When it comes to books, I try to keep my reading list eclectic. Not restricting myself to any genre I mange to read a variety of books. The year 2016 was no different and I enjoyed reading different books. While I am slightly biased towards fiction I consciously make an effort to read some good works of non-fiction as well.
The year started with one such book. I picked up Sankarshan Thakur’s The Brothers Bihari which chronicles the political lives of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. A lucidly written book traces the careers of this mesmerizing duo. It was an interesting read in the backdrop of their uncanny alliance and consequent victory in Bihar elections. With a perceived threat to a culture of democratic dissent and the need to counter it, noted historian Romila Thapar and some other academicians raised the question of the role a public intellectual should play in the collection of essays The Public Intellectual – another noteworthy work of non-fiction that I could read this past year. At a time when spaces of dissent were being scuttled all across – starting from university campuses to literary freedom of authors, this book raises the pertinent question of the need of going back to basic values of democracy.
This was also a year of reading excellent works of journalism — Rana Ayyub’s Gujarat Files which is a chronicle of her stint as an undercover who looks into the nexus between the political and administrative class in the Gujarat riots of 2002 points out that the legal impunity they enjoyed. Barkha Dutt, another noted journalist’s This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Lines is an account of her journalistic endeavours of reporting from ground zero in some of the most difficult places in India.
Hard hitting books based on real life incidents brought forth stories of exclusion, exploitation and violation of human rights. Mohammad Amir Khan’s Framed as a Terrorist is a saga of a young Muslim man wrongly imprisoned for 14 long years. Finally acquitted to pick up the pieces of his life, his story is at once a tale of horrid injustice and a story of hope and perseverance. Written about one of the darkest incidents of institutionalized killing, Vibhuti Narain Rai’s Hashimpura: 22 May is a chilling account of the cold blooded murder of Muslims in 1987. When all the accused were acquitted the victims of one of the worst custodial killings were denied justice forever.
Coming to my first love, this was a great year of enjoying good works of fiction. While all were not latest publications, I could read some of my favourite authors. I read Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone along with Uzma Aslam Khan’s A Geometry of God and Tahmima Anam’s Bones of Grace. All the books traced the journey of women to discover the past and through that they take you on a journey to the hearts of empires fallen and conquered. Crossing across global boundaries, the stories gives one a peek into the complexity of South Asia.
Another interesting book, Mamang Dai’s The Black Hill is set in the mid nineteenth century when British is trying to make inroads in some of the far flung areas of Northeast. Dai weaves a gripping tale of inter-tribal conflicts, communal values and an almost impossible journey. Written beautifully, it transports one to the lands of Abor and Mishimee tribes. Based on some reviews I picked up Dhruba Hazarika’s Sons of Brahma which for a change tries to focus on the lives of common people in Assam caught in the crossfire between rebels and the police. It also tried to bring forth the nuances of issues that are at the heart of the state’s political turmoil.
This was also a year of catching up on some past reads. I picked up Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel which shows the extremities of biological determinism and Jostein Garder’s Sophie’s World, a beautiful novel which traces the entire history of philosophy in a most lucid manner.
The year ended with a rereading of Albert Camus’ The Outsider—the story of a Frenchman who kills an Algerian but is convicted mainly because he was detached to his mother and did not express his emotions in an expected manner on her death. The rereading was a requirement for my current read – Kamal Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation which gives an identity to the dead Algerian and shows how a random act of violence of a member of the colonizing country left the lives of two people caught in an endless warp of misery.
With the advent of 2017, like an ardent bibliophile I have my reading plans ready. I am looking forward to read Swati Chaturvedi’s I am a Troll and What the Nation Really Needs to Know, a collection of the JNU lectures on Nationalism. While the reading list will continue to be diverse, I look forward to reading more of vernacular literature and would like to start with what I bought from the ongoing 30th Guwahati Book Fair.
Parvin Sultana is currently working as an Assistant Professor in Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur. An ardent bibliophile, she also writes on different socio-political-cultural issues in both print and online forums.