Welcome to a new series focused on Team Sarmaya’s favourite mode of transport—books! We believe reading is the best way to wander the world and slip under the skin of faraway characters. Our weekly series, Now Reading, will recommend titles that we love on topics like history, art, culture and design. It’s a way for you to get to know us better and for us to tell you about the books we’re currently obsessed with. We start the series with three great monsoon reads recommended by our brand custodian, Pavitra Rajaram.
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The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
If, like me, you are a lover of all things Mughal, have an eye for detail and love women who make their own place in the patriarchal world, this book is for you! It is the love story of the Emperor Jahangir and his only real love, the beautiful and highly accomplished Mehrunissa, who goes on to become the Emperor’s twentieth wife, Nur Jahan. Nur Jahan would later become the de facto ruler of the Mughal Empire, commanding her own fleets and issuing edicts in her name. The author beautifully combines details of clothes and jewels and sumptuous palaces with court intrigue and an evocative love story. This book, and the sequel, The Feast of Roses, are both absolutely delicious monsoon reads!
The Night Life of Trees (Featuring the art of Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and Ramsingh Urveti)
One of the most exquisite books ever, The Night Life of Trees tells of the myths from the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh. Trees are absolutely central to Gond art and its artists’ imagination, besides being an integral part of daily life for the tribe as well. The Gond believe that because trees are busy providing shade to humans and animals during the day, it’s only at night that their real spirit emerges. It’s a wonderful thought and illustrated beautifully in this book by three spectacular Gond artists. I dip into and savour this book time and again—for its charming stories and its intricately detailed, sensitive portrayal of trees.
Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond by Kenneth Nebenzahl
This is a fascinating chronicle of the earliest maps of Asia that also charts 2000 years of Europe’s fascination with the East. Accompanied with some wonderful reproductions, this is a treasure for the sheer artistic beauty of these early maps. I love the little details—the fish in the sea, the line of palm trees, an elephant here and a tiger there—that make these maps whimsical and quirky. Some of my personal favourites from this book include a map of the world by Beatus of Liebana circa 730-98, that refers to India as a land south of the Garden of Eden famous for “…huge elephants and dragons, the parrot bird, ebony wood, cinnamon, pepper and aromatic reed. It sends forth ivory, precious stones, beryls, adamant, burning carbuncles, and pearls. There are mountains of gold impossible to approach because of dragons and gryphons, and monsters of enormous men.” Another is a Portuguese map by an anonymous cartographer, created in Lisbon in 1502 soon after Vasco Da Gama’s return from his maiden voyage to India between 1497-1499. It shows, for the very first time, the peninsular shape of the subcontinent. A delight for anyone who loves to travel through time.