India in {Ten}ish Books


Savidge from Savidge Reads has put up an interesting meme challenge on his blog. He’s challenged us readers to list top ten books that define our country, and while it is difficult to define India as a whole through books, I”ll do my best and you can chip in with your thoughts and rebuttals in the comments.

The task of compiling only 10 books is doubly difficult as so much of our literature is in our native languages and since I can’t read even a single local language properly (hides head in shame), I am only going to include English language books/translations. Also, I am only including the books I have actually read. You are not going to get a comprehensive list here. Yes, Mark Tully and William Dalrymple have written books about India. Both authors are incredibly popular, but I haven’t read any of these books and so consequently they are not on my list. Another book about India that is supposed to be a must-read is Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, which again I haven’t read…nor have I read any books on the Gandhi family, or any Tagore, or any…oh, the list is endless 🙁

However, let’s move on to the top {ten}ish books that I have read and which I feel define Indian to me.

Note: I have tried to keep local geography and culture in mind and tried hard to include books from all parts of India, but of course that didn’t work so well, and so I have just listed my favorites here.

  1. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie: This is a book that talks about the tumultuous times pre-and post-independence. One of the best books (but not easy to read, I grant you that) on India that I have read.
  2. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga: And this is the seminal book about India post our economic liberalization in the 90s. A lot of issues that are featured in our newspaper headlines today (economic and social divisions as the root of brutal crimes) are dealt with powerfully in this book. And this book is readable and accessible. Highly recommend!
  3. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: This is another great book – a story about caste and love, grief and guilt all rolled into one. This is quieter and a lot more personal than the first two books I have mentioned, but it is one of the top Indian books all the same.
  4. But of course, India is not just the modern India, it is also the land of mythology and we have to mention the two great epics – Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Both these tomes define our national culture and heritage in ways we sometimes don’t even realize. So many modern stories of today (and not just Indian ones) have been inspired by the tales in these epics.
  5. How about some colonial authors who made India the home of their stories? I loved A Passage to India by E.M.Forster, which was one of the few books of that time to look critically at colonialism through the view of a single incident. And of course, there is Rudyard Kipling who wrote The Jungle Book and Kim, and so many other short stories that I read when I was a kid and loved. Sadly, I think these books are going out of fashion these days :(.
  6. The Cartoons of R.K.Laxman and Amar Chitra Katha: Both these are comics. While Amar Chitra Katha was the medium through which I educated myself on Indian history and mythology, R.K.Laxman is a great cartoonist and satirist who chronicled the chaos of a more modern India.
  7. If you are interested in a fictional book based on the troubles in Kashmir, one great book to explore is Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. After the slow start, it’s a wonderful read that takes you into the heart and soul of Kashmir
  8. Explore Indian (actually Delhi/Punjabi) humor through the eyes of an Englishman by reading The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall.
  9. Let’s explore a few lesser known gems, shall we? Try Bangalore Calling by Brinda S.Narayan – an excellent series of vignettes about life in Bangalore’s call centers. Or, if you want to know about a quieter India, try A River Sutra by Gita Mehta – another series of shorts set in the Narmada valley.
  10. I don’t exactly recommend this book, but considering the popularity of the film Slumdog Millionaire that is based on Q and A by Vikas Swarup, I feel obliged to include it in this list. My personal recommendation: skip the book and go straight to the film.

What books have you read that define your country for you? Why don’t you include your favorites in the comments? Or respond to this meme in your own post and link to me and Savidge Reads. It would be great to get some book recommendations 🙂

19 Responses
  • sridevi
    April 10, 2014

    This book is really a good book which shows us right path. but i read

    one more book named “ONE BOOK FOR LIFE SUCCESS” which is truly

    motivational and life changing . .The writer has described in Plain

    English with lot of examples which is easy to understand…For More

    Please watch the video

    YouTube video


    A truly motivational and life changing book

  • Melinda
    October 29, 2013

    A Passage to India and Midnight Children is on my list!

    • Nish
      October 31, 2013

      @Melinda: Both good books, I highly recommend, but not to be read in a hurry.

  • malvikajaswal
    October 26, 2013

    How could you forget A suitable boy being an Indian girl??????? Come on.. its the quintessential Indian novel.

    • malvikajaswal
      October 26, 2013

      Lolz.. just read the comment by Thomas…. Hmmmm… My suggestion… I know its a tome but when you begin to read the story is just so much a part of what as a young girl in India we have all seen and experienced that it almost becomes fascinating. Try it, after all I have begun reading Anna Karenina aajkal *gulp* so I understand the fear of the tome 🙂

    • Nish
      October 26, 2013

      @Malvika: Ouch that was harsh :)). It’s on my To read list, I swear…and now that I have 2 bloggers recommending it, looks like I must get to it sooner rather than later 🙂

      • malvikajaswal
        October 27, 2013

        Really sorry about that.. wasn’t meant to be… it was supposed to be more a friendly slap on the back and simultaneously steer you in the direction of the bookstore kind of thing. Blame it on fighting off auto-wallahs and being in a hurry to fire off a comment before crashing in bed 🙁 **Hugsss** If I could get a do-over I would probably say something like, ” Noooooo Hon!! you forgot the suitable boy! Not the one you married silly, the book, by Vikram Seth!” 🙂 Forgiven?? *huge pussycat eyes*

        • Nish
          October 28, 2013

          @Malvika: Nah, no offense taken 😀

  • Reema Sahay
    October 25, 2013

    Whenever I come across a list, it always reminds me how much more I must read! I haven’t been able to finish Rushdie’s book yet. Moreover, I am yet to read those authors too, and Ruskin Bond. But I do recommend Maximum City by Suketu Mehta all the time

    • Nish
      October 26, 2013

      @Reema: Thanks. I am getting such great recommendations on this blog post 🙂

  • sweety
    October 25, 2013

    Hey… nice list.. I do agree that it is difficult to come up with 10 books, but u have covered pretty much everything.. 🙂 I don’t know what to add here, maybe a little of Jim Corbett would fit here? We had his short stories during school, all about our wildlife.

    • Nish
      October 25, 2013

      @sweety: Oh, yes. Jim Corbett and even Ruskin Bond would make great additions to this list 🙂

  • mahabore
    October 24, 2013

    That was quite some list huh, covering Amar Chitra Katha, Ramayana, Mahabharata, RK Narayan and Arvind Adiga. I probably will never see another list with all these names in them 😀 You pretty much covered the popular fiction and comics gamut of India, didn’t you 😀

    • Support
      October 24, 2013

      @mahabore: Thanks. I was trying for comprehensive, so it’s good you like it 🙂

  • BookerTalk
    October 24, 2013

    I’ve read just three of your list – Midnight’s Children, White Tiger and Passage to India. of those the one I didn’t really enjoy was Rushdie. yes i could see he was trying to do do something very different but it wasn’t an easy read. have you read Jewel in the Crown which is about the period from eve of world war 2 through to independence.

    • Nish
      October 25, 2013

      @BookerTalk: Jewel in the Crown is an awesome addition to this list, thanks. I haven’t read the book but I enjoyed the mini-series a lot 🙂

  • Thomas at My Porch
    October 24, 2013

    I am happy to say that I have read three of the books on your list which is three more than I have read on Simon’s list. How do you feel about A Suitable Boy? I finally got around to reading it this year and enjoyed it despite the fact that it took me forever to finish.

    • Nish
      October 25, 2013

      @Thomas: That’s one book I have never been able to get into. It’s just so huge and intimidating. I guess it would be a great addition to this list.

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