HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week
VK Krishna Menon, Shi’ism in Pakistan, and a book of witty essays are on our list of good reads this week
A CHEQUERED BRILLIANCE; THE MANY LIVES OF VK KRISHNA MENON BY JAIRAM RAMESH
725pp, Rs999; Penguin
This is a compelling biography of one of India’s most controversial and consequential public figures. VK Krishna Menon continues to command our attention not just because he was Jawaharlal Nehru’s confidant and soulmate but also for many of his own political and literary accomplishments. A relentless crusader for Indian independence in the UK in the 1930s and 1940s, he was a global star at the United nations in the 1950s before he was forced to resign as defence minister in the wake of the India-China war of 1962.
Meticulously researched and based entirely on new archival material, this book reveals Krishna Menon in all his capabilities and contradictions. It is also a rich history of the tumultuous times in which he lived and which he did so much to shape.*
IN A PURE MUSLIM LAND BY SIMON WOLFGANG FUCHS
352pp, Rs 599; Speaking Tiger
Centering Pakistan the “Land of the Pure” – in a story of transnational Islam stretching from South Asia to the Middle East, Simon Wolfgang Fuchs offers the first in-depth ethnographic history of Shi’is and their religious competitors in the region. The notion of Pakistan as the pinnacle of modern global Muslim aspiration forms a crucial component of this story. It has empowered Shi’is, who form about 20 percent of Pakistan’s population, to advance alternative conceptions of their religious hierarchy while claiming the support of towering grand ayatollahs in Iran and Iraq.
Fuchs shows how popular Pakistani preachers and scholars have boldly tapped into the esoteric potential of Shi’ism , occupying a creative and at times disruptive role as brokers, translators, and self-confident pioneers of contemporary Islamic thought. They have indigenized the Iranian Revolution and formulated their own ideas for fulfilling the original promise of Pakistan. Challenging typical views of Pakistan as a mere Shi’i backwater, Fuchs argues that its complex religious landscape represents how a local, South Asian Islam may open up space for new intellectual contributions to global Islam. Yet, religious ideology has also turned Pakistan into a deadly battlefield: sectarian groups since the 1980s have been bent on excluding Shi’is as harmful to their own vision of an exemplary Islamic state, which has resulted in terrible violence.*
HOW TO BE A LIKEABLE BIGOT BY NAOMI DATTA
192pp, Rs 299; Penguin
Do you wish to learn the craft of cracking woke jokes? Or spend all your time on social media and yet give an illusion of productivity?
In this collection of satirical essays written in her deft, inimitable style, Naomi Datta teaches you how to survive various situations – from befriending tiger moms to avoiding getting pink slips – simply by being ‘ordinary’. This is a book that celebrates conformity,and tells you how to be perfectly regular, blend in and ace the game. Survival is a fine art. And the only skill you actually need. This book will hold up a mirror to all of us, and we may not like what we see.*
*All matter from book flap.