1. Naked by Papa CJ
The much-awaited memoir by Indian comedian Papa CJ may be admittedly less risqué than his shows, but it’s a super-fun read that traces the fascinating story that transformed Calcutta-boy turned desi-MBA-student-in-London turned corporate-coolie-in-IBM into London’s most feted Indian stand-up artiste in the mid-2000s. Written with candour and his trademark sense of humour, Naked not only tells the story of how stand-up comedy came of age in India, it also confirms our deepest suspicions about how great comic artists use humour to cope with their own personal tragedies.
2. Prelude to a Riot by Annie Zaidi
In an unnamed south Indian town, the air is thick with poison, even if the scenic landscapes bring in tourists by the droves. Religious propaganda spread via WhatsApp forwards and political grapevine turns former friends into historical foes, at least in their own heads, even as love and compassion and shared history try to find devious ways to flourish. Today, as the ruling party tries to divide the country on the basis of religion, Prelude to a Riot, written by an incandescent literary voice, reads not only as a brilliant novel, but also as a forewarning for darker times. Structured cleverly, almost like a play where all the characters get one monologue each while the history teacher “Garuda Sir” gets to play the chorus, Zaidi’s novel is a must-read in these times.
3. The Life-changing Manga of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I don’t know about you, but to us New Year’s Eve doesn’t seem like New Year’s Eve unless there are a bunch of resolutions that we’ve made in new notebooks that we’ve just bought, the hopes of turning over a new leaf on New Year’s Day allowing us one last day of revelry and decadence. If your house – and by extension, your life – is a bit of a mess, then pick up this super-fun Manga version of Kondo’s famous Spark Joy manual. Part cleaning-guide, part cut-price therapy, if you apply KonMari’s useful tips to managing your wardrobe, your books and papers, and all your other stuff, there’s no doubt that you will be a happier and freer version of yourself in the new year! Here’s to keeping our resolutions!
4. Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
Full disclosure. We are suckers for indie stuff: indie bookstores, indie bands and, yes, indeed, indie publishers. Yoda Press in India has hit the ball out of the park with this one, a fabulous collection of short stories by the Arab-American writer, Randa Jarrar, enticingly titled Him, Me, Muhammad Ali. Sophisticated, sassy and tender in different measures, the stories are set in Egypt (Alexandria, mostly, although they move to Cairo, and on one memorable occasion, in Building Girls, to a beach town at the lower tip of the Middle Sea) and in America (two of my favourite stories are set here, Lost in Freakin Yonkers in New York and How Can I Be of Use to You? in Seattle.) If you like short stories, look no further than this little gem that reminds us of the sheer joy to be had in a well-crafted short story.
5. Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden begins his brilliant memoir with the lines: “My name is Edward Joseph Snowden. I used to work for the government, but now I work for the public. It took me nearly three decades to recognize that there was a distinction, and when I did, it got me into a bit of trouble at the office. As a result, I now spend my time trying to protect the public from the person I used to be – a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA), just another young technologist out to build what I was sure would be a better world.” Whether you are a geek yourself or someone who has no interest in technology except for social media, Permanent Record, the unique journey of a young patriot who finds his ideas tested in the laboratory of shadowy spycraft, is a book to treasure, not merely for the courage of its protagonist but also the humanity with which the story is told.
6. Friends from College by Devapriya Roy
Lata Ghosh – she was once Charulata but after her divorce decided to drop the Tagorific baggage that came with that particular name – lives and works in London, as successful in her career in management consulting as she is unsuccessful in love. It is ironic, because back in college she had been the cynosure of all eyes, mockingly given the moniker “Helen of Troy” by an acerbic Professor, after which she came to be referred to as Charulata “H.O.T” Ghosh. Much to the annoyance of a certain Ronny Banerjee, the young man in her class who had fallen in love with her on day one, at Orientation.