HT Picks: The most interesting reads of the week
An Indian in Egypt
Amongst the multitudes of tombs in the City of the Dead in Cairo, there lies buried a lone Indian — an eminent scholar, writer, debonair statesman and a leader of the Indian freedom movement. Who is he? How did he get there?
For a man who used both the lectern and the pen to devastating effect in the cause of the Indian Independence movement led by the likes of Gandhi, Patel and Nehru, very little is known of Syud Hossain. Born to an aristocratic family in Calcutta, he started a career in journalism early in life and became the editor of Motilal Nehru’s nationalist newspaper, The Independent. After a brief elopement with Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Hossain, under immense pressure from Motilal Nehru and Gandhi, annulled the marriage and was asked to stay away from the country for a few years. Thus began several years of exile.
Eventually, he landed in the United States where he imparted Gandhi’s message far and wide across the country. Gathering a group of Indian freedom fighters around him, he fought for India’s freedom from afar, decrying British oppression and garnering support in the United States for his cause.
Adding to his formidable list of causes, Hossain also took on the fight for Indian immigrant rights in the United States, one that successfully culminated in President Truman signing the Luce-Celler Bill into an Act in 1946. He returned to India to witness the triumph of her independence as well as the tragedy of Gandhi’s assassination. He was appointed the first ever Indian ambassador to Egypt, where he died while in service and was laid to rest in Cairo.
A Forgotten Ambassador in Cairo offers an illuminating narrative of Hossain’s life interspersed with historical details that landscapes a vivid political picture of that era. Through primary sources that include Hossain’s private papers, the British Intelligence files, letters of his friends and contemporary newspapers, NS Vinodh brilliantly brings to life a man who has been relegated far too long to the shadows of time.*
Life behind the screen
Guru Dutt’s filmography has some names which have long been considered as some of the best films to have ever been made in India. His masterpiece Pyaasa (1957) was featured in TIME magazine’s All-Time 100 Movies list in 2005.
His films are still celebrated and revered by viewers, critics and students of cinema the world over, not only for their technical brilliance but also for the eternal romanticism and their profound take on the emptiness of life and the shallowness of material success. He was Indian cinema’s Don Juan and Nietzsche rolled into one.
But while much has been said and written on the film-maker and his art, little is known about his life behind the screens. This richly layered account takes a deep dive into the journey of a lonesome, troubled genius who was endlessly being pulled in contrary directions throughout his life.
A child prodigy, who actually began as a dancer learning from the great Uday Shankar, an unconventional film-maker who desired commercial success without ever compromising on artistic satisfaction, a self-made entrepreneur who hated numbers yet single-handedly ran a film studio juggling the roles of a producer, director, actor, financier — all this while struggling silently with a deeply troubled personal life, at the centre of which was his tumultuous marriage with Geeta Dutt.
Guru had it all — love, family, money, fame and validation from his audience. His untimely death by suicide, that too after multiple failed attempts, had shocked the entire film industry. But what led to that fateful night when he tipped his hat and said his final goodbye?
Best-selling Bollywood biographer Yasser Usman explores the man and the myth Guru Dutt in this definitive biography of a nonconformist star, uncovering the extraordinary lives of the rich and the famous as well the incredible toll it takes on the emotional and mental health of a human being. With cameos from close friends and colleagues Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, Johnny Walker, SD Burman and most significantly Dutt’s sister, noted painter Lalitha Lajmi, a short but compassionate, ambitious and ultimately tragic life reveals itself in the pages of this book.
This is a gripping, meticulously researched and moving portrait of an unfinished life — a tale of unrequited love, unresolved relationships and unmatched cinematic talent.*
The biggest crisis since Partition
In early 2020 the first cases of Covid-19 infection were confirmed in India,and on 24 March the country’s prime minister announced a nationwide lockdown, giving the population of over 1.3 billion just four hours’ notice. Within days, it became evident that India had plunged into its biggest humanitarian crisis since Partition. In this powerful book,Harsh Mander shows us how grave this crisis was and continues to be, and why it is the direct consequence of public policy choices that the Indian government made, particularly of imposing the world’s longest and most stringent lockdown, with the smallest relief package. The Indian state abandoned its poor and marginalized, even as it destroyed their livelihoods and pushed them to the brink of starvation. Mander brings us voices of out-of-work daily-wage and informal workers, the homeless and the destitute, all overwhelmed by hunger and dread. From the highways and overcrowded quarantine centres, he brings us stories of migrant workers who walked hundreds of kilometres to their villages or were prevented from doing so and detained. He lays bare the criminal callousness at the heart of a strategy that forced people to stay indoors in a country where tens of crores live in congested shanties or single rooms with no possibility of physical distancing, no toilets and no running water. Combining ground reports with hard data, Mander argues with great clarity and passion that India is in the middle of a humanitarian catastrophe, the effects of which will be felt for decades.*
All copy from press releases.