The diversity in India is incredible: here, you can meet saints, underworld dons, tribals, or businessmen, all in the span of a few minutes. Through their stories and experiences, the authors of these books provide insight into and knowledge of the culture and place they are exploring.

01

To The Elephant Graveyard

Tarquin Hall

Journalist Tarquin Hall heads to Assam to cover the hunt for a killer elephant on a rampage, only to end up befriending and understanding the dynamics of the Khasi tribe while chronicling the suffering of the wild elephants. As ‘civilisation’ and deforestation causes the elephants to lose their home and habitat, some are able to accept domestication, even as others become vicious and dangerous.

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02

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana

Pankaj Mishra

Although written over 20 years ago, Butter Chicken still remains relevant. It captures the lives, thoughts, and aspirations of the denizens of small towns with remarkable accuracy, all the while showcasing the diversity in India. Albeit cynical in tone, you are likely to recognise the beauty pageant aspirant, the closeted homosexual, the Hindu with violent tendencies, and the haveli-turned-hotel owner amongst others.

Buy it here.

03

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

William Dalrymple

Historian extraordinaire, William Dalrymple, takes on the ‘holy’ side of India in this book. He explores the devotion that drives temple prostitutes into entering this profession, why a Jain nun watches her friend starve to death in the name of religion, what led to a prison warden being worshipped as an incarnation of a God and many more such fascinating stories.

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04

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Katherine Boo

This deeply moving non-fiction book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo chronicles the lives of slum-dwellers in the glitzy financial capital of India, Mumbai. Annawadi, the slum, a microcosm of the country, perfectly reflects the diversity in India. It is home to a range of people, from a garbage sorter to a lady does what it takes to ensure her daughter graduates college to a young metal thief. As the residents of the slum face external threats to their way of being, their courage and fortitude is tested.

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05

India: A Wounded Civilization

V.S. Naipaul

This book could be considered a must-read for any student of political history. As Naipaul returns to India in 1975, with India at the height of the Emergency, he comes across a country that is almost as much a mystery to its own people as it is to foreigners. He explores the polarity within the country, where at one end of the spectrum you have people believing that chanting can purify a temple, and, on the other, ISRO launches its first space satellite Aryabhata.

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06

Maximum City: Bombay Lost And Found

Suketu Mehta

Mumbai, the erstwhile Bombay, is often called the Maximum City and when you read this book you’ll understand why. Mehta paints a rich and evocative picture of Bombay through the tales of his interaction with politicians, party workers, bar dancers, underworld dons, Bollywood stars, and South Bombay businessmen.

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07

Hot Tea Across India

Rishad Saam Mehta

The very basis of this interesting book is that nothing bonds Indians like the love for tea, or rather a cup of masala chai. Mehta explores the diversity in India by (mostly) road-tripping on his bike, across the length, and breadth of India. At each place, he stops to have a cuppa with a side of conversation. Whether writing about his encounter with a stereotypical corrupt Indian police officer or escaping a mob in Kerala, each page is witty and hilarious.

Buy it here.

Do these books show you an alternate side of India? Do you have any other recommendations? Share with us in the comments below.

Nirbhay Kanoria

Nirbhay Kanoria

As a young boy, Nirbhay had the annoying habit of waking up at 5 a.m. Since television was a big no-no, he had no choice but to read to entertain himself and that is how his love affair with books began. A true-blue Piscean, books paved the path to his fantasy worlds- worlds he’d often rather stay in.