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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People who fall through the gaps in road safety campaigns

Helmet and road safety campaigns might have been neglecting a sizeable chunk of the public at risk.

City police, across the country, have been running a long-drawn campaign on helmet safety. In a recent initiative by the Bengaluru Police, a cop dressed-up as ‘Lord Ganesha’ offered helmets and roses to two-wheeler riders. Earlier this year, a 12ft high and 9ft wide helmet was installed in Kota as a memorial to the victims of road accidents. As for the social media leg of the campaign, the Mumbai Police made a pop-culture reference to drive the message of road safety through their Twitter handle.

But, just for the sake of conversation, how much safety do helmets provide anyway?

Lack of physical protections put two-wheeler riders at high risk on the road. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are ‘vulnerable road users’ – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. According to the Indian transport ministry, about 28 two-wheeler riders died daily on Indian roads in 2016 for not wearing helmets.

The WHO states that wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%. The components of a helmet are designed to reduce impact of a force collision to the head. A rigid outer shell distributes the impact over a large surface area, while the soft lining absorbs the impact.

However, getting two-wheeler riders to wear protective headgear has always been an uphill battle, one that has intensified through the years owing to the lives lost due on the road. Communication tactics are generating awareness about the consequences of riding without a helmet and changing behaviour that the law couldn’t on its own. But amidst all the tag-lines, slogans and get-ups that reach out to the rider, the safety of the one on the passenger seat is being ignored.

Pillion rider safety has always been second in priority. While several state governments are making helmets for pillion riders mandatory, the lack of awareness about its importance runs deep. In Mumbai itself, only 1% of the 20 lakh pillion riders wear helmets. There seems to be this perception that while two-wheeler riders are safer wearing a helmet, their passengers don’t necessarily need one. Statistics prove otherwise. For instance, in Hyderabad, the Cyberabad traffic police reported that 1 of every 3 two-wheeler deaths was that of a pillion rider. DGP Chander, Goa, stressed that 71% of fatalities in road accidents in 2017 were of two-wheeler rider and pillion riders of which 66% deaths were due to head injury.

Despite the alarming statistics, pillion riders, who are as vulnerable as front riders to head-injuries, have never been the focus of helmet awareness and safety drives. To fill-up that communication gap, Reliance General Insurance has engineered a campaign, titled #FaceThePace, that focusses solely on pillion rider safety. The campaign film tells a relatable story of a father taking his son for cricket practice on a motorbike. It then uses cricket to bring our attention to a simple flaw in the way we think about pillion rider safety – using a helmet to play a sport makes sense, but somehow, protecting your head while riding on a two-wheeler isn’t considered.

This road safety initiative by Reliance General Insurance has taken the lead in addressing the helmet issue as a whole — pillion or front, helmets are crucial for two-wheeler riders. The film ensures that we realise how selective our worry about head injury is by comparing the statistics of children deaths due to road accidents to fatal accidents on a cricket ground. Message delivered. Watch the video to see how the story pans out.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Reliance General Insurance and not by the Scroll editorial team.