Love makes for a great story, yet love stories are so much hogwash, especially those emerging from India via Bollywood. In Indian reality, love is all too often a scandal with grave consequences for lovers, consequences that arise out of a perception of love as “affairs” that bring dishonor to families’ prestige. Sunjeev Sahota goes deeper into this experience of love as a scandal in his new novel China Room, a story set in a remote village in Punjab of 1929 about a child bride who merely wants to know whom she is married for to, her mother-in-law, Mai, sends her sons to the wives only in the dark. But Mehar is audacious and she pays for it: her love is crushed by those who see the unfolding events—a case of mistaken identity, love and adultery—as an act of transgression.

Whether or not an explicit counter to current attempts to define a Hindu nationalist version of Indian identity, recent books for the general reader that present a nuanced multi-millennium, multi-everything story of Indian history are a welcome trend. While Tony Joseph deployed recent genetics research in Early Indians: The Story Of Our Ancestors And Where We Came From and Namit Arora visited a carefully-curated selection of ancient sites in Indians: A Brief History of A Civilization, Peggy Mohan’s vehicle is linguistics, which she uses to tell—as goes the subtitle of her recent book Wanderers, Kings, Merchants—“the story of India through its languages”.

Dismissal, in fact, is the default response to khayal (the preeminent genre of North Indian classical music), well before we get to know what khayal is, and vaguely term its strangeness “classical music”. Those who later become acquainted with its extraordinary melodiousness forget that on the initial encounter it had sounded unmelodious.