Read To Win

If a writer gifts a book, it must be really worth reading, right (even if it’s their own)?

Ten writers talk of the last book they gifted someone.

So many books (still). So little time (and it’s getting worse). Here’s one way to cut through the clutter and discover what book to read next. We asked, authors answered.

Shashi Tharoor

I gifted two books – Manu S. Pillai’s The Ivory Throne and Sanjeev Sanyal’s The Ocean of Churn – to my US-based sons. They are both very interested in history but neither book is published yet in the US, and I wanted them to have these to add to their knowledge of their motherland!

I have also just gifted my own book, An Era of Darkness, to an old British friend I had briefly shared an office with as a junior UN official in the early 1980s, to tell him what his compatriots did in India!

Jerry Pinto

I gave a friend of mine Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders. This is because her mother suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and I thought it might be of some help.

Easterine Kire

The last time I gifted a book was to my niece Kevi Kevichüsa at New Year. The book was, incidentally, A Naga Village Remembered which I had written in 2003. Because both my niece and her husband are from the village which I wrote about. It is also a portion of village history that has shaped the identity of the village today. My niece is a creative stay-at-home mother of two, and an artist and a fabulous storyteller. I felt she would connect to the story in the book and pass it on to her children someday.

Karan Mahajan

The last book I gifted was the appropriately-titled Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow. I gave it to a friend because it was right before me in a bookstore – we were in a bookstore together – and I recalled the joy the book had given me, and wanted to pass the experience on to another person. This friend is a fantastic novelist and I felt he would connect with Bellow’s passionate deployment of ideas in his narrative, and the attention paid to the confused lives of writers.

Manu Joseph

I recently gifted Stasiland by Anna Funder and The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo to the writer and dancer, Tishani Doshi. Stasiland tells the stories of East Germany’s ordinary victims, and has an absorbing, sentimental and literary style of narration. Giving the book is a part of my old campaign to make novelists and poets I admire to venture into journalism, or to use that moronic word “non-fiction”. The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl is a little known, under-appreciated and brilliant novella which the novelist Tabish Khair had introduced me to. An insight of The Nice Old Man... is that what decides the punishments for our sins is not the nature of the sin but our age.

Anushka Ravishankar

The last book I gifted was I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. It’s supposed to be a book for young adults, but I believe that a really good book works for any age. The last few books I’ve gifted have been picture books and YA books – all to adults! And they have loved them. If you read Markus Zusak, Frances Hardinge or Philip Pullman, you realise how specious it can be to divide books into categories of adult and children’s books. I gave the book to a friend who is going to have a lot of time on her hands, and who I know loved Zusak’s The Book Thief.

Amish Tripathi

I gifted Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to my brother. It’s a thought-provoking book, to understand the volatile times we live in and to help us make a blueprint to survive, even thrive, in this atmosphere. It’s exactly the kind of book my brother would like.

Preeti Shenoy

The last book I gifted was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to my best friend.

Paul was a brilliant neurosurgeon who before becoming a doctor had majored in English literature. Cancer struck him at 36, and claimed his life by 37. The book is not only poignant and powerful but is poetic too. What makes this a “must-read” are the questions he asks and the answers he finds. Throughout his life, Paul had sought to find the answer to the question “What makes life worth living?” and in the face of death, he finds it.

Having just finished the book, I was in that strange state of calm, having been made acutely aware that there exists a place, where life meets death and, despite death having the final say, life wins. I gifted this book as I wanted my friend to experience all that I did while reading it. There are some books that change your perspective towards life. Paul’s book is one of them.

Sarnath Banerjee

The last book I gifted was Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s collected works from Penguin. The book was given to a friend, Frank Loric, who is a French translator.

I live in Europe and my problem with lot of Europeans is that their understanding of modernity is very euro-centric and that’s often very detrimental. They are very enlightened in terms of their politics and humanitarian projects, like those in Syria for example. But the real understanding of how people are elsewhere, how a Syrian person is in Syria, that’s somewhat limited. This often happens when you come from a dominant culture where everyone has adhered to your culture.

So, I think Arvind is important for the understanding of a certain kind of indigenous modernity and a good way of understanding how people think. I was actually looking for an Akhil Katyal, who is my current favorite poet from Delhi, but I couldn’t find a book by him. But Arvind is a classic.

Janice Pariat

The last book I gifted a friend was Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road. Because he had it on Kindle, and I said that didn’t count, so I bought him a paper copy. Because it’s devastatingly beautiful, and will break his heart, and that’s what friends do. They gift each other books that will break their hearts.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.