Exploring India on the Page

August 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

If you are going to India or just plain an avaricious reader here is a bit of a reading list on India.  Part of Kathleen’s and my India chapter is to enjoy various India seasonings.  The following books will give you a flavor for the vitality, sociology, chaos, religions, social transformation and  economic life of India.




A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.  A wonderfully well written and captivating book that gives you a look inside the culture of arranged marriages in India.  Yes.  Arranged marriages are still the norm.   How do a young Hindu-Moslem couple deal with the expectation that you marry within your caste and community?  Yet, this book will expose you to so much more than the customs of marriage as you become an intimate of a few families in a way that reminded me of War and Peace.  Its length is also similar to War and Peace;  but  you will be sorry to see the book end.  You will not be anxious to close the book and say farewell to  the relationships that you have developed with the characters.

Shantaram by  Gregory David Roberts.    A novel based on the author’s life.  This man is one tough amigo.   Unfortunately afflicted by the disease of addiction, he is imprisoned for armed robbery in Australia.  He makes a daring escape from prison and hides in Mumbai where he makes friends, falls in love, is imprisoned once again, but lives to fight with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan while remaining an integral part of a happy slum among other things.  Very intelligently written, the author has many pithy sayings and explores the requirements of forgiveness and love in the face of personal betrayal.  He also captures many of the customs and everyday peculiarities of Indian life as a member of the Mumbai  mafia.  Somebody could make 2 or 3 movies out of this book.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.  Katherine Boo was an expat and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who lived in India.  She decided to live in a Mumbai slum for a few years and this novel  was its consequence.  I enjoyed reading this book a couple of years before coming to India.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  The classic.  Colorful rendition of India during the British Raj.  Kim is a bi-racial orphan of an Irish soldier.  He grows up with his identity in two worlds and effectively straddles both.  He is devoted to a Tibetan lama while also helping the British thwart Russian designs on India.  If history is your interest, you should also consider  Setting the East Ablaze  Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia by Peter Hopkirk.   I have not yet read.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.  Entertaining and  brief book about a young man who migrates from an Indian village to Delhi.  He realizes his dream of becoming a driver for a wealthy family. With tremendous urbanization occurring in the Mideast and Asia, this book gives you an insight into the lives of those who leave their families behind to seek a better life and opportunities.  The local newspapers surprisingly  refer to drivers, rock splitters, and many others who have made such journeys and live in shanties as the emerging middle class.  This novel illustrates that this class may be left behind and not participate in the New India.  The Great Socialist lurks within the story told by its author.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.  A short novel that captures the tragic consequences of caste life which is stubbornly prevalent in India yet today.  I loved the writing style of this author.

Holy Cow  An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald.   Many expats find it a faithful reflection of many of their experiences in India.  I have yet to read it.


Autobiography/The Spirituality of India


My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi.  Meet the Great Soul directly.  Encounter his single-minded pursuit of truth as he describes India at the turn of the 20th century.  He wrote this autobiography  in the 1920’s  not long after returning to India from South Africa.  He wrote 20 years before independence and his death.  He records his first successful efforts of his nonviolent revolution.  Richard Rohr credits Gandhi with revealing to Christians the nonviolent soul of Jesus.

Mother Teresa  Come Be My Light   Private Writings edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC.  I have come to the other side of the globe and met Teresa while visiting her  foundation home of the Missionaries of Charity.  I was surprised by joy and serenity in her presence there.  This book traces her story and immerses the reader in her spirituality.  See the face of God.

Indian Faces of Jesus by P R John S J.  Hindus and Christians in India have sought to answer Jesus’ question : “Who do you say that I am?”   I am looking forward to reading this book a third time. Fr. John reviews the work of Hindu or Vendantic Indian thinkers and how they confront the mystery of Jesus while recognizing him as “the Supreme Guide to human happiness.”  He then also analyzes four of his Jesuit brothers’ unique approaches to how Jesus addresses India’s culture, problems and people directly.  These scholars all hail from the area of India in which we live.  Their work relies on  the scholarship related to the historical Jesus and the kerygma of the early Church as a platform for understanding how Jesus can uniquely address the social issues of India.  He also effectively analyzes their work in light of Chalcedon and early Church formulations of Christology.  He helped me recognized my docetic leanings.  If asked what my best experience in India has been, I would have to choose between the visit to Kolkata and Teresa’s foundation or making friends with Fr. Pakieraj SJ.  He gave me this book.

Cave in the Snow by Vickie MacKenzie.   Not a great memoir of a Buddhist nun.  Even so, you might find it interesting.

On Hinduism by Wendy Doniger.  Doniger sits in the Eliade Chair for the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.  This book is not an easy read but provides an understanding of the landscape of Hinduism.  Hinduism does not possess any orthodoxy; however, recently  fundamentalism has emerged.  While such a fundamentalism is  contradictory to the spirit of Hinduism’s openness to any strand of spirituality which it generally inculcates into its polytheistic tradition, nevertheless,  it has gained some political mojo. Recently, the fundamentalists objected to the scholarly approach of Doniger and had this book “pulped”.  In other words, her book was shredded and banned.  The publisher Penguin was castigated for caving to these demands. Of course, the “pulping” only drew increased  interest in the book and  I like others bought the book online in India.  My guess is that this book may be the most widely circulated of all of her scholarly writings as a result.




India’s Unending Journey by Mark Tully.   I have not read, but considered a classic.

The Ruling Caste  Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj by David Gilmour.  Fairly dry but based on letters and other archival material.  Provides interesting historical background.