Seven recent books that probe history and challenge the present


The card and the scissorsAmit Majumdar

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the exemplary and ruthlessly analytical gentleman in the tailored suit, is skeptical of those who knock on his door proposing a “Land of the Pure”. Despite her initial doubts, Jinnah ends up founding exactly such a country. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the religious visionary in homemade khadi, is relentless in his quest for one India – only to witness, in anguish, the horrific birth of two nations.

The card and the scissors is an epic fictional origin story of modern South Asia, as told by two London-trained lawyers, ideological rivals who dreamed of the same dream of freedom – in catastrophically incompatible ways.

The Strange Women’s ClubAruna Nambiar

Once half of a perfect couple, Hema is a heartbroken widow. Avanti’s marriage ended in divorce and she fantasizes about all the horrible ways her ex could suffer. Jeroo has earned a reputation for being somewhat “unstable”, thanks to the mood swings that come with struggles with infertility.

The dignified patience and holy self-sacrifice expected of women is nowhere in sight. They’re a mess as the three awkwardly struggle to put their lives back together – it won’t be easy as there are eccentric children, meddling parents and disreputable men who are more of a nuisance than a help. Hema, Avanti and Jeroo have little in common other than their inability (and refusal) to be the “ideal” woman. Will they find companionship and comfort in each other’s company and find new ways to love and live?

With his warmth and his spirit, The Strange Women’s Club challenges society’s outdated beliefs about what femininity should be.

Ninety Days: The True Story of Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassin HuntAnirudhya Mitra

On May 21, 1991, at 10:20 p.m., a young woman bowed to Rajiv Gandhi during an election rally in Sriperumbudur, just a few kilometers from Chennai. And then there was an explosion. India’s charismatic former prime minister had been assassinated.

ninety days is the definitive account of one of modern India’s most disturbing political crimes. The book unravels the complex plot hatched by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). Mitra provides a detailed account of how the CBI Special Investigations team unraveled the assassination plot, identified the assassins, and hunted the mastermind, Sivarasan, to its final hiding place. The deaths of the strike team members from cyanide left several unanswered questions in their wake, which this book also explores.

I am Onir and I am gay: a memoirOnir and Irene Dhar Malik

The directorial debut of award-winning filmmaker Onir, My brother Nikhil (2005), broke new ground in LGBT representation on the Indian silver screen. For the first time, he confides in his private life.

From his childhood in Bhutan to his journey as a young man trying to make it in the unrelated Hindi film industry, Onir takes the reader through his fascinating career with all its struggles and triumphs. Now one of the few openly gay directors in Bollywood, Onir is fearless in his identity and passionate in his role as a filmmaker. With I Am Onir and I Am Gayhe hopes to start conversations about identity and resilience.

Eloquent and inspiring, the memoir deals with confronting and overcoming personal and social barriers. Written with his sister Irene Dhar Malik, this moving and honest personal story offers a tale of hope, love and the pursuit of dreams.

play it wellKamal Gupta

Center of the American capitalist system and home to greedy bankers, Wall Street is synonymous with extraordinary wealth and power. For Kamal Gupta, an Indian-born computer scientist, Wall Street meant something quite different: a chance to gamble in the biggest casino in the world.

Bored with his technical work, Gupta spent two years in the resolute pursuit of becoming a professional blackjack player. It paid off – he increased his wealth thirty-two times, getting kicked out of several casinos in the process. In an unexpected turn of events, his gambling exploits landed him on Wall Street, where his skills led him to raise eight billion dollars for the biggest hedge fund launch in history.

play it well is a darkly comic account of Gupta’s incredible journey from New Delhi to Las Vegas and finally to New York’s glittering financial district. It’s a story of human ambition and defying the odds – in a casino, on Wall Street and in life.

JezebelKR Meera, translated from Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and KS Bijukumar

Jezebel is a young doctor from Kerala. Yet his upbringing, determination, and professional genius are no match for the cruelties of patriarchy. Her controversial divorce proceedings suddenly go awry and complex secrets emerge from her unhappy marriage. KR Meera’s searing courtroom drama exemplifies the rich inner worlds of its characters. Through Jezebel’s memories, we see her grow from a reluctant and serious young woman to a rebel who refuses to bend to the whims of society.

Like the biblical story of Queen Jezebel, who was demonized as a scheming and infamous prostitute thrown to death from her palace window, the novel Jezebel asks whether women can actually lead an independent life. KR Meera’s hypnotic prose and Abhirami Girija Sriram and KS Bijukumar’s skillful translation make sonic allusions to the Bible to elucidate how women in legends and real life are haunted by the compulsions of sex.

Mumbai: a city through objectsTasneem Zakaria Mehta

Museum objects are time machines. They take us back to civilizations of the distant past or show us a new perspective of the present. Mumbai: a city through objects tells the story of a city through unique artifacts on display at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (formerly Victoria and Albert Museum) in Mumbai. The city and the museum have developed together, each influencing the evolution of the other. Like all great cities in the world, Mumbai’s extraordinary history was created by those who lived in the city and made it their home. Mumbai: a city through objects is the first interpretation of the city through its artifacts created by its many artisans.

Like the city, the museum too has undergone a metamorphosis. It won the 2005 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Prize for comprehensive restoration and pioneered contemporary art exhibitions. Mehta tells us the story of Mumbai, over the years, through 101 objects that you can see at the museum.


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