Before travel, technology, Pop-culture became the new hype, the most favorite pastime was reading books. Even today, though we have so many distractions reading a book always remains invaluable. Reading a book about a different country, its traditions, cultures, people, history, food and music that can change your perception about that place, and maybe in some way change your own life as well.
Every time before take-off to an excursion we like to skim throughas much information as available about it. We want to be prepared, we want to know the cultures, the food, the art and music and the destinations. There is no other better approach than to get energized for your trip than immersing yourself in the books written about the country. When it comes to India, there is a large platter of novels published ranging from history to the modern culture to its amazing travel journeys.
Before you travel across India, there are a few things that you have to understand. There are certain concepts that are considered very sensitive, while there are different perspectives to every religion India is a secular country with one of the most diverse population. These novels are the virtual tour that helps you get prepared for the travel without leisure, gets your mind open to exploring the unknown and gives you a better understanding of the country.
India, a country with a history that goes centuries back, habituating people with two thousand ethnicities, one could spend a lifetime reading everything about this subcontinent. But we have compiled the best list of 25 books that you should read before going to India, all of which are personal recommendations, but it is by no means definitive! The list is a variety of genre all connected to one point, India… all should be pretty handy to first-time travellers to India.
25. Passage to India, E M Forster
Forster’s Passage to India reflects on the deeply rooted conflicts about religion, socio-cultural and psychological perspective. The time setting is from the time when the British had colonised India. This book is a prime example of breaking the daunting religious stereotypes that still stand relevant in society. The book is the first example of liberal humanism, as the book is about a friendship between a Muslim and British.
A Passage to India shows the necessity of looking beyond the racial stereotypes, cultural beliefs and religion. Forster gives us a fresh look into the concepts of equality and tolerance and the importance of having a voice of your own.
24. Women of the raj, Margaret Macmillan
In the nineteenth century, the British ruled over Indian subcontinent under the name of ‘The Raj’. The British rulers left their home and came to the land of mystery along with their families, where they attempted to replicate their society.
This novel is a fascinating portrait of the women of the Rajs, how they had to be separated and travel far from their own families. The author talks about how these women would entertain themselves through games and theatrics and abide by the rules of hierarchy.
23. City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, William Dalrymple
Dalrymple, a well-known travel writer, bagged a Thomas Cook Travel book award for City of Djinns in 1994. This novel is a travelogue about the historical capital of India, Delhi. This book revolves around the culture of the city, its people, how he explored the hidden parts of India and various anecdotes from the time; which is unlike his common writing that is mainly about the history of India.
22. Love Jaipur, Rajasthan, Fiona Caulfield
‘Love, Jaipur, Rajasthan’ is an authentic book that includes authentic experiences from the cities of Jaipur, Agra, Jaisalmer, Jawai, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Pushkar, Ranthambore and Udaipur. This book is a must-have that any traveller of Rajasthan craves. Caulfield has curated this book as your luxurious vagabond guide to eat, drink, shop, stay, be pampered, get fit and explore Rajasthan.
This book is a must-have if you want to backpack or have luxurious tour across the state of Rajasthan.
21. Mr Iyer Goes to War, Ryan Lobo
Ryan’s Mr Iyer Goes to War is more of a modern-day retelling of Don Quixote. The characters give us a look into the depth of communities and the evident caste system through funny fiction. At the same time, the references from mythology stand as a viewpoint of understanding historical backgrounds. This book is perfect for you to understand this region, get to know its religion and culture in a funny and relatable way.
20. Daughter of Empire: My Life as a Mountbatten, Lady Pamela Hicks
For a person who always has a love for history, ‘Daughter of Empire’ is an autobiography of Lord Louis Mountbatten’s daughter Lady Pamela Hicks. This book gives you a very raw and personal glimpse into the Mountbatten family’s lives. The book also provides you with a front-row seat spectator into the world-changing events, its happenings and aftermath.
This book is more about the history of how India became Independent. The book accounts one of the most historical events that Lady Pamela Hicks got to witness that eventually led to India’s freedom.
19. Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure, Sarah Macdonald
Macdonald’s Holy Cow is a journal to her spiritual journey. The hilarious chronicles of adventures and chaos, encounters with different ethnicities, revitalising yourself with yogis and swamis and catching up with some Bollywood. Although the book starts off on a note of hatred towards India, the gradual progression towards the spiritual journey will make you ick your backpack up and see the majestic Kumbh Mela.
18. Made in Kolkata, Fiona Caulfield
If you want a modern-day guide to the city of Kolkata, Fiona Caulfield’s Made in Kolkata is a perfect guide. The book is a personal account of her experience while travelling in Kolkata, where the author gives history and background of each business. The guide takes you through the plush streets to downtown alleys of Kolkata, focusing on chaotic markets and ambient environment.
17. The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple
Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal is a detailed look into the fall of Mughal reign. The book vividly paints the pictures of the brutality of British retribution and the pathetic end of Mughal dynasty in your mind. This book is best to refer to understand the most essential part of Indian history, the influence of Mughals on our culture and the most magnificent monuments that stand tall aesthetically.
The Hindus: An Alternative History, Wendy Doniger
Wendy Doniger has taken a different perspective in the enchanting religion of Hinduism through the lens of women and Dalits. Due to its controversial front, it received a lot of backlash by the right-wing Hindu groups, and many copies were burned down. But this only boosted the sales of the book. Doniger’s witty humour and insight in one of the world’s complex religion is truly a must-read.
Around India in 80 trains, Monisha Rajesh
India is a country with one of the most crucial railway connections around the country, and this book gives a high setting to the railways of India. There is always something magical about travelling across a country through railways, the vivid experiences and the calming sceneries are the best. Rajesh’s funny writing and informed perspective help you to understand how relevant this experience is.
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love is a perfect example of ‘finding yourself’ while exploring the unknown. This book is a journal of a woman goes for a search for herself and everything across three countries – Italy, India and Indonesia. Its a narrative about her excursion after her divorce and what she found amid this search.
Salaam Bombay!, Mira Nair
Salaam Bombay is a heartbreaking story about a boy from the streets of Mumbai, who befriends drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes and thugs for his hopeless dream of earning money and finally meeting the mother who sold him to the circus. It’s a day-to-day chronicle of the life of children in the slums of Mumbai, with the most realistic, raw and gripping narrative.
This book was also adapted as a motion picture and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards.
India: A Portrait, Patrick French
French’s India is more of a contemporary study on India assessing its democratic workings, the flush economy, enduring poverty, religious fractures, glaring caste system and savvy genius – all backed by a collective of portraits of Indian people be it the workers, A-list stars or corrupt politicians.
The book is cleverly divided into three parts – Rashtra (Nation), Lakshmi (Wealth) and Samaj (Society). These three parts are more like a connect-the-dots manner in a confounding puzzle.
Following Fish, Samanth Subramanian
Subramanian’s Following Fish is an elegant, charming and slender volume that depicts the relationship between the fish and coastal lines of the subcontinent. It perfectly captures the warmth and taste of coastal regional delicacies. If you are planning to travel to the south of India, this book is a must-read!
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
Kim is another classic novel just as Passage to India. Kipling’s Kim is a story about an Irish boy named Kim born in Lahore, who later joins an old monk to a pilgrimage across India. As the story gradually unfolds, he understands the Indian life, gets involved in ‘Great Game’ and reaches manhood.
India After Gandhi, Ramchandra Guha
This book by Guha is a kind of a textbook that offers a complete overview of the post-independence era of India. The book starts from Independence and gradually covers the liberalization period of the 1990s that shaped modern India of the 21st century.
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Roy’s ‘God of small things’ is set in Kerala in the late 1960s when the country was going through significant political and socio-cultural changes. This book tackles the subjects of family, politics and religion, and shows its glaring effects on culture and society.
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
Adiga’s The White Tiger talks about the issues in contemporary society of India through the charismatic and funny pseudo of a Delhi chauffer and paints you the blistering picture of Indian democracy – vote-buying, bribery, kickbacks and all.
Maximum City, Suketu Mehta
If you are unsure what to expect from the city of Mumbai, this book is an excellent guide for that. Mehta, a seasoned journalist, with excellent skills of research, has portrayed the vibrance of this city. The book is a curated compilation of many interviews from different walks of life, including gangsters, right-wing politicians, policeman, street poets and many more.
Sacred Games, Vikram Chandra
Chandra’s Sacred Games is a literary investigation in procedure in the red heart city of India, Mumbai. This book is a part-thriller about a Sikh policeman and a tortured crime lord connected by an array of extraordinary characters—a terrific read to understand the working of the underworld, the over-working policeman and the manipulating politicians.
Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
Robert’s Shantaram is an escape story of an Australian outlaw who comes to India. This books vividly depicts his struggles and encounters in Mumbai slums, running off to remote towns and Artur Road prison. This book is like a very elaborate and thick lonely planet city guide. Anyone curious about the inner parts of Mumbai from a stranger’s point-of-view must read this book.
A suitable boy, Vikram Seth
A Suitable Boy is set in a middle-class Indian house during the post-independence, post-partition times. The book revolves around a girl who is forced to choose to marry between three suitors, and the book unfolds in a very soap-opera-like feature. A fun fact about the book is that the book is 1500 pages long, which is the longest English language book ever published.
Karma Cola, Gita Mehta
This book is like a study on the different social impacts that the West and the east have on each other. It gives an elaborative overview of how India searches to the West for the innovations and advanced techniques, and how the West looks at India for insight and illumination.
A fine balance, Rohinton Mistry
A fine balance is one of the most bighearted books by Rohinton Mistry. The book is about two village tailors who come to the city with a hope to find work during the emergency period between 1975 and 1977, when Indira Gandhi government suspended individual rights and the right to practice democratic elections, resulting in widespread abuse.