The best books you’ve never heard of to discover a modern India you’ve never seen

Venkataraghavan Subha Srinivasan Author Of The Origin Story of India's States
By Venkataraghavan Subha Srinivasan

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by maps all my life. The map of India has always held special interest. As I’ve lived in different parts of India, I’ve seen firsthand how India is one country, but its stories are multiple. I chronicled India’s varied stories through the origins of each of its states. Similarly, I’ve curated a diverse and inclusive reading list. It covers different parts of the country and contains different types of books—graphic novel, travelog, memoir, and short story collections. The authors also cut across religion, gender, and social strata. I hope you discover a whole new India!

I wrote...

The Origin Story of India's States

By Venkataraghavan Subha Srinivasan,

Book cover of The Origin Story of India's States

What is my book about?

India is a federal union with 28 states and 8 union territories. The states of India are all-encompassing—they cover every inch of land and hold every single person that makes up India. States give every Indian a home and an identity. Every time a new state is created or an old one altered, India and Indians are remade, recreated, reborn. When India completed its journey of independence on 15 August 1947, its states began their individual processes of formation. And while India’s modern history of independence and partition is much recounted, the history of its constituent partsits statesis hardly known, even to its residents. This book tells the stories of the states of India, which are also the story of India.

The books I picked & why

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Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories

By Janice Pariat,

Book cover of Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories

Why this book?

I love how this short story collection traverses time but not locationthe setting is the northeastern state of Meghalaya while the stories span 150 years. In these fifteen tales, folklore mixes with modern life and myth is steeped in the mundane. The result? The reader journeys through a rich smorgasbord of a multi-faceted Meghalaya and its people. Given the tendency to clump the seven northeastern states together, this book helps us view one of those states distinctively.

The Adivasi Will Not Dance

By Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar,

Book cover of The Adivasi Will Not Dance

Why this book?

This book of short stories drops us in the middle of Jharkhand in the center of India. Written by a government doctor who is also of the Santhal Adivasi community, it offers us insights into a community, a region, and an institution that are rarely found together in a book. Also, given that central India can tend to be seen as a large Hindi land mass, this book focuses sharply on the region’s original inhabitants living in today’s society.

Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

By Sujatha Gidla,

Book cover of Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

Why this book?

We learn about our family and our place in the world through the stories our older generations tell us. This is such a memoirnot about the author but about her (famous) uncle and mother. To me, it has the feel of numerous family gatherings where old stories are dredged up and the youngsters listen with wide eyes and keen ears of a time before their time. Situated deep in the Telugu hinterland in the south, this memoir presents an intimate personal narrative layered with the communist and caste politics of the first decades after Independence.

Midnight's Borders: A People's History of Modern India

By Suchitra Vijayan,

Book cover of Midnight's Borders: A People's History of Modern India

Why this book?

India’s birth as an independent nation threw its borders into sharp focus due to Partition. Lines were hurriedly scribbled across a map to create multiple new nations and throw most of South Asia into ceaseless turmoil. What I appreciate about the author’s approach is that she travels the length of India’s land borders and captures oral stories of individuals living daily lives in these tense spaces that are highly contested but also largely forgotten. This book is a travelog unlike any other across a part of India that is nearly impossible to visit.

Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir

By Malik Sajad,

Book cover of Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir

Why this book?

With a Persepolis meets Maus approach, this graphic novel visually takes us into the daily life that locals live in Kashmir, the most militarized zone in the world. This ground-up storytelling is intimate and powerful, as it takes us behind the propaganda and gives us the insider’s view in explosive, insightful, and humorous ways. Images may be more powerful than words, and this book has haunting images that will linger long after you finish the last page.

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