Shunting the Nation: India’s Railway Workers and the Most Tumultuous Decade in Modern Indian History (1939-1949), Aniruddha Bose

The period 1939-1949 was the most turbulent decade in modern Indian history – it saw the tumult of the Second World War, the unrest during the Quit India movement and the final phase of the freedom struggle, and the horrors of Partition. Shunting the Nation records the contribution of the workers who ensured the smooth functioning of the railway-based travel and communication system in the Subcontinent, even as regimes changed, new borders were drawn and everything seemed to be falling apart.

During perhaps the most demanding time in the history of any railway workforce, these workers navigated overcrowded trains, food shortage, famine, disruption of coal supplies, communal riots and an administration close to collapse, in order to ensure humanitarian relief, swift movement of troops and weapons, and transport of over three million refugees. Equally remarkable was the workers’ successful negotiation of the contrary demands of their employment – by the British – and their nationalist, pro-independence sentiments; as was the class-based solidarity of their unions which triumphed over barbaric sectarian divisions.

Drawing on memoirs, newspaper reports and government documents, Aniruddha Bose’s narration of railway history brings to light the important role played by these unsung heroes in the modern histories of India and Pakistan.

ULFA: The Mirage of Dawn, Rajeev Bhattacharyya

This is the untold story of the outlawed separatist outfit, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), from its inception in the early 1980s in the backdrop of the historic Assam Movement, to the present when a peace process is on between a faction led by its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and the government. The account delves into all major episodes, delineates their causes and effects and debunks interpretations about the movement that have gained currency over the years.

The narrative is based on exclusive interviews with ULFA functionaries in the Northeast, Myanmar and Bangladesh, former officers engaged in counter-insurgency operations, as well as papers of ULFA leaders.

Shadows at Noon: The South Asian Twentieth Century, Joya Chatterji

Shadows at Noon explores the key strands of South Asian history in the 20th century that focuses on food, leisure, and the household to understand nationhood, the development of the state and patterns of migration. While it tells the subcontinent’s story from the British Raj to independence and partition and on to the forging of the modern nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Each of the chapters illuminates an overarching theme or sphere that has shaped South Asia over the course of the century.

Everything Changes: A Memoir, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

When she was four, novelist and columnist Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s father died by suicide. In her memoir Everything Changes, she embarks on a path of self-discovery by recognising the scars of her childhood lived under the shadow of his death. In a poignant act of piecing together her early life, Kundu describes being bullied in school, suffering brutal romantic rejection as a teenager, undergoing her first gynaecological surgery at the age of 19 and later being pronounced infertile. Her gnawing abandonment trauma that most survivors of suicide grapple with and an abusive first love see her leave Kolkata and land in Delhi, finding her feet as a journalist. Kundu meets success in the many roles she chooses thereon, but at the heart of each triumph rests the seed of loss and change.

After decades of inner conflict, in the year she turns 40, in an act of surrender, Kundu performs the last rites for her biological father, finally acknowledging his simultaneous presence and absence in her life. It is an act of forgiveness and faith. Will it help her relinquish her sense of betrayal and grief over a man she never truly knew, but whose death haunted her life?

Hidden Links: How Random Historical Events Shaped Our World, Sangeeth Varghese and Zac Sangeeth

This book investigates the disproportional effect of historically unconnected and random events like climate changes, imperial pursuits, pandemics, and nomadic migrations on our modern lives in the most unbelievable ways. Hidden Links aims to uncover the shocking secrets of humankind’s history.

The Wizard of Festival Lighting: The Incredible Story of Sridhar Das, Samragngi Roy

Eleven-year-old Sridhar was fascinated by light. Growing up among a dozen siblings in a mud cottage in Chandannagar in West Bengal, he longed to create something beautiful. A school drop-out who never studied beyond class eight, he taught himself about lights and electricity by doing odd jobs at an electrician’s shop. In spite of his family’s opposition, he grew up to become a celebrated light artist and inventor, setting new standards for festival lighting and pioneering new techniques.

Sridhar Das’s work was exhibited internationally, to great acclaim, from the Festival of India in Russia to Ireland, Los Angeles and Malaysia. For the Thames Festival in London, he created the famous three-dimensional illuminated peacock boat.

This is his story, poignantly told by his granddaughter, Samragngi Roy. It is both a nuanced portrait of a complex man and an affectionate tribute to a beloved grandfather.