In My Hands Today…

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure – Sarah Macdonald

3858In her twenties, journalist Sarah Macdonald backpacked around India and came away with a lasting impression of heat, pollution and poverty. So when an airport beggar read her palm and told her she would return to India—and for love—she screamed, “Never!” and gave the country, and him, the finger.

But eleven years later, the prophecy comes true. When the love of Sarah’s life is posted to India, she quits her dream job to move to the most polluted city on earth, New Delhi. For Sarah this seems like the ultimate sacrifice for love, and it almost kills her, literally. Just settled, she falls dangerously ill with double pneumonia, an experience that compels her to face some serious questions about her own fragile mortality and inner spiritual void. “I must find peace in the only place possible in India,” she concludes. “Within.” Thus begins her journey of discovery through India in search of the meaning of life and death.

Holy Cow is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, of encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians and a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars. From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs, it is a journey that only a woman on a mission to save her soul, her love life—and her sanity—can survive.

In My Hands Today…

Delhi By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller – Raza Rumi

18001385Why, asks Raza Rumi, does the capital of another country feel like home? How is it that a man from Pakistan can cross the border into ‘hostile’ territory and yet not feel ‘foreign’? Is it the geography, the architecture, the food? Or is it the streets, the festivals and the colours of the subcontinent, so familiar and yes, beloved…

As he takes in the sights, from the Sufi shrines in the south to the markets of Old Delhi, from Lutyens’ stately mansions to Ghalib’s crumbling abode, Raza uncovers the many layers of the city. He connects with the richness of the Urdu language, observes the syncretic evolution of mystical Islam in India and its deep connections with Hindustani classical music – so much a part of his own selfhood. And every so often, he returns to the refuge of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the twelfth-century pir, whose dargah still reverberates with music and prayer every evening.

His wanderings through Delhi lead Raza back in time to recollections of a long-forgotten Hindu ancestry and to comparisons with his own city of Lahore – in many ways a mirror image of Delhi. They also lead to reflections on the nature of the modern city, the inherent conflict between the native and the immigrant and, inevitably, to an inquiry into his own identity as a South Asian Muslim.

Rich with history and anecdote, and conversations with Dilliwalas known and unknown,Delhi By Heart offers an unusual perspective and unexpected insights into the political and cultural capital of India.

In My Hands Today…

Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi – Piers Moore Ede

22529226Situated on the left bank of the Ganges, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. For Hindus there is nowhere more sacred; for Buddhists, it is revered as a place where the Buddha preached his first sermon; for Jains, it is the birthplace of their two patriarchs. Over the last four thousand years, perhaps no city in the world has stood witness to such a flux of history, from the development of Aryan culture along the Ganges, to invasions that would leave the city in Muslim hands for three centuries, to an independent Brahmin kingdom, British colonial rule, and ultimately independence.

But what is the city like today? Home to 2.5 million people, it is visited by twice that number every year. Polluted, overpopulated, religiously divided, but utterly sublime, Varanasi is a living expression of Indian life like no other. Each day 60,000 people bathe in the Ganges. Elderly people come to die here. Widows pushed out by their families arrive to find livelihood. In the city center, the silk trade remains the most important industry, along with textiles and the processing of betel leaf. Behind this facade lurk more sinister industries. Varanasi is a major player in the international drug scene. There’s a thriving flesh trade, and a corrupt police force that turns a blind eye.

Piers Moore Ede tells the city’s story by allowing inhabitants to relate their own tales. Whether portraying a Dom Raja whose role it is to cremate bodies by the Ganghes or a khoa maker, who carefullyGangests cow’s milk into the ricotta like substance that forms the base of most sweets, Ede explores the city’s most important themes through its people, creating a vibrant portrait of modern, multicultural India.

In My Hands Today…

Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia – Thant Myint-U

12151572Thant Myint-U’s Where China Meets India is a vivid, searching, timely book about the remote region that is suddenly a geopolitical center of the world.

From their very beginnings, China and India have been walled off from each other: by the towering summits of the Himalayas, by a vast and impenetrable jungle, by hostile tribes and remote inland kingdoms stretching a thousand miles from Calcutta across Burma to the upper Yangtze River.

Soon this last great frontier will vanish—the forests cut down, dirt roads replaced by superhighways, insurgencies crushed—leaving China and India exposed to each other as never before. This basic shift in geography—as sudden and profound as the opening of the Suez Canal—will lead to unprecedented connections among the three billion people of Southeast Asia and the Far East.

What will this change mean? Thant Myint-U is in a unique position to know. Over the past few years, he has travelled extensively across this vast territory, where high-speed trains and gleaming new shopping malls are now coming within striking distance of the last far-flung rebellions and impoverished mountain communities. And he has explored the new strategic centrality of Burma, where Asia’s two rising, giant powers appear to be vying for supremacy.

At once a travelogue, a work of history, and an informed look into the future, Where China Meets India takes us across the fast-changing Asian frontier, giving us a masterful account of the region’s long and rich history and its sudden significance for the rest of the world.

In My Hands Today…

Chasing the Monsoon – Alexander Frater

37614The fascinating and revealing story of Frater’s journey through India in pursuit of the astonishing Indian summer monsoon. On 20th May the Indian summer monsoon will begin to envelop the country in two great wet arms, one coming from the east, the other from the west. They are united over central India around 10th July, a date that can be calculated within seven or eight days. Frater aims to follow the monsoon, staying sometimes behind it, sometimes in front of it, and everywhere watching the impact of this extraordinary phenomenon. During the anxious period of waiting, the weather forecaster is king, consulted by pie-crested cockatoos, and a joyful period ensues: there is a period of promiscuity, and scandals proliferate. Frater’s journey takes him to Bangkok and the cowboy town on the Thai-Malaysian border to Rangoon and Akyab in Burma (where the front funnels up between the mountains and the sea). Alexander Frater’s fascinating narrative reveals the exotic, often startling discoveries of an ambitious and irresistibly romantic adventure

In My Hands Today…

Indian Takeaway: One Man’s Attempt to Cook His Way Home – Hardeep Singh Kohli

3328395Hardeep Singh Kohli loves many things in life – but none more than food. He loves to eat it, he loves to cook it. So when he decided to travel round India, searching for his roots, what seemed the obvious thing to take with him? Will Hardeep find the India he is searching for through his recipe book? And will he find himself along the way?

In My Hands Today…

Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron

701596Shadow of the Silk Road records a journey along the greatest land route on earth. Out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran and into Kurdish Turkey, Colin Thubron covers some seven thousand miles in eight months. Making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart and camel, he travels from the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, the mythic progenitor of the Chinese people, to the ancient port of Antioch—in perhaps the most difficult and ambitious journey he has undertaken in forty years of travel.

The Silk Road is a huge network of arteries splitting and converging across the breadth of Asia. To travel it is to trace the passage not only of trade and armies but also of ideas, religions and inventions. But alongside this rich and astonishing past, Shadow of the Silk Road is also about Asia today: a continent of upheaval.

One of the trademarks of Colin Thubron’s travel writing is the beauty of his prose; another is his gift for talking to people and getting them to talk to him. Shadow of the Silk Road encounters Islamic countries in many forms. It is about changes in China, transformed since the Cultural Revolution. It is about false nationalisms and the world’s discontented margins, where the true boundaries are not political borders but the frontiers of tribe, ethnicity, language and religion. It is a magnificent and important account of an ancient world in modern ferment.