New-For-2023 List From HarperCollins India: The Books We Want

From Ratan Tata to Subhas Chandra Bose and from Bombay to Kashmir, this list has something for most readers who love well-written non-fiction. A S Dulat’s memoir looks promising, as does Prakash Magdum’s book on newsreels, documentaries and films made on Mahatma Gandhi. Bring ’em on, HarperCollins!

Ratan Tata: A Life, by Thomas Mathew

Ratan Tata is, without doubt, by far the most inspiring industrialist-businessman in India. Listening to him speak, with his crisp, precise diction and absolute clarity of thought, is a privilege. Yes, we’re fans of Mr Tata, and Thomas Mathew’s book looks quite promising.

‘Starting out as a novice on the shop floor of a Tata company, Ratan Tata achieved an unequalled growth rate for the Tata Group as chairman and took India to the world through global acquisitions, overcoming many serious challenges along the way. This fascinating biography traces Ratan Tata’s years in immaculate detail, from his lonely childhood to his irrepressible youthful exuberance, from his first major role in the Tatas to being appointed chairman of the group in 1991 and to his role today as the head of Tata Trusts, India’s largest philanthropic enterprise. It is as much a story of determination and an unwavering commitment to enduring principles and values as it is a testament to achieving unprecedented corporate success,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Drawing on unfettered access to Ratan Tata, his personal documents and the group’s records, and filled with previously unknown facts, anecdotes and the author’s insights, this is a comprehensive account of a life the likes of which the world has seldom seen,’ it adds. It’s 760 pages long, but should be well worth it.

Revolutionaries : The Other Story of How India Won Its Freedom, by Sanjeev Sanyal

‘The history of India’s struggle for freedom is usually told from the perspective of the non-violent movement. Yet, the story of armed resistance to colonial occupation is just as important. Names such as Vinayak Savarkar, Aurobindo Ghosh, Rashbehari Bose, Bagha Jatin, Sachindra Nath Sanyal, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and Subhas Chandra Bose are still widely remembered. Revolutionaries tells their story, one that is replete with swashbuckling adventure, intrigue, espionage, incredible bravery, diabolical treachery and shockingly unpredictable twists of fate,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Their story is almost always presented as acts of individual heroism and not as part of a wider movement that had any overarching strategy or significant impact on the overall struggle for Independence. In reality, the revolutionaries were part of a large network that sustained armed resistance against the British Empire for half a century. They not only created a wide network inside India but also established nodes in Britain, France, Thailand, Germany, Persia, Russia, Italy, Ireland, the United States, Japan and Singapore. At various points, they received official support and recognition from the governments of some of these countries. This was no small-scale movement of naive individual heroism but one that involved a large number of extraordinary young men and women who were connected in multiple ways to each other and to the evolving events of their times,’ it adds. Sounds exciting, right? We’re sold.

A Life in the Shadows : A Memoir, by A S Dulat

No Indian spymaster has, until now, written a memoir. A S Dulat is the first to do so, and in A Life in the Shadows he does it with considerable elan. He is one of India’s most successful spymasters, his name synonymous with the Kashmir issue. His methods of engagement and accommodation with all people and perspectives from India’s most conflicted state are legendary. The author of two bestselling books, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years (2014) and The Spy Chronicles: R&AW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace (2018), Dulat’s views on India, Pakistan and Kashmir are well-known and sought after. Yet very little is known about him, primarily because the former spymaster has been notoriously private about his personal life.

‘In this unusual and unique memoir, Dulat breaks that silence for the first time. This is not a traditional, linear narrative as much as a selection of stories from across space and time. Still bound by the rules of secrecy of his trade, he tells a fascinating story of a life richly lived and insightfully observed. From a Partition-bloodied childhood in Lahore and New Delhi to his early years as a young intelligence officer; from meetings with international spymasters to travels around the world; from his observations on Kashmir-political and personal-post the abrogation of Article 370, to his encounters with world leaders, politicians and celebrities; moving from Bhopal to Nepal and from Kashmir to China, Dulat tells the story of his life with remarkable honesty, verve and wit,’ says the publisher’s note. Forget Ian Fleming, this is the ‘Bond’ we want to read about in 2023.

Update: Here is our review of this book

A Dismantled State : The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370, by Anuradha Bhasin

A Dismantled State is a brave chronicle by Anuradha Bhasin, one of Kashmir’s foremost journalists, and is crucial to understanding what happened in the Kashmir Valley after August 2019. On 5 August 2019, the status of Jammu and Kashmir was altered by revoking Articles 370 and 35A, constitutional clauses that gave the region a sliver of autonomy since its accession to India in 1947. On the ground in the erstwhile state, the destiny of 1.4 crore Indian citizens had been decided while they were cocooned in their homes, trapped between concertina wires and barricades. Petitions challenging the abrogation are yet to be heard by the Supreme Court.

The home minister announced, ‘Not a drop of blood was shed’, even as officials defined Kashmir’s deafening silence as ‘willing acceptance’. The silence was accompanied by increased military presence in what was already one of the most militarized zones of the world. Roads were sealed, the internet suspended and communication brought to a halt. Kashmir became a war zone in the dead of night,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Traversing history and geographies, and based on eyewitness accounts from a range of people, it tells the story of a land India desperately wants to make its own. Urgent, fearless and revealing, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Indian democracy’s turn towards authoritarianism,’ it adds. Anyone who wants to know what’s really going on in Kashmir should probably just read this book.

The Mahatma on Celluloid : A Cinematic Biography, by Prakash Magdum

This one looks really intriguing. ‘Mahatma Gandhi remains one of the most photographed and filmed persons in the world. The camera loved him, and followed him like a shadow throughout his life. Yet, despite being a public communicator par excellence, Gandhi chose not to use the then newest form of art-cinema. He was steadfast in his belief that it was a bad influence,’ says the publisher’s note. From A K Chettiar’s Mahatma Gandhi: Twentieth-Century Prophet to Attenborough’s Gandhi, The Mahatma on Celluloid unravels many unknown facts about the newsreels, documentaries and films made on Gandhi. Based on extensive research, the book also includes excerpts and anecdotes from interviews with filmmakers like Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah, Jahnu Barua, Feroz Abbas Khan and Girish Kasarvalli who share their insights on the Mahatma’s enduring tryst with cinema,’ says the publisher’s note. Should be an excellent read.

Bombay after Ayodhya : A City in Flux, by Jitendra Dixit

‘The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992 was followed by riots across India. Mumbai had always been susceptible to communal violence, but the violence in December 1992 and then again in January 1993 was unprecedented. Two months later, in March, serial blasts rocked the city, killing over 250 and injuring 700. Communal strife was followed by gang wars and natural calamities, all of which changed the city forever. Bombay after Ayodhya chronicles how the past three decades have been a period of unprecedented flux in Mumbai. In the aftermath of the riots, a split in the Mumbai underworld led to new equations in politics, which changed the demography of the city and led to the rise of new townships,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Jitendra Dixit grew up in Mumbai and has reported from the city for much of the three decades he writes about in this book. This is a deeply felt biography of a city, which has transformed from a city of mills to one of malls, where the number of skyscrapers has multiplied along with their height, where local trains have become longer and yet remained overcrowded. It is the city of Bollywood, yet constraints of producing films in the city have led filmmakers to move out. Its iconic festivals, such as Ganesh Utsav and Govinda, once primarily celebrated by the poor and the middle class, have become commercialized. Along with key events and people that have shaped the evolution of present-day Mumbai, Bombay after Ayodhya also documents the change in the city’s character, from its physical appearance and civic issues, to real estate and politics,’ it adds. Sounds deeply interesting – a must-read.

Update: Here is our interview with the book’s author, Jitendra Dixit

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