Kashmir: Travels in Paradise on Earth, Romesh Bhattacharji

When we think of Kashmir today, we think of militancy and conflict, but it was once an unspoilt land, lush and beautiful-heaven on earth. Kashmir takes us back to this paradise, to a time when militancy had not yet struck and rendered most parts of it inaccessible.

Romesh Bhattacharji first began trekking in Kashmir in the 1960s – it was the start of a love affair that endured for decades. Having travelled to even the most remote parts of the region, where inner-line permits are now required, he gained an intimate knowledge of the Himalayas. In this book, he describes, in meticulous detail and with the help of hand-drawn maps, the topography and geography of the region, the charm of Kashmir’s nooks and crannies, the splendour of its lakes and meadows, and the beauty of its valleys and peaks.

The Cobra’s Gaze, Stephen Alter

In The Cobra’s Gaze, Stephen Alter takes us on an astonishing journey of discovery through the wild places of India. As we accompany him on his quest to uncover multiple layers of meaning associated with the flora and fauna of the country’s woodlands, mountains, rivers, deserts, and coasts, we meet, among others, king cobras, the largest venomous snakes in the world, in the steamy rainforests of Karnataka; snow leopards, the elusive grey ghosts of the mountains, making their solitary way through the vastness of the Himalaya; rare crocodiles and blind dolphins in the Chambal ravines, once the haunt of dacoits; man-eating tigers stalking their prey in the mangroves of the Sunderbans; and Kottigehara dancing frogs trembling on the verge of extinction in the Western Ghats.

We travel through coastal areas smudged with the roseate hues of flocks of flamingoes; the dry scrublands of Gujarat that echo with the roar of Asiatic lions found nowhere else on earth; grasslands and arid jungles where imported cheetahs struggle for a foothold; dense habitats in Assam that are home to killer elephants and singular species of birdlife; and scores of other places in which the last remaining animals and wildernesses of the country cling on in the face of the depredations of man.

A Modern History of Jammu and Kashmir: The Time of Turbulence (1975- 2021), Harbans Singh

This third volume in Harbans Singh’s important and insightful trilogy on modern Jammu and Kashmir examines the period from 1975, when Sheikh Abdullah returned to active politics, after the IndiraSheikh Accord, to head a Congresssupported government, to the present day. The book discusses the emergence of the separatist movement, the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, and the drastic decision of the BJP Central government to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution – which granted special status to the state – and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

As he concludes his monumental three-volume study of Jammu and Kashmir – from the time it was created as a political entity by the Dogras in the 19th century to its current status – the author also looks to the future, warning of the possible consequences of the Supreme Court’s verdict upholding the abrogation of Article 370.

The Saffron Storm: From Vajpayee to Modi, Saba Naqvi

The Bharatiya Janata Party enjoys a predominant position in Indian politics today. In its journey from coalition to single-party rule, the BJP has changed as much as India appears to have. Journalist Saba Naqvi tells the story of the party’s journey under two very different prime ministers drawn from the same ideological family. In 1998, the author attended the very modest swearing-in ceremony of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the courtyard of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. In 2014, she was at a mega event at the same venue when Narendra Modi was sworn in.

The Saffron Storm, in a reissued edition, is both a first-person account of events as they unfolded in the nation’s history and a work that raises larger analytical points about the BJP’s growth. It examines the role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadre and its equations with elected leaders, the calibration of ideology, the issue of political finance and the social expansion of the party, as also the cults of personality that would emerge around, first, Vajpayee and then, more forcefully, around Modi.

The Cooking of Books: A Literary Memoir, Ramachandra Guha

It is not often that an author and his editor strike up a relationship that survives 40 years of epistolary exchanges and intellectual sparring. The strangely enduring and occasionally fractious friendship that developed between the historian Ramachandra Guha and his reticent editor Rukun Advani is the subject of this quite eccentric and thoroughly compelling literary memoir.

It started in Delhi in the early 1980s, when Guha was an unpublished PhD scholar, and Advani a greenhorn editor with the Oxford University Press. It blossomed through the 1990s, when Guha grew into a pioneering historian of the environment and cricket, while also writing his biography of Verrier Elwin. Over these years, Advani was Guha’s most constant confidant, his most reliable reader. He encouraged him to craft and refine the literary style for which Guha became internationally known – narrative histories that have made vast areas of scholarship popular and accessible.

Four decades later, though he no longer publishes his books, Advani remains Guha’s most trusted literary adviser. Yet they also disagree ferociously on politics, human nature, and the nature of their commitment to India. They usually make up – because it just wouldn’t do to allow such an odd relationship to die.

2024: India in Free Fall, Sanjay Jha

Under Narendra Modi’s decade-long tenure as Prime Minister of India, the country has made worldwide headlines for putting in place a majoritarian infrastructure that has seen a crackdown on press freedom, a ruthless evisceration of civil liberties, religious polarisation, caste bigotry, institutional debilitation, and demagoguery. Is the world’s largest democracy hurtling towards disarray and chaos? Is the political legitimacy accorded to authoritarian populists because of, ironically enough, their popular mandates, the biggest threat to democracy itself?

In 2024, former Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha argues that India is in a state of free fall. With the country set to go to the polls once again, he raises urgent issues – from the othering of Muslim minorities and the bulldozing of citizens’ rights and even homes, to the surreptitious dismantling of the judiciary and the unfettered growth of crony capitalism and plutocracy that has aggravated income inequality.