The world is full of books, but what do I read? I narrowed my list to a few books that would help me know about each union territory of India
India was primarily a subcontinent with small princely regimes. However, after the independence from British rule in 1947, it became a union of states and a sovereign, secular and democratic republic. Currently, there are 28 states and 8 Union Territories. A diverse country with unique cultures and arts, India has wooed many a traveller. Artists, craftsmen and writers have captured this diversity in their unique arts. But for this list, my focus is only on writers and their books:
1. Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Far from the mainland, the islands are popular for their sea life and biodiversity. I found some recommendations for books on reddit, and I chose this one, as it’s easily available on Amazon. The Last Wave by Pankaj Sekhsaria, published by HarperCollins, 2014. Sekhsaria is a scholar and an activist. He has worked in the islands for over 15 years and authored many articles on tribal life, advocacy and welfare. The Last Wave is a fiction book that revolves around the conflict between the native tribals and the visiting mainlanders. The characters are young and then there are tribal customs of the Jarawa tribe and more.
If you would like to know more books set in the beautiful archipelago, then check this blog.
What was once a beautifully planned town designed by Le Corbusier, is now another crowded city. However, it does have some nice old areas. And I have been there quite a few times.
Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by Shaun FynnThis book is a photographer’s delight and hideously expensive. So, I am going to look for this in a library and read it there. In 1950, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited the legendary French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier to build a new capital, which would become a model in urban town planning. Six decades after its founding and on the eve of it becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, photographer and Chandigarh resident Shaun Fynn was granted unprecedented access to turn his lens on Le Corbusier’s city. Alongside descriptions of the city’s architectural highlights, Chandigarh Revealed features a foreword by Le Corbusier authority Maristella Casciato, an essay by architectural historian Vikramaditya Prakash, an interview with M. N. Sharma—one of two surviving members of Le Corbusier’s team—and custom-designed maps to orient readers.
Two other interesting books are: In the Land of the Lovers, a Punjab Qissa by Sakoon Singh, and Chandigarh Unmasked, A Young City’s Harappan Past by Vibhor Mohan.
In the Land of the Lovers wasreleased in August 2020. This novel shows us Punjab through the eyes of a young woman artist, Nanaki who teaches Textile Design at the Arts College in Chandigarh. The book moves between Pre- Partition Punjab and contemporary Chandigarh in a meditative mode. Author Sakoon Singh teaches English literature and Cultural Studies at Chandigarh.
In the 1960s, there was a chance discovery of Harappan artefacts in the city and that’s what triggers the author’s imagination in Chandigarh Unmasked, A Young City’s Harappan Past.
Journalist Vibhor Mohan has woven a fictional account around the major milestones in the city’s lifespan of 70 years.
3. Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu
These were two union territories earlier, but in 2019, a bill was passed to unite the two. Actually, these are four different places: Dadra, Nagar Haveli, Daman, and the island of Diu and all were part of Portuguese Goa. I haven’t been to even one and know very little about them. I do see many guides and resources on the union union territories and will certainly read through that. There is an expensive coffee table book which needs a trip to the library: Daman, Diu, Goa, D & N.H. and Purtoguese Regime (1510-1961) by K.C. Sethi & Sunita Sethi.
The Portuguese acquired Daman and Diu as part of their grand design to control the trade of the Indian Ocean. In 1535, under a treaty with Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, the Portuguese built a fort at Diu, an important port on the flourishing commercial and pilgrimage routes between India and the Middle East. By the mid-1550s all Gujarati ships entering and leaving the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay) ports were required to call at Diu to pay Portuguese duties. In Diu, the Portuguese constructed a Jesuit college which was converted into the majestic Cathedral of Sé Matriz about the turn of the 17th century; the cathedral remains a landmark today. Renowned for its docks and shipbuilding yards, Daman (known in Portuguese as Damão) was conquered/occupied by the Portuguese in 1559. Both Daman and Diu were subject to the governor-general of Goa as part of the Portuguese overseas province Estado da India (State of India).
The search for a fiction book continues.
4. The Government of NCT of Delhi
I am a native of this city, born and brought up here. But Delhi is far older than the oldest person living here. There is no lack of choices here, for the city has fascinated historians and writers alike. Some of the famous fiction books are: White Tiger by Arvind Adiga, Clear Light Of Day by Anita Desai, The Heart Has Its Reasons by Krishna Sobti, Delhi By Heart by Raza Rumi, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, New Delhi: Making of a Capital by Malvika Singh and Rudrangshu Mukherjee. But I am trying to find Delhi differently. On my list are: City of Djinns by William Dalrymple and Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali.
On a djinn walk to Feroz Shah Kotla fort near ITO, I wanted to know about these djinns who come to help or harm. City of Djinns by William Dalrymple is a travelogue that explores the historical accounts of the lost seven cities of Delhi.
Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi was printed in 1940. It is set in the 1900s when King George’s coronation took place and Britishers took full control of the city. The story moves around Mir Nihal, his family and his society. You might also like to explore Crimson City by Madhulika Liddle, in which the protagonist lives in Chandni Chowk during the Mughal era.
5. Jammu & Kashmir
Till 2019, this was the 29th state in India. But with the abrogation of Article 370, this strife-torn state came under the President’s rule and has been listed as a union territory on government site. I think Kashmir has inspired more writers than Delhi has. Since the 1990s, the state has seen so much turbulence that it shocked the entire world. Even now, the army is deployed in the state and every few metres you see tanks and soldiers when you go to Kashmir. History says that Kashmir was free only till the 1500s, under the rule of Yusuf Shah Chak.
I would like to read The Rage of the Vulture (1948) by Alan Moorehead. This Australian-British journalist reported from Kashmir and from the North West Frontier for the ‘Observer’ in the final quarter of 1947. The book focuses on the embattled British community in Srinagar – their apprehension as the Pathan attackers advanced.
Another book on my list is Shalimar the Clown (2005) by Salman Rushdie. I was attracted to this title, as Shalimar is a famous movie, albeit not based on this book. Rushdie has combined the fantasy with hard realism. It covers many different themes such as revenge, love and laments the loss of lives in the valley.
Other well-known books are: No Guns at my Son’s Funeral (2005) by Paro Anand, The Collaborator (2011) by Mirza Waheed, Shadows Beyond The Ghost Town (2014) by Shafi Ahmad, Half Mother (2014) by Shahnaaz Bashir, The House That Spoke (2017) by Zooni Chopra, Leaves from Kashmir (2017) by Saba Shafi and more.
This was a part of Jammu & Kashmir, but in 2019, it also became a union territory. I went to Ladakh in 2022 and the stunning landscape just was breathtaking. Sparsely habited, it is not an easy terrain to live in.
I have to write my travelogue on Ladakh, but I love reading travel books. So, the book on my list is A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism by Andrew Harvey. The author talks about his spiritual journey to one of the most remote locations in the world which is snowbound for six months.
Other books on my list are Ladakh: A Photo Travelogue and Zanskar to Ziro: No Stilettos in the Himalayas by Sohini Sen. While the first is a blend of photos and comic-strips, the second one is a travelogue by two women. They travelled 10,000km from remote Zanskar Valley in Ladakh, through Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim, Bengal, Bhutan and ended their journey at Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh.
Among the lesser visited places, it is made up on 12 atolls and foreigners are allowed only on the 2 uninhabited ones. But before adding a trip, I have added books to my bucket list. The internet shows few options. The first one that came up was VikramAditya #1 Lakshadweep Adventure by Deepak Dalal. This is an adventure tale of two boys, who dive to see the beautiful coral reefs. And they get embroiled in a kidnapping plot. The plot sounds dramatic with scuba diving, sharks, windsurfing, sea turtles and more.
I travelled to this beautiful town by the sea when it was called Pondicherry. This was 2001. Now, I would like to go and see it as a traveller. Pondicherry was a French colony and the influence can be seen in many buildings. It is also famous for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville.
Pondicherry: That Was Once French India talks about the Gallic Gateway of India. For over three centuries this gateway witnessed the busy trade of spices, beautiful textiles, woven cloth and later peanuts in return for a steady flow of gold, silver, weapons, merchants, priests, soldiers and adventurers. Later, as the English tightened their noose around Pondicherry, the beleaguered French were caught up in their own fateful and impossible attempt to combine colonial and republican principles. The book presents a brief, illustrated history of these places that once were French.
Aditi Sriram’s book also explores the coastal town, but with a more current perspective. Here, the game of pétanque is as commonplace as a mini thali sambar-rice lunch, or the briny tang drifting out of Goubert Fish Market first thing every morning… The French sport’s slower pace and quieter sounds reflect a different cultural trajectory compared to the rest of the country.
A fiction novel that caught my attention on GoodReads is A House in Pondicherry by Lee Langley. This is the third novel in the series set in India. This novel is set in Pondicherry, a tropical Paris flourishing on the shore of the Coromandel coast. At the centre of the novel is the figure of Oriane, a young French girl who meets a political agitator seeking sanctuary under the French flag.
The more I dig, the more books I will find. But am waiting for your feedback and suggestions too.
This post is a part of book marathon by Outset Books.