2023: A Round-up of Books

I read an alarming low number of books this year (damn you, Reels!) but still managed to find some amazing ones, which will remain with me for a very long time. I also suffered from an advanced case of tsundoku, and I promise to finish all* the books that remain precariously balanced on my bedside shelf. Let me see if I can delete Insta from my phone as a new year resolution.

5. The Miracle Makers - Bharat Sundaresan with Gaurav Joshi

India’s greatest Test triumph needed a chronicle to match. Sundaresan, who covered the 2020-21 India-Australia series while being caught in the confusing maze of a strict Covid lockdown, manages to get as close to perfection as the real world allows. The book does a great job of off-field reporting, bringing perspective to the on-field miracles. What looked like a team of accidental prodigies playing beyond our - and their - wildest dreams was actually the culmination of a gruelling selection and coaching process. Sundaresan does a great job of recreating the euphoria, while showing us the nuts and bolts of the sporting action.

4. The Great Indian Cricket Circus - Abhishek Mukherjee and Joy Bhattacharjya 

This book combines the skills of a data analyst with the charms of a raconteur, bringing alive forgotten chapters of Indian cricketing history and illuminating so many facets of Indian society & culture through a prism of cricket. It is that classic compendium where you can read start to finish, dip in and out, go back to, create quizzes about, and generally have a lot of fun. 

3. Talking Life - Javed Akhtar with Nasreen Munni Kabir

This is a sequel to Nasreen Munni Kabir’s early two conversations with Javed Akhtar (Talking Films and Talking Songs) and it lives up to the billing. Javed sahab talks about his life, family, upbringing, inspirations (in that order), pausing a bit in between to take crash courses on language, literature and poetry. He is also a lot mellower in his assessment of people and clearer in assigning credits for specific aspects of his writing with Salim Khan. But he remains as articulate and sharp as ever, remembering poetry, chilhood incidents, conversations at will - making the whole enterprise a joy to experience.

A special word of praise is due for the expert transcription that makes you almost hear the conversation.

2. When Ardh Satya met Himmatwala - Avijit Ghosh

The subtitle says ‘The Many Lives of 1980s Bombay Cinema’ and that’s pretty much all you need to know about the book. The book combines voluminous research with a perspective available only when you lived in the times. E.g. it lists the biggest hits of each year as listed by the trade magazines, but also adds on a few missing notables that ruled the theatres in the author’s and other people’s memories. 

The book is a socio-cultural history of the 1980s. It is also a credible appreciation of the cinema of the period. But most importantly - for me - it is a time machine. It brought alive the 1980s, when I started watching movies independently. The struggles of buying tickets, the cinema vs video decisions, the feverish reading of film mags, the violent disagreements over star supremancies… this book managed to cover all that in neat chapters (titled ‘Reels’), moving methodicaly and yet never losing the passion that made us watch - and love - both Ardh Satya and Himmatwala

1. Shesh Mrito Pakhi - Sakyajit Bhattacharya

Let me get this short and straight: Shesh Mrito Pakhi is the best detective novel in Bengali. As a single novel, it is head and shoulders above anything written by the many giants of detective fiction.

The novel has two detective stories, one a murder in the 1970s and being covered in the present day as an unsolved crime. Along with that murder is a novel written by the victim of the first and discovered recently. Layer it with the culture of revolutionary poets and their ecosystem in the Bengal of 1970s and you have a story of both impact and intricacy that makes you go back pages to catch the nuances once the revelations have emerged.

One of my most satisfying achievements this year was to get this novel read by an editor, who has now commissioned an English translation. Yayy!