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The Absence of Adolescence

Writer – politician Muthuvel Karunanidhi is amongst the most important political leaders India has ever seen. In Karunanidhi: A Life, author A.S. Panneerselvan tells the story of the man who became a metaphor for modern Tamil Nadu, where language, empowerment, self-respect, art, literary forms and films coalesced to lend a unique vibrancy to politics.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter titled, The Absence of Adolescence.

Karunanidhi A Life || A.S. Panneerselvan


Like many underprivileged children, karunanidhi’s life moved straight to adulthood from childhood, bypassing the phase of indulgent adolescence. The politicization that began with the anti-Hindi agitation and exposure to the literature of the Self- Respect Movement propelled karunanidhi into becoming an activist right from his days in the second form. The police excesses and the custodial deaths of two anti-Hindi agitators, Thalamuthu and natarajan, had a profound impact on the young karunanidhi.


The late 1930s witnessed varied crises for all the political players: the imperial government was getting ready for the Second World War; the great Depression and its fallout was taking its toll; Mahatma gandhi’s supremacy was challenged within the Congress by the election of Subhas Chandra Bose as the party president for the second time; and the Left was emerging as a distinct political force with its leaders gaining a hold over decision-making in both the Congress as well as other popular fronts. There was also a shift in Dravidian politics with the leadership moving from the wealthy section among the non-Brahmins to Periyar and Annadurai.


The twists and turns of the Left’s mobilization need elaboration in order to understand how, despite its revolutionary aura, karunanidhi remained with the Dravidian Movement’s social reform agenda. in his essay, in the January–March 1984 issue of The Marxist, E.M.S. namboodiripad points out that when the Congress Socialist Party was formed in 1934, the Communist Party of india initially branded it as Social Fascist. With the Comintern’s change of policy towards the politics of the Popular Front, the indian communists’ relationship to the inC witnessed a reversal. The communists joined the Congress Socialist Party (CSP), which worked as the left wing of the Congress. Once they had joined, the Communist Party of india (CPi) accepted the CSP demand for the Constituent Assembly, which it had denounced two years before.1


in July 1937, the first kerala unit of the CPi was founded at a clandestine meeting in Calicut. The five persons present at the meeting were E.M.S. namboodiripad, krishna Pillai, n.C. Sekhar, k. Damodaran and S.V. ghate. The first four were members of the CSP in kerala; ghate was a CPi Central Committee member, who had come from Madras. Contacts between the CSP in kerala and the CPi had begun in 1935, when P. Sundarayya (Central Committee member of CPi, based in Madras at the time) met with EMS and krishna Pillai. Sundarayya and ghate visited kerala several times and met with the CSP leaders there. The contacts were facilitated through the national meetings of the Congress, CSP and All india kisan Sabha.


in 1936–1937, the cooperation between socialists and communists reached its peak. At the second congress of the CSP, held in Meerut in January 1936, a thesis was adopted which declared that there was a need to build ‘a united indian Socialist Party based on Marxism-Leninism’. in kerala the communists won control over the CSP, and for a brief period controlled the Congress there.2


While the Congress in kerala had a distinct leftward tilt, in Tamil nadu it was virtually under the conservative leadership of stalwarts such as C. Rajagopalachari and S. Satyamurti.


Thiruvarur became a microcosm of the play of these multiple forces. Smitten by Periyar’s radicalism and Annadurai’s eloquence, karunanidhi began devouring the entire oeuvre of Dravidian literature. Periyar had already published the Tamil version of The Communist Manifesto in 1937; a number of serious political publications were being published from various parts of the state. Periyar’s Kudiarasu (The Republic) was the key vehicle for dissemination as well as articulating new ideas and planning political mobilization towards an egalitarian society.3


While Muthuvelar and Anjugam were rejoicing at their son’s tireless learning, little did they realize what he was reading about. Textbooks were last on karunanidhi’s reading list. The extensive literature in politics was revelatory for young karunanidhi. For the first time, he realized that he too had two priceless possessions—his oratory and his pen. His first public speech was a clear pointer. it was a school competition. And karunanidhi decided to make a mark. He looked at some of the redeeming features of the so-called villains within Hindu mythology. karunanidhi spoke at length about the friendship between karna and Duryodhana—a friendship that cut across both caste and class.


The speech was well-received, and the teachers developed a new respect for their wayward student. But, what they did not know was the effort that went behind this oratory. karunanidhi worked on the text of the speech for nearly a week; rehearsed the speech frequently before the mirror; changed the words, similes and metaphors to get the rhythm that would alter the art of public speaking in Tamil forever.


He also created his own publication—Maanavanesan (Friend of students). A handwritten fortnightly of eight pages in demy size that dealt with a range of issues—from questioning orthodoxy to exploring the poetics of early Tamil. He and his friends would make about fifty copies of the magazine and circulate it for a modest fee that managed to just cover the cost of the paper. Years later, when i met him at Murasoli along with Kungumam editor Paavai Chandran for a short interview for the Illustrated Weekly of India, karunanidhi said the handwritten journal was a great learning experience. ‘We could not afford to make any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. A single mistake meant rewriting fifty copies. The sheer labour of correcting made me write a very clean first draft, without any corrections or overwriting,’ he recalled. He also took pains to mail a copy of the magazine to the leaders of the Self-Respect Movement.


But not all of karunanidhi’s icons were happy with the handwritten magazine. Bharathidasan, the well-known poet and a life-long supporter of the Dravidian Movement and karunanidhi, called it a waste of time and effort. He told karunanidhi: ‘The madness of expecting changes from handwritten publications can only be compared to the madness in thinking that development will happen due to spinning charkhas.’


Muthuvel Karunanidhi was ardent as a social reformer and unrelenting as an opposition leader. To read more about him, his life and his work, get your copy of Karunanidhi: A Life.

The story of a tea-laborer and his path-breaking journey

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.- Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Bike Ambulance Dada, the authorised biography of Padma Shri awardee Karimul Hak, is the most inspiring and heart-warming biography you will read this year. It documents the extraordinary journey of a tea-garden worker who saved thousands of lives by starting a free bike-ambulance service from his village to the nearest hospital.

Here is an excerpt from Bike Ambulance Dada by Biswajit Jha titled A Bike Ambulance Takes Shape.

Front Cover Bike Ambulance Dada
Bike Ambulance Dada || Biswajit Jha

Now that Karimul had a bike, he was no longer dependent on his cycle to ferry a patient. The bike gave the patients a greater chance of survival by ensuring they got to the hospital quickly. Karimul, too, was under less pressure, physically and mentally; he could be more certain of patients getting timely medical attention, be they sick or injured, and riding a motorbike was far less physically taxing than cycling all the way with a passenger.

One day, in 2008, when Karimul was enjoying a cup of tea with some acquaintances at a tea shop in Kranti Bazaar, one of them, Babu Mohanta, suddenly cried out. The engrossing discussion on political affairs was halted abruptly. The small group sprang into action to find out the reason behind Mohanta’s shriek. Investigations revealed that a snake had bitten him just above the ankle. Karimul immediately made up his mind to identify the snake, as this would help the doctor decide on the course of treatment; it was imperative in such cases. He saw the snake but could not identify it. Thinking fast, he somehow caught the snake and put it in a small box so that he could carry it to the hospital. He applied a pressure bandage on the wound as well. With the help of those around them, Karimul got Mohanta tied to his back and asked a villager to ride pillion with him. Before starting out for Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital, Karimul instructed the man to make sure that Mohanta did not fall sleep. The snake, carefully locked in the box, accompanied them to the hospital.

On the way, they met with a huge traffic jam on the bridge over the Teesta, just 5 kilometres from the hospital. The road was chock-a-block with vehicles stranded on the bridge, all trying to find a way out and, in the process, aggravating the situation. As Karimul zipped past the four- wheeled vehicles, he saw an ambulance stuck in the traffic. When he asked the ambulance driver for the patient’s details, he was told that the man had also been bitten by a snake, and they were heading for the same hospital as Karimul. Manoeuvring his much-smaller vehicle between the cars and moving towards the hospital with Mohanta, the soft-hearted Karimul felt sorry for the patient in the ‘proper’ ambulance, unable to get out.

Karimul soon reached the hospital. Once there, he showed the snake to the doctor, who was at first startled but then observed it intently for a few seconds before springing into action with the treatment.

After getting Mohanta admitted, Karimul went back to the bridge where they had seen the ambulance. He saw that the ambulance, along with other vehicles, was still there; the patient had, unfortunately, passed away.

After a couple of days, Babu Mohanta was released from the hospital. He was the first person bitten by a poisonous snake in the village to be saved—all because of Karimul’s timely intervention and bike ambulance service.

Before this incident, though Karimul had ignored the taunts of some of the villagers and had gone about ferrying patients to hospital, he had sometimes harboured misgivings that his bike ambulance was a poor substitute for the conventional ambulance. But that day, he realized that his bike ambulance was sometimes far more convenient than a standard ambulance. From then on, there was no looking back for him. His new-found confidence enthused him to serve people with increased passion.

After he was awarded the Padma Shri, the Navayuvak Brindal Club, Siliguri, donated to him an ambulance that he used for some months. But the traditional ambulance not only consumed more fuel, it was also rather difficult to drive it to remote and far-flung areas. After some weeks, he stopped using that ambulance; though it is still with him, he doesn’t use it. Instead, he now has three bike ambulances at home; one is used by his elder son, Raju, another by his younger son, Rajesh, while Karimul himself mostly uses the bike ambulance donated by Bajaj Auto, which has an attached carrier for patients.

Thanks to Karimul Hak’s unique initiative, the bike ambulance has become popular in rural areas of India. Inspired by him, some social workers, as well as some NGOs, have started this service too, thereby saving thousands of lives in far-off areas of the country.

While Karimul has saved many lives, he deeply regrets not being able to save some. Still, he derives immense satisfaction from the fact that a person like him, with a paltry income and limited capacity, has made a difference in the lives of so many people. Relatives and family members of those who died en route to the hospital, or even after reaching the hospital, at least know that they, through Karimul, tried their best to save their loved one. This is a noteworthy achievement for Karimul, who dreams of a day when lack of medical treatment will not be the reason for someone’s death.

Bike Ambulance Dada is a must-read today as it will inspire us to do and be better in our lives.

The kite rises into the air

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib was born in Agra in the closing years of the eighteenth century. A precocious child, he began composing verses at an early age and gained recognition while he was still very young. He wrote in both Urdu and Persian and was also a great prose stylist. He was a careful, even strict, editor of his work who took to publishing long before his peers.

Ghalib’s voice presents us with a double bind, a linguistic paradox. Exploring his life, works and philosophy, Ghalib is an authoritative critical biography of Ghalib and opens a window to many shades of India and the subcontinent’s cultural and literary tradition.

Here is an excerpt from the text by Mehr Afshan Farooqi:


One day, my heart like a paper kite,

Took off on freedom’s string,

And began to shy away from me,

Became so wayward, it pestered me.


Ghalib, from an early composition



To tell the truth – for to hide the truth is not the way of a man free in spirit – I am no more than half a Muslim, for I am free from the bonds of convention and religion and have liberated my soul from the fear of men’s tongues.


Ghalib, in Dastanbuy


front cover of Ghalib
Ghalib || Mehr Afshan Farooqi


‘Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, known as Mirza Naushah, titled Najmuddaulah Dabir ul-Mulk Asadullah Khan Bahadur Nizam Jang, with the nom de plume Ghalib for Persian, and Asad for Rekhtah (Urdu), was born on the eve of 8th of Rajab 1212 hijri (27 December 1797) in the city of Agra.’ Thus begins Maulana Altaf Husain Hali’s important biographical account, Yadgar-e-Ghalib.

Indeed, Hali’s critical, path-breaking memoir of his great ustad reconstructs the poet’s life story in a thrilling narrative woven with anecdotes, letters, personal trivia, first-hand observations and, most importantly, a penetrating analysis of Ghalib’s poetry and prose. Ghalib’s colourful personality shines in Hali’s lucid prose. It is hard to imagine how much or how little we would have known of Ghalib without Hali’s seminal work. There were Ghalib’s letters – volumes of them, a vital source of information – but the inspiration and direction that Hali’s work provided to generations of scholars remains undeniable.

In his youth, Ghalib was counted among the most handsome men in the city, be it Agra or Delhi. He was tall, with broad shoulders; his hands and feet were noticeably strong. Even in old age, when Hali first saw him, the signs of beauty were apparent on his face and demeanour. He was married on the 7th of Rajab, 1225 hijri (1810 ce) to Umrao Begam, the daughter of Navab Mirza Ilahi Bakhsh Khan Ma’ruf. Ghalib was thirteen years old at the time, and his bride eleven. Some years after his marriage, Ghalib moved to Delhi. It appears that he lived in Delhi for the next fifty years, till the end of his life. According to Altaf Husain Hali, in this long period, he never bought a house. He chose to live in rented houses; when he got tired of one house, he moved to another, but always remained in the same neighbourhood: Gali Qasim Jan, or Habsh Khan ka Phatak, or a place nearby.

Ghalib became an orphan at the impressionable age of five, when his father, Mirza Abdullah Beg Khan, was killed by a stray bullet in Rajgarh, Rajasthan, where he had gone with a force from Alwar to quell a rebellion. He was buried in Rajgarh. Raja Bakhtawar Singh of Alwar fixed a generous allowance for Ghalib and his siblings – his older sister, known as Chhoti Begam, and his younger brother, Mirza Yusuf. The children and their mother had always lived at the maternal home in Agra. In fact, Ghalib was born in the grand mansion of his maternal grandfather, Khwaja Ghulam Husain Khan Kamidan. Khwaja Ghulam Husain, a military commander (kamidan in colloquial speech) in the province of Meerut, was among the leading elite of Agra. His estate included numerous villages, and he owned many properties in the town itself. Ghalib’s mother, Izzatun Nisa Begam, was literate. Because Ghalib’s father lived with his in-laws, he was fondly known as Mirza Dulha, or Mister Bridegroom. Ghalib himself was known as Mirza Naushah, which, too, means Mister Bridegroom. Such nicknames were terms of affection used for males living with their in-laws. Presumably, Ghalib’s father died in 1801 (although Ghulam Rasul Mehr gives 1803 as the date), because we know that his paternal uncle, Mirza Nasrullah Beg Khan, died some five years later, in 1806, because of the injuries he suffered after accidentally falling off his elephant. Although Ghalib recorded his uncle’s death as an important event in his life, there is no evidence that he was close to his uncle; however, he and his siblings did become entitled to a pension because they were among Mirza Nasrullah Beg’s dependents.


A curated playlist of Ravi Shankar’s music

We often think of the serious artist as one who is difficult or contrary, who struggles in anonymity. Ravi Shankar does not fit this description: he was a charismatic extrovert who earned and loved the limelight, a polished performer who brought a new professionalism to Indian music. There was something irresistible about him, as millions of fans (and dozens of lovers) would attest.

– Oliver Craske 


Oliver Craske’s captivating biography Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar is a labour of love. Born out of over 130 new interviews and unparalleled research and access into the legendary musician’s life and works, this is the first biography of Pt. Ravi Shankar. It immortalises an already unforgettable man by transposing his mesmerizing body of work and the rhythms of his life into the written word. Going a step further, Craske has also curated a playlist of Pt. Ravi Shankar’s work, a combination of short and long pieces that enhance our insight into the maestro through the medium of his genius – music. Here are Craske’s notes on some of these tracks, explaining in his own words why he chose these particular pieces:  


An Introduction to Indian Music [from Sounds of India (1957)] 

A short spoken introduction, with demonstrations on sitar, tanpura and tabla. Recorded on Ravi’s first US album. Gives us a sense of how earnestly and engagingly he played the role of pioneer, educating his new audiences but trusting them to listen with open minds. (4:08) 


Dhun Kafi [from In London (1962)] 

Kafi is a springtime raga, associated with the Holi festival and the romance between the gods Krishna and Radha, a favourite theme of Ravi’s. Here he plays it in the light classical thumri style, with tabla accompaniment by Kanai LalThis recording, one of Ravi’s own favourites, is the likely inspiration for George Harrison’s Beatles song Love You To (on Revolver), which was based on the same raga and recorded shortly before the two met in 1966. Both tracks open with an arpeggio on the sitar’s sympathetic strings, and the melodic resemblance is closest between 2:30 and 3:05 here. (12:38) 


Tabla Dhwani [from Portrait of Genius (1965)] 

This album Portrait of Genius is a fine example of how Ravi raised the profile of percussionists, previously the poor relations of Indian classical music. Under Ravi’s directionTabla-Dhwani features three tabla players, the masterful Alla Rakha taking the lead and improvising freely, with flute accompaniment by Paul Horn. Absorbing in its deceptive simplicity. (4:53) 


Raga Kedara [from The Living Room Sessions, Part 1 (2012)] 

Aged 91, he recorded his last two albums at home, fooling around on sitar along with Tanmoy Bose, latterly his regular touring tabla accompanist. The result was an intimate, close-miked snapshot of his late-period inventiveness, the fruits of a lifetime. His fingers may not have moved quite as adroitly as in his heyday, but this playful rendition of Raga Kedara, from the Grammy-winning first volume, shows how fertile his mind was to the last. (4:47) 


Dhun [from Ravi Shankar at the Monterey International Pop Festival (1967)] 

Playing Monterey Pop in 1967 marked the arrival of Indian music into the Western mainstream. Ravi’s three-hour set, accompanied on tabla by Alla Rakha, closed with this dhun in one of his own ragas, Pancham Se Gara. It has an emotional crescendo and such an ecstatic climax that when D. A. Pennebaker cut his famous documentary of the festival, he realised that the only place to put this sequence was at the end of the film. Nothing could follow it. (19:41) 


Front cover of Indian Sun
Indian Sun || Oliver Craske


What Ravi Shankar has left behind is inimitable and irreplaceableThrough his magnificent literary homage, Oliver Craske ensures that the genius lives on through the pages of history.  

The full playlist is available here.

Shake a Leg with Mandira Bedi’s Workout Playlist

Mandira Bedi is a fitness icon. But behind the six-pack is also a snotty, complaining, can’t-get-out-of-bed-today girl who, in her own way, is still searching for true happiness. Not conditional, materialistic, transactional happiness, but just happiness. So has she cracked it yet? Mandira says ‘No’. But she genuinely believes that she’s headed in the right direction. In her own chaotic way, she seems to have discovered some kind of non-scientific, non-spiritual and as-yet-non-existent formula for finding peace in everything. Just being happy for no reason.


We are sharing here one of her secrets from Happy For No Reason: her terrific playlist for power-packed workout sessions!




Mandira Bedi’s Top 40 Workout Songs (You Will Never Need Another Playlist)
  1. Have It All (Jason Mraz)
  2.  Woke Up Late (Drax Project)
  3.  Build Me Up Buttercup (The Foundation)
  4.  Old Town Road (Lil Nas X)
  5.  Don’t Start Now (Dua Lipa)
  6.  Close to Me (Ellie Goulding)
  7.  Titanium (David Guetta)
  8.  Keeping Me Under (Two Another)
  9.  Glorious (Macklemore)
  10.  More Mess (Kungs)
  11.  Don’t Matter to Me (Drake & Michael Jackson)
  12.  Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z & Alicia Keys)
  13.  Truth Hurts (Lizzo)
  14.  Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson)
  15.  The Shape of You (Ed Sheeran)
  16.  Faith (Wham)
  17. Wasabi (Little Mix)
  18. Memories (Maroon 5)
  19. Day ’n’ Nite (Kidi Cudi)
  20. 2 in a Million (Steve Aoki, Sting & SHAED)
  21. Body (Loud Luxury & Brando)
  22.  24k Magic (Bruno Mars)
  23.  Respect (Arethra Franklin)
  24.  Feel It Still (Portugal. The Man)
  25.  Rock DJ (Robbie Williams)
  26.  Feels (Calvin Harris)
  27.  Cake by the Ocean (DNCE)
  28.  Firework (Katy Perry)
  29.  Dancing in the Moonlight (Toploader)
  30.  Middle of a Heartbreak (Leland)
  31.  Classic (MKTO)
  32.  Wild Thoughts (DJ Khaled)
  33.  Hand in My Pocket (Alanis Morissette)
  34.  Attention (Charlie Puth)
  35.  Sweet like Cola (Lou Bega)
  36.  Desert Rose (Sting)
  37.  Good Thing (Zedd & Kehlani)
  38.  Talk (Khalid)
  39.  Catch & Release (Matt Simmons)
  40.  Sky Full of Stars (Coldplay)

    To find out more of Mandira’s secrets for being Happy For No Reason, get the book here 🙂

Remembering Dr. Ambedkar’s Life through Books on his Legacy and Footprint

Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar has done various contributions to the nation and imbibed the sense of equality among all Indian citizens. On his birth anniversary, we are looking back at books celebrating his life and footprints that inspire us even today.

Ambedkar’s Preamble

A Secret History of the Constitution of India

On 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India was adopted formally and came into effect. Its preamble set out in brief the enlightened values it enshrined and hoped to engender. In a radical shift from mainstream constitutional history, this book establishes Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s irrefutable authorship of the preamble by uncovering the intellectual origins of its six most central concepts-justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, dignity, and nation.
Although Dr Ambedkar is universally regarded as the chief architect of the Constitution, the specifics of his role as chairman of the Drafting Committee are not widely discussed. Totally neglected is his almost single-handed authorship of the Constitution’s Preamble, which is frequently and mistakenly attributed to B.N. Rau rather than to Ambedkar.
This book establishes how and why the Preamble to the Constitution of India is essentially an Ambedkarite preamble. It is clear that its central concepts have their provenance in Ambedkar’s writings and speeches. Through six eponymous chapters, this book unfolds the story of the six constitutional concepts. In doing so, it spotlights fundamental facts about modern Indian history, as well as Ambedkar’s revolutionary political thought, hitherto ignored in conventional accounts.

The Radical in Ambedkar 

Critical Reflections

This landmark volume, edited and introduced by Anand Teltumbde and Suraj Yengde, establishes B.R. Ambedkar as the most powerful advocate of equality and fraternity in modern India. While the vibrant Dalit movement recognizes Ambedkar as an agent for social change, the intellectual class has celebrated him as the key architect of the Indian Constitution and the political establishment has sought to limit his concerns to the question of reservations. This remarkable volume seeks to unpack the radical in Ambedkar’s legacy by examining his life work from hitherto unexplored perspectives.
Although revered by millions today primarily as a Dalit icon, Ambedkar was a serious scholar of India’s history, society and foreign policy. He was also among the first dedicated human rights lawyers, as well as a journalist and a statesman. Critically evaluating his thought and work, the essays in this book-by Jean Drèze, Partha Chatterjee, Sukhadeo Thorat, Manu Bhagavan, Anupama Rao and other internationally renowned names-discuss Ambedkar’s theory on minority rights, the consequences of the mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism, Dalit oppression in the context of racism and anti-Semitism, and the value of his thought for Marxism and feminism, among other global concerns.
An extraordinary collection of immense breadth and scholarship that challenges the popular understanding of Ambedkar, The Radical in Ambedkar is essential reading for all those who wish to imagine a new future.


Towards an Enlightened India

If Gandhi Was Bapu, The Father Of A Society In Which He Tried To Inject Equality While Maintaining The Hindu Framework, Ambedkar Was Baba To His People And The Great Liberator From That Framework. Born In 1891 Into An Untouchable Family, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar Was Witness To All The Decisive Phases Of India’S Freedom Movement. While The Well-Known Elite Nationalists Like Gandhi And Nehru Led The Struggle For Political Freedom From British Colonial Rule, Ambedkar Fought A Correlated But Different Struggle, One For The Liberation Of The Most Oppressed Sections Of Indian Society. Ambedkar’S Nationalism Focussed On The Building Of A Nation, On The Creation Of Social Equality And Cultural Integration In A Society Held Enslaved For Centuries By The Unique Tyrannies Of Caste And Varna Ideologies. His Would Be An Enlightened India Based On The Values Of Liberty, Equality And Fraternity. In This Concise Biography, Gail Omvedt, A Long-Time Researcher Of Dalit Politics And Culture, Presents With Empathy Ambedkar’S Struggle To Become Educated, Overcome The Stigma Of Untouchability And Pursue His Higher Studies Abroad. She Portrays How He Gradually Rose To Become A Lawyer Of International Repute, A Founder Of A New Order Of Buddhism And A Framer Of India’S Constitution. Ambedkar: Towards An Enlightened India Puts The Man And His Times In Context And Explains To A New Generation Of Readers How He Became A National And Dalit Leader And An Icon Of The Dispossessed.


Its 20Th Century Avatar

As India attempts to modernize and ready itself for the twenty-first century, the issue of caste takes on an overwhelming importance. What form does caste take today? How can its debilitating aspects be countered? This book, edited and introduced by one of India’s most eminent sociologists, attempts to answer these and other crucial questions. The essays in this volume, each authored by an expert on the subject, include a stimulating assessment of the role of women in perpetuating caste; incisive analyses of the relationship between caste and the economy, and between caste and Hinduism; a review of the backward class movements in Tamil Nadu; a commentary on the power struggle in UP and Bihar amongst the backward castes; the relationship between efficiency and job reservation; observations on caste amongst Muslims and Christians in India and critiques of the Mandal Commission Report and the Mandal judgement.


The Truth about India’s Manual Scavengers

In many parts of the country, the inhuman practice of manual scavenging continues to thrive in spite of a law banning it. Moreover, the people forced to carry out this degrading work remain invisible to the rest of us, pushed to the margins of society without any recourse to help or hope. Now, for the first time, award-winning journalist Bhasha Singh turns the spotlight on this ignored community. In Unseen, based on over a decade of research, she unveils the horrific plight of manual scavengers across eleven states in the country while also recording their ongoing struggle for self-empowerment. Previously published in Hindi to both critical and commercial success, this is an explosive work of reportage on a burning issue.

Dalit Millionaires

15 Inspiring Stories

“Dalit Millionaires is a collection of profiles of fifteen Dalit entrepreneurs who have braved both societal and business pressures to carve out highly profitable niches for themselves. The book is a vivid chronicle of how the battle has moved from the village well to the marketplace. There are tales describing how the multimillionaire Ashok Khade, at one time, did not have even four annas to replace the nib of a broken pen, how Kalpana Saroj, a child bride, worked her way to becoming a property magnate, and how Sanjay Kshirsagar moved on from a 120-foot tenement and now seems well on his way to become the emperor of a 500-crorerupee firm. The only common thread through these stories is the spirit that if you can imagine it, you can do it.”

Defying the Odds

The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs

Defying the Odds is about the new Dalit identity. It profiles the phenomenal rise of twenty Dalit entrepreneurs, the few who through a combination of grit, ambition, drive and hustle—and some luck—have managed to break through social, economic and practical barriers. It illustrates instances where adversity compensated for disadvantage, where working their way up from the bottom instilled in Dalit entrepreneurs a much greater resilience as well as a willingness to seize opportunities in sectors and locations eschewed by more privileged business groups. Traditional Dalit narratives are marked by struggle for identity, rights, equality and for inclusion. These inspiring stories capture both the difficulty of their circumstances as well as their extraordinary steadfastness, while bringing light to the possibilities of entrepreneurship as a tool of social empowerment.

Caste Matters

In this explosive book, Suraj Yengde, a first-generation Dalit scholar educated across continents, challenges deep-seated beliefs about caste and unpacks its many layers. He describes his gut-wrenching experiences of growing up in a Dalit basti, the multiple humiliations suffered by Dalits on a daily basis, and their incredible resilience enabled by love and humour. As he brings to light the immovable glass ceiling that exists for Dalits even in politics, bureaucracy and judiciary, Yengde provides an unflinchingly honest account of divisions within the Dalit community itself-from their internal caste divisions to the conduct of elite Dalits and their tokenized forms of modern-day untouchability-all operating under the inescapable influences of Brahminical doctrines.
This path-breaking book reveals how caste crushes human creativity and is disturbingly similar to other forms of oppression, such as race, class and gender. At once a reflection on inequality and a call to arms, Caste Matters argues that until Dalits lay claim to power and Brahmins join hands against Brahminism to effect real transformation, caste will continue to matter.

The Doctor and the Saint

The Ambedkar–Gandhi Debate: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste

To best understand and address the inequality in India today, Arundhati Roy insists we must examine both the political development and influence of M.K. Gandhi and why B.R. Ambedkar’s brilliant challenge to his near-divine status was suppressed by India’s elite. In Roy’s analysis, we see that Ambedkar’s fight for justice was systematically sidelined in favor of policies that reinforced caste, resulting in the current nation of India: independent of British rule, globally powerful, and marked to this day by the caste system.

This book situates Ambedkar’s arguments in their vital historical context-namely, as an extended public political debate with Mohandas Gandhi. ‘For more than half a century-throughout his adult life-[Gandhi’s] pronouncements on the inherent qualities of black Africans, untouchables and the laboring classes remained consistently insulting,’ writes Roy. ‘His refusal to allow working-class people and untouchables to create their own political organizations and elect their own representatives remained consistent too.’

In The Doctor and the Saint, Roy exposes some uncomfortable, controversial, and even surprising truths about the political thought and career of India’s most famous and most revered figure. In doing so she makes the case for why Ambedkar’s revolutionary intellectual achievements must be resurrected, not only in India but throughout the world.

B.R. Ambedkar

Saviour Of The Masses

The story of the father of the Indian Constitution Born in April 1891into a poor Mahar family, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was a victim of caste discrimination for most of his early life. And while India struggled against the oppressions of British Raj, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb, continued his struggle against the oppressions of the Indian caste system, the social discriminations against Dalits in India. He struggled so the underprivileged sections of Indian society could enjoy equal political rights and be treated with equal respect. An Indian jurist, politician, philosopher, anthropologist, historian and economist, Babasaheb was one of the earliest Dalit’s to earn a college degree. He grew to be the principal architect of Indian constitution. He published journals, periodicals, and launched active movements for social and political freedom for India’s Dalit community. Ambedkar, in the later years of his life, turned to Buddhism, preached it and finally made a formal conversion. This book explores the life and times of the independent India’s first law minister who fought against the discriminations inflicted by his own countrymen, who lived his life acting only in the interest of people.Payal Kapadia is the author of the very popular Wisha Wozzawriter published by Puffin in 2012. She lives in Bombay

We, The Children Of India

Former Chief Justice Leila Seth makes the words of the Preamble to the Constitution understandable to even the youngest reader. What is a democratic republic, why are we secular, what is sovereignty? Believing that it is never too early for young people to learn about the Constitution, she tackles these concepts and explains them in a manner everyone can grasp and enjoy. Accompanied by numerous photographs, captivating and inspiring illustrations by acclaimed illustrator Bindia Thapar, and delightful bits of trivia, We, the Children of India is essential reading for every young citizen.

The Constitution of India for Children

Every 26th January, people gather on New Delhi’s Rajpath amidst a colourful jamboree of fluttering flags, marching soldiers and dancing children. What is celebrated on this day is at the heart of our democracy-the magnificent Constitution of India.

The document didn’t only lay down the law but united India with a vision that took two years, eleven months and seventeen days to realise. Subhadra Sen Gupta captures the many momentous occasions in Indian history that led to its making in The Constitution of India for Children. Populated with facts and dotted with cheerful illustrations, this book provides answers to innumerable questions asked over the years.

Which language is our Constitution written in?
Were women a part of the team that drafted the Constitution?
Why do political parties have symbols next to their names?
What is the official language of India?

An essential handbook for every student and denizen of India, here is a compendium of knowledge that serves as an insightful introduction to the most important document of Independent India.


All books are available as e-books at the Penguin E-books store.


A Talib’s Tale – An Excerpt


John Butt came to Swat in 1970 as a young man in search of an education he couldn’t get from his birthplace in England. He travels around the region, first only with friends from his home country, but as he befriends the locals and starts to learn about their culture and life, he soon finds his heart turning irrevocably Pashtoon.

Containing anecdotes from his life both before and since he shifted to Afghanistan, and with a keen and optimistic attitude towards becoming the best version of himself, John Butt tells a wonderful and heartfelt tale of a man who finds a home in the most unexpected place.


Read an excerpt from the book below:


I owe a lot to Maulana Khan Afzal, but two things in particular. For one, he instilled in me a love of India. Secondly, he showed me practically that one should always work for one’s living.
When I said to Samar Gul in Bara that I was going to the Afridi heartland of Tirah Maidan, he immediately mentioned Khan Afzal. Laiq’s family had some land in Tirah, and he and I had decided to move there for the summer. : ‘That is great,’ Samar Gul said, ‘you will be able to study with Maulana Khan Afzal.’ Like the Sarkai maulvi sahib, Maulana Khan Afzal was an eminent scholar, but at the time he did not have any students residing with him. He was able to devote all his time to tutoring me. I believe it was largely because Tirah was so inaccessible that there were no other students studying with the maulana. Later on, in the late nineties when I visited Maulana Khan Afzal again, he had a good ten to twelve students studying with him. He had become a focal point for talibs, as the Sarkai maulvi sahib had been in the 1970s.
Every day, with my books under my arm, I would make the forty-five-minute walk from Saddar Khel, where Laiq lived, to Landi Kas. Tirah Maidan is a huge, expansive plateau, the like of which there are many in Afghanistan—the Gardez and Logar plateaus are two that spring to mind. The difference with Tirah Maidan is that it is surrounded by richly forested hills, while the hills that surround other Afghan plateaus are mostly bare. Two tributaries of the Bara river meet at the centre of Tirah Maidan, the Malik-Din Khel Bagh. It is the natural capital of Tirah Maidan. The land dips towards that point, as do the streams and the people. From the eastern side, the tribes of Zakha Khel and the Lower Qambar Khels, known as Shalobaris, from the western side the huge swathe of Malik-Din Khel territory, and beyond that the Upper Qambar Khels. From Saddar Khel, I would walk down towards the Malik-Din Khel Bagh, then fork right towards Landi Kas, tucked in a hillside between Bagh and Dunga in Sholobar territory.
I had been studying a Sufi type of collection of Hadith, entitled Riyadh’as-Saliheenthe Path of the Righteous. I say it was Sufi oriented since it was mostly organized according to the virtues that Sufis strive to attain—repentance, patience, sincerity, trust in Allah, steadfastness. It is very spiritually oriented. I am glad I began my study of Hadith with this book. It has remained my favourite collection of Hadith—extremely cleansing and refreshing. However, Khan Afzal switched me to the more mainstream and standard Mishkat’al-Masabih. Mishkat is arranged more conventionally, according to the various strands of jurisprudence: prayer, fasting and the other forms of worship or ibadat—one’s interaction with Allah—followed by muamilat—one’s dealings with other human beings. In the entire Islamic canon, there is this distinction between the rights of Allah—huqooq’Allah—and the rights of one’s fellow beings, indeed of all Allah’s creatures—huqooq’al-ibad. While in Hadith study Khan Afzal went for the more orthodox Mishkat, in jurisprudence, his choice of book for my study was distinctly unorthodox. His preference was Taaleem’al-Islam, written in Urdu by his own teacher, Mufti Kefayatullah of Delhi. ‘Along with learning Islamic jurisprudence—fiqh—you will learn Urdu,’ he recommended. For Taaleem’al-Islam I went outside with his elder son Abdul Hakeem, then a teenager. I guess Abdul Hakeem felt more comfortable teaching me with his father not immediately on hand. We sat on the verge of the field, had a laugh and chatted a lot, while at the same time also reading Taaleem’al-Islam.
In encouraging me to learn Urdu, it was as though the maulana had a premonition or was goading me in the direction of study in India. It had not been that long, maybe twenty or twenty-five years, since he had returned from studying in the Aminiya madrasa in Delhi. India had rubbed off on him to a considerable degree, in a way making him an unusual Afridi. He even continued to wear a lungi—a skirt-like garment favoured by Muslims of India—at home. Pashtoons generally consider this garment effeminate. Even the maulana would not be seen in that garment outside the home. I have replicated Maulana Khan Afzal in this regard. Even when I am in Afghanistan, I wear a lungi in my place of residence; when I am in north India, I wear my lungi a little further afield, as far as the local shops; when I am in south India, I wear a lungi pretty much all the time. At the time when I was studying with the maulana, I used to ask him a lot about India. In a memorable phrase, he once told me that ‘even the dogs of India have manly virtues’—’da Hindustan spi ham saritob laree.’ ‘What’s Delhi like, compared to Peshawar?’ I once asked. ‘What is Hangu like compared to Peshawar?’ he asked rhetorically, referring to a town in the Frontier province, where buses set out towards Tirah. I answered that it was just a tiny town by comparison to Peshawar. ‘Well, so is Peshawar tiny compared to Delhi.’
Yet at the same time the maulana was the most staunchly Afridi of all the Panjpiris. He absolutely loved his native Tirah. I am getting ahead of myself here, but when he was expelled from Tirah along with other Panjpiris and resided for a while in Peshawar, he pined for his motherland so much that he used to console himself by reciting poems written by muhajirs—those who had emigrated from Mecca to Medina at the time of the Holy Prophet—expressing their homesickness for Mecca. He was also invariably cordial with his fellow Afridis, irrespective of whether they subscribed to his Panjpiri views or not. I never saw him take issue or argue with anyone about matters of dogma. He would enact his duties as the pre-eminent Islamic scholar in Tirah Maidan, in the course of which he would explain how important it was to believe in the oneness of Allah and to follow the Sunna of the Holy Prophet. These two things—Tauhid and Sunna—are the twin pillars on which Panjpiri dogma is founded. But he would never become aggressive towards those who did not subscribe to Panjpiri beliefs.



A Talib’s Tale –The Life and Times of a Pashtoon Englishman is available now (also as an e-book)!


The Science of Ahimsa- An Excerpt from ‘The Power of Nonviolent Resistance’

‘Where there is love there is life.’ – Gandhi

With the new year round the corner, take the time to read The Power of Nonviolent Resistance: Selected Writings , a specially curated collection of Gandhi’s writings on nonviolent resistance and activism.

Read an excerpt from the book below:

Toward the end of his life, Gandhi was asked by a friend to resume writing his autobiography and write a “treatise on the science of ahimsa.” What the friend wanted were accounts of Gandhi’s striving for truth and his quest for nonviolence, and since these were the two most significant forces that moved Gandhi, the friend wanted Gandhi’s exposition on the practice of truth and love and his philosophical understanding of both. Gandhi was not averse to writing about himself or his quest. He had written—moved by what he called Antaryami, the dweller within, his autobiography, An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth. Even in February 1946 when this exchange occurred he was not philosophically opposed to writing about the self. However, he left the possibility of the actual act of writing to the will of God.

On the request for the treatise on the “science of ahimsa” he was categorical in his refusal. His unwillingness stemmed from two different grounds: one of inability and the other of impossibility.

He argued that as a person whose domain of work was action, it was beyond his powers to do so. “To write a treatise on the science of ahimsa is beyond my powers. I am not built for academic writings. Action is my domain, and what I understand, according to my lights, to be my duty, and what comes my way, I do. All my action is actuated by the spirit of service.” He suggested that anyone who had the capacity to systematize ahimsa into a science should do so, but added a proviso “if it lends itself to such treatment.” Gandhi went on to argue that a cohesive account of even his own striving for nonviolence, his numerous experiments with ahimsa both within the realms of the spiritual and the political, the personal and the collective, could be attempted only after his death, as anything done before that would be necessarily incomplete. Gandhi was prescient. He was to conduct the most vital and most moving experiment with ahimsa after this and he was to experience the deepest doubts about both the nature of nonviolence and its efficacy after this. With the violence in large parts of the Indian subcontinent from 1946 onward, Gandhi began to think deeply about the commitment of people and political parties to collective nonviolence. In December 1946 Gandhi made the riot-ravaged village of Sreerampore his home and then began a barefoot march through the villages of East Bengal.

This was not the impossibility that he alluded to. He believed that just as it was impossible for a human being to get a full grasp of truth (and of truth as God), it was equally impossible for humans to get a vision of ahimsa that was complete. He said: “If at all, it could only be written after my death. And even so let me give the warning that it would fail to give a complete exposition of ahimsa. No man has been able to describe God fully. The same hold true of ahimsa.”

Gandhi believed that just as it was given to him only to strive to have a glimpse of truth, he could only endeavor to soak his being in ahimsa and translate it in action.

The Power of Nonviolent Resistance: Selected Writings by Gandhi  gives context to the time of Gandhi’s writings while placing them firmly into the present-day political climate, inspiring a new generation of activists to follow the civil rights hero’s teachings and practices. The book is available now!

Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess- An Excerpt

Hailed as the first pan-Indian female superstar in an era which literally offered actresses crumbs, Sridevi tamed Hindi cinema like no other.

Sridevi-The Eternal Screen Goddess by Satyarth Nayak is the superstar’s journey from child star to one of our greatest movie luminaries who forever changed the narrative of Indian cinema.

Get a glimpse into the story of her life from the excerpt below:

The theatre had come alive. Halfway through the film—during the intermission—Tamil chartbusters were blaring from the speakers. A four-year-old girl had got up from her seat and was dancing in the aisle. Her face cherubic, eyes luminous and feet frolicking. Her parents gaped as the audience cheered her on. Oblivious to all this, the girl danced with abandon, casting a shadow on the blank cinema screen. Sharing this childhood memory with me (author) in our only meeting in 2012 at the Delhi premiere of English Vinglish, Sridevi had said, ‘I danced and danced until someone pulled me back.’

And yet, in a 1985 interview with Cine Blitz, Sridevi also described her younger self in these words: ‘I was a very shy and lonely child. Ihated crowds. The minute I saw more than three or four people in the room, I would run and hide behind my mother’s pallu.’

Reconciling these two childhood versions of Sridevi, so seemingly incompatible with each other, is difficult, but perhaps it was this fascinating dichotomy that spun the aura and mystique around her. People close to the actress vouch that she was not one or the other; she was both. Both the personas merging into one. That girl withdrawing behind her mother’s pallu could also streak through the silver screen like a bolt of lightning.

Sridevi was unquestionably to the movies born. The episode at the theatre ticked all the boxes for a star in the making—someone who is naturally drawn to the spotlight, and who can easily insulate oneself from the reality around, instead finding sanctuary in a world of her own. A being so truly dazzling that all those who watched were sucked into the fantasy she created on screen.

Sridevi was born on 13 August 1963. Her parents K. Ayyappan and Rajeshwari were residents of Meenampatti, Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu. Her younger sister Srilatha and stepbrother Satish, from Ayyappan’s first marriage, completed her family. Director Pankuj Parashar reveals how the actress got her name: ‘She once told me that when she was born, there was a bright red mark on her forehead, like a tika. Everyone started saying that a devi had taken birth and they named her Ayyappan Sridevi.

…Today, it is all the characters she has left behind who will keep flashing her magic. Some of us would be content with just those cinematic versions of her. But some of us might look beyond those avatars to seek out the real Sridevi, try to locate her in that twitch of the lips or that flutter of the eyes, in that laughter that never ended or that teardrop that never descended, in her every cadence and every silence, in her infinitesimal moments scattered throughout celluloid. We shall wonder whether the actress, who kept playing ‘others’ onscreen, ever got to be who she truly was. And having spent a lifetime creating ‘Sridevi’ for others, if the real person lived somewhere in her own fantasy.

In an interview with Cine Blitz in 1994, when asked what creature she would wish to be, Sridevi had replied: ‘A bird. I would love to fly free.’ Perhaps it is this unspoken longing in her eyes which a fan like Harish Iyer recognized that makes him say: ‘Many of her admirers keep tweeting “RIP—Return If Possible.” It is not easy for me to say this but I don’t want Sridevi to come back. I hope she is happy and at peace wherever she is. I just want her to rest.’

We can only thank her for those countless moments when she touched our very core with her art, we can only be awed by her immense legacy that generations will continue to discover, we can only be grateful to her for being that life on-screen who inspired lives everywhere. And we can only forever stare at the irony of her last words on celluloid. When walking away from all of us in that scene in Zero, Sridevi giggles and says: ‘Next time!’

Such was Sridevi’s megastardom that she emerged as the ‘hero’ at the box office, towering above her male co-actors. Challenging patriarchy in Bollywood like no other, she not only exalted the status of the Hindi film heroine but also empowered a whole generation of audiences.Find out more about her in Sridevi: The Eternal Screen Goddess.

Who was Shehnaz?

Shehnaz was a beautiful, erudite woman from the royal family of Bhopal. She was almost cast to play Anarkali in K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam!

Her daughter Sophia Naz tells her story as she heard it from her. As a child, the author accompanied her mother every year to Mumbai, where she would try to find some trace of her children in vain. When Shehnaz passed away, it was with her older daughter’s name on her lips.

With a life full of royalty, glamour, heartbreak and survival – we take a deeper look at Shehnaz’s story in a glimpse from the book:

At a very tender age, Fatima stood in front of a stunned gathering and proclaimed that from then on she would be known by the name of Shehnaz-Pride of Kings. As she started to grow older, her penchant for pranks and pocketing delicious treats had not disappeared completely, however, they had been largely supplanted by a burning curiosity about beyond the boundaries of Nawab Manzil and Bara Mahal.

A few months into her lessons, Maulvi Asghar realized that Shehnaz had an aptitude for Urdu poetry well beyond her years. He began by teaching her poetry written for children by the likes of Ismail Merathi, then quickly progressed to the famous riddle verses of Amir Khusro and the mystical couplets of Kabir followed by the classical poets Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Daagh Dehlavi, Sauda, Jurat, Insha and Zauq. Finally, in a nod to an unusual phenomenon that was unique to the literary culture of Bhopal, he taught Shehnaz verses written by Shehzad Masih, the Bourbon who wrote under the nom de plume Fitrat, as well as the poet of Portuguese origin known as Hakim Ilyas Da Silva.

Despite being thrust into an environment that was a stark contrast to the indolent and bucolic neighbourhood of Shahjahanabad in Bhopal where she had grown up, Shehnaz excelled in her studies at the convent, so much so that despite joining the school late and being quite a bit older than her fellow pupils, she quickly earned her promotions and within two years was promoted to a class appropriate for her age.

From the very first moment that they were torn away from their mother, Shehnaz’s children were led to believe that she had abandoned them. In addition to the torture of separation that she was forced to undergo, her children were brainwashed to repudiate their mother completely.

Shehnaz’s heart had been broken in her youth. In the last two decades of her life, this heartbreak took on a literal meaning as she began to suffer a series of heart attacks that grew ever more serious in nature.

On 5 October 2012, before she could complete her eighty-first year, Shehnaz suffered a massive heart attack from which she never recovered. None of her children were with her at the time of her death.

Sophia Naz’s Shehnaz is a story of a life that is worth knowing and understanding. Meet Shehnaz now.

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