Reading Material

In studying yoga and Hindu philosophy for much of the past 10 years, I have gravitated towards Indian literature, both fiction and non-fiction. I love the heartfelt words and the history- and spirituality-laden stories. Whether I’ve liked the books or not, I’ve noticed a truth in all of them that is raw, gritty and so honest that it shames the likes of Western authors who have made fame and fortune of fluff. The Indian authors I’ve read seem to be unafraid of showing life as it really is, instead of the whitewashed, sanitized view we get in the west. I wonder if some authors today write from their heart anymore or are they just looking for the movie deal?

I have a tendency to read one, then the entire arsenal, of a particular author if I’ve liked their work. So here is a list of books I’ve really enjoyed over the past several years. Happy reading!

  • Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie (in his brilliant style, Rushdie tells the story of children born at midnight on the day of India’s independence…it is an amazing web of history and dream and mysticism and raw truth)
  • Raj, Gita Mehta (I finished this on the plane back from Delhi to London, and the story is a nostalgic journey through a Rajput princess’ life in the heyday of Rajasthan in the early 1900’s. Perhaps this novel was the story of Gayatri Devi, who I knew nothing about prior to reading the book and visiting India)
  • The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie (I was hesitant to read this at first because all I knew of the book was the controversy. Rushdie is a literary magician, and this story shines light on his humour, intelligence, cynicism with Islam – and religion in general – and drags you inside the Koran, whether you like it or not, unlike any other author would have the courage to do)
  • Maximum City, Suketu Mehta (a very raw look at the dark underbelly of Bombay, from the perspective of a boy who grew up there and went back as an adult. He was a Pulitzer runner-up for this novel)
  • Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie (this is a dark, dark story about an assassin, his target, love and love lost and the history of Kashmir… brilliant!)
  • A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry (also a dark story about life in Bombay…what it takes to get by, and an intersection of lives between castes. It’s the story of things becoming more than you can handle, and really looking at the grit of life on the street and the effects of The Emergency. It begs the question of “why go on?”)
  • Between the Assassinations, Aravind Adiga (another raw look at life in a fictitious town somewhere near Bombay, in the time between Indira and Rajiv Ghandi’s assassinations)
  • White Tiger, Aravind Adiga (maybe the first Indian novel I read, this was a really dark book set in the cities of India and about rising out of caste and into “success” and a look at what that means. Also dark and gritty!)
  • The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri (a story of brothers, growing up in Calcutta, the paths they each choose to take and consequences thereof. It looks at childhood, love/marriage, politics and the sense of loyalty and duty to family)
  • Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins (while this is clearly not Indian literature, per se, I believe it embraces the essence of Tantra like no other novel I’ve ever read. It is a fun, funny and wonderful romp – dance, bandaloop – through time, telling a story of life, love, immortality, mythology, comparative religion…and beets. He reminds us throughout to “erleichda” or lighten up.)

2 thoughts on “Reading Material

  1. So Lesli, what books did you read while you were in India? Did you try re-reading a favourite book while you could see and smell the setting?

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    • I was reading Raj by Gita Mehta before and during the trip – it is all about the Rajput princely kingdoms we were touring, so it was like walking inside the novel each time I looked around in a palace or fort… the power of words, right? And I just started Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence. I’m at a point in the book where it talks about Akbar the great and the city he built near Agra – Fatehpur Sikri – and, again, it’s like I was walking around in the rooms he describes in the novel, plus he gives some perspective and personality to the King of Kings, Akbar, and his wives. Fun stuff!

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