As the sun rises on the 77th anniversary of India’s hard-fought Independence, what better way to honor the nation’s unwavering spirit than by immersing ourselves in the pages of captivating stories that pay homage to its heroic struggles, sacrifices, and triumphant moments? The literary world beckons us to embark on a journey through the tapestry of India’s past, as we delve into the lives of unsung heroes, witness the courage displayed on the frontlines, and explore the tumultuous events that shaped the nation.
From the heart-pounding exploits of the Indian Para Special Forces to the poignant tales of partition, from the resolute stands at Rezang La to the intricacies of nonviolent resistance, and from the labyrinthine intrigues of Hyderabad to the tapestry of ideas that define India’s ageless wisdom—this list of ten remarkable books beckons us to celebrate the vibrant mosaic of India’s 76 glorious years of independence. Each page turned is a tribute to the sacrifices of those who came before us and a testament to the indomitable spirit that continues to guide the nation toward a brighter future. Join us as we embark on a literary odyssey to commemorate India’s journey of freedom and resilience.
1. Balidan by Swapnil Pandey
Seldom do individuals of such exceptional bravery remain so unknown as the Indian Para Special Forces, whose courageous officers, distinguished by the Balidan badge, are entrusted with safeguarding perilous heights and combating the depths of terrorism under aliases like Dagger, Ghost, Viper, and Desert Scorpio. In this collection of extraordinary valor, Swapnil Pandey unveils the untold stories of Special Forces stalwarts like Colonel Santosh Mahadik, Captain Tushar Mahajan, Brigadier Saurabh Singh Shekhawat, Subedar Major Mahendra Singh, and others, drawing from over two hundred interviews with their associates and families conducted over a year near the LoC and the LAC. Balidan emerges as a tribute aimed at bringing these enigmatic figures into the light for the first time.
2. The Battle of Rezang La by Kulpreet Yadav
On November 18, 1962, at Ladakh’s Rezang La Pass, India, Charlie Company of the 13 Kumaon Battalion, led by Maj. Shaitan Singh valiantly defended against a Chinese assault, with 110 out of 120 soldiers sacrificing their lives. A poignant discovery in February 1963 revealed frozen bodies of the fallen soldiers still gripping their weapons, emblematic of their steadfastness. Charlie Company’s exceptional bravery earned them a Param Vir Chakra, eight Vir Chakras, four Sena Medals, and a Mentioned-in-Dispatches, cementing their place as one of India’s most decorated units. Their resolute stand not only halted China’s advance but also safeguarded Ladakh’s Chushul airport, thwarting potential occupation. The Battle of Rezang La bore witness to 1300 Chinese casualties, highlighting the unwavering spirit of Charlie Company, hailing largely from Haryana’s plains, as they courageously fought at an altitude of 18,000 feet, etching an indelible mark in history.
3. The Swaraj Spy by Vijay Balan
Expelled from a British paramilitary unit for supporting unarmed Indian women protesting for independence, Kumar Nair relocates to Singapore. However, war erupts, devastating his nascent business. In the aftermath of Singapore’s fall, he enrolls in a covert espionage school established by Japanese Intelligence and the Indian National Army in Malaya. Tasked with rescuing betrayed cadets, Kumar faces a dual dilemma: the Japanese demand continuation, while Indian leaders advocate preservation and patience until the war’s end. Anchored in true events, The Swaraj Spy offers a captivating odyssey through time and history, brimming with inspiration and intrigue.
4. Independence by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Within the embrace of THREE SISTERS lies an unbreakable bond, as a nascent nation prepares to emerge. Picture a winding river, a quaint village, and a regal mansion nestled in a land called India. The year is August 1946, and the winds of change are gusting. Meet Priya, the youngest, resolute and idealistic, determined to follow her father’s healing path with the unwavering support of Zamindar Somnath Chowdhury. Jamini, devout and dutiful, stitches kanthas to sustain her family while nursing hidden desires. Deepa, the eldest and most beautiful, defies expectations by falling for Raza, a Youth Leader in the Muslim League. Tragedy strikes with the death of their father on Direct Action Day, shattering their sheltered existence. As India undergoes the painful partition, the sisters are separated, confronting not only their own destinies but the uncertainty of their siblings’ fates. Amidst this turmoil, they comprehend the true essence of independence and the sacrifices it demands. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s compelling new novel weaves a poignant narrative of loyalty, love, nationhood, and sisterhood, set against the backdrop of India’s tumultuous struggle for independence—a tale that resonates with both exhilaration and heartache. Read the book review here.
5. Kitne Ghazi Aye Kitne Ghazi Gaye: My Life Story by Lt Gen KJS ‘Tiny’ Dhillon
Lieutenant General K.J.S. ‘Tiny’ Dhillon, a seasoned veteran of the Infantry branch from the Rajputana Rifles, brings forth a captivating narrative spanning four decades of dedicated military service, including multiple tenures in the intricate landscape of Kashmir. In his book, ‘Tiny’ Dhillon unveils a hitherto concealed world, offering insights into his life’s journey and the complexities of Kashmir. From his earliest memories at age three to his leadership roles during the turbulent years from 1988 to 2020 in Kashmir, Dhillon masterfully navigates the fine balance between counter-terrorism operations and the strategic use of military soft power. This poignant account sheds light on significant events, such as the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, the Pulwama convoy attack, Balakot air strikes, and the Article 370 abrogation, providing an insider’s perspective on the region’s history. “Kitne Ghazi Aaye, Kitne Ghazi Gaye” captures Dhillon’s personal, professional, and familial dimensions, offering inspiration to a wide readership, particularly those aspiring for a defense career. Read the book review here.
6. Rejoice in Adversity, Triumph in War: A Military Memoir by Rajpal Punia
“Rejoice in Adversity, Triumph in War” presents Major General Rajpal Punia’s enthralling anecdotes from his nearly four-decade tenure in the Indian army. A vivid testament to the army’s transformative power, it reveals how this way of life can swiftly transport one from a social gathering to an unforgiving jungle and assign postings to uncharted territories. Punia’s journey, sparked by childhood dreams, spans from patrolling the contested Line of Actual Control to leading United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. Noteworthy is his adept evacuation of the Dera Sacha Sauda complex, a benchmark for armed forces in civilian zones. This gripping firsthand account offers insights into one of the world’s most exhilarating vocations, a must-read for anyone intrigued by India’s dedicated armed forces personnel. Check out the book review here.
7. Lahore by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar (Book 1 of The Partition Trilogy)
In the months preceding Independence, Delhi hosts intense deliberations between Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and British Viceroy Dickie Mountbatten, shaping India’s fate. Meanwhile, in Lahore, Sepoy Malik returns from the Great War, hoping to marry Tara, but encounters the divisive impact of ‘divide-and-rule’. These parallel narratives converge to reveal the covert negotiations and political intrigue that paved the way for India’s freedom, at the cost of a painful partition. Set against a backdrop of scorching summer, the women bear the brunt of devastation as decisions are made and power wielded. Rooted in thorough research, “The Partition Trilogy” vividly captures the upheaval of Indian independence, the Partition, and state transitions, offering a glimpse into a transformative and tumultuous era.
8. Hyderabad by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar (Book 2 of The Partition Trilogy)
Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, holds the prestigious title of Nizam of Hyderabad, reigning over the largest Princely State of the Crown, ensconced within newly independent India. While Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel seek Hyderabad’s accession, Communist insurgents fuel a state-wide uprising. Despite Nizam’s 200-year dynasty as the world’s wealthiest individual and the British-favored Indian prince, he spurns dealings with local politicians. Yet, an ancient prophecy shadows his rule, predicting the Asaf Jahi lineage’s demise in seven generations. Ready for escape, he conspires with militant Razakars. Amid palace intrigues, maid Uzma contemplates loyalties, and amidst Communist ranks, Jaabili discovers love. Escalating violence and lawlessness hang over a crossroads: Hyderabad’s fate, caught between a capricious Nizam and a determined India, remains uncertain.
9. Noncooperation in India: Nonviolent Strategy and Protest, 1920–22 by David Hardiman
In an insightful exposition, a distinguished historian meticulously unravels the genesis and culmination of the inaugural Noncooperation Movement (NCM). From its inception in 1920 to the denouement marked by Gandhi’s arrest two years later, this movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, defied British rule in India across social strata, uniting Hindus and Muslims, unlike any subsequent nationalist endeavor. Characterized by resolute nonviolence, it etched itself as a pivotal modern mass protest. Although a dearth of comprehensive narratives persists, this volume amalgamates and extends localized studies, delving into overarching themes such as pan-Indian strategic debates, grassroots campaigns, adept leader orchestration, and the unique facets of nonviolent expression. Building on David Hardiman’s prior work, this exploration advances the study of nonviolent resistance, showcasing the movement’s profound impact in shaking the bedrock of British authority in India, despite falling short of immediate self-governance goals.
10. India in the Age of Ideas by Sanjeev Sanyal
Sanjeev Sanyal, a multi-faceted economist, environmentalist, and urban theorist, employs his polymathic skills to offer fresh insights into India’s global role and environmental contemplation. He embraces a dynamic perspective, advocating for continual self-adjustment through feedback loops in response to the inherently unpredictable nature of the world. Sanyal’s worldview, rooted in diverse sources including religious philosophy, history, Chaos Theory, and Network Theory, coalesces under a comprehensive Complex Adaptive Systems framework. Influenced by a range of thinkers from Friedrich Hayek to Swami Vivekananda, his intellectual foundation spans ancient Indian texts like the Ramayana and modern philosophies, reflecting a rich tapestry of influences. Check out the book review here.
Which of these books have you read or plan to read?