Bells of Shangri-La

January 29, 2019

This title will be available by 15 Feb 2019.

Almost all of the Himalaya had been mapped by the time the Great Game—in which the British and Russian Empires fought for control of Central and Southern Asia—reached its zenith in the latter half of the 19th century. Only Tibet remained unknown and unexplored, zealously guarded and closed off to everyone. Britain sent a number of spies into this forbidden land, disguised as pilgrims and wanderers, outfitted with secret survey equipment and not much else. These intrepid explorers were tasked with collecting topographical knowledge, and information about the culture and customs of Tibet.

Among the many who were sent was Kinthup, a tailor who went as a monk’s companion to confirm that the Tsangpo and the Brahmaputra were the same river. In an arduous mission that lasted four years, Kinthup had many adventures—he was even sold as a slave by the monk—before he returned, having succeeded, only to find that the officers who had sent him, and the family he left behind, were all dead.

Sarat Chandra Das, a schoolmaster, also went on a clandestine mission. He came back in two years, having compiled extensive data and carrying a trove of ancient manuscripts and documents. He went on to become a renowned Tibetologist and Buddhist scholar. All the people who had helped and hosted him in Tibet were either imprisoned or put to death.

Bells of Shangri-La brings to vivid life the journeys and adventures of Kinthup, Sarat Chandra Das and others, including Eric Bailey, an officer who was part of the British invasion of Tibet in 1903, and who later followed in Kinthup’s footsteps to the Tsangpo. Weaving biography with precise historical knowledge, and the memories of his own treks over some of the trails covered by these travellers, Parimal Bhattacharya writes in the great tradition of Peter Hopkirk and Peter Matthiessen to create a sparkling, unprecedented work of non-fiction.

The Lives of Freda

January 29, 2019

This title will be available by 15 Feb 2019.

From the moment she married a handsome young Sikh at a registry office in Oxford in 1933, Freda Bedi, née Houlston, regarded herself as Indian, even though it was another year before she set foot in the country. She was English by birth and upbringing—and Indian by marriage, cultural affinity and political loyalty. Later, she travelled the world as a revered Buddhist teacher, but India would remain her home to the end.
The life of Freda Bedi is a remarkable story of multiple border crossings. Born in a middle-class home in provincial England, she became a champion of Indian nationalism, even serving time in jail in Lahore as a Satyagrahi. In Kashmir in the 1940s, while her husband B.P.L. Bedi drafted the ‘New Kashmir’ manifesto, she assisted underground left-wing Kashmiri nationalists, and joined a women’s militia to defend Srinagar from invading Pakistani tribesmen. In 1959, she persuaded Nehru to give her a role coordinating efforts to help Tibetan refugees who came with the Dalai Lama and immersed herself in the project, setting up a nunnery and a school for young lamas. Some years later, she became the first western woman, and possibly the first woman ever, to receive full ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist nun.
This meticulously researched and superbly written biography does perfect justice to Freda Bedi’s extraordinary life. By interviewing her children and friends, and delving into the family’s extensive archives of letters and recordings—as well as official records and newspaper archives—Andrew Whitehead paints a compelling picture of a woman who challenged barriers of nation, religion, race and gender, always remaining true to her strong sense of justice and equity.

The Political Journey of Imran Khan

December 31, 2018

This revised and updated edition of the best-selling book on the political journey of a hugely popular, colourful and sometimes controversial public figure of Pakistan brings his story up to the present day, when he has beaten all odds to become the Prime Minister of the country. The decisions he makes or defers, the things he does or doesn’t do could have lasting impact on the politics of Pakistan, even India and the rest of South Asia.
It has been, in many ways, an incredible story, and B.J. Sadiq tells it with rare insight, and in compelling style.

Uncertain Journeys

November 30, 2018

The topic of labour migration appears constantly in the media, but too often, the issues take precedence over the people involved—the migrant workers who leave Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to work long hours in precarious situations across the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Here, eleven journalists explore the lived realities of migrant workers from South Asia—their aspirations, fears and dreams; how global forces determine their freedom; how they navigate the policies that attempt to regulate their lives; and their hopes for a better future which carry them through years of unrelenting toil.

Uncertain Journeys asks fundamental questions about the nature and costs of labour migration. Essays about the plight of Indians stranded in Kuwait due to bankrupt employers query whether labour-sending countries can assume that their responsibilities to their citizens abroad end with enabling remittances. The horrifying stories of men and women suffering forced labour, abuse and de facto imprisonment demand whether the blurred borderlines between migration and human trafficking effectively enable modern-day slavery. Most crucially, the book questions whether human beings can be reduced to a mere commodity. Written with empathy, yet with a critical take on the stories being told, this book is an important contribution to the conversation about labour migration in South Asia.

An Imperial Disaster

November 30, 2018

The storm came on the night of 31 October. It was a full moon, and the tides were at their peak; the great rivers of eastern Bengal were flowing high and fast to the sea. In the early hours the inhabitants of the coast and islands were overtaken by an immense wave from the Bay of Bengal—a wall of water that reached a height of 40 feet in some places. The wave swept away everything in its path, drowning over 215,000 people. At least another 100,000 died in the cholera epidemic and famine that followed. It was the worst calamity of its kind in recorded history.

Such events are often described as ‘natural disasters’. In this brilliant study, Kingsbury turns that interpretation on its head, showing that the cyclone of 1876 was not simply a ‘natural’ event, but one shaped by all-too-human patterns of exploitation and inequality—by divisions within Bengali society, and the enormous disparities of political and economic power that characterised British rule on the subcontinent.

With South Asia, especially Bangladesh and India, facing rising sea levels and stronger, more frequent storms, there is every reason to revisit this terrible calamity. An Imperial Disaster is troubling but essential reading: immensely relevant history for an age of climate change.

Stillborn Season

November 1, 2018

Stillborn Season opens with the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October 1984. Brilliantly evoking the homicidal madness of the days which followed, the novel traces the fates of individual and intermeshed lives as mobs spill out onto the streets of Delhi, hunting, maiming and killing Sikh men and women in revenge.
Raiders come at midnight for Jaspreet Singh, an elderly gentleman from South Delhi, and he narrowly escapes with his life after his granddaughter Amrit thinks up an unusual disguise for him. Hari, part of a mob, invades an upscale restaurant in Connaught Place and helps burn the proprietor alive before demanding a bespoke meal from the chef. Balbir, hiding inside a cabinet in his store in Punjabi Bagh, bears witness to Hari being gunned down by his store-assistant. And Bhola, a young disabled beggar at the busy Bhikaji Cama intersection, keeps a Sikh father and son from being lynched.
Then, moving forward in time, the novel finds Amrit, now a young journalist, talking to people to understand the violence that scarred her childhood. She learns how the books of Nai Sarak were saved because Rikhi Chacha, a Sikh book-lover, gave up his life for them. At the house of Satwant, a Sikh taxi-driver, she pays the cost of dredging up memories in people who would rather forget them. And Balwant Mann, a retired constable of Delhi Police, divulges more about his role in the riots to her than he intends to.
Rarely has a work of fiction captured the violence of 1984 with as much empathy and on such an expansive canvas. Stillborn Season is a must read.

Beloved Delhi

August 29, 2018

Urdu poetry rules the cultural and emotional landscape of India—especially northern India and much of the Deccan—and of Pakistan. And it was in the great, ancient city of Delhi that Urdu grew to become one of the world’s most beautiful languages. Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the Mughal Empire was in decline, Delhi became the capital of a parallel kingdom—the kingdom of Urdu poetry—producing some of the greatest, most popular poets of all time. They wrote about the pleasure and pain of love, about the splendour of God and the villainy of preachers, about the seductions of wine, and about Delhi, their beloved home.
This treasure of a book documents the life and work of the finest classical Urdu poets: Sauda, Dard, Mir, Ghalib, Momin, Zafar, Zauq and Daagh. Through their biographies and poetry—including their best-known ghazals—it also paints a compelling portrait of Mughal Delhi. This is a book for anyone who has ever been touched by Urdu or Delhi, by poetry or romance.

The Engaged Observer

August 29, 2018

For over four decades, Shanta Gokhale has entertained, informed and challenged us with her insightful, witty and forthright writing in both English and Marathi. With rare objectivity and consistency, Gokhale has tried to decode our unique social etiquette while subtly exposing our hypocrisies, and celebrated tradition-defying women while forcefully criticizing the patriarchal and misogynistic structures of society. Her essays on theatre not only illustrate its evolution in India, but also provide arresting portraits of theatre personalities such as Satyadev Dubey, Vijay Tendulkar and Veenapani Chawla. And her detailed yet accessible articles on Indian classical music are a delight to read.
In her short stories, she shapeshifts effortlessly from old men to teenage boys and college students. And finally, her two takes on Shakespeare show us how the Bard’s ideas continue to remain relevant and, more importantly, how little attention he paid to his women characters.
Candid, intense and often humorous, The Engaged Observer is also an invaluable record of the social, political and cultural changes that have taken place in Bombay, Mumbai and beyond.

Strike a Blow to Change the World

July 27, 2018

Eknath Awad was a rare Dalit Mang activist from the Marathwada region of Maharastra, who fought for the rights of all underprivileged communities, irrespective of their caste or religion. In his compelling autobiography, Awad describes his rage against the humiliation of the Mangs by the upper castes; and his struggle to overcome caste prejudices as well as extreme poverty to get an education. He revisits his heady days of activism: rejecting caste-based labour and religious practices by cutting the Potraj’s dreadlocks; joining the Dalit Panthers; being at the forefront of the Land Rights Movement; battling to rename Marathwada University after Dr Ambedkar; and working with an NGO in Thane that helped free Adivasis from bonded labour. He writes about his decision to return to Marathwada, where he continued to fight against caste-based discrimination until his death. Awad doesn’t shy away from admitting his shortcomings, such as his tendency to resort to violence to settle disputes. He also recounts the casteism he faced from other Mangs, and his pain and disillusionment after some of them attempted to kill him.
Originally published in Marathi as Jag Badal Ghaluni Ghaav, Jerry Pinto’s remarkable translation makes this inspiring book available in English for the first time.

Looking for the Nation

July 27, 2018

This urgent and compelling book comes at a time when toxic nationalism is causing the violent and systematic exclusion of political, religious, sexual and other minorities. Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee reminds us that the modern nation-state, built on fear and an obsession with territory, is often at odds with democracy, justice and fraternity.
Critically analyzing the ideas of thinkers who laid the political and ethical grounds of India’s modern identity—Nehru, Ambedkar, Gandhi, Tagore, and Aurobindo—Bhattacharjee shows how we have strayed from their inclusive, diverse visions. He effortlessly weaves personal and intellectual histories, navigating through vast swathes of scholarship, to sketch a radically ethical imagination against the sound and fury of nationalism. He dips into fascinating anecdotes, recalling Ashok Kumar’s friendship with Manto against the shadow of Partition, Ali Sardar Jafri’s Jnanpith Award acceptance speech, and his own encounter with the Sufi qawwal, Fareed Ayaz, among others. Concluding with an enlightening genealogy of modern politics in the light of its present crisis, he exhorts us towards a new politics of trust.
Brimming with thought-provoking analyses and commentary, Looking for the Nation is an extraordinary and illuminating account of India’s politics and culture.

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