HT Picks; New Reads - Hindustan Times
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HT Picks; New Reads

ByHT Team
Apr 05, 2024 09:19 PM IST

This week’s pick of interesting reads includes a collection of essays that discuss different ways in which identities are constructed in Indian contexts, an entertaining book about a popular intoxicant, and a novel that’s a profound meditation on freedom, regret, and the mysteries of love

On everyday lived realities

On the reading list this week is a book of essays on the construction of identities within Indian contexts, a book on ganja, and a posthumous novel that’s a meditation on freedom and love (HT Team)
On the reading list this week is a book of essays on the construction of identities within Indian contexts, a book on ganja, and a posthumous novel that’s a meditation on freedom and love (HT Team)

320pp, ₹499; Speaking Tiger (An eye-opening collection of essays that discuss different ways in which identities are constructed in unique “Indian” contexts)
320pp, ₹499; Speaking Tiger (An eye-opening collection of essays that discuss different ways in which identities are constructed in unique “Indian” contexts)

Identity formation in non-western societies involves paradox, as doctrines are frequently overridden by actual practices. The essays in this volume discuss different ways in which identities are constructed in unique “Indian” contexts.The emergence of deras in Punjab reflects how continuing caste inequality and divergence over spiritual leadership has affected the egalitarian spirit of Sikhism, contradicting a basic feature of the faith — the tradition of common worship. In the matrilineal Khasi community, men — looking to gain equal inheritance rights — use arguments of ethnic purity and indigenous rights to downsize women’s autonomy and undermine the commanding socio-economic position that their own tradition gives them. For male sex-workers, their profession, paradoxically, becomes a means of sexual autonomy in the otherwise heteronormative world that they inhabit. A different kind of paradox marks the social lives of many Indian women: in Assam for instance, celebration of menstruation coexists with prohibition on menstruating women’s entry into temples and participation in auspicious events. Workplace violence exemplifies how private biases infiltrate public spaces, reinforcing traditional marginalities, undeterred by legal safeguards. Similarly, the plight of indentured plantation workers in Malaysia demonstrates the operation of traditional patriarchy inside a foreign and highly sequestered workspace of plantations — within these spaces, women experience “double marginalization”. And the government and middle-class response to the COVID-19 pandemic across India demonstrated the persistence of traditional biases which perpetuate inequality and oppression in the world’s largest democracy. Comprising these and other discussions on the everyday lived realities of individuals and communities in India and the Indian diaspora, Ways of being Indian is a remarkable, eye-opening collection.*

A celebration and a warning

176pp, ₹299; Speaking Tiger (An entertaining, often trippy book of memories, journeys, facts and figures about the popular intoxicant)
176pp, ₹299; Speaking Tiger (An entertaining, often trippy book of memories, journeys, facts and figures about the popular intoxicant)

For 10 years, from 1998 to 2008, Akshaya Bahibala was in the grip of bhang, of ganja — drinking it, smoking it, experiencing the highs and lows of an addict on Puri’s beaches with hippies, backpackers and drop-outs from France and Japan, Italy and Norway. Then he drew back from the edge and tried to make a life, working as a waiter, a salesman, a bookseller. He starts this journal-cum-travel book with startling, fragmented memories of his lost decade. From these, he moves to stories about people across Odisha whose lives revolve around ganja-bhang-opium. There is the owner of a government-approved bhang shop who takes pride in selling the purest bhang available and insists it can make people as forgiving and non-violent as Jesus. The opium cutter who learned, as a boy, how to massage a lump of opium with mustard oil and carve it into little tablets. The girl who survived cholera by licking opium and became a lifelong addict. The goldsmith whose opium de-addiction card entitles him to 20 grams a month, but who wishes it were 25. The ganja farmer who came from Punjab in a helicopter. A young man, a victim of ganja-and-bhang-fuelled paranoia, who believes Indian and American spies are out to get him. Excise department men who go to destroy ganja plantations and are beaten up by angry villagers. Interspersed with these stories is official data on opium produced, seized and destroyed; UN reports on the medicinal properties of cannabis; and a veteran’s recipes for bhang laddoos and sharbat. Full of surprises, utterly distinctive, this entertaining, often trippy book of memories, journeys, facts and figures about the popular intoxicant is both a celebration and a warning.*

The master’s lost novel

128pp, ₹799; Penguin (A profound meditation on freedom, regret, and the mysteries of love)
128pp, ₹799; Penguin (A profound meditation on freedom, regret, and the mysteries of love)

Sitting alone, overlooking the still and blue lagoon, Ana Magdalena Bach surveys the men of the hotel bar. She is happily married and has no reason to escape the world she has made with her husband and children. And yet, every August, she travels here to the island where her mother is buried, and for one night takes a new lover. Amid sultry days and tropical downpours, lotharios and conmen, Ana journeys further each year into the hinterland of her desire, and the fear that sits quietly at her heart. Constantly surprising and wonderfully sensual, Until August is a profound meditation on freedom, regret, and the mysteries of love, from one of the greatest writers the world has ever known. Salman Rushdie is spot on when he says: “No writer since Dickens was so widely read, and so deeply loved, as Gabriel García Márquez.” This posthumous “lost” novel reinforces that view.*

*All copy from book flap.

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