Three good books about India

I’ve been pondering a family trip to India, so I’m reading books about India like a fiend.

Maximum city: Bombay lost and found, by Suketa Mehta

I couldn’t put this one down. Part autobiography, the author is an Indian who returns to India after spending some time in America. He intersperses anecdotes about his life and daily living in Mumbai with descriptions of his interactions with cops, gangsters, Bollywood actors, bar dancers, etc. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer. From Goodreads:

A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs; following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse; opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood; and delving into the stories of the countless villagers who come in search of a better life and end up living on the sidewalks.

Ants among elephants: an untouchable family and the making of modern India by Sujatha Gidla

Fascinating family history of a woman from the caste of Dalits (untouchables). She is now a New York City subway conductor.

Much of the book focuses on her uncle, a famous poet and pioneering Maoist guerilla. These guerillas still wreak havoc in east-central and southern India, so much so that the State Department has a travel advisory for that area of the country. I think we may skip that area of the country when we visit.

India: a portrait by Patrick French

A good overall review of the country, some of its history and the issues it’s facing. I like this joke he has in the introduction:

An Indian man walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer. He tells the loan officer that he is going to India on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $5,000. The bank officer tells him that the bank will need some form of security for the loan, so the Indian man hands over the keys of a new Ferrari parked on the street in front of the bank. He produces the title and everything checks out. The loan officer agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan.

The bank’s president and its officers all enjoy a good laugh at the Indian for using a $250,000 Ferrari as collateral against a $5,000 loan. An employee of the bank then drives the Ferrari into the bank’s underground garage and parks it there. Two weeks later, the Indian returns, repays the $5,000 and the interest, which comes to $15.41.

The loan officer says, “Sir, we are very happy to have had your business, and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled. While you were away, we checked you out and found that you are a multimillionaire. What puzzles us is, why would you bother to borrow $5,000?”

The Indian replies: “Where else in New York City can I park my car for two weeks for only $15.41 and expect it to be there when I return?”

Ah, the mind of the Indian!

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