This photograph of Sharmila Tagore is from the contact sheets (marked by Satyajit Ray) of the photographer, Nemai Ghosh. Ghosh was a camera-wielding Boswell to Ray’s Johnson. Ghosh’s invaluable archives became a wonderful photobook curated by Pramod Kumar KG, Nemai Ghosh: Satyajit Ray and Beyond (Delhi Art Gallery).
AN UNCERTAIN GLORY: INDIA AND ITS CONTRADICTIONS (Allen Lane) By Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen
Economic growth cannot be an end in itself. It is an enabling condition that allows a country to use the resources to expand individual incomes and public revenue to meet social commitments to improve the conditions of the underprivileged. This perspective is often lost in Indian public discourse. Drèze and Sen bring it to the fore of what they think is India’s unfinished agenda.
The writer whose 900-page novel of 2006, Sacred Games, remains strangely unsung as a tour de force of Indian fiction in English, has now created a unique mix of genres and disciplines to write about the relationship between software-programming and fiction-writing in his own life. This is an erudite but enjoyable book that connects different kinds of intelligence and creativity with brilliant originality.
THE SIEGE: THE ATTACK ON THE TAJ (Penguin) By Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
A riveting book, a real life thriller by an extraordinary pair of investigative journalists who carried out extensive interviews of witnesses and read transcripts of tapes. A model of reporting and immediate history.
INVENTING THE ENEMY AND OTHER OCCASIONAL WRITINGS (Harvill Secker) By Umberto Eco
Eco’s critical essays in his inimitable grand style, at once scholarly and attractive. The essays overturn the conventions of criticism and history-writing and create stories and fantasies. A virtuoso performance.
PAKISTAN: A NEW HISTORy (Amaryllis) By Ian Talbot
A masterful study of Pakistan’s past history and future challenges within a compact chronological framework and coherent analysis. An invaluable guide for anyone interested in Pakistan.
FROM THE RUINS OF EMPIRE (Allen Lane) By Pankaj Mishra
A mixture of solid research, reasoned analysis, argued opinions and virtually on-the-streets reportage gives to this book an immediacy and grittiness often missing in historical writing.
SARVEPALLI GOPAL, THE COLLECTED ESSAYS: IMPERIALISTS, NATIONALISTS AND DEMOCRATS (Permanent Black) Edited by Srinath Raghavan
These are the collected essays of one of India’s leading historians who was also the biographer of Jawaharlal Nehru and of his own father, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Deeply researched and lucidly written; always a delight to read.
COMING OF AGE IN 19TH CENTURY INDIA: THE GIRL-CHILD AND THE ART OF PLAYFULNESS (Cambridge) By Ruby Lal
An experiment in history writing that questions some of the premises on which history is reconstructed. She demonstrates how from the margins women negotiate the structures of power.
THE PAST BEFORE US: HISTORICAL TRADITIONS IN EARLY NORTH INDIA (Permanent Black) By Romila Thapar
One of the commonest assumptions about Indian civilization is that it lacks a sense of history and is bereft of historical writing. Romila Thapar, the country’s foremost historian of ancient India, challenges this assumption and shows with enviable clarity and documentation that the ancient world was rich in ideas about its own past. These articulations may not fit into accepted notions of what constitutes history writing but there did exist discourses about the past in ancient times. The book is the product of a thoughtful historian’s distilled wisdom.
TURING’S CATHEDRAL: THE ORIGINS OF THE DIGITAL UNIVERSE (Pantheon) By George Dyson
This book brings together the work of two outstanding individuals: Alan Turing and John-Louis Von Neumann. Their work made possible the world of computers. It is a poignant story made attractive by telling anecdotes.
THE PITY OF PARTITION: MANTO’S LIFE, TIMES AND WORK ACROSS THE INDIA-PAKISTAN DIVIDE (HarperCollins) By Ayesha Jalal
Looks at the familiar story of the partition of India through the unique eyes of Saadat Hasan Manto who died untimely from drink at the age of 43. Manto was a writer of unflinching directness who mastered the art of the short story. Was there more to Manto than the Partition?
THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: NIXON, KISSINGER AND A FORGOTTEN GENOCIDE
(Random House) By Gary J. Bass
A telegram from Archer Blood, the US consul general in Dacca, alerted Nixon and Kissinger about the genocide in East Pakistan and the migration of refugees to India. This cut no ice with the president and his advisor, who had other priorities. The rest is history. A deeply revealing book.