries as “The coin of education” and “Husbandly ethics” is the insistence on pluralism. To achieve a “confluence” of the faiths, she cites stories and sayings from a huge range of religions. This gives to the book a slightly piquant flavour, since the usual reflections on spirituality and faith are thus given differing contexts and an appearance of a practical code to live by.

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