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Paradise Gardens by Monty Don & Derry Moore
The English word “Paradise” actually comes from the Persian word “Pardis” meaning a walled or enclosed garden. And Monty Don’s book Paradise Gardens, with photographs by Derry Moore, explores the most beautiful walled gardens in this book which is part-travelogue, part-garden blog and part-history lesson. The book begins in southern Spain in the statuesque gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, where we learn of the two key features of Islamic gardens: water to reflect stars and architecture and the four quadrants that represent the four elements, the four seasons, and the four rivers of paradise flowing with water, milk, honey and wine. In Seville, we discover the heady scent and abundant fruitfulness of thousands of orange trees, also brought by the Arabs, and in Morocco we are introduced to a magnificent fragrant garden, resplendent with Zellige tiles and the sweet smell of grass, lavender and rosemary. And then onwards to Iran and India, the traditional homes of the Charbagh—the ultimate paradise gardens. This is a book to dip into time and again. And like the gardens it describes, it too, is uplifting, fragrant and utterly captivating.
Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla
Ants Among Elephants is the personal memoir of a young Indian woman, Sujatha Gidla, an immigrant to America whose day job is that of a conductor on the New York subway. Sujatha is also an “untouchable” and writes with a quiet, fierce conviction of the unshakeability of caste in an India that is hurtling through the 21st century. Her stories are personal; portraits of friends and family that zoom out to become snapshots of entire villages, towns, cities and a helpless new India that remains old and subject to abject poverty, horrifying violence and political corruption. Not to mention, deeply entrenched bigotry. This book is at once difficult to read and unputdownable. I struggled to escape her portrayal of another India from the country I love dearly but I was completely drawn into the lives of the individuals and the stories she narrates so unflinchingly. It’s not an easy book to read but read it you must.
The Spirit of Indian Painting: Close Encounters with 101 Great Works 1100-1900 by BN Goswamy
When I was in college nearly a 100 years ago I took a class called Art100. It was an introduction to the art of the Western world and for two semesters I huddled over slides, desperately memorising details from over a hundred works of art. I never had an introduction like that to the world of miniature paintings but reading this book by the revered BN Goswamy is the closest I got. It is really a gem, a carefully-curated, handpicked repository of 101 (one for luck?) beauties organised not chronologically but by the eye or approach of the painter. Not technical styles, but ways of seeing. Goswamy puts them under four groups: Visions or flights of the imagination; Observation or details of landscapes, palaces or courtly life; Passion or those paintings depicting divine or erotic love; and finally Contemplation, a series of rare, intense works of moments of quiet. I love them all and I’m learning about each one of them slowly and storing them away in my heart. And like a little bit of chocolate every night, I dip into one delicious painting or another. So whether you gaze upon a portrait or nibble at the prose; this is a book to be savoured for a long long time.