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Our pick of top 10 books in 2021

2021 saw a variety of books being published as life crawled back to normal from the pandemic. These are our top picks.

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In more ways than one, this year was all about people re-evaluating their relationships with family, work, society and nature. While we were still recovering from the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were new conflicts, dialogues and resolutions. And books were both a great source of respite and eye-openers.

Here’s a list of our top 10 non-fiction in English this year.

The Nutmeg’s Curse by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh traces the violent journey of the humble nutmeg from the Banda Islands to Europe. In the process, he warns us of the dangers of colonialism present even today — from US Defense being a bigger polluter than many countries to India’s drift toward a full-scale extractivist economy.

Ramrao: The Story of India’s Farm Crisis by Jaideep Hardikar

In a year when farmers of India pushed back three contentious agriculture laws, it’s important to read a book that doesn’t treat farmers as a far-away group and subject them to urban opinions. In ‘Ramrao’, Jaideep Hardikar breaks down India’s farm crisis through the story of a Vidarbha farmer who drank poison and survived.

The Coolie’s Great War: Indian Labour in a Global Conflict, 1914-1921 by Radhika Singha

We know of Indian soldiers who served in the World Wars, but very few of us know about the hundreds of prisoners and Indians from ‘criminal tribes’ and lower castes who were enlisted by the British to do menial jobs in the war. India’s ‘coolies’ were sweeping, being deployed as labourers, even in Mesopotamia.

Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence by Shrayana Bhattacharya

Out of the economic struggles, societal stigma and oppressive culture have emerged today’s women of post-liberalisation India. Their dreams, ambitions and fantasies might be diverse but they are unified by a single thread — Shah Rukh Khan.

Reflections on Mughal Art and Culture edited by Roda Ahluwalia

In a series of 13 essays, scholars of Mughal culture and art compare, contrast and contextualise the norms and outliers of the early modern period — from the Safavids in Iran to the Mughals in the Indian subcontinent. The pieces reflect on a myriad of art forms, not just paintings, like typologies, murals and textile.

False Allies: India’s Maharajas in the Age of Ravi Varma by Manu Pillai

Breaking away from an oriental perspective of kings and kingdoms, award-winning author Manu Pillai follows the phenomenal paintings of Ravi Varma and uncovers the stories of resistance, legal battles, and societal advancement in five princely states.

A Rude Life: The Memoir by Vir Sanghvi

Life from a journalists’ point of view is thrilling and full of insights not everyone is privy to. In his memoir, Vir Sanghvi reveals interesting details about prominent political leaders, the evolving Indian media industry and what it means to be at the centre of a dynamic society.

Tales of Hazaribagh: An intimate exploration of Chhotanagpur Plateau by Mihir Vatsa

In a quest for self-discovery, poet Mihir Vatsa explores the deep crevices of landscapes, histories, mythologies and communities of Hazaribagh — a small town on the Chhotanagpur Plateau he calls home.

Mountain Tales by Saumya Roy

Mumbai’s Deonar Hills is a story told often, but one that’s seldom faithful to people’s struggle. With Roy’s book, you follow the lives of the many residents of the Deonar Hills with shocking clarity.

Crafting a Future: Stories of Indian Textiles and Sustainable Practices by Archana Shah

The book takes a deep dive into the textile industry of India and what it takes to keep it alive against machines taking over. It uncovers what goes on behind the making of popular fabrics and materials.

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