Big Cat Tales: Vintage Encounters and Stories

September 11, 2020

‘Pleasure at having secured a magnificent trophy was not unmixed with regret, for never again would the jungle folk and I listen with held breath to his deep-throated call resounding through the foothills, and never again would his familiar pug-marks show on the game paths that he and I had trodden for fifteen years.’

After fifteen years of watching him grow into youth and old age in the forests of Kumaon, Jim Corbett, the fabled hunter-naturalist and writer, shoots a tiger who has become a man-eater. His pleasure-mixed-with-regret at this victory which is also, in the end, murder is the central paradox that makes self-aware shikar literature a compelling exploration of our epic and imperfect existence. This collection of non-fiction and fiction about encounters between humans and big cats in the Indian subcontinent and Africa brings us the best of this genre of literature, with its gripping narratives, unforgettable images and splendid descriptions of wild nature.

Besides Corbett, it includes masters of the genre like J.H. Patterson, who writes about the terror of lions and men in Kenya during the laying of railway lines in the 1890s; Hugh Allen, who had thrilling adventures with tigers and leopards in central India; and Augustus Somerville, who wrote the neglected classic At Midnight Comes the Killer. There are also surprising gems: lyrical and humorous real-life and imagined stories by Mrs W.W. Baillie and Mrs M.A. Handley—two unusual women of the Raj; the naturalist EHA (a founding member of the Bombay Natural History Society); and writers Saki and Dhan Gopal Mukerji. And lest we forget that reluctant hunters were the exception and hunting was mainly about ‘sportsmen’ who delighted in chase and slaughter, there are also accounts of the horrors of shikar.

Compiled by a group of wildlife enthusiasts, this anthology showcases brilliant, old-fashioned storytelling, and some of the finest writing on adventure and wildlife produced over a century.

The Brass Notebook: A Memoir

September 11, 2020

In this no-holds-barred memoir, renowned feminist economist and academician Devaki Jain recounts her own story and also that of an entire generation and a nation coming into its own.

She begins with her childhood in south India, a life of comfort and ease with a father who served as dewan in the Princely States of Mysore and Gwalior. But there were restrictions too, that come with growing up in an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family, as well as the rarely spoken about dangers of predatory male relatives. Ruskin College, Oxford, gave her her first taste of freedom in 1955, at the age of 22. Oxford brought her a degree in philosophy and economics—as well as hardship, as she washed dishes in a cafe to pay her fees. It was here, too, that she had her early encounters with the sensual life. With rare candour, she writes of her romantic liaisons in Oxford and Harvard, and falling in love with her ‘unsuitable boy’—her husband, Lakshmi Jain, whom she married against her beloved father’s wishes.

Devaki’s professional life saw her becoming deeply involved with the cause of ‘poor’ women—workers in the informal economy, for whom she strove to get a better deal. In the international arena, she joined cause with the concerns of the colonized nations of the south, as they fought to make their voices heard against the rich and powerful nations of the former colonizers. Her work brought her into contact with world leaders and thinkers, amongst them, Vinoba Bhave, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Henry Kissinger, Amartya Sen, Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch, her tutor at St Anne’s College, Oxford, who became a lifelong friend.

In all these encounters and anecdotes, what shines through is Devaki Jain’s honesty in telling it like it was—with a message for women across generations, that one can experience the good, the bad and the ugly, and remain standing to tell the story.

Turmeric Nation a Passage Through India’s Tastes

August 20, 2020

What exactly is ‘Indian’ food? Can it be classified by region, or religion, or ritual? What are the culinary commonalities across the Indian subcontinent? Do we Indians have a sense of collective self when it comes to cuisine? Or is the pluralism in our food habits and choices the only identity we have ever needed?

Turmeric Nation is an ambitious and insightful project which answers these questions, and then quite a few more. Through a series of fascinating essays—delving into geography, history, myth, sociology, film, literature and personal experience—Shylashri Shankar traces the myriad patterns that have formed Indian food cultures, taste preferences and cooking traditions. From Dalit ‘haldiya dal’ to the last meal of the Buddha; from aphrodisiacs listed in the Kama Sutra to sacred foods offered to gods and prophets; from the use of food as a means of state control in contemporary India to the role of lemonade in stoking rebellion in 19th-century Bengal; from the connection between death and feasting and between fasting and pleasure, this book offers a layered and revealing portrait of India, as a society and a nation, through its enduring relationship with food.

India Dissents: 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument

August 20, 2020

About the Book:

Throughout Indian history, various individuals and groups have questioned, censured and debated authority—be it the state or empire, religious or political traditions, caste hierarchies, patriarchy or even the idea of god. These dissenting voices have persisted despite all attempts made to silence them. They have inspired revolutions and uprisings, helped preserve individual dignity and freedom, and promoted tolerance and a plurality in thought and lifestyle. India Dissents: 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument brings together some of these voices that have sustained India as a great and vibrant civilization. Collected in these pages are essays, letters, reports, poems, songs and calls to action—from texts ranging from the Rig Veda to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste; by thinkers as varied as the Buddha, Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded, Nanak, Ghalib, Tagore, Gandhi, Manto, Jayaprakash Narayan, Namdeo Dhasal, Mahasweta Devi, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Amartya Sen; and from civil rights movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Dalit Panthers movement, the Pinjra Tod collective and the anti-CAA protests. Their words embody the undying and essential spirit of dissent in one of the world’s oldest and most diverse and dynamic civilizations.

Dilli ki Shaan: Discover Delhi: The Heritage of India’s Capital City

August 20, 2020

About the Book:

Delhi, the capital city of India, is a land of rich and unique heritage. With the Yamuna river flowing through it and the forested Ridge area providing diverse flora and fauna, it is home to a splendid natural heritage. Entire cities have been built within Delhi over the centuries, and each of these cities is filled with distinct architectural marvels. Delhi also has varied and ever-evolving arts, crafts, customs and language, which are its valuable living heritage.

Find out all about Delhi and its thriving heritage in this book. Full of interesting information and exciting activities, Dilli ki Shaan is a must read for everybody.

Shaheen Bagh and the Idea of India: Writings on a Movement for Justice, Liberty and Equality

July 2, 2020

Blurb:

The first comprehensive book on one of the most importantcivil rights movements in the history of Independent India.

On 15 December 2019, police in riot gear stormed Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University and attacked unarmed students protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which makes religion a factor in the process of granting Indian citizenship. In neighbouring Shaheen Bagh, mothers and other relatives and friends of the students came out into the streets in outrage and anguish. They sat on a main road demanding repeal of the CAA, which, twinned with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), could make Indian Muslims aliens in theirown homeland. Within days, similar protests broke out across the country. Free India had never seen anything like it.

Shaheen Bagh and the Idea of India examines how the sit-in by a small group of Muslim women—many of whom had stepped out of their homes alone for the first time—united millions of Indians of different faiths and ideologies in defence of the principles of liberty, equality and secularism enshrined in our Constitution. It also throws up many important questions: Can the Shaheen Bagh protests reverse the damage done to our democracy in recent years? How did the non-violent movement sustain itself despite vilification, threats and persecution by the establishment? Is this movement the beginning of new solidarities in our society? Will it survive the aftermath of the communal violence that devastated northeast Delhi in February 2020, and the witch-hunt that was launched under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown?

This necessary collection comprises interviews with some of the brave women at the core of the protests; ground reports and photographs by journalists like Seema Mustafa, Seemi Pasha, Nazes Afroz and Mustafa Quraishi; and essays by thinkers, writers, lawyers and activists, including Nayantara Sahgal, Harsh Mander, Subhashini Ali, Nandita Haksar, Zoya Hasan, Apoorvanand, Enakshi Ganguly, Sharik Laliwala and Nizam Pasha. It is a book that must be read by everyone who cares about India’s democracy and its future.

Love Is Not a Word: The Culture and Politics of Desire

July 2, 2020

Blurb:

Insightful, informative and entertaining, this is a book that gives a true picture of love and relationships as they exist in India today, and have done over the centuries, from the Kama Sutra to the time of Tinder.
A collection of twelve keen and insightful essays on love and desire. The book gives historical and cultural perspectives on Indian love (swayamvara, arranged marriages, and desi romance); the immortal love of Radha and Krishna that transcends theology; the story of a powerful, sexually desiring and desired courtesan/nagarvadhu. The politics of love is discussed and debated from a variety of angles: from the love jihad campaign against inter-religious marriage, to a critique of the savarna gaze in Indian cultural iconography and its meaning for Dalit women’s bodies and inter-caste love, to India’s legal battle to decriminalize same-sex love, to the subversive threat in single women’s self-love. The book includes intriguing and exquisite portrayals of love in literature, from Urdu shayari and bhasha writing, to the city fictions of love through Rome, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, and back to Delhi, the ancient echoing through the modern. With essays from some of the best writers of our times, including Makarand Paranjpe, Alka Pande, Malashri Lal, Rakshanda Jalil, Mehr Farooqi and Zafar Anjum, this delightful volume certainly suggests that love is not just a word.

Gone Away: An Indian Journal

July 2, 2020

Blurb:

One of the most unconventional travelogues ever written, Gone Away covers three months of Dom Moraes’ life spent in the subcontinent at the time of the Chinese incursions on the Tibetan border in 1959. In that short time, a remarkable number of memorable things happened to him, some of them the sort of fantastic situations that could only enmesh a poet, perhaps only a young poet – a visit to a speak-easy in Bombay; an interview with Nehru and an hour spent closeted with the Dalai Lama in Delhi; and a meeting with the great Nepalese poet, Devkota, whom he found already laid out to die by the side of the holy river Basumati. After a short stay in Calcutta, where he tried, with limited success, to investigate the lives of prostitutes, he went up to Sikkim, the north-eastern border state into which no visiting writer had been allowed for almost a year. Having made his way by jeep right up to the frontier, he ran into a Chinese detachment and was shot at, but escaped to safety.
Full of humour, felicity of phrase and oddity of behaviour, Gone Away communicates the special excitement of the traveller on every page. Unforgettably funny is the account of the Sikkimese soccer match played in an impenetrable mist and involving the loss of several footballs kicked over an adjoining cliff. Yet, though humour and irreverence prevail through the pages, this is a book which catches and holds the mood of modern India and illuminates as much as it entertains.

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.

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