Tag Archives: The Argumentative Indian

The Non-Fictional Indian

What is it about fiction that attracts more readers as well as writers? Is it the whole idea of “making up” things or the liberty of “exaggerating” normal ideas/scenes of daily life to add more color, flavor and spice to it; or the limitless possibilities of creating a whole new world to explore with words and imagination?
Why is it that not many new-age authors venture into the world of non-fiction with that ease? Does the presentation of actual facts and the accurate details (based on ample of research) baffle and scare them? Or is it the thought of taking the “easier” route? Or does everything ultimately boil down to the “commercial” aspect? Yes, fiction sells more than non-fiction. At least in the literary world.

As I see it, the market is huge for non-fiction as well. But it’s only the experienced few who dare walk “the path less taken”. Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to play safe.

Let’s look at some experienced authors who have braved the route and the hurdles along with.

Nirad C. Chaudhar’s “The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian” is a work of self-discovery and the revelation of a peerless and provocative sensibility. Describing his childhood in the Bengali countryside and his youth in Calcutta—and telling the story of modern India from his own fiercely independent viewpoint—Chaudhuri fashions a book of deep conviction, charm, and intimacy that is also a masterpiece of the writer’s art.

Talking of non-fiction, who can forget Shashi Tharoor, controversy’s very child. His book – “The Great Indian Novel“ is a fictionalized account of Indian history over the past 100 years. It aims to remain true to the original events, including characters such as Gandhi and Mountbatten but it also utilizes characters, incidents and issues from the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. I wouldn’t put this one in the absolutely fiction category.

Angela Sainis “Geek Nation” is an account of India and it’s geeks. Inventors, engineers and young scientists helping to give birth to the world’s next scientific superpower a nation built not on conquest, oil or minerals, but on scientific ingenuity of its people. Colorful characters and gripping stories highlight the fact that though India is looked up on as a spiritual nation, it has its share of science-hungry citizens.

Sudeep Chakravarti‘s “Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country” talks about the Maoist movement – apparently one of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated extreme-left movements. Sudeep Chakravarti combined reportage, political analysis and individual case histories and takes the reader on a heart wrenching journey to areas of extreme destitution, bad governance and perpetual war. A very brave effort.

Basharat Peer’s “Curfewed Night” is a lyrical, gut-wrenching and intimate book with an unforgettable portrait of Kashmir in war. The young journalist writes from experience and touches your very soul with his poetry. And in Khushwant Singh’s words, it is “Beautifully written, brutally honest and deeply hurtful.”

Gurucharan Das‘ “India Unbound” is amongst the only books that offers purely stat-based factual analysis of the Indian economy. It is a narrative account of India from Independence to the global information age, and has been published in over a dozen languages and filmed by BBC.
His other best seller, “The Difficulty of Being Good: On the subtle art of Dharma” examines contemporary moral failures through the lens of the 2000 year old epic, the Mahabharata. Apparently he spent nearly 7 years researching the book at the University of Chicago. It uses quotes from the Mahabharata yet also other ancient works such as the Iliad and cites examples as recent as the financial crisis.

Amartya Sen‘s “The Argumentative Indian” is a collection of essays that discuss India’s history and identity, focusing on the traditions of public debate and intellectual pluralism.

Ashish Bose’s “Headcount: Memoirs of a Demographer” focuses on the population issues of India’s four largest states—Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The acronym ‘BIMARU states’ was coined by Ashish Bose who is considered to be the pioneer of demographic studies in the country. In this book he presents his unique view of modern India with little known facts and insights into the people and events that have shaped independent India. The book is a readable memoir by one of the most important social scientists of modern India.

Narayan Murthy
’s “A Better India, A Better World” shows us that a society working for the greatest welfare of the greatest number—samasta jananam sukhino bhavantu—must focus on two simple things: values and good leadership. Drawing on the remarkable Infosys story and the lessons learnt from the two decades of post-reform India, Narayana Murthy lays down the ground rules that must be followed if future generations are to inherit a truly progressive nation.

Kaushik Basu’s “Beyond The Invisible Hand: Groundwork for a New Economics focuses on the central tenets of economics.

Rashmi Bansal’s “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” is a book full of interviews. 25 IIM grads who broke the shackles of regular societal norms of staying happy with a campus placement or a secure job and went ahead to build empires that continue to inspire many geniuses, make up for some inspirational read.
Then there are biographies of industrialists and people who have led to the economic growth of the nation.

Vinay Bharat Ram’s “From the Brink of Bankruptcy: The DCM Story”, talks about the legendary Lala Shri Ram (Vinay’s grandfather) and gives fascinating insights into how big businesses survive, how family conflicts are resolved, and how luck plays a part in the achievement of corporate objectives.

In the humor section, we have cartoonist Suraj ‘Eskay Sriram’s recent work – “Indira Gandhi –The Final Chapter”, lampoons the political figure through witty cartoons. It draws a satirical portrait of the Indian leader, while humorously depicting certain behind-the-scenes political and social affairs in our country.

Manjula Padmanabhan’s “Double Talk” shows Suki, the central character (a bushy-haired, baggy-clothed free spirit, with neither job nor family to tie her down) whose life was breezily uncluttered, unencumbered and unconventional. Her favorite concerns were bewilderingly abstract and her reference points were usually universal rather than local. The strip garnered rave criticism back then, and now the book represents a selection of the strips that appeared in print from 1982 to 1986.

Sudhir Dar Classics is a collection of cartoons. From acerbic takes on politicians of every hue and hilarious asides on everyday issues that plague us—rising prices, traffic jams and bumpy roads—to side-splitting comments on our national obsessions—cricket, films and TV serials—Sudhir Dar’s masterly brush strokes are guaranteed to keep the laughter ringing.

These authors/cartoonists draw satire by keenly observing the situation and analyzing its effects on the common man –the “aam aadmi”.

Then we have books comes imparting “gyaan” on the importance of staying fit and following a healthy regime.
Rutuja Diwakar’s “Don’t Lost Your Mind, Lose Your Weight” is one major best seller in this category. Of course, with Kareena Kapoor endorsing the work of this fitness guru who helped her attain the much talked about “Size Zero”, this one had to top the charts!

Books on spirituality and religion are aplenty.
Like Swami Tejomayananda’s “The Ah! Wisdom Book” is a collection of real life incidences where Swami Tejomayananda has given the highest wisdon during casual interactions with devotees. In a witty and simple way, his playful statements are instantly engaging, when unraveled, they provide the basic building blocks of everyday life.

Bringing the real Indian to the forefront are works of seasoned authors.
V Raghunathan’s “Games Indians Play – Why We Are the Way We Are” centers around us- Indians. The author uses the props of game theory and behavioural economics to provide an insight into the difficult conundrum of why we are the way we are. He puts under the scanner our attitudes towards rationality and irrationality, selflessness and selfishness, competition and cooperation, and collaboration and deception. Drawing examples from the way we behave in day-to-day situations, Games Indians Play tries to show how in the long run each one of us—whether businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats, or just plain us—stand to profit more if we were to assume a little self-regulation, give fairness a chance and strive to cooperate and collaborate a little more even if self-interest were to be our main driving force.

Pavan K Varma’s “Being Indian – The Truth About Why the 21st Century will be India’s” presents an insightful analysis of the Indian personality and the culture that has created it reaches startling new conclusions on the paradoxes and contradictions that characterize Indian attitudes towards issues such as power, wealth and spirituality.

The corporate world has seen the rise of many self-help books for managers, leaders and employees.
Radhakrishnan Pillai’s “Corporate Chanakya – Successful Management the Chanakya Way” reveals aphorisms or sutras of Chanakya, a 3rd Century BC’s leadership guru par excellence. The author simplifies the age-old formula of success for leaders of the corporate world.

Ashis Nandy’s “The Tao of Cricket – On games of destiny and the destiny of games” focuses on the sport that Indians live for –Cricket.  He analyzes the popular game and profiles legendary figures such as W.G. Grace, Douglas Jardine and Ranjitsinhji.

Rashmi Datt’s “Managing Your Boss” provides valuable insights and practical tips through case studies and examples based on real life experiences of middle and senior managers. The book is really about building an effective and productive relationship with the boss for the good of the employee, the boss and the organization.

Anurag Anand’s first book “Pillars of Success” touches aspects of personality development while his second book “Corporate Mantras” was based on his experiences in the corporate world.

Vineet Bajpai’s “Build From Scratch“, is amongst one of the country’s first books on young entrepreneurship.

Then we have umpteen books revealing the real face of India –the slums!
Gita Dewan Verma’s “Slumming India – A chronicle of slums and their saviours” is a  whistle-blower’s account of the chaos that is urban development; Kalpana Sharma’s “Rediscovering Dharavi: Stories From Asias Largest Slum” is a book that challenges the conventional notion of a slum; Swati Mohanty and L N P Mohanty’s “Slum In India” probes deep into the problems, integrated all connected issues and provided suggestive measures for meeting the challenge. All written with rare sensitivity and empathy also provide facts to support their data.

Talking about reality, A. Revathi’s “The Truth about Me: A Hijra Life Story” (Translated By V. Geetha) is the unflinchingly courageous and moving autobiography of a hijra (eunuch) who fought ridicule, persecution and violence both within her home and outside to find a life of dignity.

So is Sonia Faleiro’s “Beautiful Thing” –the story of Bombay’s dance bars and bar dancers.

Further in the genre of self help books, certain names cannot be missed. Like Shiv Khera, Deepak Chopra, Yogesh Chabria, all who have more than a pile of books ranking amongst the country’s top best sellers.

So you see, most authors, who have ample years of experience backing their work, combined with factual data and deep research churn out insightful non-fictional books.
But I wish the youth of today, with their brilliant writing skills and new narrative techniques, would venture in to this genre, given the kind of exposure they have nowadays.
Truth IS stranger than fiction. I say, give it a try. You might surprise yourself!


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