Perumal Murugan’s Kazhimugham is an ugly novel. Ugly, that is, as Umberto Eco would have it: its subject is ugliness and it is a work that the author claims breaks the conventional rules of beauty.
Indian history has two “great” emperors: Ashoka of the ancient Mauryan dynasty and Akbar, one of the Mughals. Ira Mukhoty’s biography of the latter, Akbar: The Great Mughal, is a comprehensive yet simple account of the emperor’s life, one that will be of great help to readers wanting to understand more about the king while also familiarizing themselves with the how he has been represented in books, biographies, and popular culture since his time.
Waheeda Rela finds her life in politics (in a fictional district in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the late 1990s) decided by a chit drawn from a bowl. Fundraising and campaigning have her run into Monish, a rich industrialist playboy. What begins to happen between the two makes a dangerous story.
As cities have increasingly become hitching posts for books, both fiction and non-fiction, Mumbai has naturally been subjected to thematic treatment. The city is celebrated for its resilience and its cosmopolitanism; tributes wax eloquent about its trains, its sea, its heritage buildings, or the diverse communities that inhabit it, to the point that its greatness has increasingly begun to sound clichéd.
Liberal intellectuals, whether in India or writing about India, may not take kindly to Brian A Hatcher’s latest book Hinduism Before Reform. But it is a book that they must read to examine the roots of their attitude towards everything perceived as right-wing Hinduism in India and the Indian diaspora.
In the 19th century, long before Barack Obama’s election as the President of the United States in the face of jokes about the possibility of a black man living in the White House, the British mocked another “black man” who dared to stand in elections to be elected to the House of Commons in England. Dinyar Patel’s Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism is a biography of that “black man”. Straightforward in style, and well-detailed in approaches to a life as it intersected with multiple, complex movements, places, ideologies, Naoroji addresses the vacuum in the pre-Gandhian political history of modern India. It is a much-needed intervention in acknowledgment of the contribution of Indian freedom fighters before there were Indian freedom fighters.
There ought to be a word for the opposite of xenophobia—not in the sense of love for people from other nations (which is xenophilia perhaps, the love of things that are foreign), but in the sense of fear and suspicion of the citizens of the same nation.