(June 27, 2023) India has been a magnet for scholars from around the world for centuries. From Fa Hien to Megasthenes and Ferešte, numerous travelers have explored and penned books about this ancient land. Its timeless charm has beckoned the adventurous souls of writers and scholars for centuries, each drawn to uncover the hidden gems within its storied landscapes. With its rich tapestry of history, mythology, geography, anthropology, religion, and tradition, India continues to captivate modern writers who venture here from all corners of the globe. Global Indian turns the spotlight on a handful of foreign authors who have beautifully portrayed India and its vibrant history through their words.
Adorned with prestigious honors like Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan, and Officer of the Order of the British Empire, author Sir William Mark Tully stands tall among the literary giants of our time. From his earliest days, he was captivated by the bustling streets, a kaleidoscope of colours, and the vibrant tapestry of Indian culture. Remarkably, this celebrated author once harbored aspirations of becoming a priest and even pursued theological studies in his early twenties. However, destiny had different plans in store. Expelled from the country in 1975 alongside numerous foreign correspondents, Tully’s position as the Chief of the BBC Bureau, led him back to India two years later, where he has since chosen to make his abode.
Since his debut work, “Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle“, India has remained the focal point of this author’s literary endeavours. Each of his books offers a treasure trove of captivating narratives that effortlessly combine profound insights with educational value, leaving readers enthralled and reluctant to part with the pages. Over the span of five decades, the author’s writings have spanned the spectrum of Indian existence, exploring the realms of politics, caste conflicts, blood feuds, and the everyday experiences of the common man.
Now, in his seasoned years, the venerable author presents a trio of engrossing collections: “Upcountry Tales: Once Upon A Time In The Heart Of India“, “No Full Stops In India“, and “India In Slow Motion“. These extraordinary compilations of short stories are marked by a delightful blend of warmth, wit, and a compassionate gaze, offering a vivid glimpse into the intricate human theater that unfolds amidst the rural landscapes of northern India. Calling himself a Dilliwala in one of his interviews, Tully had said, “I believe in karma. My karma was to be born British — and you can’t lose that. I would love to be an Indian citizen. But in this country, you cannot have dual nationality.”
Picture this: a fresh-faced 18-year-old lad arrives in the bustling streets of New Delhi, sent on a mission all the way from London. Little did he know that this city, notorious for its resilience in the face of destruction and rebirth seven times over, would steal his heart in an instant. And so, dear friends commenced a whirlwind romance that has captivated the collective imagination for a whopping three decades and counting. This love story is the stuff legends are made of, whispered with fervor throughout the town’s nooks and crannies.
“I never intended to come to India. I originally set out to be an archaeologist in the Middle East, but the dig I was assigned to in Iraq closed down — purportedly due to a nest of British spies. So, I joined a friend who was heading to India. I had no particular connection to the country, but when I arrived, it was one of those moments in life when everything changes. Thirty years later, I’m still here,” author William Dalrymple had once written in one of his National Geographic articles.
The author’s debut book on India, “City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi“, weaves a tapestry of enchantment. A delightful blend of meticulous research and personal encounters, this marvelous creation captures the essence of the vibrant city in all its kaleidoscopic glory. Part memoir, part travelogue, it introduces us to a cast of characters that breathe life into the age-old streets. Surprisingly, our dear author was a tad unsure about the book’s success. But the book skyrocketed to become a bestseller, propelling Dalrymple into a world of literary triumph. And that was just the beginning of his remarkable journey! His repertoire includes such gems as “White Mughals“, “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India“, and “The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company“.
Even after 30 years, 11 books, and innumerable articles on Indian history, Dalrymple is still fascinated by this land. “I’ve been travelling around India for 30 years and there’s still a good quarter of the country I’ve yet to see. There are major monuments and mountain ranges, extraordinary places in the Himalayas I’m dying to visit. India is a continent rather than a country — you could never run out of things to explore here. I feel like a child in a sweet shop or a miser in a bank vault sometimes. There’s an almost infinite amount to take in, see and understand,” he had written in his article.
In the realm of journalism, acclaim often eludes those who merely report on the ordinary. However, when Katherine Boo ventured into the heart of Mumbai’s Annawadi, she discovered an irresistible calling to amplify the voices of the downtrodden and marginalised. Undeterred by the daunting task ahead, she fearlessly delved into the depths of this community. For a remarkable span of two years, spanning from 2008 to 2010, Katherine immersed herself in the very fabric of the slums, immersing her senses in their stories. This immersive experience would ultimately culminate in her compact yet profound masterpiece, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” a 250-page chronicle that encapsulates the resilience and struggles of those living amidst the shadows of prosperity.
Vividly illustrated, the book conduits tales of developing-world poverty. Dealing with rats and sick people daily in her two years of research, the Pulitzer-winning author said in an interview that once she stepped into their world, it was hard to step back. “I’m not squeamish. Tuberculosis was a concern: there were many people I spent time with whose stories were that they got sicker and sicker and then they died. But if you’re curious, you don’t dwell on it that much. It was not pleasant to fall into the sewage lake. But at the same time, I didn’t know it was a petrochemical type of stuff until I fell in, so that was something I learned.”
Still in India, searching for her next subject, Katherine feels that there is so much left to be explored in this ancient land. “When in Mumbai these days I find myself still making tapes, documenting corruption and social problems — I can’t help myself.”
Unleashing the mighty Mughals from their crypts onto the bookshelves of countless Indian readers, and now even onto their television screens, are none other than the enigmatic duo – Diana and Michael Preston. Better known to the world by their pseudonym “Alex Rutherford”, the couple have been utterly bewitched by the allure of the subcontinent’s rich past since their days as students at Oxford University. It all began with a serendipitous jaunt to India, where the majestic Taj Mahal beckoned their inquisitive souls. Inspired by this architectural masterpiece, the intrepid couple embarked on a remarkable journey of research, initially immersing themselves in the tale of the monument’s creation, before delving deep into the remarkable dynasty responsible for numerous awe-inspiring structures across India.
Their quest for knowledge even led them to traverse the mesmerizing Ferghana Valley in Kyrgyzstan, retracing the footsteps of the illustrious first Mughal emperor, Babur. And lo and behold, from this captivating odyssey emerged the illustrious six-book series, aptly titled “Empire of the Moghul,” a spellbinding work of historical fiction that has enraptured readers far and wide.
“Ever since our university days, we wanted to be writers. What inspired us to write about India was the travelling that we did here. We came to India very soon after we got married and we kept coming back, because we were so fascinated by the society here, the complex, multi-layered history and that’s what eventually many years after our first visit, we wrote our book, a non-fiction about the creation of the Taj Mahal. Since we had read all the chronicles of the Moghuls, to understand the genesis of that building, it led us to write a series of novels, The Empire of the Moghul,” Diana had said during a recent interview.
Among their literary offspring are “A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal,” a poignant tale entwined with the fabric of Mughal Indian society, and “Fortune’s Soldier,” a mesmerizing narrative that dances through the very heart of this captivating era. And if that wasn’t enough, brace yourselves for the latest twist in the saga! The renowned director, Nikhil, has worked his magic, transforming the epic “Empire of the Moghul” series into a captivating web extravaganza, now streaming exclusively on Disney+ Hotstar.