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Quick Takes

From Ahmed Ali’s classic 1940 novel, Twilight in Delhi, to Rabindranath Tagore's He, here's a list of books you can't miss this winter.

books Updated: May 21, 2012 15:12 IST

When Bill met Will
Oh we all know how little we know about William Shakespeare, but is there really that little that can be known about the Blessed Bard? Bill Bryson tackles that question and comes up with rollicking facts about the ‘mysterious’ dramatist in Shakespeare (Rs 325, HarperPress).

Bryson’s strength is to not beat about the bush and state it as it is: Will’s early years, his London Years, what we can glean about the playwright from his plays, his years of fame.... The slimness of the book (195 pages of delightfully insightful narrative) attests to how scarce empirical evidence from 16th century England can be. As Bryson says, “He is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron — forever there and not there.”

Behind behind the camera
From digging up about Shakespeare, it’s only a hop, skip and jump away to going backstage with Stephen Alter to chronicle the making of Omkara, Vishal Bhardwaj’s highly acclaimed 2006 adaptation of Othello. But Fantasies of aBollywood Love Thief (Rs 295, HarperCollins) is, as the subtitle of the book tells us, a journey “inside the world of Indian moviemaking”.

The reader gets to share Alter’s goggle-eyed trip into the heart of the beast. He writes about the whole Hindi film-creating experience — from the script narration to the grand premiere — with a precious sense of detail. And most importantly of all, he writes with dollops of wit. Here’s a book about travelling to a phenomenon.

The tell-tale Tagore
While all of us (Bengalis included) keep thinking of Rabindranath Tagore as a sage-like prophet who wrote doleful poetry, Aparna Chaudhuri unveils for most of us the mad, almost Dada side of Rabi Thakur. In He (Rs 195, Penguin), Tagore writes to satisfy his nine-year-old granddaughter’s unending demand for stories.

“This He of ours,” explains Tagore’s narrator, “is rare in the extreme — a man in a million. He has an unequalled gift for inventing untruths.” From fantasy to social satire to the surreal, this is a Tagore we don’t really get to read too often. And don’t miss “the scholarly Smritiratna-mashai, the Mohun Bagan goalkeeper”, who, after swallowing five goals, starts licking the Ochterlony Monument. The passages jump through the translation like talking fish on a frying pan.

Play it again, 1947
Originally published by Oxford University Press Karachi in 2006, The Last Durbar (Rs 250, Lotus Roli) didn’t get much of a dekko here. With this reprint, history enthusiasts with a literary bent of mind as well as literary enthusiasts with a historical bent of mind get to read Shashi Joshi’s dramatic presentation of the division of British India.

The play is based on the private papers of Louis Mountbatten and his discussions with the players of the to-be India and Pakistan. With ‘60 years of India’ books having come out of the woodworks the whole of this year, here’s a pleasant, genuinely different take on the history of Partition that should get the footboards ready.

Once there was a Delhi
Also a heady mix of history and fiction is novelist, poet, critic, diplomat and scholar Ahmed Ali’s classic 1940 novel, Twilight in Delhi (Rs 295, Rupa). Republished in a spanking new edition, this is the portrait of a call to freedom from British rule that E.M. Forster described as being “poetic and brutal, delightful and callous”. Read the story of Mir Nihal, either in the Old City itself, or wherever the present has a knack of slipping into the past.

A Congressman cried ‘Jihad!’
If there’s one spy thriller you’re planning to read this winter, don’t bother with any fiction. George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War (Rs 295, Atlantic) takes the cake and runs with it. This is the real story of Texan Congressman Charlie Wilson and his successful bid to armtwist the CIA — with the help of operative Gust Akrakotos — into turning the Afghan mujahideen into superpower-beaters. Apart from the sheer thrill, it reads like a prophetic prologue to a post-9/11 world.