Of all the Indian epics, the Ramayana is the best- known: Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, is banished from his kingdom by a jealous stepmother. His wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana choose to accompany him. During the exile, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. With the help of Hanuman and a “monkey” army, he defeats Ravana and gets Sita back. It is not a happily-ever-after for Rama though. Questions arise about her chastity given the time she was held in captivity by Ravana. As an ideal king who cares for public opinion, Rama chooses to let her go.

Knowledge is power. This is a statement often made to reinforce the relentless pursuit of data, information and know-how to get ahead in business and technology. Scholarship or studiousness is seen as a virtue that can give one an edge over the others in the face of tough competition. With such a celebration of knowledge, it appears that anything can be legitimized if it is connected with knowledge creation or dissemination. In The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge, Joshua Ehrlich examines a much stronger, to the point of being literal, historical connection between knowledge and power. 

As Buddhist scriptures have it, when Gotami, the Buddha’s foster mother, asked for ordination from the Buddha, he refused. The Buddha’s cousin and disciple, Ananda, intervened: since, according to the teachings of the Buddha, women were capable of achieving awakening, they must be let into the monastery. The Buddha, outsmarted, let the women into his fold but he also dictated that the women will have to live as second class citizens, subordinate to the monks. 

The story of the British Empire in India is not about battles and conquests alone. There were quite a number of cases in which the East India Company maintained a grip over individual kingdoms through what roughly translates into rule by proxy. This other side of the story of the consolidation of the Empire is that of Residency, the institution that operated through the deputation of a British official, generally an army official, to kingdoms such as Hyderabad, Mysore, Pune and so on. 

Buddhism in modern Indian history is generally believed to be marked by Western intellectual input in the 19th century on the one hand and the mass conversion of the “untouchable” castes under the leadership of Dr BR Ambedkar in 1956. But what was going on between these two moments about a century and a half apart from each other? In Dust on the Throne: The Search for Buddhism in Modern India, Douglas Ober presents a socio-political and intellectual history of Indians’ engagement with Buddhist thought, history and practice.

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.