The ring of truth

The ring of truth

The idea that holiday reading should be light and inconsequential often ignores the fact that holidays are the only time many readers have to tackle relatively serious literary pursuits. After an extended quarter of reading slim, disposable books on the train in to work and burying yourself in comfort fiction before bedtime, there are enough worthy non-fiction releases this April to exhaust all that uninterrupted reading time. We pick a few new books in whose pages you might just lose yourself:

Also read | Supriya Nair’s earlier articles

Great Soul—Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India:

Joseph Lelyveld,


425 pages, 699.

“The Mahatma had been gone for half a century, but there were still Gandhis at the Phoenix Settlement, outside Durban on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, when I visited there the first time in 1965." So opens the remarkable journalist and writer Joseph Lelyveld’s study of the life of Mohandas Gandhi, a book that has been talked about in India far more than it has been read so far. Lelyveld is a legendary reporter and student of racial conflict in South Africa, and his book bears evidence of his meticulous research. He strives for balance in his writerly biography of modern India’s most complex icon. The seriousness of his project humanizes Gandhi to a greater extent than another book, more ideologically driven, might have done.

Read more about Great Soul—Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, at

Finding Forgotten Cities—How the Indus Civilisation Was Discovered:

Nayanjot Lahiri,

Hachette India,

435 pages, 350.

Nayanjot Lahiri’s new book on the 1924 Indus Valley dig places that historic event in its context: When archaeologist John Marshall announced the discovery of an ancient civilization in the ruins of Punjab province, it was a moment to rival the rediscovery of Troy. In this book, first published in 2005 but out now in a spleet-new edition, historian Lahiri unearths the story behind the story, and examines the find and its consequences, with the careful craft of a historian. Her smooth, elegant reportorial voice brings clarity to an event, and a time, that are often obscured to us in the bare facts recounted in history books.

In Freedom’s Shade:

Anis Kidwai, translated by Ayesha Kidwai,

Penguin India,

382 pages, 450.

In October 1947, as Shafi Ahmed Kidwai was murdered in a Mussoorie beset by communal riots, his young wife Anis, likewise mired in the violence of Delhi during Partition, realized that a changing India was in danger of failing the Gandhian ideals to which it aspired even before it began life as an independent nation. In her memoir of the time, she records the stories of those who were driven away, and those who came to stay, delineating the darkness of the dream that propelled India and Pakistan into being. In Freedom’s Shade is a remarkable addition to a growing canon of popular histories of India’s 20th-century history. Her stories are remarkable for their record of how women, in particular, dealt with the sexual violence, abduction and loss that became the shameful, and later largely buried legacy of Partition. Kidwai’s original memoir, Aazaadi ki Chhaon Mein, was written in 1949 and published in 1974. But the flavour of her Urdu and the compassion of her voice filter through, largely intact, in Ayesha Kidwai’s superb translation.

Mafia Queens of Mumbai—Stories of Women from the Ganglands:

S. Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges,

Tranquebar Press,

290 pages, 250.

They are enshrined in journalism and film. They loom large, sometimes with an almost divine aura, among ordinary people. And they are almost exclusively male. The stories of Mumbai’s legendary “dons", the criminal ganglords who once controlled much of the city’s shadow economy, are common knowledge. But were the women in this underworld exclusively the playthings and pawns of the men who would be, as a character in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya famously proclaimed, “Mumbai ka king?" Crack journalism from investigative reporters S. Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges reveal a feminine influence in a world far from the stiflingly gendered society usually seen in Bollywood movies. From prostitution in Kamathipura to smuggling in Dongri, this book tells the breathlessly pulpy true life stories of the women who did business with the big boys of crime.

Read the Lounge review of Mafia Queens of Mumbai at

A.R. Rahman—The Spirit of Music:

Nasreen Munni Kabir,

Om Books International,

215 pages, 495 (with a free music CD).

Perhaps no one has done more to reinvent film music in India since R.D. Burman, but in spite of a host of popular soundtracks in several Indian languages, international fame as a composer and two Oscar awards for his work on Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman is a celebrity best known for his reticence in public. In a new authorized biography, film scholar Nasreen Munni Kabir examines the life and music of the man sometimes known as “the Mozart of Madras" in a series of biographical conversations, creating a context for both the mysticism and the technological avant-gardism that touches and transforms Rahman’s music.