Dreaming a Paradise: Migrations and the Story of Buland Masjid, Chitvan Gill

In Dreaming a Paradise, Chitvan Gill draws on years of research and photographic reportage to unveil the tales of individuals driven to escape poverty, violence, and despair in search of happiness and a place to call home. At the heart of this book lies Buland Masjid, an unauthorised colony on the Yamuna riverbank in Delhi, India, which thrives with restless industry even under the unyielding grip of poverty. The women and men of this colony recycle scrap, repair machines, manufacture clothes, run schools, and sell delicious food, breathing new energy into a once-desolate economy. However, beneath the surface lies a tale of urban planning gone awry, reflecting the comprehensive failure of those in power. Delving into the lives of those cast aside and walled off from India’s vast wealth, this book highlights the huge divide between modern India’s haves and have-nots, and the inherent contradictions in a nation grappling with its identity.

Nehru’s First Recruits: The Diplomats Who Built Independent India’s Foreign Policy, Kallol Bhattacherjee

Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his team faced the colossal task of building the infrastructure for a new state that was rising from the ashes of war, famine and communal strife. One of the first administrative innovations was the formation of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). In 1958, once its posts were finally filled, it was decided that the names of the extraordinary men and women who were the first to represent India on the world stage would be published in the History of Services of Officers of the Indian Foreign Service (Branches A and B). That slim, “restricted for official use only” volume is the inspiration for Nehru’s First Recruits.

Among others, author Kallol Bhattacherjee writes about Brajesh Mishra, who initiated dialogue with Beijing to restart relations disrupted in 1962; Mira Ishardas Malik, the first Indian woman diplomat to serve in China; Eric Gonsalves, who handled the biggest-ever evacuation of Indians from a foreign crisis; K Natwar Singh and Romesh Bhandari, who served for many years even after retiring from the IFS; Cyril John Stracey, who served with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose; Harivansh Rai Bachchan, who was responsible for the name “Videsh Mantralaya”; and Mirza Rashid Ali Baig, MA Jinnah’s former private secretary who became a towering chief of protocol whose legacy resonates in South Block even today.

Twilight Prisoners: The Rise of the Hindu Right and the Decline of India, Siddhartha Deb

Travelling across India, interviewing Hindu zealots, armed insurgents, jailed dissidents, and politicians and thinkers from across the political spectrum, Siddhartha Deb reveals a country in which forces old and new have aligned to endanger democracy. The result is an absorbing and disturbing portrait. India has become a religious fundamentalist dystopia, one depicted here with a novelist’s precise language and eye for detail. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party a formation explicitly drawing on European fascism have deftly exploited modern technologies, the media, and market forces to launch a relentless campaign on minorities, women, dissenters, and the poor. Deb profiles these people, as well as those fighting back, including writers, scholars, and journalists. Twilight Prisoners sounds the alarm now that the world’s largest democracy is under threat in ways that echo the fissures in the United States, United Kingdom, and so-called democracies the world over.

Hindi Imperialism, Aladi Aruna

The massive and uncompromising opposition to the repeated attempts to impose one language Hindi on the country has a long tradition in Tamil Nadu. Recent, aggressive attempts by the Hindutva regime to force Hindi upon all the people of the Indian Union have brought the Tamil resistance into particular focus. But this resistance has a long history. This book by the prominent Tamil politician and leader of the anti-Hindi agitation first written in 1966, revised in 1993, and updated posthumously in 2023-24 traces the history of the movement; its origins and its impact on Tamil politics and India’s federal structure.

This Land We Call Home: The Story of a Family, Caste, Conversions and Modern India, Nusrat F Jafri

In 1871, the British enacted the Criminal Tribes Act in India, branding numerous tribes and caste groups as criminals. In This Land We Call Home, Nusrat F Jafri traces the roots of her nomadic forebears, who belonged to one such ‘criminal” tribe, the Bhantus from Rajasthan.

Her memoir explores religious and multicultural identities and delves into the profound concepts of nation-building and belonging. Jafri’s family found acceptance in the church, alongside a sense of community, theology, songs and carnivals, and quality education for the children in
missionary schools.

The family’s conversion to Christianity in response to caste society highlights their struggle for dignity. Parallelly, we see the family’s experiences during Gandhi’s return to India in 1915, the Partition, the World Wars, the Emergency and the prime ministers’ assassinations.
In a way, this is a story like and unlike the stories all of us carry within us the inherited weight of who we are and where we come from, our tiny little freedoms and our everyday struggles and, mostly, the intricate jumble of our collective ancestry.

Fraudster Tales: History’s Greatest Financial Criminals and Their Catastrophic Crimes, Vijay Narayan Govind

In Fraudster Tales: History’s Greatest Financial Criminals and Their Catastrophic Crimes, seasoned finance professional turned true crime writer Vijay Narayan Govind presents ten cases that have transformed the course of Indian and global economics.

From Hegestratos, the Greek trickster from 300 BCE, to Haridas Mundhra, the first notable scam artist in independent India, readers are transported to the murky world of white-collar crimes. Along the way, we meet the criminally astute Natwarlal, whose infamous cons have become legendary, Charles Ponzi, a name that is now synonymous with get-rich-quick schemes, and witness Singaporean gambler Chia Teck Leng’s shocking banking frauds in the 21st century.

The book takes the reader on a thrilling journey through financial deceit, where the line between right and wrong is blurred and the consequences of greed are catastrophic.