Know the Emperor of Hindi Novels: Munshi Premchand

Munshi Premchand was born on this day in 1880. He is the first writer who made realistic Hindi fiction so accessible to readers. Some of his famous works include Gaban, Seva Sadan and Godaan.

Twelve Facts About One of the Greatest Authors India has Produced

  1. His real name was Dhanpat Rai Srivastava.
  2. His first pen name was Nawab Rai; Premchand came later.
  3. He is called Upanyas Samrat– Emperor of Novels.
  4. One of the characters who makes a repeated appearance in his novels is that of the stepmother.
  5. His first novel has disappeared.
  6. He married too young. The marriage soured quickly and he married a child widow later on. This was revolutionary at the time.
  7. Premchand initially wrote in Urdu- he began writing in Hindi later on in his career.
  8. Premchand was an enthusiastic reader of classics in other languages, and translated several of these works in Hindi.
  9. In 1923, he established a printing press and publishing house in Benares called Saraswati Press but he was unable to run the press owing to financial issues.
  10. Premchand did a cameo as the leader of laborers in the film Mazdoor that he wrote the script for- the film never hit the screens as some influential businessmen were against it.
  11. He wrote largely about social injustices, choosing themes like dowry, widow remarriage, corruption and the freedom struggle.
  12. In 1977, Satyajit Ray made a film based on Premchand’s short story Shatranj ke Khiladi, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. Watch the movie here.

Which Premchand story do you love?

Beatrix Potter- The Writer-Illustrator of the Natural World

Helen Beatrix Potter was born on this day in 1866. We all remember her for her remarkable children’s books featuring animals such as Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle but she was also a natural scientist, mycologist, prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep, farmer and conservationist. Her family had inherited the wealth that came from the Lancashire cotton mills, the infamous industry that crippled India’s textile economy. The Potters preferred to ignore their past and live a life of upper-middle-class comfort.

Beatrix Potter and her brother Bertram led a life where art and imagination held sway. They were deeply connected with animals and owned several rabbits, squirrels, bats, birds and insects. Potter’s early sketches paved the way for her future as illustrator with no rival. From a young age, she journaled and was privately tutored in astronomy, botany, entomology, etc.

She had a scientific bent of mind and her detailed drawings of fungi reveal her keen interest in pursuing her scientific passion but it was not to be.

Her keen interest in fairytales and fantasy and her wide reading enabled her to start her career as author-illustrator. She was fiercely independent and was enterprising enough to design Christmas cards and sell them.

She also wrote detailed letters filled with the germ of her future stories. One such letter to a sick child featured the famous bunnies Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter – this letter was self-published as The Tale of Peter Rabbit. After multiple rejections by publishers, her book was later acquired by Frederick Warne & Company.

She even patented the Peter Rabbit doll and introduced the idea of character-based merchandise such as wallpaper, games and toys. She authored 30 books and her books continue to sell throughout the world in different languages and were adapted in songs, films and even ballet.

Later in her life, her interests were aligned with the conservation of the Lake District where she lived with her husband.

9 Chess Novels on International Chess Day

July 20 is International Chess Day the day that the International Chess Federation (FIDE) was founded way back in 1924. Here are some chess-inspired fiction and non-fiction novels for this occasion.

Buy The Queen's Gambit: Now a Major Netflix Drama Book Online at Low Prices in India | The Queen's Gambit: Now a Major Netflix Drama Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.inThe Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis 

We know the Netflix show but have you read the book by Walter Tevis?  The story delves into the  angst, psychological trauma and introspection of a chess champion.  Tevis was known for his pool hall movies but after a bout of alcoholism that lasted for two decades, he turned to chess and from that obsession came The Queen’s Gambit.

 

Buy Chess Story (New York Review Books Classics) Book Online at Low Prices in India | Chess Story (New York Review Books Classics) Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.inChess Story by Stefan Zweig

Chess lovers on an ocean liner, a chess champion and a chess player recovering from a nervous breakdown. The book is a translation of The Royal Game by Austrian author Zweig who died by suicide after sending the book to his publishers.

 

 

Buy Birth of the Chess Queen: A History Book Online at Low Prices in India | Birth of the Chess Queen: A History Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.inBirth of the Chess Queen: A History by Marilyn Yalom 

A non-fiction book that tells the story of how the Queen came to be. Five centuries ago, the Queen didn’t even exist in this game and this piece grew out of the medieval rise of the female sovereign. Marilyn Yalom, a pioneering scholar in gender studies and a leading cultural historian, has also researched and written about how marriage morphed from religious duty into what it has become today and the perceptions of the female breast in human society.

Buy The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster Book Online at Low Prices in India | The Queen of Katwe: AQueen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers 

The inspiring story of a nine-year-old from the Kampala slums in Uganda who with a mentor’s help masters chess. Within a short time, she travels to Siberia to compete in the Chess Olympiad, the world’s most prestigious team-chess event. The screen adaptation by Mira Nair is a must-watch. Tim Crothers is the former senior writer at Sports Illustrated.

Buy All the Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love, and Ruining Everything Book Online at Low Prices in India | All the Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love, and RuiningAll the Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love, and Ruining Everything by Sasha Chapin

A chess memoir that starts in the bylanes of Katmandu. Chess is a world game and the author Sasha Chapin follows his tribe across the globe in search of pure love of the game. Listen to what he thinks about uninhibited creativity here.

 

Buy Grandmaster: A Novel Book Online at Low Prices in India | Grandmaster: A Novel Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.inThe Grandmaster by David Klass 

A father-son relationship with chess at its core. The protagonist Daniel Pratzer doesn’t know that his father was a chess prodigy who vowed to never play the game again. Thirty years later, he needs to break this promise. David Klass is a Hollywood screenwriter and author of several YA novels.

 

Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time: Amazon.in: Edmonds, David, Eidinow, John: BooksBobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time by David Edmonds 

Cold War intrigue at its peak and two chess players- Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer meet in a high-voltage chess match.  The author is a philosopher and a radio feature maker at the BBC World Service.

 

 

The Sin Eater (The Nell West and Michael Flint Series Book 2) by [Sarah Rayne]The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne

A malevolent chess set makes for a riveting suspense thriller: “thirty-two carved figures believed to possess a dark power, but shut away in the forgotten library of a tumbledown Irish castle for many decades.” Sarah Rayne is the author of psychological thrillers and haunted house books.

 

Buy The Defense Book Online at Low Prices in India | The Defense Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.inThe Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

When chess enters the mind,  a player hears ‘combinations like melodies’. Nabokov’s third novel, The Defense, like all his books delves deep into the protagonist’s mind and obsessions. Nabokov himself had an obsession with creating his own chess problems.

 

 

Have you read any novels or essays featuring chess? Do share in the comments.

The Book That Vindicated The Rights of Women

On this day, the Seneca Falls Convention, which launched the woman suffrage movement in the United States, was held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York.

The road to enfranchisement of women has been long. By the early twentieth century, women had won the right to vote in New Zealand, Australia, Finland, and Norway. WWI sped up the process. Full suffrage for women was introduced in India only by 1949.

The road to woman suffrage began with a book called A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft, an enlightened philosopher of the eighteenth century.

Her ideals were shaped in the home- she was born into wealth but her father squandered it and this eroded his character. Her brother’s needs and education were always taken care of and this troubled Mary as she had a keen mind, designed for intellectual pursuit. This is perhaps why the idea of fraternity that was the battle cry of the French Revolution appealed so much to her.

She believed that equality bred virtue and education was the foundation of self-reliance. She was heavily influenced by Lockean ideals and Unitarianism.  She transformed from a dissatisfied governess to a writer who clashed pens with Edmund Burke, a thinker who disapproved of the French Revolution. Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Men in response to Burke and A Vindication of the Rights of Women followed.

This treatise deals primarily with the need for women’s education not just in domesticity but in rational thought. Since a woman like a man would face hardships, she could not live her life as the weaker sex, dependent on conduct manuals. Nowhere in the treatise did she mention suffrage although her ideas became the bedrock of feminist movements later on.

 

8 Cookbooks for Chefs and Hungry Readers Alike

Today being Personal Chef’s Day, we browsed through a couple of books that chefs would benefit greatly from. Some of the books on the list are from the Pothi.com Store too- we have a great many titles under the cooking category at the store.

When we interviewed Bridget White-Kumar, author of several cookbooks, we asked her about some pointers while writing a cookbook.

“Writing a recipe book isn’t easy,” she said. “A lot of hard work goes into it since one has to get the recipe right after many, many trials and errors. Once a recipe is written, it will be the guide to be followed by many. Only when one has mastered the dish, can a foolproof recipe be written.”

Cookbooks to Nibble on:

Mastering the Pakodas: The Snack for all Seasons by Sangeeta Khanna

Come monsoon and there is the desire to indulge in pakodas and adrak (ginger) chai. The author of Mastering the Pakodas is a botanist and microbiologist and a hardcore home-made food believer.

 

An Indian Sense of Salad by Tara Deshpande Tennebaum

Many of us see salads as a purely Western concept but the local produce in India offers a green mine when it comes to potential salad ingredients. Tennebaum deconstructs the Indian vegetable and adds a splash of additional nutrition to the Indian meal.

The Dal Cookbook by [Krishna Dutta]The Dal Cookbook by Krishna Dutta

Dal is the staple diet of most Indians. Krishna Dutta examines the different dishes where lentils can be used including khichari, dosas, vadas, pappadam.

 

 

660 curries by Raghavan Iyer660 Curries by [Raghavan Iyer]

This book is an exhaustive compendium of cooking styles from across India. Feast on curries, appetizers, traditional cuisines, biryanis, breads, blends, you name it.

 

Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation by [Madhur Jaffrey]Quick & Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey 

70 easy-to-prepare recipes by India’s favorite cook Madhur Jaffrey. Her recipes are great for newbies too. Watch Madhur Jaffrey talk about Indian cuisine and the history of Indian cooking here.

 

Cookbooks at the Pothi.com store

Indian Grandmas' Secret RecipesIndian Grandmas’ Secret Recipes

25 vegetarian recipes by 16 cooks in the age range of 70-95. The recipes span different parts of India.

 

 

Amader Barir Khawa Dawa: Bengali Recipes From My Mother's KitchenAmader Barir Khawa Dawa: Bengali Recipes From My Mother’s Kitchen by Ratna Mukherjee

The author collects a 100 of her mother’s incredible recipes of traditional Bengali dishes- day-to-day fare and festive occasions.

 

ANGLO-INDIAN DELICACIESAnglo-Indian Delicacies by Bridget White-Kumar

An easy and unpretentious guide to delectable Anglo-Indian Cuisine. The author has won the ‘Best Culinary History Book’ awarded by Gourmand International Spain, World Cookbook awards, 2012.

 

Which cookbooks have you indulged in? Do mention in the comments.

Wole Soyinka- Doyen of Drama Who Dons Many Roles

Wole Soyinka “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence” won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. He was the first Nigerian, the first African to win this distinction. His life is a lesson to journalists and writers across the world. Wole Soyinka has never been afraid to speak his mind and he speaks not with the grating cynicism that we find on social media these days- all his speech is tempered with reason. You can watch him speak here.

While he has written extensively combining European and Yoruba tradition- plays, poetry, novels, short stories, essays, memoirs and screenplays, he is also an activist and has spent a large part of his life fighting corruption, racism and injustice. While he has won various prizes for his writing and has taught at many prestigious universities, he has also been incarcerated for his firm stand. His propensity for satire flourished in the arts but was not appreciated across the political spectrum in his home country.

Death and the King's Horseman (Student Editions)Myth, Literature and the African World (Canto)Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on EarthCollected Plays: Volume 1: A Dance of the Forests; The Swamp Dwellers; The Strong Breed; The Road; The Bacchae of Euripide...The Lion and the Jewel (Three Crowns Books)

Soyinka has produced nearly 30 plays and this is what stands out the most in his legacy. He combines traditional pantomimes, ritualistic practices and dance with the idea of independence and regeneration.

Happy b’day Wole Soyinka!

Remembering Manohar Malgonkar, the Prolific Writer Everyone Forgot

One contemporary of the writer Mulk Raj Anand we know little about is a writer who was born on this day in a village in Karnataka – Manohar Malgonkar. He donned many roles-army officer rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, columnist, civil servant, game hunter, mine owner at Jagalbet and farmer.

His experience in various spheres reflected in his prolific output of short stories, essays and fiction and non-fiction novels and those who have read his work (few and far between) know that his stories focus on India during British colonization (The Princes, A Bend in the Ganges) and India post-independence (Distant Drum). His novel A Spy in Amber was adapted into the Hindi film Shalimar.

He lived in ‘Burbusa Bungalow’  in Uttara Kannada District, Karnataka and he passed away in 2010.

The Ibis and its Whereabouts – Amitav Ghosh and Jhumpa Lahiri

On this day, two extraordinary authors share a birthday.

Ghosh in 2017Amitav Ghosh’s education spans from Dehradun to Oxford. For a short time he worked at The Indian Express and it was while he was studying at Oxford that he wrote his first book The Circle of Reason. From then, his writing career blossomed and his books have been translated into over twenty languages. Almost every book he has penned has won an award. He is probably the first cli-fi writer India has produced- his fascination for the sea,  human history and migration make his novels complex, educational and must-reads. Ghosh’s writing veers on the non-fictional even when he writes fiction.  A book that many readers I have spoken to love is The Hungry Tide, The Ibis Trilogy, The Glass Palace, Shadow Lines and Calcutta Chromosome.

Jhumpa Lahiri in 2015

Jhumpa Lahiri, an American author born in London,  is loved most for her debut collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies. Her book The Namesake was adapted into a popular movie and she has a string of awards under her belt. Her stories have captured the Indian immigrant experience but she hasn’t stopped there- she has moved on to finding the true language of her soul by delving into a completely foreign language – Italian. This is an experiment in the fictional realm, one that many writers and translators can learn from.

Read this interview with Lahiri to understand this prestigious author’s love affair with the Italian language.

Which books do you love by these authors? Tell us in the comments.

On International Mango Festival Day, 8 Book Titles That Feature Mangoes! 🥭

Every year since 1987 on July 9, the International Mango Festival is held in Delhi.  This is a great opportunity for mango gourmands, sellers and growers and a mango product bonanza for visitors. Favorite mango varieties on display are Langda, Malda, Dasheri, Alphonso, Chausa, Sindheri, Himgiri, Bombay Green and many others. Besides the achars, jams and shakes available at kiosks, there are folk song shows featuring mangoes and binge-eating mango contests.

This year the festival remains closed owing to Covid.

As part of honoring the festival this year, we put together a list of some books with Mango in the title and we came across many genres from literary to chicklit. Tell us if there are any more Mango-themed titles featured in your book collection!

House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street is a story of childhood and self-discovery. Sandra Cisneros started writing the book as a memoir but the book ended up taking a life of its own and became an exploration of otherness and identity. Read about her writing process here.

 

The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar

A generational saga of three generations of Dorais set in southern India during India’s freedom struggle. The house at Chethavar which is the fulcrum of the book is surrounded by the famous blue mango trees.

 

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Wendy’s protagonist is a synesthete- she can smell colors and taste shapes. She must learn how to come to terms with her condition as her world is an explosion of the senses.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Explosive writing! A Case of Exploding Mangoes is a satirical account of the conspiracies that clouded Zia-ul-Haq’s death. He chooses satire as a medium to expose hard truths and the comic touch to touch on subjects that are very much forbidden fruit.

 

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in IndiaClimbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey

When you pick up a Madhur Jaffrey book, you are sure to be assaulted by a tonne of flavors. This memoir cum recipe account is a culinary autobiography not just of Jaffrey’s own experiences but India’s food journey as well.

Monique and the Mango Rains: An Extraordinary Story of Friendship in a Midwife's House in Mali by [Kris Holloway]Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali

Humor laces this book set in a West African village. The protagonist is a midwife who saves young lives and becomes a legend.

 

The Mango Season by [Amulya Malladi]The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

Chicklit set with a protagonist from the Indian diaspora. Priya is expected to marry a nice Indian boy but over a mango pickle culinary exercise, she is in a dilemma about whether she should reveal more about her American boyfriend.

 

Imaculada de Bomba Cabral's Mango Tree and other nonsense talesImaculada de Bomba Cabral’s Mango Tree and other nonsense tales

At the Pothi.com store, we found a title that matches the mango theme- a book of humorous essays with Goa as the protagonist.

 

 

Dhan Gopal Mukerji- The Only Indian Writer Who Won the Newbery Medal

On 6 July, 1890, Dhan Gopal was born in a jungle village in Kolkata. His story reads like a piece of fiction- a boy steeped in Brahminical roots with a revolutionary brother who eggs him on to leave India goes on a subsequent journey to Japan and once the disillusionment of the assembly lines he witnessed there set in, he arrived at San Francisco. He ended up studying at Berkeley and then at Stanford, turning to the written word for solace.

His life was an intense enquiry into the unknown. This little-known writer of the 1920s laid the foundation for Indian writing in English.

Stanford critic Gordon H. Chang describes Mukerji as a person who ‘holds the distinction of being the first author of Asian-Indian ancestry who successfully wrote for American audiences about Indian life’. Dhan Gopal had a rich legacy – the sprawling jungle was rooted in his mind, his brother’s love for India and his own found a way into his longing for his country, and the reality of race relations in the US lit a fire in him.

Dhan Gopal is the only Indian writer who has ever won the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal –   for his children’s book Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. Messenger pigeons during WWI, man and his friendship with winged animals, and the futility of war form the crux of this story.

Mukerji’s other children’s books include Ghond, the Hunter, The Chief of the Herd, Hindu Fables for Little Children, Rama, the Hero of India, The Master Monkey, and Fierce-Face, the Story of a Tiger.

Besides children’s stories, he also wrote non-fiction, poetry and translations, which were published in prestigious outlets. His autobiography Caste and Outcaste is one of the first books that talks about the experiences of an Indian abroad. Other writings include A Son of Mother India Answers  ( in response to Katherine Mayo‘s Mother India), Devotional Passages from the Hindu Bible and Visit India with MeDisillusioned India, My Brother’s Face, and  The Face of Silence.

He died by suicide in his home in New York in 1936.