Of storybook Raj and blood red saris

Updated: Jan 07, 2013, 10:14 AM IST

New Delhi: As the mist swirls over northern India, this week`s books make for the ideal lazy read.

Book: "The Raj On the Move: The Story of the Dak Bungalow"; Written by Rajika Bhandari; Published by Roli Books; Priced Rs. 250

Established in the 1840s by the peripatetic British, `dak bungalows` forever changed the way officers of the empire and their families travelled across the subcontinent and got to know the real India. With most of the British Raj perpetually on the move, whether on tour or during the summer migration to the hills, dak bungalow travel inspired a brotherhood of sorts for generations of British and Indian officers, who could recount tales of horrid dak bungalow food, a crazed "khansama", and the time their only companion at the bungalow was a tiger on the loose.

Today, too, PWD-run circuit houses and dak bungalows continue to occupy an important place in the lives and imagination of India`s civil servants. Author Rajika Bhandari
weaves together history, architecture, and travel to take us on a fascinating journey of India`s British-era dak bungalows and circuit houses from the original colonial outpost of Madras in the south to the deep interiors of Madhya Pradesh, the heart of British India.

Evoking the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Ruskin Bond, and filled with fascinating tidbits and amusing anecdotes, the book unearths local folklore about these remote and mysterious buildings, from crotchety khansamas to their delectable chicken dishes.

Book: "The Mirror of Wonders and Other Tales"; Written by Said Rafiq Husain and translated by Salim Kidwai; Priced Rs.195

The plight of a hungry tigress and her cubs, a dog`s undying love for her friend, a domesticated Nepali lost in the woods, the wide ambit of a cow`s maternity and the pangs of separation felt by a monkey`s mother and her child - the anthology of short stories explores the range of human emotions in this unsual anthology of short stories
peopled by animals. Originally written in Urdu by a little known early 20th century writer, the stories in the genre of Orwell`s "Animal Farm" use satire the plight of humans from the vantage point of animals. The writer combines animal behaviour and their empathy with humans to bring the wildlife of the Tehri region alive.

Book: "Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life"; Written by Yashodhara Dalmia; Published by Penguin India; Priced Rs.399

Beautiful and brilliant, Amrita Sher-Gil lived life on her own terms, scandalizing the staid society of her times with her love affairs and unconventional ways. In this fascinating biography, art historian Yashodhara Dalmia paints a compelling portrait of the artist who, when she died in 1941 at the age of twenty-eight, left behind a body of
work that establishes her as one of the foremost artists of the century and an eloquent symbol of the fusion between the East and West. A biography that blends elements of fiction with a gripping narrative.

Book: "Calcutta"; Written by Amit Chaudhuri; Published by Penguin-India; Priced Rs 599

In 1999, Amit Chaudhuri returned with his family to Calcutta. He did so tentatively. Calcutta was where his parents had moved after retirement; it was the city he had loved in his youth and in whose lanes he had spent tranquil childhood holidays; one he had made his name writing about. But that Calcutta had receded and another had taken its place. Calcutta is Chaudhuri`s account of two years (2009-11) in the great metropolis. Using the idea of return and the historical elections of 2011 as his fulcrum, he travels between the 19th century, when the city burst with a new vitality, to the twenty-first century, when, utterly changed, it seems to be on the verge of another turn. Along the way Chaudhuri evokes all that is most particular and extraordinary about the city, He paints, too, an acute, often ironic, and occasionally terribly funny picture of life in the city today - of its malls and restaurants, its fitful attempts to embrace globalisation, its middle class who leave and then return reluctantly, its bygone aristocracy, and its homeless. Calcutta opens on his canvas in all its warring colours.

Book: "Blood Red Sari"; Written by Ashok Banker; Published by Harper Collins India; Priced Rs.299

Missing social activist Lalima has picked three women to carry out the task she was unable to finish - Sheila, the owner of an all-women`s gym in Kolkata; Nachiketa, an attorney in Delhi who is suing her in-laws for the violent abuse that left her wheelchair-bound for life; and Malayali private investigator Anita, whose own brothers are out to get her. Lalima`s adversaries use influence and hired killers to track
down all those who have been sent incriminating evidence against them, forcing Sheila, Nachiketa and Anita to battle for survival even as they race against time to understand the import of the documents they have received. Spanning the murky underbelly of the country`s metropolises and the international human trafficking mafia, "Blood Red Sari" is a pulse-pounding action thriller with a feminist punch.