The best non-fiction books about journalism and history in India

Andrew Otis Author Of Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper
By Andrew Otis

The Books I Picked & Why

The Girl from Foreign

By Sadia Shepard

The Girl from Foreign

Why this book?

A beautiful and haunting tale. The Girl from Foreign is my favourite book, a memoir of Shepard’s journey to discover her family’s heritage. Shepard discovered that her grandmother, a member of Bombay’s Jewish community, had secretly converted from Judaism to Islam to marry her grandfather during partition. The book is about her discovering her grandmother’s – and her own – secret identity, hidden from the world for decades.


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Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

By Sonia Faleiro

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

Why this book?

Faleiro’s book is an impressive piece of investigative journalism. She followed the life of one woman, a teenage girl who worked as an exotic dancer in Mumbai. Faleiro paints a sobering image of Mumbai’s sex industry, especially dealing with government corruption and mafia-like figures. Her writing will keep you engrossed from start to finish.


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Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

By Gaiutra Bahadur

Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

Why this book?

This book is both a biography of Sujaria, the author’s great-grandmother, and a critical look at indentured labour in the Caribbean. Many thousands were transported from India to British Guiana to work on plantations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The vast majority were men. This created a society where women were both exploited and yet held unusual power due to their scarcity. In seeking to discover more about her ancestor, Bahadur also returned to her ancestral village of Bhurahupur, in Bihar. A fascinating look at past and present.


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Four Years' Service in India (1853)

By John Ryder

Four Years' Service in India (1853)

Why this book?

Perhaps the most unusual book on the list. This book is a riveting, true account of a British soldier in India in 1847. It’s a first-person tale of Ryder’s life in the army, of endless marches, and moments of sheer terror. Most histories are written for, and by elites, but this story is written by a true subaltern – a very special thing! If you want to know what life was truly like for the average British soldier in the Raj, read this. Did I also mention it is a page-turner? I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. (It’s also free online).


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Curfewed Night

By Basharat Peer

Curfewed Night

Why this book?

An elegant first-person tale of loss and change in the Kashmir Valley. I compare this book to the feeling one gets when mist descends on a grey, foggy day, and old long-forgotten memories recur with a vengeance. Peer’s work is remarkable for his pristine and exact memory of events, starting in the troubled 1990s, and ending in 2005 with the forlorn hope of peace in Kashmir.


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