Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi

November 1, 2018

The origin of New Delhi can be traced to the Coronation Durbar in December 1911, where Emperor George V announced the transfer of the capital of the British Empire in India from Calcutta to Delhi.
Swapna Liddle traces in fascinating detail the events that led up to that historic day: the deliberations over the choice of location; the roles played by the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, and the two principal architects, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker; and, finally, the naming of the capital as ‘New Delhi’—to distinguish it from the old city of Shahjahanabad.
Even as the new capital took shape, it was Connaught Place that gave life to the city. Designed as a shopping and commercial centre for the elite—both British and Indian—it boasted of the most exclusive shops, cinemas and restaurants.
While many of the old familiar haunts like Gaylord, Volga and Regal Cinema have shut their doors, Connaught Place continues to reinvent itself with shiny new multiplexes, branded stores and restaurants taking their place. A guidebook of the early 1940s described Connaught Place as ‘indeed the most fashionable shopping centre…and, undoubtedly the most progressive part of the most progressive town in the country.’ The crowds that continue to throng its corridors, both young and old, visitors to the city and residents alike, bear testimony to the statement.
Rare photographs and illustrations add to its value as a classic amongst city biographies, in keeping with Liddle’s earlier book, Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi.

Big Bhishma in Madras

November 1, 2018

This title will be available by 5 December 2018

A chance comment in 1974 fired Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrière with the idea of producing a play based on the epic. Together they travelled across India, searching for all possible theatrical forms of the great poem. The result was an epic play—9 hours with two intermissions—later made into a film and a TV series, which has become a landmark in theatre. Another result was this delightful book made from the notes that Carriere jotted down during his travels, whose charm is enhanced by his piquant illustrations that run through the pages.

The ‘sacred frenzy’ of Theyyam in a Kerala village and the intricacies of Kathakali are interwoven with their encounters with the aged Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, a ‘one-in-three saint’, and the legendary Satyajit Ray in Kolkata. Here they also meet Professor P. Lal, who has been working for twenty years on translating the Mahabharata into English. It is vignettes like these that make their search for the epic into a journey that shows India, through Carrière’s words and sketches, in a way it has never been seen before.

Full Tilt

June 1, 2018

When Dervla Murphy was ten, she was given a bicycle and an atlas, and soon—inspired by her correspondence with a Sikh pen pal—she was secretly planning a trip to India. At the age of thirty-one, in 1963, she finally set off, and this astonishing book is based on the daily diary she kept while riding through the Balkans, Iran, Afghanistan and—over the Himalayas—into Pakistan and India. A lone woman on a bicycle (with a revolver in her trouser pocket) was an unknown occurrence and a focus of enormous interest wherever she went. Undaunted by snow in alarming quantities, floods and robbery, using her .25 pistol on starving wolves and to scare off predatory men, and relying on the generosity of nomads, she not only finished her epic journey, but also pioneered a form of adventure travel that has inspired generations. Over half a century after it was first published, Full Tilt remains a hugely popular classic of travel writing.

Travels On My Elephant

May 2, 2018

When Mark Shand, an aristocratic playboy and travel writer, decided that what he needed was an elephant, it wasn’t long before he started getting phone calls from India, offering elephants for sale. With the help of a Maratha nobleman, he purchased Tara, a young, scrawny female, and travelled with her—and a retinue of friends, old and new—for more than 800 kilometres across India, from Konark to the Sonepur Mela—the world’s oldest elephant market.

From Bhim, a drink-racked mahout, he learnt the skills of elephant driving. From his friend Aditya Patankar, he learnt about the culture and attitudes of India. And with Tara, his new companion, he fell in love. So much so, that decades after their travelling days were over, Mark Shand was still fund-raising and campaigning on behalf of Indian elephants, becoming one of the most high-profile conservationists in the world.

Travels On My Elephant is the story of an epic journey across the dusty back roads of India, as Mark Shand and his party astound, amuse and puzzle all those they encounter on the way. It is also a vivid portrayal of a cheerfully chaotic India and the memorable, touching account of Tara’s transformation from a sad beggar to the star attraction, and Mark Shand’s loyal companion.

An Indian Attachment

April 3, 2018

In the 1970s, Sarah Lloyd, a landscape architect from England, was at a railway station in Calcutta when she met Pritam Singh—nicknamed Jungli by his mother—a Nihang Sikh with a ‘powerful face that instantly compelled’ her. Soon after, Sarah travelled to Amarkot, Jungli’s village near Amritsar, and started living with him and his extended family—his stepfather, Pitaji; his mother, Mataji; Balwant, Jungli’s brother, who came and went; and his unhappily married sister, Rajinder.

As she observed—and battled—the routines of an alien life, and tried to fit some of the moulds set out for her, Sarah came to understand Jungli better—his generosity of spirit, his idealism, his beliefs, and his unquestioning love for her—even as she realized her own ambivalence about him. She also learnt to deal with his temper, his bouts of despair, and his addiction to opium.

After Mataji threw Jungli out, the couple moved to Chandinagar in UP, where Jungli worked at a Sikh dera. There they lived in a one-room hut, cheek by jowl with families even poorer than them, each one dependent on Santji, the dictatorial saint who ran the dera. And it was there that she inevitably, finally ended their relationship.

An account of an unlikely love, and a rare and unusual portrait of rural India, An Indian Attachment is a compelling read: forthright, spare and—in its psychologically complex examination of desire and disillusionment—timeless.

On a Shoestring to Coorg

February 1, 2018

One of the world’s great travel writers, Dervla Murphy, and her young daughter, Rachel—with little money, no taste for luxury and few concrete plans—meander their way slowly south from Bombay to the southernmost point of India, Cape Comorin, in 1973. Interested in everything they see, but only truly enchanted by people, they stay in fishermen’s huts and no-star hotels, travelling in packed-out buses, on foot and by boat. But instead of pressing ever onwards, they double back to the place they liked most, the hill province of Coorg, and settle down to live there for two months. In this book, Dervla Murphy creates an extraordinarily affectionate portrait of these cardamom-scented, spiritually and agriculturally self-sufficient highlands.

Where the Indus Is Young

January 1, 2018

One winter in the mid-1970s, Dervla Murphy, her six-year-old daughter Rachel and Hallam, a hardy mule, walked into Baltistan close to Pakistan-held Kashmir—the frozen heart of the Western Himalayas. For three months they travelled along the perilous Indus Gorge and into nearby valleys, making a mockery of fear, trekking through the forbidding Karakoram mountains and lodging with the Balts, who farm one of the remotest regions on earth. Despite the hardship, Dervla never forgot the point of travel, retaining enthusiasm for her magnificent surroundings and using her sense of humour to bring out the best in her hosts, who were often locked into the melancholic mood of mid-winter.

This hair-raising, quirky and vivid account of their adventure is a classic of travel writing.

Birds of Passage

January 1, 2018

Lady Henrietta Clive, a feisty, independent-minded traveller, married to Lord Edward Clive, son of Clive of India and Governor of Madras from 1798 to 1803, lived in Madras and travelled through southern India with her daughters and retinue in the aftermath of the war against Tipu Sultan. In this volume, Nancy Shields skilfully interweaves extracts from Henrietta’s journals with passages from the diary of Charly, Henrietta’s precocious twelve-year-old daughter, who went on to tutor the future Queen Victoria.

Important as a historical and social document, and also as an early female travel text, Birds of Passage is illustrated with watercolours by Anna Tonelli, who accompanied the party on their voyage.

Journey to Lhasa

October 1, 2017

In 1874, the brilliant civil engineer Sarat Chandra Das was recruited by the British as a spy in Darjeeling. The Empire wanted to train local agents to gather in-depth intelligence about Tibet—a mysterious kingdom closed off to all outsiders for years—in order to consolidate their position in South Asia and outplay Russia in the Great Game.

Equipped with hidden compasses, hundred-bead rosaries (to discreetly measure distances), and an excellent knowledge of Buddhism and the local language, Das set out into the harsh early winter of 1881, through the snow-filled passes of Sikkim and Nepal on his second foray into Tibet.

Though an agent of its enemy, Das fell in love with the land of his mission. He stayed at the Tashilhunpo monastery for five months transcribing ancient Buddhist texts, studying the language and teaching English to the Panchen Lama. In his diary, he noted the various customs of dress, cuisine, architecture and the local politics throughout his journey. He also wrote about ordinary village life as he saw it—the extortion of the common people by the Chinese, and the ravages of smallpox in places with little or no medical help.

When he finally reached Lhasa, he was struck by the grandeur of the city’s ancient shrines and the monasteries dotting its mountains. He even managed an audience with the thirteenth Dalai Lama, then an eight-year-old boy with ‘rosy cheeks’.

Journey to Lhasa is the account of a treacherous yet illuminating adventure, which paints an intimate portrait of a people and a place that today exist only in memory.

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

September 1, 2017

In 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics such as Kidnapped and Treasure Island, embarked on a walking tour of the Cévennes, a mountainous region in south-central France. His travelling companion was Modestine, a diminutive donkey with a mind of her own who, over the course of the journey, bore some of his provisions and much of his rancour. Modestine and Stevenson tramped without plan or purpose through scenic villages and fearsome forests—reportedly infested with man-eating wolves—depending on peasants, Trappist monks and passersby for supplies, shelter and directions. They were beset by storms and unhelpful residents, but were also granted views of splendid vistas and cold, clear nights. And, over twelve days, 200 kilometres, and many shared adventures, Stevenson came to love his obdurate, manipulative little companion.

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes has inspired generations of later travellers and writers, from John Steinbeck—and his Travels with Charley—to Bruce Chatwin and Graham Greene, including present-day hikers who retrace the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. Written in timeless prose, and with biting wit, this slim volume is a treat for all readers.

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