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Books to Read Before Travelling to India

books to read before travelling India

Books to help you understand Indias cultural differences

India is a crazy, crazy, but wonderful place. It will confuse you to no ends. You'll constantly have questions and never really understand the answers because sometimes there is no logic as to how and why things happen. This is one of the magical things about India. It really is a place like no other. These books will take you to a new understanding. Whilst it will never help you understand everything, these books may give you a heads up on the culture and what to expect.

A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes

A Strange Kind of Paradise is an exploration of India's past and present, from the perspective of a foreigner who has lived in India for many years. Sam Miller investigates how the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, Arabs, Africans, Europeans and Americans -- everyone really, except for Indians themselves -- came to imagine India.

 

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects--the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country's huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world" (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times, U.K.).

A Fine Balance

Set in the mid-1970s in India, A Fine Balance tells the story of four unlikely people whose lives come together during a time of political turmoil soon after the government declares a 'State of Internal Emergency'. Through days of bleakness and hope, their circumstances - and their fates - become inextricably linked in ways no one could have foreseen.

To understand collonialism

Colonialism is a huge part of India's history. To understand a place's history, means you have a better connection with the how's and why's of their current culture.

A Passage to India

Among the greatest novels of the twentieth century and the basis for director David Lean’s Academy Award-winning film, A Passage to India tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century. In exquisite prose, Forster reveals the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair.

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India


In 1930, the American historian and philosopher Will Durant wrote that Britain’s ‘conscious and deliberate bleeding of India… [was the] greatest crime in all history’. He was not the only one to denounce the rapacity and cruelty of British rule, and his assessment was not exaggerated. Almost thirty-five million Indians died because of acts of commission and omission by the British—in famines, epidemics, communal riots and wholesale slaughter like the reprisal killings after the 1857 War of Independence and the Amritsar massacre of 1919.

Freedom at Midnight

On 14 August 1947 one-fifth of humanity claimed their independence in India. But 400 million people were to find that the immediate price of freedom was partition and war, riot and murder. In this reconstruction, Collins and Lapierre recount the eclipse of the British Raj and examine the roles enacted by, among others, Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Mountbatten in its violent transformation into the new India and Pakistan.

To make you feel like you are in India

Kim by Rudyard Kipling Unabridged 1901 Original Version


This novel tells the story of Kimball O' Hara (Kim), who is the orphaned son of a soldier in the Irish regiment stationed in India during the British Raj. It describes Kim's life and adventures from street vagabond, to his adoption by his father's regiment and recruitment into espionage.

To understand the superstitious side of India

Midnight's Children: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)

Born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India's independence, Saleem Sinai is a special child. However, this coincidence of birth has consequences he is not prepared for: telepathic powers connect him with 1,000 other 'midnight's children' all of whom are endowed with unusual gifts.

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard: A Novel

Sampath Chawla was born in a time of drought that ended with a vengeance the night of his birth. All signs being auspicious, the villagers triumphantly assured Sampath's proud parents that their son was destined for greatness.

Twenty years of failure later, that unfortunately does not appear to be the case. A sullen government worker, Sampath is inspired only when in search of a quiet place to take his nap. "But the world is round," his grandmother says. "Wait and see! Even if it appears he is going downhill, he will come up the other side. Yes, on top of the world. He is just taking a longer route." No one believes her until, one day, Sampath climbs into a guava tree and becomes unintentionally famous as a holy man, setting off a series of events that spin increasingly out of control. A delightfully sweet comic novel that ends in a raucous bang, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard is as surprising and entertaining as it is beautifully wrought.

To understand Modern India

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha


Among the greatest novels of the twentieth century and the basis for director David Lean’s Academy Award-winning film, A Passage to India tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century. In exquisite prose, Forster reveals the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair.

Holy Cow by Sarah Mcdonald

Holy Cow is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, of encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians and a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars. From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs, it is a journey that only a woman on a mission to save her soul, her love life—and her sanity—can survive. (less)

To understand Religon

The Hindus: An Alternative History

An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth, The Hindus offers a new way of understanding one of the world's oldest major religions. Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a strictly chronological account. Many of its central texts cannot be reliably dated within a century; its central tenets arise at particular moments in Indian history and often differ according to gender or caste; and the differences between groups of Hindus far outnumber the commonalities. Yet the greatness of Hinduism lies precisely in many of these idiosyncratic qualities that continues to inspire debate today. This groundbreaking work elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds, the inner life and the social history of Hindus.

The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic

India's most beloved and enduring legend, the Ramayana is widely acknowledged to be one of the world's great literary masterpieces. Still an integral part of India's cultural and religious expression, the Ramayana was originally composed by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki around 300 b.c. The epic of Prince Rama's betrayal, exile, and struggle to rescue his faithful wife, Sita, from the clutches of a demon and to reclaim his throne has profoundly affected the literature, art, and culture of South and Southeast Asia—an influence most likely unparalleled in the history of world literature, except, possibly, for the Bible. Throughout the centuries, countless versions of the epic have been produced in numerous formats and languages. But previous English versions have been either too short to capture the magnitude of the original; too secular in presenting what is, in effect, scripture; or dry, line-by-line translations. Now novelist Ramesh Menon has rendered the tale in lyrical prose that conveys all the beauty and excitement of the original, while making this spiritual and literary classic accessible to a new generation of readers.

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Vintage Departures)

From the author of The Last Mughal, an enlightening book that explores with remarkable compassion and expansive insight nine varieties of religious devotion in India today.

In portraits of people we might otherwise never know William Dalrymple distills his twenty-five years of travel in India to explore the challenges faced by practitioners of traditional forms of faith in contemporary India. For two months a year, a man in Kerala divides his time between jobs as a prison warden and a well-builder and his calling as an incarnate deity. A temple prostitute watches her two daughters die from AIDS after entering a trade she regards as a sacred calling. A Jain nun recalls the pain of watching her closest friend ritually starve herself to death.

Together, these tales reveal the resilience of individuals in the face of the relentless onslaught of modernity, the enduring legacy of tradition, and the hope and honor that can be found even in the most unlikely places.

Siddhartha: A Novel

Siddhartha is an allegorical novel by Hermann Hesse which deals with the spiritual journey of an Indian boy called Siddhartha during the time of the Buddha. The book, Hesse's ninth novel, was written in German, in a simple, yet powerful and lyrical, style. It was first published in 1922, after Hesse had spent some time in India in the 1910s. It was published in the U.S. in 1951 and became influential during the 1960s.

Before travelling to Mumbai

Shantaram: A Novel

Shantaram is a 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, in which a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison flees to India. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay.

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs, following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse, opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood, and delving into the stories of the countless villagers who come in search of a better life and end up living on the sidewalks.

To understand the vast craziness of India

Lion: A Long Way Home Young Readers' Edition


Saroo had become lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a couple in Australia.
Despite being happy in his new family, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. When he was a young man the advent of Google Earth led him to pore over satellite images of the country for landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for.
Then he set off on a journey to find his mother.

Empire of the Soul: Some Journeys in India

Paul William Roberts's journeys through India span twenty years, and in Empire of the Soul, he creates a dazzling mosaic, by turns tragic and comic, of the subcontinent and its people. From the crumbling palaces of maharajas to the slums of Calcutta; from the ashrams of holy men to a millionaire drug dealer's heavily guarded fortress on India's border with China, Roberts captures the lure of this enigmatic land?this empire of the soul. "India is a harsh mistress," he writes. "She seems to appreciate individual sacrifice so little. Yet she has never wanted for lovers..."

Around India in 80 Trains

When she was a child, Monisha Rajesh's family uprooted to Madras in the hope of making India their home, but soon returned to England with a bitter taste in their mouths. Two decades on, Monisha turns to a map of the Indian Railways and takes a page out of Jules Verne's classic tale, embarking on an adventure around India in 80 trains, covering 40,000km - the circumference of the Earth.

To understand the cast system

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger follows a darkly comic Bangalore driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. “This is the authentic voice of the Third World, like you've never heard it before”

Tell A Thousand Lies

In a land where skin colour can determine one's destiny, fraternal twins PULLAMMA and LATA are about to embark on a journey that will tear their lives apart.

To understand the hippy trail influence in India

Memoirs of Hippie Girl in India

Ann BeCoy is a Canadian woman of Dutch descent who traveled extensively in the 1970s to India and Nepal – lands of gurus, sadhus and maharishis – and into the so-called counter-culture of the day. Here presented are her fascinating accounts of life in those places and in those times; of ideals, values and the practical reality of trying to live up to them in a foreign culture thousands of miles from home. BeCoy takes you into the depths of commune culture, Hindu mysticism, the drugs, the sex and the rock-and-roll lifestyle she lived during those years, and gives her insights into how it worked and why it didn't. From first to last, this profusely illustrated book will transport, enchant and entertain you.

 

(Available on Kindle Unlimited, Free Trial)

Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East

Beginning in the late '60s, hundreds of thousands of Westerners descended upon India, disciples of a cultural revolution that proclaimed that the magic and mystery missing from their lives was to be found in the East. An Indian writer who has also lived in England and the United States, Gita Mehta was ideally placed to observe the spectacle of European and American "pilgrims" interacting with their hosts. When she finally recorded her razor sharp observations in Karma Cola, the book became an instant classic for describing, in merciless detail, what happens when the traditions of an ancient and longlived society are turned into commodities and sold to those who don't understand them.

Before travelling to Kerala

Kerala is featured as one of the best places to travel in India. So if you do decide to take a trip there, be sure to read these books

The God of Small Things: A Novel

This is the story of Rahel and Estha, twins growing up among the banana jam vats and peppercorns of their blind grandmother’s factory, and amid scenes of political turbulence in Kerala. Armed only with the innocence of youth, they fashion a childhood in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, their beloved Uncle Chacko (pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher) and their sworn enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun, incumbent grand-aunt).

 

2 States: The Story of My Marriage

This is a story of a love affair between two IIM students hailing from two different states, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. Miles apart in distance and custom, Krish and Ananya’s love blossoms within the confines of their college walls. But with the end of college and beginning of a career, the question of marriage does not stand far away.

They embark on a journey of convincing their parents for the marriage. But the persuasion takes a lot more than just a few words. The journey that the couple takes from being romantically involved to getting married is full of twists and turns. This is more because, in India, it is easy to fall in love but tricky to convert that love into a love marriage.

A Suitable Boy: A Novel (Modern Classics)

Vikram Seth's novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find -- through love or through exacting maternal appraisal -- a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.

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books to read before travelling India

2 Comments

  1. Carly says:

    Great post. Even though I currently don’t have any plans to travel to India these look like some interesting books. Xx

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