Shah Hussain was a 16th-century Punjabi Sufi poet based in Lahore. His kafis, (mostly) short rhymed poetry with refrains, referring to the relationship between God and devotee with metaphors of lover and Beloved, or Murshid (literally, the master but also a metaphor for God as well) and mureed (disciple), are sung and relished even today as rhapsodic expressions of love, longing, and devotion. Considered scandalous by clerics as well as by people in general for his relationship with Madho, a Brahmin boy who became his devotee, he is today venerated as Madho Lal Hussain at his dargah (tomb) in Lahore with Madho buried by his side. Sarbpreet Singh’s new novel The Sufi’s Nightingale turns to this mystic and his strange love story that challenges gender and religious boundaries erected by the people of his time while redefining what it means to be in love.

One knows one has a great Delhi novel in one’s hands if it says that the lines “If there’s an paradise on Earth, it is this”—attributed to the 13th century Indian sufi poet Amir Khusrau speaking of the glory of Kashmir—were actually spoken in praise of Delhi “because when did Khusrau go to Kashmir?” Anjum Hasan’s new novel History’s Angel speaks of the city’s history-soaked geography in the context of the turbulent present when everyday conversations take a communalist turn.

Josef Wirsching (1903-1967) was a German cinematographer credited with changing “the future of Indian filmmaking” to quote his grandson Georg Wirsching. His filmography starts with The Light of Asia (1926) and includes many superhits including Pakeezah (1972), one of Hindi cinema’s most loved films. With his graceful filming of Indian heroines and his ability to adapt German Expressionism to Indian melodrama, he was a part of the Indian movement in film making that sought to blend regional aesthetics with the European avant-garde and let nationalism find an expression in modernism. With the publication of Bombay Talkies: An Unseen History of Indian Cinema, edited by Debashree Mukherjee, film buffs and historians of Indian cinema find another reason to hold him in awe. He was not just a cinematographer but also an archivist, someone with a sense of history in the making. 

South Asia is bound by a strong cultural currency. It is not uncommon to find restaurants run by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the diaspora marketed as serving “Indian” cuisine, freely expressing shared roots and ways of life. It is also not uncommon to find citizens of the three nations to welcome each other into their homes and endear them with great hospitality. Given this healthy cultural exchange, what is unusual is their common perception of each other’s political orientation as antithetical to theirs. In Shadows at Noon: The South Asian Century, historian Joya Chatterji investigates whether the region’s nation building practices are really all that different from each other’s.

Seemingly small and, thereby, homogenous, Nepal is a nation-state fraught with problems common to almost all of South Asia: ethnic diversity that leads to tensions between the various groups, painful identity politics with the aim of securing group rights, debates about who originated in an area that has come to be defined by migration over centuries, border conflicts, corruption, and environmental policies that create conflicts between humans and other species (dilemmas in which wildlife all too often takes precedence over human rights). And yet, it is the images of the snow-capped Himalayas, the abode of the Lord Shiva, and Sherpas and Gorkhas as quintessentially Nepali that come to mind when one thinks of Nepal.

Given that Buddhist thought is widely circulated in popular culture (in reference to mindfulness, wisdom, productivity, and spirituality), it is not surprising that Buddha’s story, or the Buddha himself, has come to be the subject of storytelling aimed at the larger audience. Advait Kottary’s debut novel Siddhartha: The Boy Who Became the Buddha reconstructs the Buddha’s story to present a version of how perhaps the most well-known spiritual quest in the world might have unfolded. 

Common sense has it that corruption is a quid pro quo practiced by individuals who disregard their institutional duties and responsibilities in favor of personal gain. However, this is a relatively recent definition or association that came to be enshrined in establishments bureaucratic in nature (as opposed to monarchical or feudal systems that existed previously) from the mid-18th century to mid-19th century when allegations against and among East India Company’s officials reached the British Parliament.