Read To Win

Four new books we recommend you curl up with in March

Not many exciting new novels, but a packed month for other forms.

While we are firm believers of reading a book at a time that feels right to the reader and not obsessing about the hot new title that everybody might be gushing over (or not), if the long list of new titles seems overwhelming, here are our picks of the four books coming out in March that we’re most looking forward to.

Indian Cultures As Heritage: Contemporary Pasts, Romila Thapar

One of the India’s most-respected and insightful historians, Romila Thapar is not somebody who minces words. Thapar specialises in ancient history and has spoken (and written) repeatedly about the communal misinterpretation of Indian history to suit majoritarian agendas and the crucial need for public intellectuals in India to be vocal, now more than ever, in the wake of increasing intolerance and the conflation of Hinduism and Hindutva.

In her new book, Thapar presents a historical context to the much touted notion of “Indian culture”. The definition of the concept of culture, Thapar argues, has changed drastically in the last three centuries. She further breaks down the contexts of the multiplicity of cultures that relate them to the past and give them a contemporary significance. Considering Thapar’s inimitable historical rigour and thoughtful contextualisation with pressing current concerns, her new book promises to bring down the facade of Indian culture that is often used to further communal politics and silence dissent of any form. I’m expecting sharp analysis and (the usual) bilious attacks from self-appointed gatekeepers of culture. And while we wait for the book to come out, here is a penetrating speech by the historian on civilisation and cultures.

A Day In The Life, Anjum Hasan

Anjum Hasan made her debut in 2006 with a collection of poetry, Street on the Hill. In the twelve years since then, Hasan has written three well-crafted novels and a collection of short stories. In Lunatic In My Head, three characters try to break away from their destinies living in Shillong, where Hasan was born. Neti Neti, her second novel published in 2009, featured a 25-year-old dreamy newcomer to Bangalore and captured the rapid changes the city was undergoing as well as the experience of the young urban outsider. With her third novel, The Cosmopolitans, Hasan upped the ante, delivering a sophisticated, intellectual novel that experimented with the form through the story of the memorable Qayenaat, who lurks on the fringes of Bengaluru’s art scene.

Her second collection of short stories, A Day In the Life, takes a look at the daily lives of a diverse lineup of characters. The fourteen tales feature the sort of characters Hasan writes best – outliers who don’t quite fit in with their surroundings. These narrow slices of life paint a larger picture of modern-day India while raising questions of identity and motivation thorough empathetically-written, nuanced characters.

Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy, Yasser Usman

Journalist Yasser Usman has quickly developed into the go-to chronicler of the lives of Bollywood’s most enigmatic or polarising figures. He began with a biography of Rajesh Khanna, shedding light, among other things, on the loneliness of one of tinseltown’s most popular stars. But it was with his unauthorised biography of Rekha, published in 2016, that Usman gave fans of the famously private film star ample reason to scramble for copies. Since Rekha refused to meet the journalist for the book, he used existing material and sources to stitch together an untold composite story a woman who was punished by a misogynistic film fraternity for not playing by its sexist rules.

With his biography of Sanjay Dutt being published in March, Usman is all set to flesh out the story of another member of Bollywood’s cast of characters that elicits endless fascination. Dutt’s story has rightly been described as being stranger than fiction, featuring drugs and alcohol, guns and Mumbai’s underworld, high-profile romances and tragic personal loss.

Dutt, who was let out of jail in 2016 for “good behaviour and conduct”, has been the subject of several works in the past few years, leaving readers to wonder what new information Usman might bring to the telling of his life. But given Usman’s skill at bringing together seemingly disparate strings of narrative and juicy anecdotes, the book is poised to be a racy read about Bollywood’s “bad boy” as its slightly overwrought title trips over itself to promise.

The Snake and the Lotus, Appupen

George Mathen aka Appupen first introduced readers to world of Halahala with his graphic novel Moonward, published in 2009. A commentary on our own world, this dystopian world is born from the mythological churning of the ocean of milk but is taken to wildly imaginative places far removed from its origins.

With two more graphic novels since Moonward, Appupen has only fleshed out this world of his making with each instalment, exploring different themes but retaining his distinctive visual style and experiments with narrative. It a richly layered world that throws up questions of love, obsession, aspiration and sustainability. And if that wasn’t enough, Appupen is also the creator of the spot-on superhero Rashtraman, obsessed with keeping India “safe” from radical ideas and elements.

In his fourth foray into Halahala with The Snake and the Lotus, Appupen treads on familiar territory with a tale about the effect of unchecked human and machine activity on nature, but with a distinct twist. Contrary to his previous “silent comics”, his newest offering allows the narrator a voice, one for which the graphic maestro developed his own typography. This adds a layer of anticipation to the latest work from a graphic novelist who has established himself with his uniquely Indian interpretation of the form.

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