India inspired many a writer from times gone by, who have left their impressions and reflections of the country captured in their books. While some of these unique reads are popular classics, some are rarely heard of.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1900)
A fictionalised story inspired from his own childhood, Kim by Rudyard Kipling portrays the life of a white boy, who is surviving hand-to-mouth in British India of the 19th century and is having a jolly time while doing so. Kimball O’Hara (Kim), blends in with the rest of the kids on the street due to his sunburns that make him look dusky and because of his untamed demeanour. With his deep knowledge of everything Indian, including races and ethnicities of people, one could question his imperial birth. Kim’s father was a sergeant in the Mavericks and his mother was a poor Irish girl carried off by cholera, so Kim represents a meeting of two cultures. The book is set against the backdrop of the covert war between Britain and Russia, where various circumstances and cultures are reflected through this boy’s adventures. The book also dwells on Kim’s friendship with a Tibetan lama who is on a quest to find a sacred river and is joined by Kim as a disciple.
Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975)
Winner of the Booker Prize in 1975, Heat and Dust narrates the tale of Olivia, an Englishwoman who causes a scandal in the town of Satipur by falling in love with the nawab (prince), getting pregnant and aborting her child. Many years later, her step granddaughter, Anne, who is also the narrator of the story, comes to India to find out the truth about Olivia and her life in 1920s India. Anne goes to Satipur to unravel the mystery of her grandfather’s first wife; but just like Olivia, the narrator is seduced, reliving what her grandmother did.
India by Pierre Loti (1901)
A French traveller, Pierre Loti’s India was first published in 1901. A travelogue, it describes an India of another time. The accounts of the writer’s travels are all very personal and detailed, showing a picture of what once was.
A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)
When A Passage to India was published on June 4, 1924, it sold thousands of copies (19,000 copies went to print in Britain and 54,000 in the US) by the end of the year. The book is set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s and is based on Forster’s experiences in India.
Travels in the Mughal Empire by Francois Bernier (1656)
A one-of-its kind book on India from the days of the Mughal rule, Travels in the Mughal Empire by Francois Bernier gives first hand and rare accounts from the period, making it a unique source of information from the era. Bernier was a French physician and traveller, who wrote about his time during the empire in the reign of fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Bernier was also a witness to the family feud of succession among the sons of Shah Jahan and has written about it in History of the Late Rebellion in the States of the Great Mughal in 1670.