The best books about Mumbai

7 authors have picked their favorite books about Mumbai and why they recommend each book.

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My Bombay Kitchen

By Niloufer Ichaporia King,

Book cover of My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking

Until picking up this book I knew nothing about Parsi food, a distinctive way of cooking practiced by the descendants of the Zoroastrians who fled Persia for India around the 8th century. And what a cuisine it is! This book engages all your senses, immersing you in the aromas, colors, and tastes of Parsi kitchens. Niloufer King's descriptions are beguiling, her language deft as she evokes dishes like the "wobbly" cauliflower custard of her childhood and its "trembling delicacy," or a hot green chutney that is "raucous" rather than refined. King brings family and friends to life through anecdotes that reveal the long history and continuing evolution of this distinctive manner of cooking.


Who am I?

I've been thinking and writing about food ever since I spent a year in the Soviet Union many decades ago and discovered that food is a wonderfully immediate way to enter into another culture. My first cookbook led to a stint as a spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US—a fascinating exercise in cross-cultural communication during the Cold War. In 2001 I founded Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, which deepened my interest in culinary cultures around the world. Cookbooks aren't just about recipes. For me, the best ones include personal stories and history that transport you to other realms.


I wrote...

Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

By Darra Goldstein,

Book cover of Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

What is my book about?

I love the icy beauty of cold climates, which I've written about in several of my cookbooks. For Beyond the North Wind, I traveled to remote regions of the Russian North to explore the true heart of Russian food and show how foods from a harsh climate can be surprisingly sophisticated. The book celebrates whole grains, preserved and fermented foods, and straightforward but robust flavors, with recipes for a dazzling array of pickles and preserves; infused vodkas; homemade dairy products and baked cultured milk; a pantheon of pies; large, lacy blini; and seasonal vegetable soups.

Beyond the North Wind is a home-style cookbook with a strong sense of place that offers a rarely seen portrait of Russia, its people, and its palate.

Falkland Road

By Mary Ellen Mark,

Book cover of Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay

Prior to her death in 2015, photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark had published over 20 collections of her work spanning her storied career, but few hit the reader in the gut like her debut Falkland Road. Taken during visits to Mumbai (Bombay) in the 1970s, Mary was able to gain the trust of sex workers being pimped out in the Indian city’s notorious red-light district. The images are dark, disturbing, and bleak, but their intimacy and tenderness are what separates Mary from her peers.


Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for a two-year backpacking sojourn across the country. I took a bunch of snapshots along the way with a little point-and-shoot camera. 800 of those images became my first book. Photography – be it travel, documentary, street or reportage – is my passion. The following are but five of five hundred books I’d love to recommend.


I wrote...

China: Portrait of a People

By Tom Carter,

Book cover of China: Portrait of a People

What is my book about?

From the jungles of Yunnan to the frozen wastes of Heilongjiang; across the deserts of Xinjiang and beneath Hong Kong's neon blur. Tramping through China by train, bus, boat, motorcycle, or hitching on the back of anything that moved. On a budget so scant that he drew sympathetic stares from peasants. Backpacker Tom Carter somehow succeeded in circumnavigating 35,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) across all 33 Chinese provinces during a 2-year period, the first foreigner on record ever to do so. What Carter’s photographs reveal is that China is not just one place one people, but 33 distinct geographical regions populated by 56 different ethnicities, each with their own languages, customs, and lifestyles. 

Beautiful Thing

By Sonia Faleiro,

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

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.


Who am I?

As the author of Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper I have great interest in journalism and history in the Indian subcontinent. There are relatively few books that explore these topics in a narrative nonfiction way. It is my hope that this shortlist will help readers find a few good books to start with.


I wrote...

Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper

By Andrew Otis,

Book cover of Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper

What is my book about?

Into the steaming cauldron of skullduggery and intrigue that is eighteenth-century India walks James Augustus Hicky, a wild Irishman seeking fame and fortune. Sensing an opportunity, he decides to establish a newspaper, the first of its kind in South Asia. In two short years, his endeavour threatens to lay bare the murky underside of the early British empire. Does it succeed?

This is the story of the forces Hicky came up against, the corrupt authorities determined to stop him, and of his resourcefulness. The product of five years of research by Andrew Otis in the archives of India, UK, and Germany, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: The Story of India’s First Newspaper is an essential and compelling addition to the history of subcontinental journalism.

Family Matters

By Rohinton Mistry,

Book cover of Family Matters

Rohinton Mistry’s masterwork Family Matters is as precise and delicate and realistic as Rushdie’s work is fantastical and flamboyant, a whisper instead of a shout. This book has a special resonance for me because the main characters are Parsi, a small, unique community in India, followers of the Zoroastrian faith that I was raised in. Mistry’s canvas is deceptively small and domestic—the squabbles of a family over caregiving and physical space—but this belies the emotional power of this moving novel. This is a 19th-century novel transposed to 21st-century India.


Who am I?

I lived in Bombay until I was 21. During my teenage years I had a love-hate relationship with the city, mostly noticing its poverty, the pollution, and the crowds. But as a writer, I have come to love the city for its resilience, its sweet toughness, its heartbreaking beauty. I love reading books by other writers that are set in this endlessly fascinating metropolis of 22 million, each with their own story to tell, stories that float in the air in front of us, ready to be plucked and set on paper. 


I wrote...

Honor

By Thrity Umrigar,

Book cover of Honor

What is my book about?

Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she left the country with no intention of coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves.

Breathless in Bombay

By Murzban F. Shroff,

Book cover of Breathless in Bombay

This collection of short stories by another Parsi writer paints an affection and compassionate picture of the metropolis, as seen from the eyes of its motley crew of residents—a laundryman, a writer, a cab driver. Shroff’s generosity and love for his city come through in every story.

This book, with its powerful evocation of the city and its description of the minutia of everyday life, left me nostalgic and breathless for Bombay.


Who am I?

I lived in Bombay until I was 21. During my teenage years I had a love-hate relationship with the city, mostly noticing its poverty, the pollution, and the crowds. But as a writer, I have come to love the city for its resilience, its sweet toughness, its heartbreaking beauty. I love reading books by other writers that are set in this endlessly fascinating metropolis of 22 million, each with their own story to tell, stories that float in the air in front of us, ready to be plucked and set on paper. 


I wrote...

Honor

By Thrity Umrigar,

Book cover of Honor

What is my book about?

Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she left the country with no intention of coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

By Katherine Boo,

Book cover of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

I absolutely adore this brilliant work of nonfiction by the journalist Katherine Boo. Not only is she a writer’s writer, her powers of observation are only matched by the depth of her compassion for her characters. By spending time with the rag pickers, junk collectors, and other residents who live in a slum located in the shadows of the gleaming new Bombay airport, Boo tells a story about poverty, inequality, police, and political corruption, and the corrosive effects of globalization. The book’s sweep is breathtaking as is its unforgettable portrait of the individual residents and their heartbreaking stories.


Who am I?

I lived in Bombay until I was 21. During my teenage years I had a love-hate relationship with the city, mostly noticing its poverty, the pollution, and the crowds. But as a writer, I have come to love the city for its resilience, its sweet toughness, its heartbreaking beauty. I love reading books by other writers that are set in this endlessly fascinating metropolis of 22 million, each with their own story to tell, stories that float in the air in front of us, ready to be plucked and set on paper. 


I wrote...

Honor

By Thrity Umrigar,

Book cover of Honor

What is my book about?

Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she left the country with no intention of coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves.

Maximum City

By Suketu Mehta,

Book cover of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Mehta’s propulsive, strangely entertaining nonfiction book takes us into subterranean Bombay—into the underworld gangs, the bar dancers, the pavement dwellers. Despite its oft-times grim subject matter, the book exudes an energy and excitement that is reflective of the maximum city itself. As someone who grew up in a genteel, middle-class household in Bombay and was not familiar with the world described by Mehta, this eye-opening book served as a guide to places I have never been and roads I have never traveled.


Who am I?

I lived in Bombay until I was 21. During my teenage years I had a love-hate relationship with the city, mostly noticing its poverty, the pollution, and the crowds. But as a writer, I have come to love the city for its resilience, its sweet toughness, its heartbreaking beauty. I love reading books by other writers that are set in this endlessly fascinating metropolis of 22 million, each with their own story to tell, stories that float in the air in front of us, ready to be plucked and set on paper. 


I wrote...

Honor

By Thrity Umrigar,

Book cover of Honor

What is my book about?

Indian American journalist Smita has returned to India to cover a story, but reluctantly: long ago she left the country with no intention of coming back. As she follows the case of Meena—a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own village and her own family for marrying a Muslim man—Smita comes face to face with a society where tradition carries more weight than one’s own heart and a story that threatens to unearth the painful secrets of Smita’s own past. While Meena’s fate hangs in the balance, Smita tries to right the scales. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. But the dual love stories of Honor are as different as the cultures of Meena and Smita themselves.

House of the Sun

By Meira Chand,

Book cover of House of the Sun

The main character in this novel is really a community – Hindu refugees who fled Pakistan for India at the time of Partition and ended up in a Bombay apartment block called Sadhbela. Many South Asian novels mix tragedy and comedy beautifully, and what I love about this one is how Chand mixes this cocktail within her female characters; as usual, there is more to laugh about in the older women than in the young. Like Gardam, Chand sneaks moving moments of self-awareness into her colourfully flawed protagonists. I’m particularly enamoured of illiterate, superstitious (but nonetheless married to a retired journalist) Mrs. Hathiramani. 


Who am I?

Literary agents often say they are looking for books about ‘quirky’ female protagonists. I’m more entertained by female characters who feel real to me. When I write, I make myself uncomfortable a lot of the time, trying to express the many ways people both disguise and reveal the truth. I blame my devotion to my parents for this because when I left home in Massachusetts for college in the foreign land of Indiana, studied for a year in China, then studied in Italy, then worked in Taiwan, then moved to Japan, and later to Singapore, I wrote them copious descriptive, emotional letters. My parents are gone now, but in a way, I’m still doing that.


I wrote...

Lillian on Life

By Alison Jean Lester,

Book cover of Lillian on Life

What is my book about?

Missouri-born Lillian has lived through the post-WWII decades of change in Munich, Paris, London, and, finally, New York. She has grappled with parental disappointment, society’s expectations, and the vagaries of love and sex. Now in her late fifties, she’s waking up next to her married lover and taking stock.

Lillian on Life paints an honest portrait of a hot-blooded woman whose reflections reverberate originally and unpredictably. Charming, sometimes heartbreaking, and never a stereotype, Lillian offers her own brand of wisdom. You won’t soon forget her.

Shantaram

By Gregory David Roberts,

Book cover of Shantaram

If I were consigned to a deserted island and could choose only one book to bring with me, it would be Shantaram. This is so much more than a fictionalized memoir; it is an epic journey, an exploration of the heart, a pilgrimage of the soul, and a treatise on the human spirit. The writing is flawless, with phrases exquisitely wrought, more poetry than prose. Deeply powerful and moving, this novel epitomizes the essence of humanity in all its triumphs and tragedies. 


Who am I?

Back in the mid-80s, at the tender age of 19, I dropped out of college, and with $800 of hard-earned cash and my bicycle, booked a one-way ticket to Europe. This would be the first chapter of a life of adventure and self-discovery. Through my experiences, I have gained a deeper understanding of the fundamental human qualities which transcend cultural boundaries—in short, the human condition. And what better way to explore the rich and varied tapestry of our collective humanity than through the stories we tell? I hope you enjoy my (far too abbreviated!) eclectic list of books. 


I wrote...

Callisto 2.0: A novel of the future

By Susan English,

Book cover of Callisto 2.0: A novel of the future

What is my book about?

She had to travel beyond the planet to discover her true self. Will she find the courage to walk through the doorway to a new future?

Shambhala Space Station, 2097. When physicist Callisto is recruited to work on faster-than-light technology by a beautiful older woman, she eagerly accepts the opportunity at the women-only research station orbiting Earth’s moon. But her enthusiasm suffers when her first discovery is unexpected heartbreak. Throwing herself into work on a problematic warp drive prototype, Calli blossoms in the utopian female community that shows her love and acceptance for the first time. But when a twisted conspiracy, disingenuous affair, and disastrous betrayal test her place in this unique environment, the brilliant scientist must dig deep to find her moment of truth.

Only the Good Die Young

By Akash Verma,

Book cover of Only the Good Die Young

There are times when we think that we have successfully buried something in our past and it suddenly resurfaces and shocks us. But what if this ‘thing’ wreaks havoc with our lives and turns it topsy turvy? Only the Good Die Young is a taut and gripping sequel to Akash Verma’s thriller, You Never Know. The book unravels beautifully, quite like a web series playing out between the craftily stitched words.

Who am I?

Anurag Anand is a keen observer of humankind. He believes that the diversity of human emotions, motivations, and actions offer him a rich palette of tones to paint his stories with. He is the author of thirteen books across genres like self-help, historical fiction, crime thrillers, and contemporary fiction. Anurag’s works have been lauded for their realism, simplicity, and sharp characterization by readers across the spectrum. Of course, he is an avid reader and likes to remain abreast with the developments in the Indian writing space. He is a familiar face (and voice) in literature festivals, television debates and other related forums across the country.  


I wrote...

To Hell and Back: Not all Tragedies are Orchestrated by Fate

By Anurag Anand,

Book cover of To Hell and Back: Not all Tragedies are Orchestrated by Fate

What is my book about?

A mindless road-rage incident leaves a young and promising entrepreneur dead. Is it an accident, or a cold-blooded murder, planned to absolute perfection? Namrata, a young professional, is enveloped by all the quintessential elements of life in the fast lane a staling marriage, an extramarital affair, and eyes full of dreams until a fun evening turns into a chilling nightmare for her. Renu, a girl living in a world marred by regressive customs and dated practices, has resigned to the patriarchal ways of her world, until they begin to cast their malicious shadows on her unborn child.

Their worlds, although separate, intersect each other in a single strike of tragedy that none could have imagined. Will they be able to get back to their safe and secure lives?

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