Lost Letters and Feminist History: The Political Friendship of Mohandas K Gandhi and Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, Geraldine Forbes (Orient BlackSwan, June 2024)
Lost Letters and Feminist History: The Political Friendship of Mohandas K Gandhi and Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, Geraldine Forbes (Orient BlackSwan, June 2024)

In the 1920s, amidst the upheaval of the Indian national movement, Mohandas K. Gandhi and the prominent Indian nationalist and feminist, Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, communicated with each other for over a year via letters that were both politically charged and personally insightful.

Long unavailable, Rohit Manchanda’s newly reissued A Speck of Coal Dust won the Betty Trask Award when it was first published (under a different titles) a generation ago. It takes place in the kingdom of childhood, not however to be confused with that of innocence. In this world, everything can be—and is meant to be—explored and experienced. A flower cannot be marvelled at; it must be touched. A snake cannot be avoided; it must be prodded. The result is a bildungsroman that is starkly refreshing, adding depth to a period and place relatively ignored in literature.

“Historians are stuck with the evidence, novelists can describe what actually happened,” says the French writer, Jean-Félix de la Ville Beaugé. In Firestorm in Paradise, historian Rana Safvi switches roles from the constraints of the former to the imagination of the latter. In her history of Mughal Delhi, Shahjahanabad, published in 2019, she meticulously retraces the topography of the city, uncovering remains of their long-forgotten kiosks and gardens. Now as a novelist, she populates those stone remnants with people, smells, songs and sights, bringing back life as it must have been to Old Delhi.

Almost a hundred years ago, Agatha Christie published an Hercule Poirot mystery, Death in the Air, which takes place on a flight from Paris to London. It may not be her most famous, but debut author Ram Murali has recycled the title for his whodunnit set mainly in the foothills of the Himalayas near Rishikesh—where the Beatles studied meditation—but also in small parts in London, Paris, and Bermuda.

Running and securing an empire can get expensive–especially one known for its opulence, like the Mughal Empire, which conquered much of northern India before rapidly declining in the 18th century. But how did the Mughals get their money? Often, it was through wealthy merchants, like the Jhaveri family, who willingly—and then not-so-willingly–funded the empire’s activities.

Discovering India Anew: Out of Africa to Its Early History, Alan Machado (Prabhu) (Orient BlackSwan, June 2024)
Discovering India Anew: Out of Africa to Its Early History, Alan Machado (Prabhu) (Orient BlackSwan, June 2024)

Where does one begin to tell a story that spans many thousands of years, a story whose origins are obscured by stubborn mists that will not lift and enduring myths that will not shift under the weight of ages of telling Discovering India Anew reconstructs the history of Indian peoples, taking off from where the history of Indians really begins: Africa. Exploring their earliest journey out of Africa through the colonization of South Asia by different genetic groups to the end of South Asia’s first urban civilisation, Harappa, and the arrival of the Indo-Aryans, the author asks a fundamental question: Who are we Indians?

If India is a woman’s body, her arms outstretched to hold her billion babies, Kashmir is the unruly forelock above her right temple. Or at least, that’s what I thought as a child, when my Nanaji took out his historical maps, pre-Partition and post- , to show me how we had been carved up. Since then, since the internet, I’ve zoomed in on that northwestern border countless times, tracing my fingers over the mess of dotted lines that vaguely indicate where I was born. If you log in from Pakistan, the Kashmir region is labeled as disputed. From India, it is solid line, appearing firmly under Indian control.