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I am an indophile and will probably continue to visit India for the rest of my life. My only regret is that it would take several lifetimes to explore it as thoroughly as I would like. Naturally, I read a lot of books about India. These are some that I liked for one reason or another.
Ten recommended books about India by outsiders:
- City of Djinns by William Dalrymple. The author traces the history of the city and tells the story of his own stay there. I didn’t explore the city much on my first visit to India, indeed I found it to be rather overwhelming, dirty, noisy and crowded, but after reading this I decided to give it a chance when I went there again, and have found it quite endearing ever since, albeit only in small doses.
- Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald. This is no masterpiece, but it is an honest and occasionally funny portrayal of modern India, seen through the eyes of an expat. I made the mistake of lending it to my mother shortly before I left for a 5-week trip to India, and she said it made her worried and afraid for me the whole time I was away.
- Kevin and I in India by Frank Kusy. I picked up this book, which seems to be out of print, in a second-hand bookshop in Kathmandu (Nepal) many years ago, and have read it a number of times over the years. It is – or seems to be – a transcript of Kusy’s travel journal while visiting India, and describes the India experienced by budget travellers very well. It also happens to be very, very funny.
- Simon Winchester’s Calcutta. Winchester wrote an essay about Calcutta for the book and chose passages from fiction, non-fiction and poetry that he believes reflect the character of the city. I have never been here, but may go there on my next India trip.
- An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul. Written by a man of Indian descent who was visiting his ancestral land. He gives lovely descriptions of people and places – especially Kashmir – but the book is also full of the sense of alienation and disappointment he felt when he finally came to India for the first time as an adult.
- Children of Kali by Kevin Rushby. Don’t read it for the examination of the thuggee cult or that of modern criminal castes in India, both of which are inconclusive (but interesting), but for Rusby’s experiences as a visitor to places few foreigners ever visit, and for his open-minded interactions with the locals.
- The Raj at Table: A Culinary History of the British in India, by David Burton. This is a delightful look at food and the Raj and how Indian cuisine influenced British cuisine.
- Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century, edited by Charles Allen. A look at the varied experienced of the British in India during the Raj.
- Travels on my Elephant by Mark Shand. The tale of Shand’s journey around northern India with Tara the elephant. Delightful descriptions of life in India and the problems associated with travel by elephant.
- No Full Stops in India by Mark Tully. A collection of articles about a variety of social issues in modern India.
- The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple.