♦ THE HOUSE OF TWENTY THOUSAND BOOKS (Halban) By Sasha Abramsky
In North London stood a quiet dwelling that housed no less than 20,000 books. This is the biography of the man who built it. Chimen Abramsky, a gentle and remarkable individual, went on to create, painstakingly and with passion, a matchless private collection of lovely writings on diverse subjects. The book offers a unique glimpse into the lives and loves of those who make up the republic of letters.
♦ THE BHAGAVAD GITA: A BIOGRAPHY (Princeton) By Richard H. Davis
Seven hundred verses were created before the sounding of the war bugle. The verses, which make up the Bhagavad Gita, have confronted human beings with profoundly philosophical — and enduring — enquiries about life, civilization and duty. While tracing its roots, Davis shows that like other seminal works, the Gita, too, never ceases to raise questions in the minds of readers about fundamental aspects of existence.
♦ THE TEARS OF THE RAJAS: MUTINY, MONEY AND MARRIAGE IN INDIA 1805-1905 (Simon & Schuster) By Ferdinand Mount
This work is by no means only a witty chronicle of the lives and times of the Indian royalty. It is also an intelligent exposition of the heart of the colonial enterprise that thrived on the twin principles of commerce and conflict.
♦ ARMY AND NATION: THE MILITARY AND INDIAN DEMOCRACY SINCE INDEPENDENCE (Permanent Black) By Steven I. Wilkinson
What is the reason behind India’s success in keeping military rule at bay since Independence? This is an intriguing line of thought, especially because India’s neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have both come under the shadow of army rule. The depth and richness of Wilkinson’s research help unravel the subservient role that one of the largest standing armies in the world has diligently played to a democratic polity.
♦ ELEPHANTS AND KINGS: AN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY (Permanent Black & Ashoka University) By Thomas R. Trautmann
The elephant, not just the tiger, occupies a central position in India’s cultural consciousness. How, then, was the body of knowledge about the beast recorded, maintained and transmitted over centuries? Trautmann digs up the answer to this question besides addressing other, equally fascinating, issues. This is an enjoyable account of the diverse facets of the man-elephant relationship that has stood the test of time.
♦ AARUSHI (Penguin) By Avirook Sen
Here is a hard look at a chilling double murder — that of a girl and a domestic help — and its subsequent sensationalization by the competitive media. The analysis helps reveal the subterranean tensions that bind two different and vastly unequal worlds. Neither the judiciary nor the nation’s premier investigating agency appears to be equipped with the sensibility to gauge the deep impact of the chasm that separates these two, mutually antagonistic, spheres. So much so that the travesty of justice remains a distinct possibility as a result of this war between worlds. This is a rare instance of a dispassionate look into an incident that jolted the nation’s conscience.
♦ THE GOOD STORY: EXCHANGES ON TRUTH, FICTION AND PSYCHOTHERAPY (Harvill Secker) By Arabella Kurtz & J.M. Coetzee
The correspondence between a novelist and a psychoanalyst forms the crux of a difficult but illuminating enquiry into, among other things, memory, story-making, history, ethics and truth. The burden of fiction and the simultaneous resistances that it produces take these conversations into divergent, but equally enriching, directions.
♦ THE PAKISTAN PARADOX: INSTABILITY AND RESILIENCE (Random House) By Christophe Jaffrelot
Pakistan continues to confound its critics and supporters alike the world over. The key to unlocking the puzzle lies in Jaffrelot’s patient and critical interpretation of the nation’s chequered past. Many of the ills that plague the country stem from the deficiencies in the thought processes and ideologies which, ironically, had led to its inception.
The dismantling of some of the set ideas concerning the troubled nation — such as the belief that the civilian leadership and the military establishment are mutually exclusive — adds substantial value to the inferences.
♦ THE UNQUIET ONES: A HISTORY OF PAKISTAN CRICKET (HarperSport) By Osman Samiuddin
An engaging, chronological presentation of a sport that continues to gratify and baffle not just Pakistan but also the subcontinent. The anecdotes stitch together a telling picture of the forces that have shaped the country, its social life, and its favourite sport. The gripping narrative reveals a world where the sublime co-exists with the ludicrous in a state of fine balance.
♦ FARTHEST FIELD: AN INDIAN STORY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR (William Collins) By Raghu Karnad
Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, this poignant book recounts the sacrifices of Indian soldiers who found themselves fighting the wrong war. For the conflict was the creation of imperial powers that had colonized many parts of the world, including India. Little wonder, then, that the popular discourses of this global and horrific conflict have usually treated Indian soldiers and their heroics as footnotes of history.
Worse, Karnad presents compelling evidence in support of the contention that India’s own negligence of these forgotten people shows that nations often ignore those parts of their history that do not complement the national myth.
As poets have always known, gathering and scattering, repeated in Seth’s opening poem like a buried refrain, are eternally symbolic or allegorical activities that have to do with ‘cultivation’ in all its senses — poetic, agricultural, pastoral and existential. They are actions that make up the First and Last Things, and a great deal that comes in-between. “[G]athering swallows twitter in the skies” at the end of Keats’s “To Autumn”, and that contrary motion — coming home to a stillness while ranging restlessly — animates the best of the poems in Summer Requiem, keeping them uncertainly poised between serenity and unease. Since The Rivered Earth, Seth’s poetry has also been about the ‘abandonment’ of poetry by, and to, the powers of its estranged, elusive and therefore longed-for companion, music, richly using the double sense, happy and sad, of ‘abandon’: being left and letting go, letting oneself go and letting somebody else go.
♦ SUMMER REQUIEM (Aleph) By Vikram Seth
• Memoirs & biographies