In My Hands Today…

Indian Cultures as Heritage – Romila Thapar

Every society has its cultures: the patterns of how people live and express themselves and how they value objects and thoughts. What constitutes Indian heritage and cultures has been much discussed.

Romila Thapar begins by explaining how the definitions of the concept of culture have changed since the last three centuries and hence require added attention. Cultures when defined by drawing on selected items and thoughts from the past, remain relatively unknown, except to a few. Yet each has a context and meaning relating them to the past and to their significance as a contemporary presence.

Contexts, often regarded as unconnected to culture, can to the contrary, be quite illuminating. Thapar touches on a few of these, ranging from objects that identify cultures, to ideas that shape cultures, such as social discrimination, the role of women and attitudes to science and knowledge.

In My Hands Today…

The Planter’s Bride – Janet MacLeod Trotter

1922: Cousins and best friends, Sophie and Tilly, are looking for love and adventure.

Sophie, orphaned at six, when her tea planter parents died suddenly of fever in India, has been brought up by a radical aunt in Edinburgh. Tilly meanwhile has lived a sheltered life in Newcastle. Tilly surprises everyone with a whirlwind marriage to confirmed bachelor and tea planter, James Robson, following him to India.

Thinking herself in love with the charming but enigmatic forester Tam, the passionate, independent Sophie decides to follow him when he also goes to India. She longs to discover more about her mysterious parents and her early life in the tea gardens of Assam. But the harsh reality of life in India does not match the cousins’ dreams.

Sophie’s enthusiasm for living in the jungle turns sour when Tam is bedevilled by ill-health and she receives unwanted attention from Tam’s bullying boss, Bracknall. Increasingly drawn to handsome and charismatic forester Rafi Khan, Sophie discovers too late that Tam has been keeping secrets from her.

Meanwhile city-girl Tilly finds herself pregnant and isolated in a tea planter’s remote bungalow. When she begins to delve into Sophie’s past, Tilly begins to suspect that all is not as it should be regarding the death of Sophie’s parents. As long-hidden secrets come to light, the friends will be tested as never before.

Set against the vivid backdrop of post First World War Britain and the changing world of India under the British Raj, The Planter’s Bride is a stirring and passionate story of tragedy, loyalty and undying love.

In My Hands Today…

Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography – Sanjeev Sanyal

Did the Great Flood of Indian legend actually happen? Why did the Buddha walk to Sarnath to give his first sermon? How did the Europeans map India?

The history of any country begins with its geography.

With sparkling wit and intelligence, Sanjeev Sanyal sets off to explore India and look at how the country’s history was shaped by, among other things, its rivers, mountains and cities. Traversing remote mountain passes, visiting ancient archaeological sites, crossing rivers in shaky boats and immersing himself in old records and manuscripts, he considers questions about Indian history that we rarely ask: Why do Indians call their country Bharat? How did the British build the railways across the subcontinent? What was it like to sail on an Indian Ocean merchant ship in the fifth century AD? Why was the world’s highest mountain named after George Everest?

In My Hands Today…

The Satapur Moonstone – Sujata Massey

India, 1922: It is rainy season in the lush, remote Sahyadri mountains, where the princely state of Satapur is tucked away. A curse seems to have fallen upon Satapur’s royal family, whose maharaja died of a sudden illness shortly before his teenage son was struck down in a tragic hunting accident. The state is now ruled by an agent of the British Raj on behalf of Satapur’s two maharanis, the dowager queen and her daughter-in-law.

The royal ladies are in a dispute over the education of the young crown prince, and a lawyer’s counsel is required. However, the maharanis live in purdah and do not speak to men. Just one person can help them: Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer. Perveen is determined to bring peace to the royal house and make a sound recommendation for the young prince’s future, but she arrives to find that the Satapur palace is full of cold-blooded power plays and ancient vendettas. Too late, she realizes she has walked into a trap. But whose? And how can she protect the royal children from the palace’s deadly curse?

In My Hands Today…

Bad Day at the Vulture Club – Vaseem Khan

The Parsees are among the oldest, most secretive and most influential communities in the city: respected, envied and sometimes feared.

When prominent industrialist Cyrus Zorabian is murdered on holy ground, his body dumped inside a Tower of Silence – where the Parsee dead are consumed by vultures – the police dismiss it as a random killing. But his daughter is unconvinced.

Chopra, uneasy at entering this world of power and privilege, is soon plagued by doubts about the case.

But murder is murder. And in Mumbai, wealth and corruption go in hand in hand, inextricably linking the lives of both high and low…

In My Hands Today…

The Midnight Rose – Lucinda Riley

In the heyday of the British Raj, eleven-year-old Anahita, from a noble but impoverished family, forms a lifelong friendship with the headstrong Princess Indira, the privileged daughter of Indian royalty. As the princess’s official companion, Anahita accompanies her friend to England just before the outbreak of World War I. There, she meets young Donald Astbury—reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate—and his scheming mother.

Ninety years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet. But when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she’s relieved that her latest role, playing a 1920s debutante, will take her away from the glare of publicity to a distant corner of the English countryside. Shortly after filming begins at the now-crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anahita’s great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly, on a quest for his family’s past. What he and Rebecca discover begins to unravel the dark secrets that haunt the Astbury dynasty . . .

In My Hands Today…

The Hawa Mahal Murders – N.J. Kulkarni

It was an old building in Mumbai, a wretched imitation of Hawa Mahal. Built by a rich jeweller as homage to his adulterated love. It wasn’t cursed but it might as well have been. Bad deeds don’t go unpunished. Forbidden love extracts a price.

This is a story about a blackmailer and serial killer hiding in plain sight.

It is also a story about Smita, a troubled housewife trapped in a bad marriage, and about Jai, an honest police officer desperate to prove himself, but stymied at every step by a crooked boss and a corrupt system. When a series of murders take place in a posh locality in Mumbai, Jai watches with horror as his colleagues scramble to save the Chief Minister’s son and frame an innocent man. As the body count rises, he has to ask himself whether he has what it takes to catch the killer. Smita, struggling to come to terms with the dark secrets in her husband Karan’s mysterious past, gets sucked into a world of deceit and treachery. Unsure of whom to trust, she must first fight her own inner demons before she can save herself.

In My Hands Today…

Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore – Manu S. Pillai

In 1498, when Vasco da Gama set foot in Kerala looking for Christians and spices, he unleashed a wave of political fury that would topple local powers like a house of cards. The cosmopolitan fabric of a vibrant trading society – with its Jewish and Arab merchants, Chinese pirate heroes and masterful Hindu Zamorins – was ripped apart, heralding an age of violence and bloodshed.

One prince, however, emerged triumphant from this descent into chaos. Shrewdly marrying Western arms to Eastern strategy, Martanda Varma consecrated the dominion of Travancore, destined to become one of the most dutiful pillars of the British Raj. What followed was two centuries of internecine conflict in one of India’s premier princely states, culminating in a dynastic feud between two sisters battling to steer the fortunes of their house on the eve of Independence.

Manu S. Pillai’s retelling of this sprawling saga focuses on the remarkable life and work of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the last – and forgotten – queen of the House of Travancore. The supporting cast includes the flamboyant painter Raja Ravi Varma and his wrathful wife, scheming matriarchs of ‘violent, profligate and sordid’ character, wife-swapping court favourites, vigilant English agents, quarrelling consorts and lustful kings.

Extensively researched and vividly rendered, The Ivory Throne conjures up a dramatic world of political intrigues and factions, black magic and conspiracies, crafty ceremonies and splendorous temple treasures, all harnessed in a tragic contest for power and authority in the age of empire.

In My Hands Today…

Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast – Samanth Subramanian

In a coastline as long and diverse as India’s, fish inhabit the heart of many worlds—food of course, but also culture, commerce, sport, history and society. Journeying along the edge of the peninsula, Samanth Subramanian reports upon a kaleidoscope of extraordinary stories.

In nine essays, Following Fish conducts rich journalistic investigations: among others, of the famed fish treatment for asthmatics in Hyderabad; of the preparation and the process of eating West Bengal’s prized hilsa; of the ancient art of building fishing boats in Gujarat; of the fiery cuisine and the singular spirit of Kerala’s toddy shops; of the food and the lives of Mumbai’s first peoples; of the history of an old Catholic fishing community in Tamil Nadu; of the hunt for the world’s fastest fish near Goa.

Throughout his travels, Subramanian observes the cosmopolitanism and diverse influences absorbed by India’s coastal cities, the wthdrawing of traditional fishermen from their craft, the corresponding growth of fishing as pure and voluminous commerce, and the degradation of waters and beaches from over-fishing.

Pulsating with pleasure, adventure and discovery, and tempered by nostalgia and loss, Following Fish speaks as eloquently to the armchair traveller as to lovers of the sea and its lore.

In My Hands Today…

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line – Deepa Anappara

Three friends venture into the most dangerous corners of a sprawling Indian city to find their missing classmate.

Down market lanes crammed with too many people, dogs, and rickshaws, past stalls that smell of cardamom and sizzling oil, below a smoggy sky that doesn’t let through a single blade of sunlight, and all the way at the end of the Purple metro line lies a jumble of tin-roofed homes where nine-year-old Jai lives with his family. From his doorway, he can spot the glittering lights of the city’s fancy high-rises, and though his mother works as a maid in one, to him they seem a thousand miles away.

Jai drools outside sweet shops, watches too many reality police shows, and considers himself to be smarter than his friends Pari (though she gets the best grades) and Faiz (though Faiz has an actual job). When a classmate goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from TV to find him. He asks Pari and Faiz to be his assistants, and together they draw up lists of people to interview and places to visit.

But what begins as a game turns sinister as other children start disappearing from their neighborhood. Jai, Pari, and Faiz have to confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force, and rumors of soul-snatching djinns. As the disappearances edge ever closer to home, the lives of Jai and his friends will never be the same again.