Best of 2018: Non-fiction books to understand India and the world
From a work of reportage on the aspirations of young Indians to a deeply-researched history of desire in the country, these books shed new light on the world.
Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing the World
Journalist Snigdha Poonam’s eye-opening book goes into the lives of the young people of today’s India – citizens who have access to more information than ever before but may not have the resources for their dreams to reach fruition. In an age of rising nationalism and dubious economic prospects for the country’s youth, Poonam’s Crossword Prize-winning book focuses on stories that help make sense of what drives the future of India.
Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India
This book dives into the history of the Indian subcontinent, its texts, oral traditions, geographies and schools of philosophy to present the region’s amorphous, multi-faceted and rich understanding of desire. Meticulously-researched and vividly-told, Madhavi Menon showcases that attempting to narrow down India’s historical relationship with desire to a single narrative is an exercise in futility and ignorance. Against the backdrop of rising conservatism in today’s India, where anything outside of the right-wing’s straightjacketed understanding of sexuality is deemed an evil, foreign import, Menon’s subversive chronicling of desire, from temples to dargahs, the Mughals to Vatsyayana, shines as a beacon of reason and a rich resource to dive into.
The Billionaire Raj: A Journey through India's New Gilded Age
An in-depth exploration of wealth inequality in India, this penetrating book has a special focus on the rise of India’s “self-made” billionaires, many of whom have accumulated their riches through crony capitalism and manipulation of policies. It draws on James Crabtree’s many years reporting in Mumbai to paint a vivid portrait of the fissures and machinations of the world’s largest democracy.
Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography
The personal, political and pornographic combine in Richa Kaul Padte’s urgent and necessary book about the internet and sex in India. From the liberating pleasure of posting nude selfies on Reddit to the misuse of images in the form of “revenge porn”, this book addresses how Indians, particularly women and sexual minorities, consume digital pornography and how their lives are shaped by it. As the country frequently toys with bans on porn, guided by a misplaced morality, Cyber Sexy showcases with empathy, clarity and nuance that the problem actually lies in a system that attempts to control who gets to experience pleasure and how.
Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva
This collection of essays by writer, activist and senior professor Anand Teltumbde plumbs the depths of several pressing issues that mark independent India by turning a critical eye on the Constitution, rising Hindutva and political parties across the spectrum to interrogate the very idea of a republic. Unsparing in his arguments, Teltumbde is unafraid to go against the tide to point out the various nexuses between the state and economic forces that have historically contributed to – and continue to conspire to – keep Dalits in India in a state of oppression and marginalisation.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape
In 1983, three years after she was gangraped in Mumbai at the age of 17, Sohaila Abdulali created history by writing about it. 35 years later, she has distilled her personal experiences as well as decades of working as a counsellor, writer and activist in the fields of gender rights and sexual violence into a powerful and necessary new book. With accessible forthrightness and nuanced empathy, Abdulali explores urgent questions and dismantles popularly-help assumptions about rape and sexual violence. No question is off-limit in this collection of essays – Is rape worse than death? How are sexual violence and desire related? Why do rapists rape? – making it a searing yet considered book that needs to be read by people of all genders.
Love and Marriage in Mumbai
An in-depth look at the relationships of three middle-class married couples living in Mumbai, American journalist Elizabeth Flock’s debut book is a marvel of nearly a decade of reporting and a layered account not only of love in modern India but also of a country grappling with unprecedented change. Sympathetic yet rigorous, this keenly observed and intimately told book peels apart the layers of class, caste and religion that shape the romantic and marital lives of so many Indians, all the while remaining focused on the six people that form its core.
Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India
Edited by writer and graphic novelist Parismita Singh, this beautifully-produced and lovingly-curated collection of writing and visual art engages with the concept of “work” in India’s North East. 21 women interpret this idea in the form of images and words, depicting everything from street hawking to beer brewing, from mothering to dung collection, providing readers with an insightful framework through which to reinterpret the very act of storytelling.
The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch
Qandeel Baloch was Pakistan’s first celebrity by social media – routinely described as the “Kim Kardashian of Pakistan” – who defied the country’s conservatism and came to define the bold aspirations of a woman from a lower middle class background, until she was murdered by her brother in the name of “honour”. In this comprehensive account of Qandeel’s life and murder, Sanam Maher doesn’t just flesh out the complex strains of a controversial public figure with empathy and balance, she also sketches an intricate portrait of a country that did not know how to accept to a woman who refused to play by its rules.
Who We Are And How We Got Here
A distillation of how ancient history has been pieced together in the last few years through the use of genetics, David Reich’s path-breaking book shows us quite simply how we are who we are and why we live in the parts of the world we are in. Fascinating and illuminating, the book shows, through the human gene, that we are all the result of migrations, small and big and the mixing of populations – a vital reality to communicate in a political world that is increasingly advocating for closing ourselves off from those who are “different”.
Mannequin: Working Women in India's Glamour Industry
Historically pitted against each other, fashion and feminism shouldn’t be viewed as distinct phenomena, sociologist Manjima Bhattacharjya argues in her doctoral thesis-turned-book. Based on in-depth interviews with models at different career stages and other key players in the fashion industry, this ethnographic work shows how models in India are rarely treated fairly, plagued by poor working conditions, stigma and double standards. At the crux of the book lies the crucial argument that a blanket dismissal of fashion as the objectification of women prevents those working in the industry from being granted agency and dignity.
The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy
An enthralling story set in the surprisingly murky and high-stakes world of fossil collectors, the central preoccupation of this book is an international custodial battle over a nearly complete dinosaur skeleton. Meticulously reported and rivetingly told, this work of investigative writing matches the suspense of a thriller with a deeper contemplation of the relationship human being have with natural history and its commercialisation.