According to a recent article in The Print, there are currently over sixty-five literature festivals in the country—in different shapes, sizes, and colours. Most of them are centred in particular cities and venues; others are more versatile, some are peripatetic. Some focus on celebrities and particular genres, and for some the dominant theme is the promotion of a brand.

Irwin Allan Sealy

In Asoca: A Sutra, Irwin Allan Sealy attempts to present the ‘real man’ behind  Emperor Ashoka the Great. He uses the spelling ‘Asoca’ to suggest a soft ‘k’,  highlighting the way simple villagers pronounce the name, for his mother was not of royal birth. The ‘s’ is pronounced as a sibilant (‘assoka’) in place of the palatal ‘s’ of Sanskrit. Sealy employs the Pali forms for all the names, corresponding to actual usage, rather than written records—Susima, Mahinda, Sanghamitta rather than Sushumna, Mahendra and Sanghamitra.

Reviewed by: Shyamala A Narayan
Anees Salim

Anees Salim’s The Odd Book of Baby Names is an expertly conceived novel comprising nine voices relating nine autobiographical narratives, all of which have one thread in common—each narrator has been begotten by the same kingly patriarch. The speakers, progenies born of legally wedded wives, or out of wedlock, many of them unknown to one another and unaware of their common paternity, narrate their quotidian experiences.

Reviewed by: Fatima Rizvi
Koral Dasgupta

Koral Dasgupta’s Kunti is not the willful mother who apportioned a common wife to her five sons. She is the young, vibrant, beauteous and superbly intellectual woman who is wooed by the Gods. The book swings along the path of a celestial love triangle: Surya, Indra and Kunti. The offerings match every expectation of such an imperial romance—peevishness, jealousy, wile, guile, manoeuvrings and manipulations—melting the boundaries between the humans and the devas.

Reviewed by: Malashri Lal
Sonal Kohli

As the blurb on the attractive book cover says, Sonal Kohli grew up in Delhi and lives in Washington DC; she studied at the Sri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi and went on to do her MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, UK and The House Next to the Factory is her first book. These details are important because they help readers understand not just her writing style as a trained creative writer, but also her ability to capture a Delhi, and a world beyond, that we may all know and yet we get to know all over again when we encounter it in her simple yet evocative prose.

Reviewed by: Simi Malhotra
Raza Mir

Early 2021 saw the Aleph Book Company bring out a dark hued hardcover with a centrally placed Mughal motif in sandy gold. Raza Mir’s novel Murder at the Mushaira felt pleasantly hefty on store shelves.The nicely produced volume looked rich and piqued curiosity. The excerpt at the back promised it to be the forerunner of a seriously good read

Reviewed by: Paresh Kumar
Rudrangshu Mukherjee

Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s Tagore & Gandhi:  Walking Alone, Walking Together is an arresting book laced with fresh insights and perspectives, notwithstanding that it is about a subject that is  well-trodden in the annals of academia. Tagore and Gandhi both bestrode the Indian firmament like two towering Colossuses. Attempting a book on either of them is fraught with danger.

Reviewed by: Syed Areesh Ahmad
Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s The Nutmeg’s Curse is a work of post-genre literature. It is at once story, scholarly treatise, history, anthropology, folklore, memoir, diary, manifesto, and prose poetry. To call it a text would be unfair, for its very polemical and philosophical axis is agency. Moreover, it has been crafted with that rare artistry which, concealing itself as spontaneity, confers on the work a complex organic wholeness.

Reviewed by: Rajesh Sharma
Thomas Manuel

One of the aspects studied by scholars of globalization is its antiquity. Questions have been asked about whether globalization is a novel phenomenon from the 20th century, or merely varying manifestations of an old pattern over periods of time. Convincing arguments have been made on either side. One pattern that is undeniable is the search for products, profits and resources, all contingent upon control of people and territory.

Reviewed by: Sucharita Sengupta
Peggy Mohan

The paradigmatic method of studying the story of India is through its languages, declares Peggy Mohan with a rhetorical flourish in the title of her book, Wanderers, Kings, Merchants: The Story of India Through its Languages.Mohan’s thesis draws upon Jawaharlal Nehru’s archetypal statement about the Indian subcontinent which likened it to…some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought

Reviewed by: Tapan Basu
Vijay Gokhale

It goes without saying that China is India’s most important neighbour and India-China bilateral relations is the most consequential diplomatic engagement for India in the 21st century. Despite greater attention being paid to China in India recently, there is still not enough research and writing that would stand the test of time.

Reviewed by: Avinash Godbole

Among the cultural elite of Gujarat, it was a common practice to hire Bangla tutors, visit Shantiniketan and read or translate Bangla into Gujarati. I was told this by Niranjan Bhagat who wrote his first poem the day Tagore died. From the late nineteenth century to this day, generations of Gujarati writers have translated Bangla literature, and a galaxy of individuals have been shaped from their time at Shantiniketan.

Reviewed by: Rita Kothari
Gopinath Mohanty

The troubling question in writing about Harijan, both the original Odia novel by the renowned Gopinath Mohanty as well as its meticulous and detailed English translation of the same name, is this: how does one write about an event in which the experiencing person is the one who has contributed directly to the degradation of a fellow human being?

Reviewed by: Himansu S Mohapatra
Kalki Krishnamurthy

 A prolific writer, a respected journalist, connoisseur of arts, and a revolutionary, R Krishnamurthy, better known as Kalki, was a literary giant, whose body of work includes Alai Osai, and his famous trilogy, Parthiban Kanavu, Ponniyin Selvan and Sivakamiyin Sabatham.  Kalki’s novels, written between 1941-54, belonged to a historical genre, a mix of drama, action, intrigue and passion

Reviewed by: Sabita Radhakrishna
C. V. Balakrishnan

Serialized in the Malayalam weekly Mathrubhumi in 1983, and published as a novel a year later, CV Balakrishnan’s Ayussinte Pusthakam has become over the years a widely read work that is regularly prescribed in university curricula. The novel’s initial success was restricted to a more youthful audience, but today it has been published in 26 editions, a testimony to the acclaim and admiration which this work continues to elicit.

Reviewed by: Rohini Mokashi-Punekar

Saudamini Deo’s English translation of short stories by Bhuwaneshwar Prasad marks a significant event in Hindi literature. Not only does it reinvigorate a chronically under-appreciated Hindi writer in a new language, but it also attempts to rewrite the story of Hindi modernism as seen through the lens of non-canonical texts.

Reviewed by: S Deepika
Maitreyi Pushpa

This Hindi novel is a recent composition of the renowned Hindi novelist Maitreyi Pushpa who is widely known as the author of Idamnamama (that is, Idam Na Mama or ‘It is not mine’) and Chaak (Potter’s Wheel), and many other novels. She also made news with her subversive autobiographical narratives and is known as a feminist novelist who has based her writings on women’s issues.

Reviewed by: Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay

Ranendra’s is an important—and bold—signature in contemporary Hindi literature. As a novelist, who also happens to be a poet, he enters the landscape of his creation with nuanced, almost poignant, sensitivity to map the existential, ideological and, by extension, ontological contours within contemporary spaces. While in his earlier novels—Global Gaon ke Devta (2006) and Gayab Hota Desh (2014)—he had etched the excruciating reality of the tribals.

Reviewed by: Anup Singh Beniwal
Neelakshi Singh

To say that Neelakshi Singh’s novel Khela or play is about the play of power-that-be in this civilization, controlling the price of crude oil and the collaterals of religious fundamentalism and terrorism would be less than half-truth. It is mostly about the journey of a middle-class girl, Vara Kulkarni, peeping through the jute-sacks of partition of a joint family to look at the estranged family’s life to her looking into a world riddled by conspiracies, violence and displacement.

Reviewed by: Alka Saraogi
Sumati Saxena Lal

Sumati Saxena Lal writes in the preface to her novel Ve Log (2021):My village is located in my imagination. I have tried to make it appear credible to my readers. In this age and fragile health condition, it was impossible to experience village life first-hand and then write about it—the pandemic acted as a source of terror too.This terror is not simply about falling prey to the pandemic, but also inscribes the crises of  the literary imagination during the said period.

Reviewed by: Bharti Arora
Naveen Chaudhury

Dhaai Chal is the second novel by the writer of Janta Store, and resumes the tale told before with an action-filled look at the political manoeuvres that look deep inside a world riddled with allegations of rape, rape before marriage, kidnap, elopement, intent to push a minor into flesh trade, micro-managed bid at self-immolation, and murder, only to be further complicated by caste, religion, power play, and media, to indulge in corruption, betrayal, and bloody revenge.

Reviewed by: Nikhilesh Yadav
Anshuman Tiwari

The global crisis witnessed during the COVID pandemic was terrifying in many ways. Not a single bullet was fired but more people died than in the two World Wars. There were no earthquakes or floods but crores lost their livelihood and were forced to migrate. At the time, many believed that the world would never be the same place again but with COVID-19 virus losing its virulence with each passing day.

Reviewed by: Swadesh Singh
Mamta Kalia

Jeete Jee Allahabad is a written documentary of the literary world of Allahabad composed with wit and nostalgia of heart-wrenching intensity. They are the hallmark of Mamta’s oeuvre. Allahabad has a super special place in her psyche. The documentation starts with  the Chayavadi era of Nirala, Mahadevi Verma and Sumitra Nandan Pant and ends with  the post Nai Kahani era ruled by Gyanranjan, Ravindra Kalia and Kashinath Singh

Reviewed by: Mridula Garg
Shirish Khare

Shirish Khare is a well-known journalist whose reports have received recognition, and his book Ek Desh Barah Dunia is a reportage based on his personal travels. In this book, he aims to paint an accurate and fascinating picture of marginalized people, tribals, and poor communities. There are many distinctions and variations between rural and urban India which are discussed in this book

Reviewed by: Nehal Ahmed

Sujata is a poet, novelist, critic and an academic. She writes in Hindi. Her earlier works—Antim Maun ke Beech (poetry collection, 2016), Ek Bataa Do (novel, 2019), Stree Nirmiti (criticism, 2019)—showcase a passionate mix of the experienced and the envisioned, the felt and the thought. If her creative writings chart the contours of feminist spaces imaginatively, her critical writings enter the seams of conventional canonicity to reconfigure this space ideologically, empirically and academically.

Reviewed by: Rekha
Aashish Kaul

This is the story which has been buried in the rubble of history of twelve hundred years ago of a warrior Queen, who was brave and beautiful and intelligent. She was a legendary queen of Kashmir, who ruled from 950 to 1003 AD.  She became a legend for her valour. Her father was the ruler of Lohar, a hill principality near Kashmir. Didda was physically handicapped due to polio and because of that her parents neglected her and she was jeered at by other members in the palace.

Reviewed by: Aruna Patel Vajpeyi
Devdutt Pattanaik

The sudden rise in the number of Self-Help books, Ted talks, motivational write ups is a sign of human malaise that needs sorting out. A distinct connect between consumerism, capitalism and crisis of communication has shown a demand for value-oriented knowledge systems that teach you to be good and do good unto others. Devdutt Pattanaik is one such motivational writer and speaker whose books sell, and ideas instill wisdom.

Reviewed by: Ranu Uniyal
Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri

Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri’s poems emanate from a peculiar and intense turmoil of the soul. Their existence is a manifestation of the expansive human consciousness traversing the realms of ideation and affect. f=”kadq LoxZ, the Hindi translation of Namboothiri’s select Malayalam poems by Dr. Arasu, brings together fifty-one poetic compositions, each of which is a journey, a myth, a fragment, a thought, a reminder of the untranslatable, and an epitome of the inevitable dilemmas

Reviewed by: Disha Pokhriyal
Aanchal Malhotra

Material object has gained currency as a subject of renewed attention in the second half of the twentieth century in academic fields like anthropology, history, cultural studies, sociology, archaeology and art history among others. The title under review can be seen as part of this new trend in scholarship that seeks to tease out the complex and dynamic roles object/thing plays in the personal, socio-economic, cultural, political, and civilizational life of humans.

Reviewed by: Faizan Moquim
Gautam Haldar

Hindi readers have long been unaware of the cultural and literary genius of other Indian languages. The same perhaps could be said with equal authority about other Indian language readers. The only process that can make it possible is translation. However, translation in India has largely been limited to a one-way traffic, from various Indian languages to English. Translation between and among Indian languages has been patchy and irregular.

Reviewed by: Rahul Dev
Rachna Bisht Rawat

This book provides a glimpse into the persona of the Indian Armed Forces. Rachna Bisht, the wife of an army officer, has put together seventeen stories  which discuss an unusual episodic journey of several characters, as the title suggests. It depicts bonds that are less frequently spoken about, such as grief at the untimely death of a subordinate, the cross-border friendship that began in Siachen or a dog’s rescue mission during a deadly snowstorm, etc.

Reviewed by: Gauri Sharma
Neha Sinha

This beautiful book grips one at the cover, and the title. Having just returned from a workshop that engaged with ecology—cultural, political, and conventionally ecological—and exploring its location in spaces of interiority, the blurb by Sumana Roy, author of the lyrically meditative How I Became a Tree, resonated: ‘Neha Sinha’s language is one of addiction, of enthusiasm, of trust—for life and in the living. This book reminds us that only a vocabulary of intimacy with the living will save us, and them.’

Reviewed by: Maya Joshi
By Maulik Pancholy

Our teenage years are truly formative. They shape us in ways we do not realize and the experiences of that time stick with us for the rest of our lives. The Best at It brings one such beautiful teenage tale to light. As it is, growing up is not easy; every single child constantly feels excluded and conscious of her own self. And if a child visibly looks different from classmates and friends, another layer of consciousness gets added.

Reviewed by: Ilika Trivedi
L. Somi Roy.

Manipur means the Land of Gems. Indeed, an appropriate name, when you talk of a State with moderate climate, blue-green hills crisscrossed by streams, joining to form river basins rich in alluvial soil. Rivers draining into the fresh water Loktak Lake. A lake with many floating weed islands, some of which house people, the only floating school in the world, the only floating national park in the world! Teeming with flora and fauna.

Reviewed by: Anju Virmani
Shweta Taneja

Here’s a welcome addition to popular-science writing for children in India. Shweta Taneja, the author, is passionate about familiarizing children with scientific ideas and has been doing so effectively. She has won several awards for her books and this one has been much appreciated too.The title on the cover says: They Found What? Stories of Daring Discoveries by Indian Scientists.

Reviewed by: Neera Jain
Bijal Vachharajani

Savi is fortunate to have her story authored by Bijal Vachharajani. While the former is a teenager chronologically, mentally and emotionally the writer is an amazing teenager at heart. She has breathed life into an ever bubbling, often bold, endearingly charming and off and on quirky Savi.The storyline branches into three zones, one of personal grief, another of saving trees that bond astonishingly with one another, the third of school life, friends and foes

Reviewed by: Indira Ananthakrishnan
Samina Mishra

‘It is day 7 of the lockdown and everyone says the skies are blue again.’This is the first sentence of Jamlo Walks, spread over two pages against a blue backdrop, a calendar with the dates from the 24th to the 30th of March crossed out, and a few leaves of an indoor plant beside a window looking out into a blue sky with some wispy clouds.

Reviewed by: Bharati Jagannathan
Mamta Nainy

Isn’t it a fascinating sight to see a one or two-year-old mimicking the elders of the house in the way they talk on the phone or take a dupatta (scarf) across their shoulders? A student in my school similarly tries her hand at impersonating the way her library teacher reads aloud stories in class. She takes a similar tone, attempts pauses, and waits for a reaction from her audience just like the teacher does while reading a story with them.

Reviewed by: Manika Kukreja
Vibha Batra

Pinkoo Shergill has a longstanding dream that grows bigger and bigger till it fills his head and he can think of nothing else. It’s all about what he dreams to be…An astronaut? A fire engine driver? Spiderman? No! He wants to be the greatest pastry chef ever! For him life revolves around buttercream icing, strawberry syrups, rainbow sprinkles… as also whisks and spatulas, pots and pans. His three-tier cakes are masterpieces that are already the talk of the town, and his friends simply drool over all his creations.

Reviewed by: Nita Berry
Mita Bordoloi.

This is a story about a little girl Bumoni in an Assam village who sees wild elephants on a fairly regular basis because they come to eat the bananas growing in her backyard that she herself loves and needs to eat. From an adult’s point of view, this is a situation of human-animal conflict. But Bumoni thinks of an innovative, compassionate way to keep the herds away from her family’s banana crop. Then she goes a step further and comes up with a way to keep the elephants away from the village fields.

Reviewed by: Madhu B Joshi
Shabnam Minwalla

The book introduces children to the voting process in a democracy. Mini is a class VI student with a buzzing mind that runs in three directions at the same time. Now school elections are approaching and of the four candidates, Mini must vote for the one she thinks will be a good school captain. Everyone is encouraging Mini to decide on her own.

Reviewed by: Nidhi Gaur