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Babur’s Secret Weapon: Not Swords, But… Stones?

Embark on a journey through the tumultuous life of Babur, the visionary founder of the Timurid Empire in Hindustan, with Aabhas Maldahiyar‘s latest book, Babur: The Chessboard King. From his early struggles to his relentless pursuit of power, this highly researched biography paints a poignant picture of a multifaceted ruler known as ‘the chessboard king.’

Ready to unravel history?

Babur || Aabhas Maldahiyar


On 8 July of ad 1499, commissaries were sent galloping off at once—a few to call the troops of horse riders and on foot in the nearby districts, and others to urge Qambar Ali to return, and the important ones who were away at home. The available warriors were told to arrange their weapons—shovels, axes and the best of war materials in the store. The horse riders and foot soldiers from the nearby districts made their way to Andijān. As they reached, those already in the district
and those who barged in were gathered. On 25 August of that year, Babur, relying on Allah, went to Hafiz Beg’s Charbagh and stayed there for four days to ensure perfect equipment arrangements for the battle ahead. Once that was done, an array of right, left and centre was formed which included the van, horse and foot. On 30 August, the army led by Babur began to march for Osh. He was determined to get Tambal. As the news of Babur approaching with such a might
reached Tambal, he rode towards Rabat-i-Sarhang, a sub-district in the north. That very night, Babur along with his troop dismounted in Lat-kint. The next day, when they were passing through Osh, news came that Tambal had gone to Andijān. Babur decided to march on for Auzkint. The men of Tambal reached in Andijān but the moats prevented their ladders from entering the fort from working. Babur’s raiders on the other hand retired after having overrun the area around Auzkint laying their hands on anything worth their trouble.


Tambal had stationed his younger brother, Khalil in Madu, with around 300 men. Madu was one of the forts of Osh, renowned for its strength. Babur and his men decided to turn to Khalil and see this strongest of the forts. The northern face of the Madu fort stood very high above the bed of a torrent. The arrows shot from this bed could barely reach the ramparts. On this very side was a water-thief, crafted like a lane with ramparts on both sides that ran from the fort to the water. On the other side, was the rising ground with its circumference surrounded by a big ditch. The torrent had helped those occupying the fort in carrying stones the size of mortars. As per Babur’s knowledge, no fort of such class was ever defended with stones of such large size as those taken into Madu. A large stone was dropped on Kitta Beg’s elder brother, Abdul Qasim Kohbur as he went under the ramparts. He came down rolling, without once getting to his feet, from that great height down to the foot of the glacis. And then a stone flung from a double waterway hit Yar Ali Balal in his head leaving it trepanned. The wrath of falling stones spelled disaster for Babur’s men. Many of them perished. However, Babur’s men made a great comeback by facing the showering stones. The assault began with the next dawn, and they kept fighting till the evening. They had lost the water-thief and hence could not continue the fight the next morning. They came out and sought to agree on the terms. Babur took around four scores of Khalil’s men and sent them to Andijān for safekeeping as some of his begs and household were prisoners in their hands. The Madu affair turned out very well for Babur.


After having finished this campaign successfully, Babur and his men went to Unju Tupa, a village in Osh, and dismounted there. On the other hand, unsuccessful Tambal retired from Andijān and went to sub-district Rabat-i-Sarhang. He dismounted in the village called Ab-i-Khān. Now, Babur and Tambal were merely five miles away from each other. But despite such proximity, there was no war or battle for around six weeks. But peace is not eternal.
The foragers on both sides were at play with each passing day. While the people of Tambal could see Babur’s camp, ditches were dug all around as a sign of precaution. Babur also made his soldiers go out in their mail along the ditch. Despite such watchfulness, a night alarm was given every two or three days, and the cry to keep arms up. But one eventful day, when Sayyidi Beg Taghai had gone out with the foragers, the foe (Tambal’s forces) came up suddenly in massive
strength taking him a prisoner.


Get your copy of Babur by Aabhas Maldahiyar wherever books are sold.

Must read JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

The JCB Prize for Literature has just unveiled its 2022 Longlist and we have three books in the run. Shortlist to be announced on 7th October 2022. Stay Tuned! 



Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, Daisy Rockwell

Tomb of sand JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband, and then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a transgender person – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.




The Odd Book of Baby Names by Anees Salim

The odd book of baby names JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 
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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

Can a life be like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces waiting to be conjoined? Like a game of hide-and-seek? Like playing statues? Can memories have colour? Can the sins of the father survive his descendants?
In a family – is it a family if they don’t know it? – that does not rely on the weakness of memory runs a strange register of names. The odd book of baby names has been custom-made on palace stationery for the patriarch, an eccentric king, one of the last kings of India, who dutifully records in it the name of his every offspring. As he bitterly draws his final breaths, eight of his one hundred rumoured children trace the savage lies of their father and reckon with the burdens of their lineage.
Layered with multiple perspectives and cadences, each tale recounted in sharp, tantalizing vignettes, this is a rich tapestry of narratives and a kaleidoscopic journey into the dysfunctional heart of the Indian family. Written with the lightness of comedy and the seriousness of tragedy, the playfulness of an inventive riddle and the intellectual heft of a philosophical undertaking, The Odd Book of Baby Names is Salim’s most ambitious novel yet.


Rohzin by Rahman Abbas

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JCB Prize for Literature Longlist 

Mumbai was almost submerged on the fatal noon of 26 July 2005, when the merciless downpour and cloudburst had spread utter darkness and horror in the heart of the city. River Mithi was inundated, and the sea was furious. At this hour of torturous gloom, Rohzin begins declaring in the first line that it was the last day in the life of two lovers, Asrar and Hina.

The arc of the novel studies various aspects of human emotions, especially love, longing and sexuality as sublime expressions. The emotions are examined, so is love as well as the absence of it, through a gamut of characters and their interrelated lives: Asrar’s relationship with his teacher, Ms Jamila, a prostitute named Shanti and, later, with Hina; Hina’s classmate Vidhi’s relations with her lover and others; Hina’s father Yusuf’s love for Aymal; Vanu’s indulgence in prostitutes.

Rohzin dwells on the plane of an imagination that takes readers on a unique journey across the city of Mumbai, a highly intriguing character in its own right.

Exploring the fascinating world of Abrahamic Lores with Eden

Mythology is often regarded as the sacred history of humankind, with elements of mystery, human nature, and supernatural elements rolled into enrapturing tales and stories. Myths are intrinsic to every culture’s existence and being, and often become bedtime stories that are passed down from generation to generation to keep that culture alive and roaring. Devdutt Pattanaik is no stranger to myths, and with Eden, he has explored the vast world of Abrahamic lores and myths uniquely through an Indian prism.


What are Abrahamic Lores?

Eden cover
Eden||Devdutt Pattanaik


Abrahamic lores, derived from the word ‘Abraham’, consist of monotheistic religions that strictly worship one God. These include three of the biggest religions in the world: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. There are mentions of ‘Abraham’, the one true God, in scriptures of these religions throughout history, be it in the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran. Abrahamic lores remarkably bring together these three contrasting religious beliefs with a series of common and entrancing elements. These include believing in a paternal, judging, and completely external God, to which humans and living beings are subordinate. Another common theme that is consistent throughout these religious texts is the longing for salvation or transcendence which can only be achieved by pleasing God. Abrahamic lores often have prophets, beginning with God creating the world, and ending with the resurrection of the dead and a final judgement.



Eden: Retelling Monotheism through an Indian Prism


Eden spotlights how the same lores have different retellings in three of the world’s most dominant faiths in the modern era. The similarities between the scriptures of these three religions and the obsession with ‘one truth’ have, in fact, created inter-religious rivalries, instead of unification. These lores also reflect the plethora of insecurities we have as human beings and instigate a much-needed sense of empathy to heal the wounds we earn while constantly fighting these battles.


“In the beginning, there was nothing but God.

God has no form or name.

But God existed-conscious and sentient.

Humans refer to God in the masculine,

but that reveals the inadequacy of the human language.

God is neither male nor female, neither human nor animal,

neither plant nor mineral, neither wave nor particle.

God is beyond it all, an entity uncontained

by measurement or word

Before creating the world,

God gave seven things:

God’s law, God’s throne, Heaven to the right,

Hell to the left, God’s sanctuary, an altar with

the name of the first and final prophet who

would tell all about God and God’s law,

and a voice that kept chanting,

“Come back, children of humans.”


Written by veteran mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, Eden introduces readers to the many captivating tales of angels, demons, prophets, patriarchs, judges and kings. It also retells stories from Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Zoroastrian mythologies that influenced Abrahamic monotheism over time.

Get your copy and delve into the fascinating and captivating world of Abrahamic lores today!

Different perspectives of the same time and story

The Language of History by Audrey Trushchke analyses a hitherto overlooked group of histories on Indo-Muslim or Indo-Persian political events, namely a few dozen Sanskrit texts that date from the 1190s until 1721. This book seeks, for the first time, to collect, examine and theorize Sanskrit histories on Muslim-led and, later, as Muslims became an integral part of Indian cultural and political worlds, Indo-Muslim rule as a body of historical materials. This archive lends insight and perspectives into formulations and expressions of premodern political, social, cultural and religious identities.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter titled Local Stories in Fourteenth-Century Gujarat and Fifteenth-Century Kashmir.


Different perspectives, different storytellers, always complicate the narrative; that’s good because what we are trying to make sense of is complex.

—Githa Hariharan, 2016 interview

As Indo-Muslim rulers made further inroads into parts of the Indian subcontinent from the fourteenth century onwards, authors developed locally based traditions of Sanskrit historical writing that detailed this political trend. In this chapter, I investigate and compare two regional traditions that took off in the fourteenth century and fifteenth century, respectively: Gujarati prabandhas and Kashmiri rajataranginis. Gujarat and Kashmir had both witnessed Muslim-led military activities and, at least in parts, Muslim- led rule for centuries prior to the inauguration of these respective bodies of Sanskrit texts. Both sets of materials narrate some of that history as relevant to their region. Additionally, because they are plural rather than single texts, these materials allow me to compare authorial choices and see trends and exceptions within a deepening interest in Indo-Muslim history among premodern Sanskrit intellectuals.

Front cover of The Language of History
The Language of History || Audrey Trushke

The Gujarati and Kashmiri materials that I discuss here differ from each other in numerous ways. Four Gujarati texts were composed within a tight time-frame, dating between 1301 and 1349. A trio of Kashmiri works stretch across more than three centuries, with Kalhana penning his Rājataraṅgiṇī (River of Kings) in 1149 and two successors writing in 1459 and 1486, respectively. The two series of texts were authored by men belonging to different religious communities: Shvetambara Jains (prabandhas) and Kashmiri Brahmins (rajataranginis). They exhibit distinct styles and foci. Nonetheless, both constitute regionally based Sanskrit traditions of history writing in areas shaped, relatively early on, by Muslim-led political activities. I consider Gujarati prabandhas and Kashmiri rajataranginis together here, not as two sides of the same coin but rather as two distinct local traditions. When read against each other, these series of texts enable us to sketch out the increasingly complex contours of Sanskrit historical writing on Muslim-led incursions and rule in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


Pairing Difference in Gujarati and Kashmiri Materials

The Gujarati and Kashmiri works both addressed local audiences, although delineated in rather different ways. Jain monks envisioned the four prabandhas I discuss below as being inspirational to the Jain faithful. Two authors, Merutunga and Rajashekhara, penned collections of stories about Jain ascetics and laymen. The other authors—Kakka, Jinaprabha and Vidyatilaka (Jinaprabha’s continuer)—structured their narratives around Jain pilgrimage destinations. Extant manuscript evidence indicates that the four prabandhas were often read in and around Gujarat. In contrast, Kashmiri Brahmins penned the first three rajataranginis for a more politically defined audience. Kalhana, who completed the inaugural Rājataraṅgiṇī in 1149, claimed to write for others who lived through the vicissitudes of sovereignty. For Kalhana, this was a personal subject since his father had been ousted from the court of King Harsha (r. 1089–1101), leaving Kalhana unemployed. Kalhana’s chronicle found a reception, a bit ironically, among those who enjoyed royal patronage, and Jonaraja and Shrivara, the authors of the next two rajataranginis—who imitated Kalhana in style and focus—were court poets of the Shah Miri dynasty. The Rājataraṅgiṇīs of Jonaraja and Shrivara doubled as extensions of Kalhana’s text and as official court chronicles for an Indo-Persian polity.

Despite the distinct origins of these two bodies of historical materials, the founding authors of both local traditions envisioned the same key antecedent: the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Kalhana alludes to the Mahabharata throughout his work and also assigns his chronicle the same unusual aesthetic goal attributed to the epic in the Kashmiri thought of his time, namely, inducing quiescence (śāntarasa) in the reader who would shun the world after perusing the monstrous cycle of politics. Merutunga, who penned the earliest prabandha work I discuss here, was more direct. In an opening verse, he billed his Prabandhacintāmaṇi (Wishing-Stone of Narratives, 1305) as ‘pleasing like the Mahabharata’. Neither Kalhana nor Merutunga refer to any of the historical materials that I have dealt with earlier in this book, which accords with the generally fractious nature of Sanskrit historical writing on Indo-Muslim political events. But neither did these authors posit their works as clean breaks with the Sanskrit literary tradition. Rather, the authors imagined themselves as updating established ways of writing about past events in Sanskrit, modernizing (or early modernizing?) them for new times and in response to new occurrences. Analysing the prabandhas and rajataranginis together here underscores the self-proclaimed continuity of both sets of authors as well as their differences in interpreting what it meant to write political history in Sanskrit.

Kalhana and Merutunga headline focusing on the present as a crux of their innovation. Again, Merutunga is more forthcoming. In an opening verse, he claims that his work narrates recent history (vṛttaistadāsannasatāṃ), which sets it apart from old stories (kathāḥ purāṇāḥ). Kalhana indicates his emphasis on recent history by becoming more precise and verbose as he comes closer to his present day, such that his later chapters, on events increasingly close to his own time, are far longer and denser than his earlier ones.9 More than half of Kalhana’s Rājataraṅgiṇī concerns the sixty years prior to the text’s composition. In this emphasis on recent history, Kalhana’s Rājataraṅgiṇī is a far cry from the Mahabharata epic that was always, even in its own internal frameworks, about times and people that were long gone. More generally, the prabandhas and rajataranginis I discuss here concentrate on the lives of real, historical people and sometimes include specific dates and citations of sources. Their authors coupled these historiographical innovations with an incorporation of stories about how Indo-Muslim political actors were shaping the contemporary political and social realities of Gujarat and Kashmir, respectively. By reading these two bodies of works side by side, we can see both their shared similarities and substantial divergences that added texture and depth to the growing tradition of Sanskrit historical writing.




The quest for an egalitarian society

It all began in the late-nineteenth-century Kerala, with a Dalit man flamboyantly riding a bullock cart along a road. What might sound mundane was actually a defiant form of protest, as riding animal-pulled vehicles was a privilege reserved for the upper castes.

Featuring several such inspiring accounts from the lives of individuals who tirelessly battled divisive forces all their lives, Makers of Modern Dalit History seeks to enhance the present-day Indian’s understanding of the Dalit community.

Backed with thorough research on historical and contemporary figures such as B.R. Ambedkar, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Gurram Jashuva, K.R. Narayanan, Ayyankali, Soyarabai and Rani Jhalkaribai, among many others, this book promises to be a significant addition to the Dalit discourse. It opens a path to initiating an overdue discussion centred around Dalit identity, history and politics.


Makers of Modern Dalit History cover
Makers of Modern Dalit History||Sudarshan Ramabadran, Guru Prakash

Bhagwan Das, author of In Pursuit of Ambedkar, says:


The newspaper used to publish a lot of things about Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose and Jinnah but hardly a thing about the untouchable communities. I used to wonder, ‘Who is our leader?’ I asked Abba this, and he replied,

‘Umeedkar, the one who brings hope,’

which is how Abba saw Babasaheb Ambedkar.1


Original thinker, scholar, jurist, legislator, economist, public policy leader, development practitioner and chief architect of the Indian Constitution, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was all this and more.

His thoughts were crisp, his views precise and clear, and words unabashed and unapologetic on every platform he spoke from. The more one reads about Ambedkar, the more one admires his unique intellect and understands his significance, the circumstances under which he jolted the status quo and truly sought disruption in calling for complete annihilation of the caste system.

Ambedkar saw society like no one else from the prism of brute force and caste-based discrimination. Thus, he stood for the cause of all-round empowerment of the socially disadvantaged till his very last breath. Even when he was on his way to England for the first roundtable conference in 1930, it is recorded that he wrote in a letter to ‘Dadasaheb’ Bhaurao Gaikwad how the people there were sympathetic towards him and that he was happy to see them inclined to favour the demands of the untouchables.2

As a child, Ambedkar, a Mahar, was made to sit separately in primary school because of his caste.3 When someone served him water, it was from a height to avoid physical contact with him; he was even denied a haircut because he hailed from the Mahar community.4 All this is just a glimpse of the treacherous  discrimination that a six-year-old Dalit child had to go through.

Who would have thought then that this child, born on 14 April 1891 in the tiny military village of Mhow, would one day establish himself as one of the founding fathers of independent India? Ambedkar came from a financially stable family, which enabled him to have a primary school education. However, this access never could remove the ‘untouchable’ tag from his consciousness. The thought of being ‘untouchable’ plagued his mind, especially when he was denied the services of a barber or a

driver because of it.

During his primary-school days, he was treated differently and ridiculed solely because he was a Mahar. This left a huge impact on him. However, Babasaheb took the fight to the orthodoxy, and at no point did he give up. For it is these very incidents that made him realize that the fight for the dignity of Dalits had to begin and be a constant one, until his very last breath. He recorded the experiences of untouchability faced by him in the newspaper Janata, which he founded in 1929.5 Dhananjay Keer’s biography, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Life and Mission, published in 1954, also recounted all of Babasaheb’s experiences.6

While his journey to educate himself was excruciating, he was determined to venture into the unknown. His secondary education was funded by the Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the erstwhile ruler of Baroda (now Vadodara), and he studied at the Elphinstone High School in Bombay. Ambedkar’s quest to arm himself with education never ceased, be it when he was in Columbia University, the London School of Economics or Gray’s Inn, where he excelled in academics. The years spent in Europe and America made him feel the stark difference in the treatment he received there and the treatment meted out to him in India.

In 1942, when he founded the All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF), which he later dissolved to found the Republican Party of India, he also initiated scholarships for Dalit

students to study abroad.7

Ambedkar was always a firm advocate of education. He believed that if this revolution for the marginalized was to be won, access to quality education was crucial. He was never violent in his methods. He knew that equipping oneself with education would ensure a battle of dignity for the Dalits that could be fought and won. It was only after education that he felt empowered, for he believed only power could defeat power. Ambedkar being elected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1926 and him founding the Independent Labour Party in 1936 are testimony to how crucial political representation was for Dalits.8

This focus on education was inculcated in him by his teacher at Columbia University, Professor John Dewey. Ambedkar has often said that he owes his intellectual life to Dewey, who was an American philosopher and psychologist but, above all, a reformer of education. Dewey was also one of the central figures associated with functional psychology, philosophy and progressive education.9

Very few Indian leaders have been educated in America. Ambedkar studied with the best minds at Columbia University in the three years he spent there. When he enrolled, he took a number of courses, including railroad economics. He was keen to learn from the top-ranking professors at the university.

All his life, Ambedkar sought the complete eradication of caste, for only this, he believed, would lead to an honourable society. As Bhalchandra Mungekar writes in his introduction to The Essential Ambedkar, ‘Ambedkar’s basic arguments were against institutionalization of caste-based isolation and discrimination

prevalent in the Hindu mind.’10


Makers of Modern Dalit History is a essential read for anyone who wishes to understand the Indian experience in its totality.

A brief journey across 5000 years of the making of a civilization

Indian civilization is an idea, a reality, an enigma. In the riveting INDIANS: A Brief History of a Civilization, Namit Arora takes us on an unforgettable journey through 5000 years of history, reimagining in rich detail the social and cultural moorings of Indians through the ages.  Enlivening the narrative with the  idiosyncratic perspectives of the many famous foreign travellers who visited India over millennia, local folklore and his own inimitable insights, Arora guides us through  six iconic places-the Harappan city of Dholavira, the Ikshvaku capital at Nagarjunakonda, the Buddhist centre of learning at Nalanda, enigmatic Khajuraho, Vijayanagar at Hampi, and Varanasi.

Read on for a glimpse into the exciting churn of ideas, beliefs and values that unfolded among our ancestors through the centuries.


Front cover of INDIANS


Still, the lack of loud and clear indicators of war or standing armies, so commonplace in other civilizations, is a striking feature of the Harappan Civilization. Further, Harappan cities have not revealed monumental, or even humble, temple structures, a great puzzle for scholars. There aren’t any equivalents of the temples and pyramids of ancient Egypt or the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. Some say the Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro had a religious purpose but this is highly speculative. Or perhaps the Harappans built religious shrines and large sculptures from perishable materials like wood. In any case, while there are hints, we have no clear sense of Harappan gods and rituals, or whether they had any temples or priests. Scholars have offered divergent interpretations of seals with possible religious content: a handsome seven-inch sculpture of a man named ‘priest-king’, who could well have been an aristocrat; a seal named ‘proto-Shiva’ that depicts a multi-headed, seated figure in a yoga-like pose, one of ‘several other yogi images in the corpus of Mature Harappan materials’; another seal that shows a female (deity?) standing under a Bodhi tree with its heart-shaped leaves, a figure kneeling before her in supplication and seven standing figures watching them; other seals that depict mysterious objects and rituals before a unicorn; the swastika motif appears often; some female figurines have a paste-like substance along the middle parting of their hair; a stone object in the shape of a phallus has been identified; two terracotta male figurines have erections; a small terracotta object in Kalibangan resembles the familiar Shiva lingam. All this is very tantalizing. There can be little doubt about cultural continuities. Harappan beliefs clearly shaped later religions of the Axial Age in the subcontinent. Quite possibly, Indian ideas of meditation and even renunciation have Harappan origins. But it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about this, or about what the Harappans themselves believed, at least until the script begins to speak. Scepticism is essential: The deciphered Mayan script revealed how wrong many scholars were about the beliefs they had attributed to the Mayans (such as being peaceful). The Harappans did not build monumental sculptures, such as of kings or gods, as did the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians. This doesn’t make them any less complex than others, writes Possehl, rather it’s an alternative way in which a civilization, with a ‘highly complex sociocultural system, has expressed itself’.  They did make fine miniature art, as in seals and beadwork. And while their figurines aren’t notable for their artisanship, they still evocatively depict their people ‘in great variety, with many poses: sitting in chairs, lying on beds, holding babies and animals, kneading bread, and other things that people do to round out their existence,’ writes Possehl. Animal puppets, in which a bull might shake its head or pull a cart, reveal a playful sense of humour, perhaps designed to amuse children. There are some fantasy creatures too, but ‘on the whole, the Indus peoples in their art, as in other aspects of their lives, come across as people with a practical bent, a tendency to deal with and represent the real world as they [and we] see it’. That said, what jumps out as the Harappans’ greatest monumental work is the city itself, a marvel of urban design and engineering, city- wide sanitation systems that include the first indoor toilets in the world and sophisticated water management. ‘Probably not until later Roman times did people devise so many clever construction techniques to deal with comforts and discomforts related to water.’ They also excelled at shipbuilding and long-distance trade—another reason to think that they had centralized authority and bureaucracy to mobilize labour, develop trading networks and organize long-distance shipping expeditions. Harappan cities of the mature period (2600–1900 bce) had some walled neighbourhoods with larger buildings and better provisions, suggesting that an elite class resided there. But not everyone agrees. There is ‘no justification’ or archaeological support for this presumption, says archaeologist Jonathan Mark Kenoyer. In fact, in certain stages, the ‘citadels’ in Dholavira and Mohenjo-Daro were hubs of artisanal– industrial activity. There is no evidence of royal palaces; homes differ in size and provisions but not by much. Sanitation and water wells were available to all. Based on the bones of the dead, the rich and the poor seem to have enjoyed similar access to nutrition. Their burials too display a narrow range in their sizes and types of funerary objects. However, as noted earlier, burial practices may have varied across individuals, or social groups. That the Harappans had a social social class hierarchy is clear enough. What’s remarkable is that this hierarchy seems so much flatter than in other ancient (or modern) civilizations.

Get your copy now for a truly epic exploration of the cultural behemoths that continue to shape ‘INDIANS’ today

The understudied feminist who played an important role in the creation of Pakistan

‘In terms of courage of conviction and strength of character, Mrs Jinnah remains a role model for every man and woman who cherishes freedom.’ 


If Joan of Arc and the Rani of Jhansi are known for their rebel spirit, physical beauty, love of freedom, hatred for the British and deaths at a young age, Mrs Jinnah fits seamlessly into their ilk. Ruttie Jinnah, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s wife was a fierce nationalist in her own right, and a proactive political companion to her husband. 


From Saad S. Khan’s biography, Ruttie Jinnah we extract quotes that show her feminist side. 


‘Among the top Indian leadership from the turn of the century to around the time of the First World War—including Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Motilal Nehru and Jinnah, for instance—Mrs Jinnah was the only politically active and publicly visible wife of any leader.’


‘At South Court, Sheela Reddy argues, Mrs Jinnah was the ‘passionate participant of political discussions, the organizer of all dinners at the home to facilitate these plans, a cheerleader for Jinnah and his acolyte, all rolled into one’. In fact, it was not only about Jinnah’s political meetings with other leaders that Mrs Jinnah was party to—he loved to discuss his political ideas with her first.’


Mrs Jinnah would support her husband through the hustings during the elections to the Central Legislative Assembly; she would accompany him to Delhi and Simla during legislative sessions; and, most unusually for those conservative times, she would sit in most, 

if not all, of the public meetings on the stage beside her husband, as well as attend closed-door political meetings at home.’


‘…All these facts lead us to a better appreciation of her indirect political role in charting Indian history, through her influence on her husband during these years of camaraderie—one that would outlive her own life or, for that matter, Jinnah’s. But for this influence that she wielded over Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, who is not otherwise known for corresponding with any spouse of a political leader of the time, would never have written to her to win her support for his ideas.’


‘…it was not just Jinnah who was the leader of the Muslims, but Mr and Mrs Jinnah together who led the community—as its first couple.’


‘First and foremost, Mrs Jinnah was the political lieutenant and adviser of her husband, joining him in his engagements with the British government, at interactions with the Congress and the Khilafatists, and, of course, in his political activities as head of the All India Muslim League.’


‘Ruttie’s decision to marry Jinnah owed a lot to his politics, which is what had mesmerized her in the first place. Hence, her participation in Jinnah’s political activities began from Lucknow, well before their marriage. Despite her father’s opposition, the young Ruttie attended the joint annual sessions of the Congress and the Muslim League, held in the city in December 1916.’ 

‘Mrs Jinnah had the nerve to not stand up to greet the viceroy at functions. ‘He is a man, after all!’ she would say, implying a lady was not required to pay respect by standing up for men.’ 


‘She ordered a British police officer on Hornby Road who had kicked an old woman—a street vendor—to put back all her strewn fruit into the latter’s basket. From the policeman, who was the smallest instrument in the colonial administration’s coercive authority, right up to the viceroy himself, Mrs Jinnah refused to be intimidated by anyone.’ 


‘Mrs Jinnah’s dress sense was so marvellous that she became a trendsetter in India. The ‘Indian blouse’, her signature combination with the sari, became a fashion statement in the country, and continues to be even today. She was also the first notable Muslim lady to be seen out of purdah, and this boldness of appearance influenced other Muslim women decades down the road to come out of the veil and take active part in the Muslim separatist struggle. This does not mean that her dresses were in any way explicit. By any contemporary sartorial standards, her dressing was more demure than daring.’ 


Read Ruttie Jinnah to get an incisive look into Ruttie’s life and legacy – and get a novel and fresh understanding of Jinnah and the freedom movement.

Ruttie Jinnah’s influence and redaction from history

Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s wife, Ruttie Jinnah was a fierce nationalise in her own right, and a proactive political companion to her husband. According to Jinnah’s contemporary political leader Sarojini Naidu, Ruttie was the only one with whom he could truly be himself. Despite her undisputed influence on him, she remains an understudied figure in history.


Here is an excerpt from the introduction of Saad S. Khan’s biography, Ruttie Jinnah, titled The Enigma of Mrs Jinnah.


Eqbal Ahmad, a great South Asian intellectual, once described Jinnah as an ‘enigma’ of modern history. Jinnah’s aristocratic Victorian manners, English lifestyle and secular outlook rendered him a most unlikely leader of Indian Muslims to have led the people to separate statehood.8 However, any keen observer of South Asian history and the politics of Pakistan may find Mrs Jinnah a greater ‘enigma’ than her husband. Sharing the same manners, the same lifestyle and the same outlook that Ahmad uses to describe Jinnah, she was the unlikeliest of candidates to have had a revolutionary, anti-British spirit, the intrepidity to face her family and community upon conversion to Islam, and her rising to become the first lady of the Indian Muslim community in such a conservative era when most Muslim women were wearing face veils.


As the historians study and explore Jinnah’s personality in the thousands of books and titles on him, we come to know him so well that he hardly remains an enigma any longer. Mrs Jinnah, however, has remained one—first, owing to her behind-the-curtains role in the rise of Jinnah and factors that led to the genesis of Pakistan. This should have made her one of the most studied historical figures by and within Pakistan, at least. To the contrary, however—and this brings us to the second reason she is an enigma—she suffered (to borrow the term from the scholar Akbar S. Ahmed) a complete ‘blackout’ from history.


Here, we look at both these conundrums: her influence on Pakistan and her redaction from history.

Influence on Jinnah and Thereby on the Creation of Pakistan


The first mystery about Mrs Jinnah is around her role in moulding her husband from a staunch all-India nationalist to a believer in the two-nation theory. It is well known that their courtship blossomed from 1916, when she proposed to him in Darjeeling. It was the same year that Jinnah got catapulted to national centre stage by becoming the architect and the author of the Lucknow Pact (also known as the Jinnah–Tilak Pact). It prompted Sarojini Naidu to label him as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Despite strong opposition from her father, Ruttie came to Lucknow to see Jinnah bask in glory on the Indian political skyline.


The couple got married in 1918. After that there was hardly any major political or legislative engagement of Jinnah for which Ruttie was not by his side, till she left for Europe during her terminal illness in 1928. She died the following year. It was precisely that year, in 1929, that Jinnah propounded his Fourteen Points, effectively laying claim to a separate nation for the Muslims. These demands were to coalesce into one—for separate statehood—within a decade. Though Mrs Jinnah cannot be considered the sole reason for this metamorphosis, the exact coincidence of years, which is hard to miss, cannot be purely incidental. Living together and discussing politics for hours every day, it is hard to believe that Ruttie’s influence on Jinnah’s sea change in outlook was nil.


The argument that Mrs Jinnah was one of the factors that led to Jinnah’s becoming a bi-nationalist instead of the nationalist that he was, is subscribed by more or less all serious studies of Jinnah’s early political life. Akbar S. Ahmed,10 M.C. Chagla,11 Kanji Dwarkadas,12 Sheela Reddy13 and Ian Bryant Wells14 among others count Mrs Jinnah’s life—or death—as one of the factors that contributed to the change in Jinnah’s political philosophy, which led to the creation of Pakistan.


They disagree, however, on the extent of this influence, on what exactly caused it (for instance, Mrs Jinnah’s life or her death) and how. The present volume will uncover this backstage role of Mrs Jinnah, which will also help us grasp various hitherto underappreciated angles of Jinnah’s personality and decisions.


Her Blackout from History


Mohammad Ali Jinnah, better known in Pakistan as Quaid-e-Azam, was the founding father of Pakistan and is highly venerated in the country. Countless roads, towns, streets, institutions and projects are named after him. Those who profess their love for him show him a discourtesy by forgetting his first and last love, Rattanbai Maryam Jinnah. It is indeed a pity that the lady went missing from history and Pakistan’s collective memory. Both her role as comrade-in-arms of Jinnah, and her contribution to the freedom struggle in her own right are equally underexplored areas in the historiography of Pakistan.

Akbar S. Ahmed notes that Ruttie (and Dina) have ‘both been blacked out from history [in Pakistan]’. He argues, ‘Nonetheless, it is through a study of his family that we see the man [Jinnah] and understand him more than at any other point in his life because that is when he exposes his inner feelings to us.’15 Who caused this blackout and why? Who were the figures or what were the factors that led to the obliteration of Mrs Jinnah from collective memory?


Apparently, her direct descendants in post-Partition India and her in-laws in post-Independence Pakistan, for reasons that might not mirror each other, may have developed an interest in keeping Mrs Jinnah’s persona concealed from history. These include her parental family’s revulsion to her conversion, personal dislikes and jealousies by some on her in-laws’ side and simple lust for the Jinnahs’ inheritance in property from yet others living on both sides of the Radcliffe Line. The litigation for Jinnah’s property still continues a century down the road.


Saad S. Khan’s vivid biography, Ruttie Jinnah, provides an incisive look into Ruttie’s life and legacy, bringing forth a novel and fresh understanding of Jinnah and the freedom movement.

Jawaharlal Nehru: A life in words

There is no dearth of writing on Jawaharlal Nehru. More will always be less when accounting for his contribution to the country, which starts from before the inception of India, the idea of India. A man who fought imperialism, colonialism, and strove for the idea of a nation propped by secularism, diversity and communal camaraderie is not a figure easily summarised in words. But this 14th of November, we are celebrating Nehru’s birthday with a list of works that come close to portraying the brilliance of his persona, a figure larger than life, vital to our history.




An Autobiography

front cover an autobiography
An Autobiography||Jawaharlal Nehru

by Jawaharlal Nehru


Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, was a great personality who also wrote a number ofinspiring and knowledgeable books. ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography’ is his autobiographical work which he penned down between the years of 1934 and 1935 while he was in prison. In this book, Nehru explores his ideologies and the events in his life that led him to the situation he was positioned in when he wrote this book.

The practice of civil disobedience that Nehru had taken up, is discussed by him terms of his belief in the movement. The author starts off the book with an introduction to his ancestral history, where he mentions that his predecessors had to run away from Kashmir to settle elsewhere.

The book also paints a vivid picture of the pre-independence era in India, where the air of dissension was at an all-time high. The book depicts the political realisation of an upcoming giant of a nation and the battle for its freedom.



front cover Discovery of India
The Discovery of India||Jawaharlal Nehru

The Discovery of India

by Jawaharlal Nehru


Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the book ‘The Discovery of India’, during his imprisonment at Ahmednagar fort for participating in the Quit India Movement (1942 – 1946). The book was written during Nehru’s four years of confinement to solitude in prison and is his way of paying an homage to his beloved country and its rich culture.

The book started from ancient history, Nehru wrote at length of Vedas, Upanishads and textbooks on ancient time and ends during the British raj. The book is a broad view of Indian history, culture and philosophy, the same can also be seen in the television series. The book is considered as one of the finest writing om Indian History. The television series Bharat Ek Khoj which was released in 1988 was based on this book.



front cover Glimpses of World History
Glimpses of World History||Jawaharlal Nehru


Glimpses of World History

by Jawaharlal Nehru


‘Glimpses of the World History’ is an account of the progress of the world through centuries and ages. This book is a collection of letters that Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his daughter Indira when he was in various Indian prisons for three years. The letters were meant to introduce her to the world and its history. In the first few letters, Nehru expresses his sadness for not being able to be around his daughter and give her the materialistic gifts that other parents could but  he promises to give her a gift that he could afford; in the form of knowledge and wisdom through words that come from the very core of his heart. Nehru wrote 196 letters and covered the history of mankind from 6000 BC to the time he was writing the letters.


front cover Letters From a Father to HIs Daughter
Letters From a Father to HIs Daughter||Jawaharlal Nehru


Letters from a Father to His Daughter

by Jawaharlal Nehru


When Indira Gandhi was a little girl of ten, she spent the summer in Mussoorie, while her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was in Allahabad. Over the summer, Nehru wrote her a series of letters in which he told her the story of how and when the earth was made, how human and animal life began, and how civilizations and societies
evolved all over the world.

Written in 1928, these letters remain fresh and vibrant, and capture Nehru’s love for people and for nature, whose story was for him ‘more interesting than any other story or novel that you may have read’. This is a priceless collection of letters from one legendary leader to another.





Get a small glimpse into the life of Pandit Nehru in his own words.


A queen in an unfamiliar kingdom

Prithvimahadevi’s journey is uphill. Having been married off to her father’s enemy in a peace-making gesture, she finds herself betrayed by those closest to her, and ends up alone in an unknown kingdom, alienated among people who are disdainful towards her. Yet her resolve only strengthens. Read an excerpt for a glimpse into Devika Rangachari’s powerful protagonist:


A carriage sent by the Bhaumakara king waits for me in the palace courtyard. It is plain and square with none of the embellishments that my father’s royal carriages routinely bear. Its horses, too, have clearly been selected more for their hardiness than their beauty.

It is hot and bright, and the entire court has assembled to see me off. The silence all around deafens me—this is a parting that signifies defeat and submission. And this is the silence of anger and grief.

The Bhaumakara attendants wait by the carriage, impassive.

I have already bid farewell in private to my father and brother. Yayati does not say much but clings to me as if he is remembering a time when we meant so much more to each other. The ties of blood are the strongest of all bonds, after all, and who are we to gainsay it?

‘Will you come to see me soon?’ I ask, my voice rough with unspilled tears.

front cover of Queen of Earth
Queen of Earth||Devika Rangachari

He nods but glances towards our father as if seeking permission from him. He is increasingly afraid to hold a single original thought or opinion in his head—and this is what has driven a wedge between us.

My father holds me close. ‘Be well. And do not lose hope. I will make it worth your while.’

I am puzzled. What can he possibly mean? I search his face for an answer and open my mouth to frame a question. He silences me with a look.

I am drawn away into a round of weeping goodbyes with my attendants.

His words will eventually make sense to me but for now, I let them slip and walk towards the carriage, resolute. Whatever happens, I will face the future with courage and fortitude. I will be true to my name.

The journey is a nightmare. The carriage has been built more for service than comfort. The wood is hard and digs into my body and the entire frame jolts unbearably. I am repeatedly sick and seem incapable of holding down the smallest morsel of food or even a sip of water.

Both sets of attendants are distressed, mine and the ones that the Bhaumakaras have sent. They can do little to alleviate my discomfort.

I see nothing of the landscape we pass; my eyes are shut tight. I finally huddle down on the hard bench, insensible to the hours that pass, floating in and out of a state of consciousness.

I am dimly aware of someone—my aunt, by
the sound of her voice—coaxing me to suck a slice
of lemon that makes me retch all the more and of someone—her again—stroking my forehead and murmuring soothing words that ultimately lull me into a spell of blessed sleep.

When I eventually wake, it is with the knowledge that the worst has passed. I am weak but whole, and it is a relief to know this. My aunt is by my side, her face full of travel weariness and deep concern in the dim light of approaching darkness.

‘Two days,’ she says in response to my unspoken query. She shakes her head. ‘You have never been this ill before. Perhaps you are not used to the rigours of travel. Or perhaps you have worried yourself into this state.’

A Bhaumakara soldier hastens by to tell us that we are nearing journey’s end.

I look out at the unfamiliar landscape. I have seen nothing of the forests that we have travelled through to reach the coast, but we seem to have emerged from them into an area of tall trees brushing against the sky, palm and coconut by the look of them. A cool breeze blows in, reminding me that we are near the water. A river shimmers by and I can see the dim outlines of boats
on it. This must be the Vaitarani, I think. I know that Viraja nestles between the Mahanadi and the Vaitarani, and that the latter runs closer to the city. My spirits lift slightly and the wind eases the ache in my head.

I see the pallor on my face in the small jewelled mirror that my aunt hands me. There are lines of exhaustion around my eyes and I can taste the sour tang of sickness in my mouth. This is not a propitious time for my new family to view me, but it is not in my hands. Let them know how arduous the journey has been and how much I have endured just to meet their peremptory demands.

When the carriage eventually stops, my head swims. I close my eyes to steady myself.



Queen of Earth is a complex and beautiful story of a young woman who holds her own in the most hostile of circumstances.

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