July bookshelf: Seven recent books that challenge set perceptions of reality and history

Sanjeev Kumar: The Actor We All Loved, Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta, Uday Jariwala

The 1970s are considered the golden era of Bollywood. In the decade that revolutionised Hindi cinema, there was one actor who was every director’s favourite artist. When he entered the frame, the audience knew they were witnessing a performance par excellence.

Sanjeev Kumar was the antithesis of the typical Bollywood hero. He was more interested in roles where he would emerge as an actor rather than a “star”. From his sombre roles in films like Mausam and Aandhi and comic roles such as in Angoor to the angst of a person with disabilities in Koshish – Kumar was hailed as the thinking man’s actor. His expressive face, inflections and pauses, and natural ease when lip-syncing to melancholy songs made him the thinking director’s all-rounder.

Written by his nephew Uday Jariwala and Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta, this biography takes us through Sanjeev Kumar’s journey to becoming one of Bollywood’s greatest actors. It brand new perspectives of the actor through the personal essays of his friends and Bollywood legends like Gulzar, Sharmila Tagore, Moushumi Chatterjee, and others.

The Life and Times of George Fernandes, Rahul Ramagundam

George Fernandes (1930-2019) was a revolutionary trade union leader and socialist politician who led the All India Railwaymen’s Federation in May 1974 and convinced its approximately 1.7 million employees to go on a prolonged strike – bringing India to a halt for twenty days. From the early years of fighting for the rights of dock and municipal workers of Bombay, through the Emergency, to his final years as a bed-ridden Alzheimer’s patient, Fernandes’ fights were always persistent and for the common man.

The Life and Times of George Fernandes tells the story of a tenacious rebel, who rose from the streets of Bombay to the ranks of India’s Defence Minister. Ramagundam gives a never-seen-before glimpse into Fernandes’s political evolution and traces the course of the Socialist Party in India from its inception in 1930s to its dissolution into the Janata Party in the late 1970s.

The biography also explores the journey of India’s opposition parties in displacing the long-ruling Congress Party from its preeminent position. This is the first definitive biography of George Fernandes – the man, the legend, and crusader of worker’s rights.

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Lies Our Mothers Told Us: The Indian Woman’s Burden, Nilanjana Bhowmick

Pioneering feminists of India fought for the rights of women – universal suffrage, inheritance and property rights, equal remuneration, prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace, and others. They believed these hard-won rights would give their daughters and granddaughters the opportunity to have rewarding careers, a thriving social and political life, make their own money, and become equal partners in marriage.

We tend to believe that Indian women in the twenty-first century lead a vastly improved life, whereas, in reality, the persistence of capitalism and patriarchal attitudes continues to make women’s lives hard and unequal. Indian women are among the most overworked in the world – they spend on average 299 minutes on housework and 134 minutes on caregiving per day. This amounts to shouldering 82 percent of domestic duties. Alongside a career, women are expected to do most of the housework, childcare, and caregiving. While these problems apply to all women across the country, those in India’s middle class face a unique challenge because middle-class families believe that they are nurturing an environment of empowerment in their homes.

Lies Our Mothers Told Us: The Indian Woman’s Burden takes a close look at the gender inequality that is rampant in India’s middle class – it forces women to do it all while ignoring the deleterious effects on their mental and physical health. Using available data and anecdotal evidence from women across the country, journalist Nilanjana Bhowmick asks if, in our patriarchal society, being a “superwoman” doesn’t come with its own price.

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Memsahibs: British Women in Colonial India, Ipshita Nath

For young Englishwomen stepping off the steamer, the sights and sounds of colonial India were frankly otherworldly. To these women, India became the ultimate destination to find the perfect civil servant husband and a chance to break free of the shackles of Victorian social mores.

The word “memsahib” does not paint a favourable picture – it conjures up visions of silly aristocrats, well-staffed bungalows, and languorous days at the club. Many of these women, by choice, had sought out the uncertainties of life in Britain’s largest, busiest colony.

Memsahibs introduces readers to the likes of Flora Annie Steel, Fanny Parks, and Emily Eden, accompanying their husbands on expeditions, travelling solo across dangerous terrain, engaging in political questions, and recording their experiences. Yet it was not a life of only adventures and challenges. There was disease, great risks to young women travelling alone, and little access to “society”. Away from home and familiar climes, many women suffered terrible trauma and depression. From the hill-stations to the capital, this is a sweeping, vividly written collection of pieces on colonial women’s lives across British India.

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Taranath Tantrik: And Other Tales from the Supernatural, Bhibhutibhushan, translated from the Bengali by Devalina Mookerjee

Our lives are crowded with ghosts. Most are ghosts of ideas, feelings, memories, and they do not leave us alone. But there are other ghosts that are our common fears. Thickening shadows pooling at the corner of the room, unexplained breathing in the dark, the child who steps out of an old photo, the shiver of supernatural frisson, a thin crooked finger of ice tracing its way down your spine…

Devalina Mookerjee recreates the fear and thrill of Taranath Tantrik, the timeless legend created by the master Bengali storyteller, Bibhutibhushan. The borders of reality are porous in this world of the uncanny and the occult.

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Period Matters: Menstruation in South Asia, edited by Farah Ahamed

Menstruation, despite being a fundamental bodily process, is a topic shrouded in fear and shame. There’s a widespread effort to bring conversations about menstruation and menstrual health into the open. Period Matters carries this important endeavour forward by compiling perspectives in the forms of essays, artwork, stories, and poems from policymakers, entrepreneurs, artists, academics, activists, as well as interviews with those at the margins, such as the homeless and menstruators with disabilities. This anthology is a comprehensive study of how menstruation is experienced in South Asia.

The book also showcases menstrala, or art inspired by menstruation. A collection of breathtaking scope and significance, Period Matters illustrates with power, purpose and creativity both the variances and commonalities of menstruation.

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Banaras Talkies, Satya Vyas, translated from the Hindi by Himadri Agarwal

Bhagwandas Hostel at Banaras Hindu University is like any other college hostel, but it also has its unique charms. In the corridors of “BD Hostel” roam Suraj the narrator, whose goal is to woo a girl, any girl; Anurag De, for whom cricket is life; and Jaivardhan, whose melancholia gets him to answer every query with “ghanta”.

Banaras Talkies follows the adventures of the three friends in one of India’s most vibrant colleges as they plan to steal exam papers, struggle to woo women, and forge lifelong bonds amid bad mess food.

First published in Hindi in 2015, Banaras Talkies has remained a bestseller since then. This slice-of-life novel shows what it means to come-of-age in small town India.

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Crime Today News | INDIA


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