March 30, 2020
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Well-Thumbed & Well-Marked

In the year gone by, new releases jostled with books of recent vintage and old favourites on the reading lists of India’s prominent people.

Well-Thumbed & Well-Marked

L.K. Advani,
BJP leader 

  • SUPER POWER? The Amazing Race between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise
    Raghav Bahl
    Network 18 editor Bahl’s engrossing book compares our two countries, the emerging great powers of Asia in this century.
  • Shah Commission Report—Lost and Regained
    Ed. by Era Sezhiyan
    It was originally published in 1978, but Era Sezhiyan, my old friend and Parliamentary colleague, has added a sub-title and a very revealing preface and introduction to Justice Shah’s investigation report on the Emergency excesses of 1975-1977, and made it a truly remarkable record of India’s political history. I deem this book Sezhiyan’s signal service to history, to democracy, to India.
  • Myths and Facts: Bangladesh Liberation War
    B..Z. Khasru
    Khasru’s thesis is that when, in 1971, Indira Gandhi decided to help Sheikh Mujibur Rahman carve out an independent Bangladesh for the Bengalis of East Pakistan, she was simultaneously thinking of an operation in West Pakistan, aimed at achieving two other major objectives: a) liberation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir; and b) balkanisation of West Pakistan. I have never before heard anyone suggest this. But this book contains enough data to let us deduce whether Mrs Gandhi actually contemplated these objectives.

Somnath Chatterjee,
Former Speaker

  • India after Gandhi
    Ramachandra Guha
    Is among the three books I most enjoyed reading this year. The other two are:
  • Kaifi & I: A Memoir by Shaukat Kaifi
  • Freefall: Free markets and the sinking of the global economy by Joseph Stiglitz 

M.S. Gill,
Sports Minister

  • A Year in the Merde
    Stephen Clarke
    An enjoyable spoof, this is about an Englishman’s adventures as an expat in France. It has all the British jokes about the French, who they love to hate.
  • The Sunset Club
    Khushwant Singh
    It’s full of characters I recognise and makes for nice reading. His sexual drooling at 96 leaves me envious—I hope I can write a book like that at his age.
  • The Emissary
    Aniruddha Bahal
    I am yet to get down to this book but am looking forward to it because Seleucus, who came to Punjab, is of great interest to me.

Mamata Banerjee,
Railway Minister

  • The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
    January 2012 will mark the centenary of Vivekananda’s birth and I plan a special tribute to him.
  • Sanchita
    Kazi Nazrul Islam
    A collection of his poems.

Shashi Tharoor,
Lok Sabha MP

  • MONSOON: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power
    Robert D. Kaplan
    Kaplan’s style is eclectical and compelling, if uneven—the book is part potted history, part journalism and part strategic analysis. It’s a book that convinces the reader that what Kaplan calls ‘Monsoon Asia’ is a part of the world that should matter more to us in India—for we live at the heart of it—than to the Americans to which it is addressed.
  • CHURCHILL’S SECRET WAR: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During WW II
    Madhusree Mukerjee
    Churchill’s reputation as the saviour of democracy takes a thrashing in this horrifying portrait of how he callously killed three million people in the Bengal famine of 1943. Mukerjee’s richly documented  account strips away the last shred of moral justification for the British Empire and also the heroic veneer on the visage of the 20th century’s most overrated leader.
  • THE LONG VIEW FROM DELHI: To define the Indian grand strategy for foreign policy
    Raja Menon and Rajiv Kumar
    The elusive quest for a ‘grand strategy’, long a preoccupation in Washington, has now begun to inform thinking in more distant chancelleries. Through an attempt to elaborate a grand strategy, the authors come up with a foreign policy strategy for India at 2020. The combination of ‘net assessment’ modelling and informed strategic analysis works impressively.
  • JAWAHARLAL NEHRU: Civilizing a savage world
    Nayantara Sahgal
    Sahgal writes with undisguised affection and admiration for her uncle, outlining Nehru’s worldview and his internationalist convictions. Evocative, revelatory, touching, perhaps insufficiently critical, but an engaging read.

Mani Shankar Aiyar,
Rajya Sabha MP

  • Making Sense of Pakistan
    Farzana Shaikh
    Undoubtedly the most perceptive analysis ever of Pakistan. Six decades after Partition, it is still groping towards defining its nationhood—Islamic nationhood, validating the proposition that while Islam is what unites Pakistan, it is Islamisation which divides it.
  • Known Turf
    Annie Zaidi
    A new voice, filled with sensitivity to the travails of the marginalised. A necessary antidote to the euphoria over India having ‘emerged’.

  • Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games
    Boria Majumdar & Nalin Mehta
    Everything you wanted to know about CWG but were afraid to ask. Renders the Shunglu committee’s work dead easy.

Girish Karnad,

  • The Dead Camel And Other Stories Of Love
    Parvati Sharma
    A collection of sensitive, sensuous short stories, occasionally erotic, narrated with impressive confidence.

William Dalrymple,

Some very promising debuts in from South Asia this year: Fatima Bhutto’s
angry and stylish memoir Songs of Blood and Sword; Tishani Doshi’s lovely novel about the marriage of her Gujarati father and Welsh mother, The Pleasure Seekers; Gyan Prakash’s cleverly constructed Mumbai Fables; and Sonia Faleiro’s Beautiful Thing, a moving investigation into the life of the bar girls of Mumbai. 

Perhaps the most unlikely book on the region this year was, however, Michael Fisher’s The Inordinately Strange Life of Dyce SombreVictorian Anglo-Indian MP and Chancery ‘Lunatic’. Fisher brings back from oblivion a tragic but extraordinary life that inspired fiction by Jules Verne, Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle. It also bears an intriguing resemblance to  Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White.

My favourite book of all was probably Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin. Chatwin was a writer blessed with three remarkable gifts: he was a thinker of genuine originality, a reader of astonishing erudition and, above all, a writer of breathtaking prose. All these are on display in his letters, and they are a reminder of how much we lost in his death. I certainly don’t share Christopher Hitchens’s views on Islam, or on America’s wars, but I loved his witty memoir, Hitch-22, which had me laughing out loud at the rate of once every other page. The best jokes here are in the chapter about Salman Rushdie and I have had great fun trying (and failing) to beat Rushdie in a literary game that Hitch and he invented: renaming Shakespeare plays with new titles in the style of Robert Ludlum—so The Merchant of Venice becomes ‘The Rialto Sanction’, Hamlet The Elsinore Vacillation' and Macbeth ‘The Dunsinane Reforestation’.

Finally Rushdie’s own Luka and the Fire of Life gave great pleasure: Rushdie has shown with Haroun, and now this lovingly written book, that on top of everything else he is also—rather unexpectedly—one of our very best writers for children. I am currently reading Luka out to my boys at bedtime, and they are both loving it.

Sunil Ganguly,

  • Short Stories from Pakistan
    edited by Intizar Hussain and Asif Farukhi
    It gave me an idea about the kind of short stories being written in Pakistan.
  • The Blind Assasin
    Margaret Atwood
    Another book I read and enjoyed in 2010.
    I’m also reading the Ramayana because I intend to do some writing on it.

Mark Tully,

  • Monsignor Quixote
    Graham Greene
    I found this book when I was shifting house and realised I hadn’t read it. It’s one of Greene’s late novels, written while he was battling with Catholicism. The style is wonderfully spare.
  • Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: Assessing the Economic Rise of China & India
    Pranab Bardhan
    This is the best of many books I’ve read comparing the futures of India and China and their major problems. Highly readable, but also full of useful facts.

Rituparno Ghosh,

  • Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata
    Devdutt Pattanaik
    I am getting quite addicted to the Devdutt Pattanaik series on mythology, including the ‘Ramayana’, ‘Hanuman’ and ‘Shiva’.

Viswanathan Anand,
Chess champion

  • This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
    Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff
    This is a history of financial crises and scams. We think each financial crisis is new, but this book tells us it has all happened before.
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference
    Malcolm Gladwell
    A wonderful explanation of how epidemics start—and I don’t mean those of disease. It’s about how change happens, right from fashion trends to the behaviour of individuals and society.
  • The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
    Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    It looks at the changing world and how we often fail to understand why change occurs.
  • Cold Steel
    Tim Bouquet and Byron Ousey
    It’s a fascinating study of the rise of industrialist Lakshmi Mittal

Jeev Milkha Singh,

  • Yogic Management of Common Diseases
    Swami Karmananda
    I mostly read books on health and fitness. Since I’m a yoga freak and I’ve been bothered by injuries, I found this book very useful. It’s by an allopathic doctor who examines the yogic and allopathic methods of treating 36 ailments, from common cold to serious diseases.

  • The Power of Now
    Eckhart Tolle
    I’m keen on books that help improve your mind and I liked this one.

Aamir Khan,

  • Lustrum
    Robert Harris
    Set in 63 BC, it is a fictionalised account of politics in ancient Rome. It’s a compelling thriller, with great political insights.
  • Gandhi & Churchill: The Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged our Age
    Arthur Herman
    A biography of two contemporaries and rivals. Both were charismatic leaders. For me, it shed a lot of light on what went on during their lives and brought me closer to understanding them both.
  • Indian Summer
    Alex von Tunzelmann
    Set during the Partition, with the central characters being  Nehru, Edwina Mountbatten and Lord Mountbatten. Again, a book that gave me further insight into that period. Most engrossing.

Rani Mukherjee,

  • Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia
    Elizabeth Gilbert
    I’d like to take off like her, travel the world alone. 

Dia Mirza,

  • PS, I Love You
    Cecelia Ahern
    I borrowed this book from a colleague when I saw that she couldn’t put it down. She was reading it between shots. I realised why—I read it right through the night.
  • A Place Called Here
    Cecelia Ahern
    I wanted to see if she would wield the same magic and  wasn’t disappointed.
  • For One More Day
    Mitch Albom
    Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie was life altering for me. So my expectations from this were high. But the subject is so similar to Tuesdays With Morrie that I had a sense of deja vu.

Amitabh Bachchan,

  • The autobiography of my father, the Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan.
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