By Saket Suman
New Delhi–The shortest month of the year turned out to be quite a dull one for most readers. While Sourav Ganguly’s “A Century Is Not Enough” and “Do We Not Bleed” by Mehr Tarar did create some buzz, most other books released during the month seem to have gone out of sight. A quick look at the front shelves of bookstores as also the books trending on e-commerce sites shows the disappointment that February was for bookworms.
But IANS recommendations for March will bring cheer. Featuring non-fiction by Romila Thapar; a biography of actor Sanjay Dutt; a politically charged memoir by Taslima Nasrin; a cheeky story of a little girl’s harrowing experiences with public toilets; and finally a powerful collection of stories from Anjum Hasan, these books are sure to be read and talked about widely.
Here are the five books that we can’t wait to read this March:
1. Indian Cultures As Heritage, by Romila Thapar (Aleph)
Every society has its cultures: The patterns that reveal how people live and express themselves, and how they value objects and thoughts. What constitutes Indian heritage and culture has been much discussed. Thapar begins by explaining how the definitions of the concept of culture have changed in the last three centuries, and hence require added attention. Cultures, when defined by drawing on selected items and thoughts from the past, remain relatively unknown, except to a few. Yet, each has a context and meaning relating them to the past and to their significance as a contemporary presence. Contexts, often regarded as unconnected to culture, can, to the contrary, be quite illuminating.
2. A Day in the Life, by Anjum Hasan (Penguin).
Quixotic retirees in Coorg and young newly-weds trying to eat meat; teenage boys travelling to Benares in the nineteenth century and a retiree with an anger-management problem in an India where the right wing is rising. Fourteen well-crafted stories give us a sense of daily Indian life of a wide cast of characters. Hasan’s protagonists are, as always, living in their own heads a lot of the time, often whimsical and vulnerable outliers. Where is their place in the new order, where have they come from and where are they going? Billed by the publisher as “quietly devastating, subtly subversive and wonderfully wry”, Hasan’s stories are increasingly a good address for authentic Indian fiction.
3. Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy, Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy, by Yasser Usman (Juggernaut)
Sanjay Dutt, in the brief of this book, has been dubbed as “the original bad boy of Bollywood”. In the early 1980s, it was not uncommon to find him passed out over the steering wheel of his car on a suburban road of Mumbai after a night of drugs and alcohol. Sanjay’s open love for guns and hard partying, his rippling muscles, long hair and many glamorous girlfriends, including the top actress of that time, defined machismo for a generation of Indian men.
But underneath the tough-guy image there were genuine struggles, too: Both his mother and his first wife died tragically young of cancer, and Sanjay had to go through long and painful periods of de-addiction therapy. In this book, Yasser Usman tells the uncensored story of Sanjay’s roller-coaster life that is stranger than any fiction — from the time he smuggled heroin into the United States and went on a drunken shooting spree at his Pali Hill home after breaking up with his girlfriend to his curious phone calls to gangster Chhota Shakeel and his role in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts.
4. Split, by Taslima Nasrin (Penguin)
Nasrin is known for her powerful writing on women’s issues and uncompromising criticism of religious fundamentalism. “Life felt like a feather at one moment and heavy as a stone the very next. I had never really felt this weight before, the full weight of life, and before I could make sense of things, it had crept down my back and slowly bent my spine. I could not recognise this life; it was mine and yet it was not. Without pausing to consider I had given away everything life had offered to me to another. Later, racked with thirst, I had reached out and found that there was nothing left for me… My life was spread out in front of me like an arid wasteland,” she writes in her upcoming book.
“Split” has a compelling narrative that captures the plight of the eminent Bangladeshi woman writer with freedom of expression and speech at the book’s core.
5. I Need To Pee, by Neha Singh (Puffin)
And finally, why should adults have all the fun? Here is a charming picture book empowering children to speak up about their right to use toilet facilities in a clean and safe environment. Rahi simply loves slurping refreshing drinks, and so she always needs to pee. But boy, does she hate public loos! On her way to her aunt’s in Meghalaya, she has to pee in a train as well as stop at a hotel and even the really scary public toilet at the bus depot! And when those around her refuse to help her with her troubles, her only saviour is her “Book of Important Quotes”.
Travel with Rahi and read all about her yucky, icky, sticky adventures in this quirky and vibrant book about the ever-relevant worry of finding safe and clean public restrooms.