MAGAZINE Voices Pushpesh Pant Anand Neelakantan Ravi Shankar Madhulika Liddle Neil McCallum Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI march 28 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Chasing the Truth The pandemic has turned readers to seek fresh answers in history, biographies, science and medicine as India enters an unfamiliar social and political terrain where old affirmations are no longer valid T By Neha Kirpal EDITOR’S CHOICE MEMOIRS, B I O G R A P H ies he year 2020 brought about a paradigm shift in our lives. We began thinking differently, eating differently, living differently, and even reading differently According to . Nielsen’s report on the Impact of Covid-19 on the India Book Consumer, reading time has increased from nine hours a week to 16 hours a week. The fear of going out, contamination, unpredictable political climate, sudden death—the year was stranger than fiction. Readers reached out to relate and find an explanation in nonfiction. They sought answers in Science, Technology, Self-help, Spirituality, History and Enterprise to figure their place in a new, unsure world. As serious nonfiction started flying off shelves or online ebook portals, the numbers told the truth. Adult nonfiction revenue for Amazon grew 22.8 percent in the last five years. Amazon’s top five hard copy book sales are Memoirs and Biographies, Selfhelp, Religion and Spirituality, Health, Fitness and Dieting, Politics and Social Science. In 2020, YA fiction sales rose 21.4 percent and nonfiction sales increased 38.3 percent. The Nielsen report said that Indian nonfiction readers bought historical/ political biographies followed by self-help/ personal development and self-study like learning new languages. Indian authors writing in English are looking beyond fiction. So are publishers. For every Samit Basu or Megha Majumdar, there is Urijit Patel writing about the credit market, Manan Ahmed Asif foraying into South Asian history in the context of majoritarianism, Sonia Shah writing on the next migration wave-provoked climate change and Raj Tilak Roushan uncovering real crimes in The Good, The Bad and The Unknown: Deep, Dark And Captivating Crime Stories from India. “When publishing Indian writing in English got going in the 1980s, it was mainly fiction by a generation of great writers such as Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, etc,” says William Dalrymple, co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The reason is that Indian publishing ecosystem has got more sophisticated and smart. India has the youngest readership market, which is a curiosity-consumed demographic. Technology and travel have exposed youth to accessible vectors. Hence Indian readers will pay for a book like, The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative by Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran, which explains how India can shape the world’s future. The rise of Dalit politics and Hindutva is a heated topic that make the translation of I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS by Bhanwar Meghwanshi a read in demand. Reading trends represent current topics of interest. Currently, it is Medicine thanks to the pandemic, the Constitution because of debates over its sanctity, and Hindutva because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma as well as escalating attacks on Muslims. In Republic of Religion: The Rise and Fall of Colonial Secularism in India, Abhinav Chandrachud argues that though many of our laws are based on the British legal system and our parliamentary democracy being a colonial derivative, Indian secularism is an atypical and forceful imposition by the British. The past is the fertile valley of belief for nationalists and secularists alike. Author Ira Mukhoty believes that in India, society has changed a great deal in the last 20 years and the structure of families is changing too. “The usual storytellers, grandparents for example, may not always be integrated into these new family units. This means that we have lost some connectivity with a sense of our past,” she explains. According to her, the growth of nonfiction is fuelled by this need to better understand the past, and incorporate a mature and vibrant sense of identity “There . is greater awareness that a lot of the history we have been taught in the past, was quite literally written by the victors. There is a greater desire for alternative histories,” she adds. There is history you know and history that is forgotten. People Called Lucknow: 45 Narratives Unlayering Time in Awadhi Andaz by Jyotsna Kaur Habibullah and Siddharth Srivastava narrates a secret Lucknow told by 44 Lucknowphiles about the forgotten queen of Awadh and Farid Faridi legendary for his hospitality Says Yashas. wini Chandra, author of The Tale of the Horse: A History of India on Horseback, “The divide between literary nonfiction and academic literature is shrinking as more and more scholars are writing for a general audience and making their work accessible.” The Pandemic Effect The pandemic had a host of memoirs flooding the market. Aarti David, DirectorPublishing at SAGE Publications India, believes the reason is that the lockdown gave people time to focus on their book writing projects as events and physical meetings took a backseat. According to Alliance of Independent Authors, indie authors account for 30-34 percent of all e-book sales in the largest English-language markets, and are making forays into the audiobook market. “Once people got fed up with binge-watching series/shows and trying out their culinary talents, reading brought hope and comfort,” David says. She is not alone. The lockdown and subsequent WFH practice created mixed emotions in people, and books became an escape, believes Bushra Ahmed, Commissioning Editor, HarperCollins India, who says that Indian readers have always been more partial to nonfiction. “Nonfiction strikes close to the heart due to its immediacy,” she adds. People turn to different kinds of books to tide over challenging times. Contemporary concerns reflect on sales. The environment and sustainability are dominant millennial concerns, as capitalism and its global ramifications are seen as modern day scourges. This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate by Naomi Klein, which The New York Times called “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring”, blames free market ideology for blocking climate change. As the octaves of nationalism rise higher by the day, the thirst to know the history of Independence has grown. The inventiveness of the Indian academic mind is the fresh change in present Indian nonfiction. For example, Meghaa Gupta in Unearthed: The Environmental History of Independent India offers respite from dusty tomes. “Away from the screen and the internet, readers might find nonfiction an interesting gateway to information,” says Gupta. True, provided it Turn to page 2 Something Like an Autobiography By Akira Kurosawa On renowned Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa teaching how to write the perfect script by explaining his creative process through films Rashomon and Seven Samurai. A must-read for an amateur or a professional filmmaker. Having and Having Had By Eula Biss On how pervasion consumer capitalism affects your life. Possessions like a new house trap you in a spiral of maintenance employment and investment. The value of an object is only worth what someone will pay for it—like down market real state becoming pricey when trendy people move in. Sebastian & Sons: A Brief History of Mrdangam Makers By TM Krishna On the role of caste in Carnatic music through the history of Dalit-Christian mrdangam-maker Sebastian and his three sons. India’s most political musician examines the ironic dichotomy between such Dalits and musicians who are upper-caste Brahmins; Mrdangam maker Arulraj asks, “Why do they (Brahmin musicians) not give us the respect and importance that we deserve?” Caste By Isabel Wilkerson On the global pervasiveness of caste and how powerful forces determine social inferiority, Throughout history, caste is the preferred instrument to dehumanise and legitimise discrimination—note the anti-Semitic caste system of Nazi Germany, Dalits in India and racial hatred of Blacks in America. She writes. “A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, and passed down through the generations.” T H E PA N D E M I C COVID-19: The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One By Debora MacKenzie On how Covid-19 went from a manageable event to a global pandemic. And how we can prevent future epidemics. After informing readers about virus spread, the author runs the Covid-19 gamut laying out solutions that governments could have adopted and can adopt to stop the bug. Panic! COVID-19 Shakes the World By Slavoj Zizek On how the pandemic showed us what is wrong with the world: governments execute ruthless public spending cuts to raise trillions and toilet paper becomes as precious as diamonds. This series of essays by disruptive philosopher Slavoj Zizek uses the contagion to explore a new brand of communism rising in the neoliberalist landcape—a “global organisation that can control and regulate the economy” along with a “global healthcare network”. Till We Win: India’s Fight Against the Covid-19 Pandemic By Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, Dr Gagandeep Kang, Dr Randeep Guleria On India’s fight against Covid-19 and dealing with a future where more pandem- ics could happen. The three doctors advise politicians, policymakers and physicians on how to transform public health and strengthen the existing healthcare system. It also has advice on staying safe and gives relevant information on vaccines and therapies. The COVID-19 Pandemic: The Deadly Coronavirus Outbreak By Tapas Kumar Koley, Monika Dhole On the exhaustive impact of the pandemic at personal, national and global levels and on trade and commerce. The authors are a medical professional and an economist working on the outbreak's frontlines that has given them a unique perspective to the viral outbreak. Unfinished: A Memoir By Priyanka Chopra Jonas On the secret life of India’s most successful actress. Never has such an autobiography made it to the NYT bestseller list. Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s memoir reveals the PeeCee the public doesn’t know—her boyfriend had to hide in the closet during her aunt’s visit. Her father put iron bars on the windows to stop her stalker. Her first namaste at the red carpet was to keep her strapless dress from falling. The Boy with Two Hearts By Hamed Amiri On a heroic flight of an Afghan family from the Taliban which in 2000 ordered the execution of Hamed’s mother. After paying human traffickers, the family escape to the UK where Hussein could get cardiac treatment. Travelling in strangers’ cars and hiding in lorries without food or drink across Russia and Europe, they meet robbers and the mafia. Let Me Say It Now By Rakesh Maria On the former supercop's handling of the 1993 serial blasts and 26/11 terror attacks that made him a national hero. It tells sordid tales of underworld rivalries and politics; Maria blows the lid on his transfer in the Sheena Bora case. Of Gifted Voice By Desiraju Keshav On the life and music of a Carnatic music legend. Did you know that all the four films starring MS Subbulakshmi were hits? Or that Pt Ravi Shankar touched her feet when she got the Bharat Ratna?
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