The Cat People, edited by Devapriya Roy

Cat people, those who prefer cats over dogs, are often said to mimic the nature of cats – regal, poised, self-assured. Cats seem to be aware of historical reverence and command respect which is quite atypical of pets.

In The Cat People, Devapriya Roy has put together short stories, personal essays, lists, original art and photographs as tributes to our feline companions. In Karachi we meet a hedonistic cat who loves kheer and finely chopped sausages, in the bay city of Bombay a lyricist obsessively worries about his cat suffering from UTI, while a young woman in London wonders if she’s actually a cat herself. At times bizarre, sometimes funny, and always heartwarming, The Cat People is a wonderful portrayal of the special relationship that we share with this whimsical animal.

Geeta Rahman at Championship Point, Saskya Jain

With its unique trials and tribulations, growing up is difficult for everyone, and it can be especially overwhelming for a child who has to confront the anxieties of the personal with uncertainties of the political.

In 1993, 12-year-old Geeta Rahman is growing up in two New Delhis – a city where the demolition of the Babri Masjid has worsened the already precarious relationship between Hindus and Muslims, and the national capital with lofty dreams of opening its economy to the world. Caught in the weird limbo between barbaric religiosity and liberalisation, Geeta Rahman fosters her own dreams of becoming India’s biggest badminton star.

This will not be an easy journey to make – Geeta must come to terms with the recent death of her mother, work hard to secure a government job, and fulfil her own dreams of becoming a sports legend. Through the eyes of Geeta Rahman, Saskya Jain offers a brand new perspective of discovering oneself in a rapidly changing society. With the game of badminton as a metaphor, Geeta Rahman at Championship Point is a poignant coming-of-age tale of a girl finding her place in the world.

Acrobat, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, translated from the Bengali by Nandana Dev Sen

Nabaneeta Dev Sen (1938-2019) was a towering icon of Bengali culture of her generation. She’s remembered as a poet, novelist, scholar, and playwright. Acrobat is the first collection of her poems to have been translated into English.

In this collection of poetry, Dev Sen explores the joys and torments of first love, motherhood, and imminent decay of our bodies. Rhythmic, restless, and fiery – Acrobat is a wonderful introduction to Dev Sen’s writings for those who cannot read Bengali. Translated with flair by daughter and author-activist Nandana Dev Sen, these radiant poems infuse beauty and meaning to our everyday lives.

Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak, Madhumita Dutta, illustrated by Madhushree

The story of Mobile Girls Koottam starts in 2013 when Madhumita Dutta was visiting Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu to do her doctoral research where she met a group of women employed with an electronics factory. Dutta becomes friends with these women over cups of tea and producing a radio podcast: “Mobile Girls Koottam”. As the conversation gets going, the women open up about tea stalls for women, factory work, menstruation, and more.

Together they unravel the challenges and ambitions of young rural migrant women and what it means to belong to the working-class. The podcast-to-book trajectory is an exciting route in nonfiction writing, and Madhushree’s illustrations add life to the women’s spunky narrations.

Onam in a Nightie: Stories from a Kerala Quarantine, Anjana Menon

If you love RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days, then Onam in a Nightie is the perfect book for you. Set in a small Kerala town, the stories give us glimpses into a world where the community still reigns supreme even during the uncertainties of COVID-19 pandemic.

We meet a myriad of eccentric characters – a baker is running errands for strangers stuck in the lockdown, while the others are competing for an affluent caretaker’s attention. In this town even the temple and tiny railway station have a personality of their own. Onam in a Nightie is the portrait of a Kerala stuck in the yesteryears, where only the pandemic is a distinct marker of time. Anjana Menon’s effortless humour shines through in these true stories of hope and resilience.

Teething, Megha Rao

A story in verse, Teething is about confronting the skeletons that spill out of the family closet after an unprecedented tragedy. Trouble ensues when young Kochu is caught kissing another boy and unable to bear what the future holds, Kochu ends up taking his own life. After years of living with the grief of losing a brother, his sister Achu discovers his suicide note.

The ill-fated letter becomes a puzzle that reveals the secrets of Kochu’s family – the mother’s obsession with the church, the father’s disturbing secrecy inside the bedroom, and their individual traumas that have stopped time in its tracks. Achu realizes that the family will not begin living again unless they trace their steps back to the very beginning. Megha Rao’s Teething explores the themes of love, loss, recovery, and survival in 90 short pages.

Desiring India: Representation through British and French Eyes 1584-1857, edited by Niranjan Goswami

The encounters between India and the West have always attracted wonder and desire for the other. In this anthology of 12 essays, authors have attempted a comparative study of the British and French perceptions of India.

The period between the late 16th Century and 1857 makes for an interesting time in Indian history – from the earliest arrivals of Europeans to Indian shores to the First War of Independence. The intervening years saw the European influence on Indian politics, warfare, culture, cuisine and more (and vice versa) – there was as much an exchange of wonders as there was disdain and suspicion of the Other.

Desiring India is an ambitious endeavour that gets the ball rolling on the endless debate between the Orient and Occident – one where desire and demand are pivotal to shaping our culture as we know it. Written by academics yet universal in its appeal, Desiring India makes for a fascinating read for both academic and leisurely reading.