King Karna is fried every morning to provide a fakir’s breakfast, but finds that there is a more generous ruler than he; Raja Rasalu becomes a jogi just for a glimpse of the fair Queen Sundaran; a rat thinks he drives a good bargain, but is astonished when his bargaining brings him a bride; and a bulbul pines for green chilies from the garden of a Jinn.
These folktales and many others from all over North India were collected by Flora Annie Steel in the nineteenth century. Today, they are an invaluable snapshot of a bygone era; they evoke the timeless India of myth and legend, peopled with talking animals, powerful fakirs and heroic kings, where anything can happen and usually does.
Charmingly illustrated by John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling, and complete with original verses in Hindi and Punjabi, Shehzadi Mircha: Folktales from the Punjab is a delightful book for adults and younger readers alike.
Much of what we know about the everyday life of the British Raj comes from Rudyard Kipling, one of the keenest observers of nineteenth-century India. He is at his best when writing about the men and women who worked, lived, loved and died together; their indiscretions and foibles; flirtations and passions.
In this collection, we meet some of his most scandalous characters: Pluffles, a young subaltern who is rescued by beautiful Mrs Hauksbee, the toast of Simla, from following abjectly at wicked Mrs Reiver’s ’rickshaw wheels; Major and Mrs Vansuythen, whose arrival in a sleepy little town throws all the other couples, clandestine and legitimate, into disarray; Janki Meah, the blind old miner, whose pretty young wife is more interested in his burly crewmate; and Suket Singh, Sepoy of the Punjab Native Infantry, and Athira, burning in their passion for each other, forever.
In these sparkling, mischievous and touching stories, British India’s bureaucrats, soldiers, grass widows and native wives dance, drink and indulge through the hills of Simla, across small towns scattered from Burma to Coimbatore, and in the opium dens of Lahore. Here, the most entertaining writer of the Raj era is at the top of his form.
In 1909, Augusta Fullam, an English memsahib in Meerut, shocked polite English society by falling in love with Dr Clark, an Anglo-Indian of dubious reputation. Clark had long been unhappy in his marriage and upon meeting her, he instigated the double murder of their respective spouses. They conspired to slowly poison Mr Fullam. Bafflingly, Mrs Fullam described to Clark the effects of the poison on her husband in long, passionate love letters. Mr Fullam eventually died in 1911 in Agra.
Mrs Clark, though, was more poison-proof. So in 1912, a year after Fullam’s death, the desperate pair hired assassins to kill her. While investigating the murder of Mrs Clark the police discovered incriminating evidence against the pair, and arrested them.
In this riveting book, which became a bestseller when it was first published in 1929, Cecil Walsh systematically draws upon Mrs Fullam’s letters to Clark, medical evidence and police and court records to recreate the gruesome murders. The true story of a crime of thwarted passion, The Agra Double Murder gives us fascinating insights into the minds of the perpetrators and a glimpse into life in colonial India.
‘Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a “Somebody”—why my diary should not be interesting.’
The spoof diary of a lower-middle-class London clerk, The Diary of a Nobody was first serialized in the legendary magazine of humour and satire, Punch, in 1888-89. It was published as a book in 1892, and has never been out of print since. This comic masterpiece—which details the doings of the ridiculously pompous and accident-prone Charles Pooter, his wife Carrie and their troublesome son Lupin—has been a source of delight to generations of readers and inspired many celebrated writers, from J.B. Priestley and Evelyn Waugh to Helen Fielding and Sue Townsend.
Mr Abney was found in his chair, his head thrown back… In his left side was a terrible lacerated wound, exposing the heart. There was no blood on his hands, and a long knife that lay on the table was perfectly clean.
M. R. James is one of the greatest writers of supernatural stories from the last century. He has left an enduring legacy, and remains popular not only among generations of readers but also among later writers—from H. P. Lovecraft and John Bellairs to Stephen King and Paul Theroux.
In this selection you will encounter the critic Mr Dunning who, after having rejected a paper on ‘The Truth of Alchemy’, finds himself being followed by an indescribable horror night and day. Mr Garrett, a librarian, is called upon to retrieve a Talmudic text. But, in performing this simple task, he is drawn into the matter of a mysteriously coded will and a murderous uncle. Ann Clark, jilted and murdered by George Martin, comes back from the beyond to send her lover to the gallows. And, after a scholar of pagan rites is found with his chest ripped open, his young cousin understands why the man took him in as an orphan.
Understated, placid surfaces which conceal the stuff of nightmares, the stories in The Creature on the Moonlit Road are some of the best in the genre. Gripping, and full of the most unexpected surprises, this volume is guaranteed to thrill.
There was no striking clock within earshot—none on the staircase, none in the stable, none in the distant church tower. Yet it is indubitable that Mr Dillet was started out of a very pleasant slumber by a bell tolling One…
M. R. James is widely considered to be one of the greatest practitioners of the art of the ghost story. First published at the turn of the twentieth century, he has left a lasting legacy acknowledged not only by readers, but also by many later writers—from H. P. Lovecraft and John Bellairs to Stephen King and Paul Theroux.
In this collection you will find a dolls’ house come to life at precisely 1 a.m. to reveal a tragedy. A man on holiday near the sea finds a whistle; he blows into it one night and finds himself with an unwanted roommate. An art dealer acquires a painting that rearranges itself every few hours to tell him a dreadful story. And an ash tree which stands on the grounds of Castringham Hall could hold the secret to why residents of the Hall die mysteriously, and to what Mrs Mothersole meant when she said, ‘There will be guests at the Hall,’ before being burnt at the stake.
Deceptively normal worlds etched in deft, understated prose, these stories conceal undercurrents which build up to frightening scenes of great visual power. The Haunted Dolls’ House is an unputdownable read—as compelling as it is spine-chilling.
An accomplished scholar and author of the Humayun-nama, Gulbadan Begam was also Babur’s daughter, Humayun’s sister, and Akbar’s aunt.
In this compact biography, Rumer Godden draws upon the Humayun-nama and other records, as well as her own soaring imagination, to create a portrait of the begam and the Mughal Empire as detailed and exquisite as any miniature.
While still a child, Gulbadan travelled from Kabul to Agra, where Babur had established his capital. She grew up in the cloistered world of the zenana, an idyllic existence that was shattered when Babur exchanged his life for Humayun’s. Humayun’s reign was marked by hardship after he lost the Empire and his vast army was reduced to a ragtag band. The Empire was regained but, soon after, Humayun died in a freak accident. He was succeeded by Akbar and it was under him that the Mughal Empire reached its zenith, in territory and in cultural and religious accomplishments.
This rich, broad sweep of history, written from Gulbadan’s point of view, is interspersed with colourful re-creations of goings-on within the zenana and the many diversions and internecine politics of the royal court.
Combining a historian’s rigour with a novelist’s gift for invention, Gulbadan is a timeless classic.
“I will lend it to you,” Subhana said, “so that you can feast your eyes on it.” For two days it adorned the sitting-room of the houseboat. He might have added, “Once it has been in your possession you will find that you can’t live without it.”
The carpet merchant Subhana artfully spins a complex web of charm, enticement and an extended wazwan to make a Persian rug irresistible to a customer. Sister Malone of the Elizabeth Scott Hospital finds her adamantine faith in the power of God and medicine tested when she meets a man quietly but firmly resolved to die. Young Ibrahim of the nomadic Bakriwar tribe, full of fire and sap, descends in a boisterous party from high mountain pastures to fetch his bride home but finds his courage turning to water when he finally meets her. And Miss Annie Passano worries about the comfort of the parrots and the monkey who travel with her and the agony of the bullocks and ponies straining at their harnesses under the hot sun but, when her maid Lily trips and drops a birdcage, cannot stop herself from beating the girl to within an inch of her life.
Compassionate, wise, effortlessly told stories, Indian Dust transcends time and space. This volume is a true classic.
‘What readers ask nowadays in a book is that it should improve, instruct, and elevate. This book wouldn’t elevate a cow… All I can suggest is that when you get tired of reading “the best hundred books”, you may take this up for half an hour. It will be a change.’
A book of essays and observations by one of the finest humorists of all time, Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow has remained a classic since it was first published in the late nineteenth century. Writing on a whimsically diverse range of topics—on being idle (‘It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do’); on memory (‘That is just the way with Memory; nothing that she brings to us is complete’); on being hard up (‘Being poor is a mere trifle. It is being known to be poor that is the sting’); on being in love (‘Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also, like the measles, we take it only once’)—Jerome K. Jerome has delighted readers over generations.
Now part of the Speaking Tiger Ruskin Bond Selections, Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow is a book for all seasons, and comes especially recommended for idle holidays.
A woman’s ghost comes calling for her devoted husband; an amulet hastily given to a British officer saves him from a man-eating tiger; a happily married young woman finds herself reminiscing about someone lost for ever; an ayah sings lullabies to her imaginary charge; and an obnoxious self-made man loses his family in a flash.
Written and set in late-nineteenth-century India, the stories in East of Suez—domestic dramas, shikar stories, hauntings and grand love affairs—chronicle the lives and after-lives of the sahibs and memsahibs of the Raj. Sharply observed and timeless in its evocation of an age long past, East of Suez is a memorable and gripping read.