On this day in 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect, with the promise of guaranteeing fundamental rights to every citizen of the country. Seventy-one years later, Indians are still struggling to secure their basic freedoms—such as the right to marry the person of their choice, eat whatever they like, criticise the government without being sent to prison, use the internet and telephone freely, and much more.
As the nation celebrates this special day, here's a lowdown on five new books that seek to depict India through fresh perspectives. Whether you lean left or right of the centre, these titles will provoke you to agree and argue with their theses—if nothing else, they may help you think through your biases and blind spots.
Indians: A Brief History of a Civilisation by Namit Arora (Penguin Random House India): IT worker-turned-writer Namit Arora undertakes the ambitious, and audacious, task of compressing 5,000 years of history into 300-odd pages. While people are willing to kill and be killed for the sake of upholding their views on Indian civilisation, the latter remains a hugely contentious intellectual landmine. Arora mixes research and a sense of wonder to create a narrative that seeks to answer questions that have baffled and divided many. From the erotic temple carvings of Khajuraho to the diet of ancient Indians to the origins of our contemporary ideals of beauty, he deals with complex and knotty questions with confidence and elan.
Our Freedoms—Essays and Stories from India's Best Writers edited by Nilanjana S. Roy (Juggernaut Books): This anthology of fiction, reportage, poetry and essays by writers from across the country and beyond (you are welcome to disagree with the "India's best" tag) grapples with the shifting contours of freedom in contemporary India. From the mounting hatred against minority communities to enforcing exile on dissidents, a multitude of themes is addressed by writers like Aatish Taseer, Suketu Mehta, Vivek Shanbhag, Snigdha Poonam and others. Proceeds from the sales will go to Karwan-e-Mohabbat, an organisation that works to spread peace and harmony among communities in India.
A New India of India—Individual Rights In A Civilisational State by Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri (Westland): Argumentative and belligerent, the authors of this book shake up the fabled "idea of India" that has been passed down the generations without enough challenge, intellectual or practical. The Nehruvian state's long-standing emphasis on socialism, secularism and non-alignment has led to the fossilisation of a unidimensional "idea of India", the authors argue. It is now being replaced by the dispensation of Narendra Modi, with its own worldview and agenda.
A Thousand Cranes for India edited by Pallavi Aiyar (Seagull Books): Subtitled "Reclaiming Plurality Amid Hatred", this anthology derives its title from the Japanese belief that whoever folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted whatever they wish for. The phrase, however, is laden with finer layers of symbolism, associated with renewal, atonement and rediscovery. The idea of forging trans-national bonds is suggested by the figure of the crane, a migratory bird that flies uncontained by borders. Tishani Doshi, Ranjit Hoskote, Sumana Roy, Prajwal Parajuly, Veena Venugopal and others wield their prose and verse to fight the menace of violence and mayhem that plague our present.
India 2030: Rise of a Rajasic Nation edited by Gautam Chikermane (Penguin Random House India): With the budget looming ahead, Indians probably have more immediate worries on their mind. Nonetheless, here's a blueprint for the next ten years, with insights from some of our "thought leaders" (you may disagree with the descriptor once you see the list). The anthology not only looks at India's social, economic and political futures, but also at the legal and technological possibilities that lie ahead of the country. Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, David Frawley, Bibek Debroy, Sandipan Deb, BN Srikrishna, and R Mashelkar are among the contributors.