Indian history books to understand the country’s heritage and its global impact


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As I write these lines, my country is facing a devastating second wave of the pandemic. As my social media timeline is inundated with information about the destruction the pandemic is wreaking countless lives, as I try to do what little I can to help, as I try to keep the last traces of it alive. hope I can’t help but wonder if this is really the time to talk about Indian history. But we live in a time where, all over the world, we have seen history being manipulated to create narrow nationalist narratives that contribute to people’s otherness and to the legitimization of divisive policies. Now, more than ever, we need to see how we are all connected in the stories of our past. By recognizing only parts of this story, we will only understand parts of ourselves. To weather the current storm and decisively defeat the pandemic in a closely connected world, we must stay united – and knowing our past can help build feelings of camaraderie. History also gives us hope, hope that this too will pass.

I have spent a lot of time this year reading the history of India. Here is an overview of 14 books that will help you understand the history of this diverse country and its impact on the rest of the world.

Time Pieces: A Whistling Tour of Ancient India by Nayanjot Lahiri

It’s not often that you come across an ancient history book that makes you laugh out loud, but this one does. It is not about rulers and wars, or even about a specific region or period of ancient Indian history, but about facets of everyday life, such as love, laughter, food. and art – and gives its readers a feel for the lives of ancient Indians. The author brings to the book a modern sensibility and a sparkling spirit, which makes it a truly enjoyable read.

The Story of the Penguins of Ancient India by Romila Thapar

If you’re in the mood for a serious study of ancient Indian history, choose this one. Written by one of India’s most revered scholars, this book is an authoritative text on ancient India.

The Last Spring: The Life and Times of the Great Mughals by Abraham Eraly

The grandeur and opulence of Mughal courts has been immortalized in the word mogul. This book by Abraham Eraly is a lucid account of the rules of Mughal rulers, covering the period from Babar’s ascension to the throne in 1526 until Aurangzeb’s death in 1707.

Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji by Manu S. Pillai

Traditional Indian history is often centered on northern India, leading to an incomplete and biased understanding of the past of a large and diverse country. This book recounts 700 years of history of the rulers and kingdoms of southern India. Although the concise text is limited in its coverage of social and cultural aspects of the past, it nonetheless provides a good introduction to the medieval history of the region in the context of developments in the rest of the country. The ivory throne, written by the same author, is another book on South Indian history worth seeing.

William Dalrymple’s Anarchy

The two-century British rule in India began with the takeover of an entire country by the British East India Company. The anarchy is the story of how a limited liability company became a colonial power, and how a large, rich country came to be ruled from a boardroom in distant London. William Dalrymple is an extraordinary writer, and this book is a timely reminder of the dangers of blind submission to profits and markets, with little or no responsibility for the human costs of pursuing profit.

Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor

British rule in India is a relatively recent history – it has been 74 years since India gained independence. Despite the shameful atrocities committed by colonial administrations in India and elsewhere, there is a strange amnesia about them in the public memory of the former colonial powers. This amnesia, in particular the glorification and nostalgia for imperial pasts, has serious political implications. In Inglorious Empire, Shashi Tharoor documents the realities of the British Empire in India and makes a compelling case for the need to recognize and atone for these realities.

India’s struggle for independence by Bipan Chandra et al

This book brings together in a coherent narrative the different strands of the struggle against colonial domination, including peasant movements, tribal movements, violent uprisings and the nonviolent movement of Mahatma Gandhi.

Yasmin Khan’s Warring Raj

More than 2.5 million Indians fought in World War II, playing a crucial role in several regions. While there is no dearth of films and books on WWII, there are very few depictions of the contributions of colonized peoples fighting and dying in a war they often did not choose. as anti-colonial protests raged in their own countries, in Western representations of the war. In The Raj at war, Yasmin Khan tells the stories of Indians involved in WWII – soldiers and non-combatants, through interviews, newspaper articles and archival material.

Remains of partition: 21 objects from a continent divided by Aanchal Malhotra

The partition of India in 1947 is one of the most painful events in the history of the subcontinent. Remains of partition looks at the score through material memory – telling the stories of objects that refugees have chosen to take with them across the border – objects that are intensely personal and poignant reminders of the human faces behind the numbers that attempt to quantify the devastation caused by the tragedy.

Annihilation of Caste by BR Ambedkar

Dr BR Ambedkar is one of the greatest thinkers India has ever produced, one of the most important leaders of the anticast movement and the architect of the Indian constitution. In this speech turned essay, he dissects the Hindu scriptures to show how deeply entrenched caste hierarchies are.

The story of doing by Radha Kumar

The women’s movement in India has a rich history and has been better connected with other democratic and radical social justice movements than many of its Western counterparts. The story of doing is an account of the women’s movement in India from 1800 to 1990. It is a book that highlights the ironic conflicts between nationalist discourses and the quest for equality and social justice that traditional history often obscures , and is as relevant today as it was during anti-colonial movements.

We Also Made History: Women in the Ambedkarite Movement by Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon, translated by Wandana Sonalkar

This book, originally written in Marathi, tells stories of women who participated in the Dalit movement in the twentieth century. An exploration of the social conditions of the life of Dalit women and the testimonies of several Dalit activists make this book a rich document on the fight against exploitation based on caste and gender.

India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

India after Gandhi is the story of post-independence India – the story of the birth of the world’s largest democracy, all the turmoil that plagued the young nation, and how democracy managed to survive in a nation deeply diverse. This one is a tome – the latest edition is almost a thousand pages long, but Ramachandra Guha’s stellar handwriting will have you sticking to it.

Radha Kumar’s Paradise at War

To even begin to understand any geopolitical conflict, it is important to know the history of the region. In Paradise at war, Radha Kumar attempts to draw a comprehensive political history of Kashmir. This is an accessible and informative story of the conflict that has raged for decades and touched millions of lives.

Further reading

The Story of a Woman’s Score: Life, Loss and Identity

8 ledgers put in India

6 books on caste to read after Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste


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