It’s mid-April, and here in Delhi, where my parents live, it’s already scorching. Time to make for the coolest corners, with books and glasses of iced mango panna.
April is also Dalit history month, and with race and caste still dominant themes of our world, there’s an outpouring of writing, raw and roiling, fiction and non-fiction.
Here are our top four reads from these.
Must-reads: Book 1 of 4
Isabel Wilkerson uses persuasive and punchy prose to examine race in her best selling Caste: The Lies That Divide Us. She travels to India and also investigates Nazi Germany to construct parallels amongst these divisive systems, laying bare their insidious effects on public health, culture and politics. Rip off that sacred thread, it’s a fake crown, she exhorts dominant castes. The price we pay for a caste system is just too high.
Annihilation of Caste is the speech written by BR Ambedkar but never spoken. Now available in paperback, it makes for enthralling reading. Ambedkar advances unsparing arguments against caste, each with lawyerly precision. Go straight to page 180, to the speech and its backstory. Only then move on to the earlier section, an essay by Arundhati Roy.
Must-reads: Book 3 of 4
Manoranjan Byapari had a traumatic childhood in the refugee camps of West Bengal, and later got sucked into the Naxalite movement. But his world changed dramatically when he was taught the alphabet in prison at the age of 24. Afterwards, he worked as a rickshaw puller on the Kolkata streets, where the celebrated writer Mahasweta Devi became his passenger one day and urged him to write his story. The unforgettable result of this is Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit a gritty account translated from Bengali by Sipra Mukherjee.
Must-reads: Book 4 of 4
These stories throb with visceral portraits of characters driven to Dostoevskian desperation. A young railway clerk, a streetwalker, a wrestler, a bereaved mistress are some of the protagonists who feature in these stories. They illustrate, with searing emotional intensity, the price caste exacts. Baburao Bagul’s depiction of Dalit life was originally published in Marathi in 1963 to stunned applause, his stories have been translated into English by Jerry Pinto in 2018. Read Revolt or title story When I Hid My Caste to start with.
Journalist Samanth Subramanian on his favourite Sri Lanka Books
Samanth Subramanian spent a year in Sri Lanka a decade ago, writing This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War. Since then he has moved both genre and geography. However, his connection to this economically embattled island stays strong. We speak to him about his impressions of life on the island and on book recommendations. Edited excerpts:
What are you hearing from your sources in Sri Lanka?
I hear worries about exploding gas cylinders, about the high cost of living, about the country’s future. And these worries are overlaid on the pre-existing worries about human rights, right-wing politics, and the troubles of minorities.
Any book recommendations to understand the current crisis in Sri Lanka?
I don’t think anything has been written that describes this particular situation of dysfunction: too early, after all, for anyone to have put a book together. But a book called And the money kept rolling in (and out) by Paul Blustein about the Argentine economic crash from a couple of decades ago, is a good way to understand the dynamics behind another crisis, and to trace the interplay of local politics, economics, and global finance that lead to such disasters.
What are your top 5 books on Sri Lanka?
Korean Family saga
If the recent Binjin Korean superstar wedding has given you a taste for Korean fare, try this feel-good family saga. Pachinko by Min Lin Lee moves between Korea and Japan and tells the story of several generations, as they make a place in the world. Pachinko or pin ball bars play a big part, also the classic Korean kimchi. If you enjoy this book, there’s a film version too!
Until next week then, happy reading!
Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a book subscription service. Each week we bring you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places.
The views expressed are personal
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