Indian summers come in many shades and flavours. Your experience is defined by where you live (geography), your family (history and culture; caste, class, and gender) and even where you are in your life. Some of us remember summers in terms of childhood memories of holidays, fun and games, and travel. As adults, summer is a nostalgia for those times. For many in rural India, it is a time of withdrawal from farm work and migration to cities in search of sustenance. In recent times, summer is changed by anthropomorphic climate change, which is wreaking havoc with summer and its experience as well.
Our list for summer reading tries to reflect this complexity and variation in the very experience of summer. Some books are for you to relax with, some for you to immerse in. You may take in some of them slowly, and rush through others, some may invoke nostalgia while others might reveal a new vista to explore. Find some of these books on our online store.
Of Birds and Birdsong by M. Krishnan
Summer mornings are filled with the song and dance of birds in their mating season and there is no better raconteur of this than M. Krishnan. This is a collection of Krishnan’s finest natural history writing focused on birds. In this book, he documents the changing forest and urban landscapes and their ecological impact from the 1950s to the 1990s. Buy from our online store.
The Music Room by Namita Devidayal
Traditionally, the seasonality associated with Hindustani classical music recalls ragas associated with spring, summer, and the rain in appropriate times of the year. The narrator of this memoir learns the Basant raga from her teacher in the spring. Her teacher is an illustrious musician with a hallowed musical pedigree. This spring is followed by a series of events and the narrative unfolds in seasons, as her teacher and her face complex times together. Typically, life histories of musicians tend to be written as hagiographies. But this is a nuanced narrative that explores the complexity of a teacher student relationship across three generations of women Hindustani musicians with all the glory and the brickbats. Buy from our online store.
Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry by Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha and Vidya Krishnamurthi
Summer journeys in India are inevitably associated with rail travel. And rail travel includes people you meet, the food you eat on the train, the mishaps and memories of long days and nights crisscrossing the country. This history is written in a very accessible way, and the authors present a fascinating account of how the railways have transformed over time: its origins in resource extraction for the British Raj to its current role as the lifeline for the transport of people and goods across India’s vast and colourful landscape. Read it for glimpses of how India travels, eats and transports everything from coal to bananas. Buy from our online store.
Rivers Remember: Lessons and stories from #Chennai Rains by Krupa Ge Climate change is often explained with facts, graphs and reports on rising carbon dioxide levels and melting ice caps. These can be large and abstract, and closer to where we stand in time, changes in climate occur in rainfall patterns and temperature regimes. These result in droughts or floods, which are then exacerbated by poor urban planning and catastrophic decision making during severe weather events. Krupa Ge tackles this in her insightful analysis of the 2015 Chennai floods. She asks questions about the immediate and long-term causes of these floods. This book will leave you with as many thoughtful questions as answers. Buy from our online store.
Baburnama by Babur, translation by Annette Beveridge
Babur made a long journey away from home in the temperate Farghana valley in Central Asia to India in the early sixteenth century. He made India his home, and succumbed to the summer heat and the charms of the mango. The Baburnama is a first person account of his experiences and is radically different from other accounts of his descendants (the Mughals). Discover India from the cultural perspective of an exceptional ruler in Annette Beveridge’s popular 1921 translation of the earliest surviving autobiography ever written. Buy from our online store.
Discovering Bengaluru by Meera Iyer
Our city has transitioned in many ways. It has changed from Bendakalooru to Vengaluru to Bangalore to Bengaluru. The ooru has gone from being scattered settlements to a fort town, then to a colonial military garrison and finally a thriving global megapolis. Meera Iyer captures the city’s many sights delightfully in this superbly produced book. In this state of lockdown, the book can be read for what it tells us about many historical structures scattered across a fast-changing landscape. Buy from our online store.
The Alchemy of Secrets by Priya Balasubramanian
This book reminds us of the flavour of the Bangalore summer before climate change and urban sprawl. This novel spans three generations of a Bangalore family over seventy years, from pre-independence to the cusp of economic liberalisation. The story is layered and combines political and social commentary with classic storytelling and is perfect for the hot afternoons and warm nights of Bengaluru today. Buy from our online store.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Reading one exciting book after another is often a memory associated with summer holidays. This book is perfect for an absorbing, exciting, tense and ultimately uplifting read. There is a group of women led by Azar Nafisi meeting in secret, and each book discussed in secret is surrounded by life that goes on in Tehran, and each woman of the book club grows in the story and in our minds and hearts.