Reading list update -6

I’ve just finished three books about India in the last month, specifically around the lead up to Independence and the events thereafter; the larger-than-life figures of the time: Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Tagore; the haste of an empire looking for an exit; the bloody aftermath. Riveting reads.

I’ve also updated my reading list with books recommended by my new reading group. See the updated (crazy) list here.

It is part of a poet’s religion to entertain in his life a solemn faith in his own function, to realise that he is specifically called to collaborate with his Creator in adding to the joy of existence.” – This, from one of Tagore’s letters to Gandhi, will probably stay with me for a long, long time.

And here’s the 13-point summary:  (Previous update is here)

1. Ambedkar: A life by Shashi Tharoor gets a 3.8 on 5. Maybe I expected a lot more about a lot more. But this is a great starter book for anyone trying to learn about Baba Saheb Ambedkar.
2. It is the fascinating sketch of a man who defied his circumstances to become the father of the Indian constitution, his personal struggle against caste-based discrimination and his lifelong battle to annihilate caste. “You cannot build anything on the foundation of caste. You cannot build up a nation, you cannot build up a morality.”
3. Tharoor touches upon Ambedkar’s lived experiences, social leadership, contrarian yet prescient thinking, his differences with Mahatma Gandhi and his role as “a nationalist and patriot on the one hand and a fierce advocate of the interests of the downtrodden, on the other”. The author refers, in a couple of places, to Isabel Wilkerson’s stellar work ‘Caste: The Lies that Divide Us’.
4. “Life should be great rather than long” said Ambedkar, whose legacy remains in his enduring thoughts and ideas – some 17500 pages of keen articulation. “History has been unkind to Ambedkar…. It has stripped away the radical intellect and the searing insolence” – Arundhati Roy.
5. Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann gets 4 on 5. A window into what went on during the tumultuous months before Independence and the iconic ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech by Nehru. The following morning, she writes, when the tricolour was unfurled, “a rainbow broke across the sky – a detail that one would dismiss as fanciful, were it not for the fact that so many observers insisted they had seen it.”
6. The author dives into the roles of the people in control, desiring control, losing control…a smorgasbord of quotes and anecdotes and somewhat challenging inferences. The assimilation of numerous princely states, the hurried drawing of boundaries and the disasters that followed, the breaking up of a people, the creation of two nations – all through the gaze of the key movers: Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah. And Louis and Edwina Mountbatten.
7. “His conceit is already formidable. It must be checked. We want no Caesars.” – Jawaharlal Nehru, under the pseudonym Chanakya, writing about himself – a persona filled with ‘introspection, honesty, wit and mischief’.
8. “What did you tell me and what did I say to you..?” The more one talks, the more there is to say and there is so much that it is difficult to put into words”.. Nehru writing to Edwina
9. “I didn’t expect it. This man whom I have jailed so many times has conquered hate.” Churchill to Indira Gandhi about Nehru.
10. “The trouble with power is that one doesn’t know if one is still a human being or not. I want to remain human.” Nehru to Indira Gandhi’s friend, Marie Seton.
11. Tagore and Gandhi: Walking Alone, Walking Together by Rudrangshu Mukherjee – 3.9 on 5.
12. This is an essay on the friendship between Gandhi and Tagore, their mutual respect, their shared vision of free India and their strong disagreements on specific social and political matters, means and goals. An abject lesson on how public discourse between strong-willed players can still be kept civilized, elegant and poetic, no matter how different their approaches are.
13. Composed days before his passing, Tagore’s poem reflects:
The sun of the first day
Had asked the question
At the new emergence of Being
Who are you—
No answer was found…


I’d love to know what you are reading and what’s in the TBR stack on your table!!  I’m looking forward to reading “1599: A year in the life of William Shakespeare” by James Shapiro, next. 


11 thoughts on “Reading list update -6

      1. Indeed. I would look for someone from South Asia to speak authoritatively on caste. Given your reservations, I’ll settle for a skim instead of a dive. What might those other two books be?


          1. ‘The doctor and the saint’ of course! I had read parts of the long introduction by Arundhati to her book on Ambedkar. Maybe they are the same. Yengde’s book I have noted. Thanks Rajani 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Couldn’t pluck insights as readily as I wanted to from a quick read of Yengde so I started looking elsewhere and found Ishita Banerjee-Dube’s paper from 2016, ‘Caste, Race and Difference’ quite good. On linking race and class (as Wilkerson does), she points out that Ambedkar rejected the conflation of race and caste, but that was because Risley was linking the two for very nefarious reasons… so that’s where I’ve gotten so far. Will probably get back to reading Arundhati’s take one of these days.


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