In My Hands Today…

Small Remedies – Shashi Deshpande

124893Savitribai Indorekar, born into an orthodox Hindu family, elopes with her Muslim lover and accompanist, Ghulaam Saab, to pursue a career in music. Gentle, strong-willed Leela, on the other hand, gives her life to the Party, and to working with the factory workers of Bombay.

Fifty years after these events have been set in motion, Madhu, Leela’s niece, travels to Bhavanipur, Savitribai’s home in her last years, to write a biography of Bai. Caught in her own despair over the loss of her only son, Aditya, Madhu tries to make sense of the lives of Bai and those around her, and in doing so, seeks to find a way out of her own grief.

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In My Hands Today…

The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 – Ferdinand Mount

25124590The Tears of the Rajas is a sweeping history of the British in India, seen through the experiences of a single Scottish family. For a century the Lows of Clatto survived mutiny, siege, debt and disease, everywhere from the heat of Madras to the Afghan snows. They lived through the most appalling atrocities and retaliated with some of their own. Each of their lives, remarkable in itself, contributes to the story of the whole fragile and imperilled, often shockingly oppressive and devious but now and then heroic and poignant enterprise.

On the surface, John and Augusta Low and their relations may seem imperturbable, but in their letters and diaries, they often reveal their loneliness and desperation and their doubts about what they are doing in India. The Lows are the family of the author’s grandmother, and a recurring theme of the book is his own discovery of them and of those parts of the history of the British in India which posterity has preferred to forget.

The book brings to life not only the most dramatic incidents of their careers – the massacre at Vellore, the conquest of Java, the deposition of the boy-king of Oudh, the disasters in Afghanistan, the Reliefs of Lucknow and Chitral – but also their personal ordeals: the bankruptcies in Scotland and Calcutta, the plagues and fevers, the deaths of children and deaths in childbirth. And it brings to life too the unrepeatable strangeness of their lives: the camps and the palaces they lived in, the balls and the flirtations in the hill stations, and the hot slow rides through the dust.

In My Hands Today…

Saree – Su Dharmapala

21857952Nila wasn’t born beautiful and is destined to go through life unnoticed… until she becomes a saree maker. As she works, Nila weaves into the silk a pattern of love, hope and devotion, which will prove to be invaluable to more lives than her own.

From the lush beauty of Sri Lanka, ravaged by bloody civil war, to India and its eventual resting place in Australia, this is the story of a precious saree and the lives it changes forever.

Nila must find peace, Mahinda yearns for his true calling, Pilar is haunted by a terrible choice, Sarojini doubts her ability to love, Madhav is a holy fraud and Marion’s understanding of the very meaning of love is challenged and transformed. Each teeters between joy and pain, and each is touched by the power and beauty of the saree.

In My Hands Today…

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj – Anne de Courcy

15747679From the late 19th century, when the Raj was at its height, many of Britain’s best and brightest young men went out to India to work as administrators, soldiers and businessmen. With the advent of steam travel and the opening of the Suez Canal, countless young women, suffering at the lack of eligible men in Britain, followed in their wake. They were known as the Fishing Fleet, and this book is their story.

For these young women, often away from home for the first time, one thing they could be sure of was a rollicking good time. By the early twentieth century, a hectic social scene was in place, with dance parties, picnics, tennis tournaments and perhaps a tiger shoot and glittering dinner at a raja’s palace thrown in. And, with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one, romances were conducted at alarming speed and marriages were frequent. But after the honeymoon life often changed dramatically: whisked off to remote outposts, they found it a far cry from the social whirlwind of their first arrival.

Anne de Courcy’s sparkling narrative is enriched by a wealth of first-hand sources which bring this forgotten era vividly to life.

In My Hands Today…

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo

11869272Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting“ in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter — Annawadi’s “most-everything girl” — will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

Fasting, Feasting – Anita Desai

271734A wonderful novel in two parts, moving from the heart of a close-knit Indian household, with its restrictions and prejuices, its noisy warmth and sensual appreciation of food, to the cool centre of an American family, with its freedom and strangely self-denying attitudes to eating. In both it is ultimately the women who suffer, whether, paradoxically, from a surfeit of feasting and family life in India, or from self-denial and starvation in the US. or both.

Uma, the plain, older daughter still lives at home, frustrated in her attempts to escape and make a life for herself. Her Indian family is difficult, demanding but mostly, good hearted. Despite her disappointments, Uma comes through as the survivor, avoiding an unfulfilling marriage, like her sister’s or a suicidal one, like that arranged for her pretty cousin.

And in America, where young Arun goes as a student, men in the suburbs char hunks of bleeding meat while the women don’t appear to cook or eat at all – seems bewildering and terrifying to the young Indian adolescent far from home.

In My Hands Today…

Cut Like Wound – Anita Nair

16090131It is the first night of Ramadan. At Shivaji Nagar in the heart of Bangalore, a young male prostitute is killed and burnt alive. It would have stayed as yet another unsolved murder, but for Inspector Borei Gowda, the investigating officer.

As bodies begin to pile up one after the other, and it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the prowl, Gowda recognizes a pattern in the killings which no one recognises Even as he negotiates serious mid-life blues, problems with his wife and son, an affair with an ex-girlfriend, and official apathy and ridicule, the killer moves in for the next victim…