Literary journey from Delhi to Afghanistan

Much has been written about Delhi, yet there is much to be written about. A book explores birds, animals and plant species adding a fresh perspective to the Indian capital, whereas another book examines the changing trajectory of Indian policy towards Afghanistan. Take a look.

1. Book: India’s Afghan Muddle; Author: Harsh V. Pant; Publisher: Harper Collins; Pages: 194; Price: Rs. 450

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It is 2014. Afghanistan faces its biggest watershed since the war on terror began in 2001. American forces are in the middle of a draw down that is likely to result in a much smaller US military footprint in Afghanistan. On the face of it, the stage is set for India – a regional power with global aspirations – to rise to the occasion, bank on its goodwill and help rebuild the nation. But, presented with a golden opportunity, India has been found wanting.

This book examines the changing trajectory of Indian policy towards Afghanistan and argues that New Delhi has been responding to a strategic environment shaped by other actors without developing an autonomous posture. By refusing to be proactive, India has lost the initiative and done some long-term damage to its vital interests, the least of which is gaining access to the energy-rich Central Asian region, while the biggest is to foil Pakistan’s and Taliban’s designs of once again rising to prominence in Afghanistan.

2.Book: Grey Hornbills at Dusk; Author: Bulbul Sharma; Publisher: Aleph; Pages: 171; Price: Rs. 295

Delhi, with its graceful old gardens and sprawling parks, unexpected patches of scrub forest and elegant avenues of old trees, has an amazing range of bird habitats. All you have to do is to find a good spot with flowering shrubs or old trees and then wait to be entertained.

In a lifetime spent exploring the gardens, monuments, parks and forest areas in and around Delhi, the author has observed and written about numerous birds, animals and plant species.

From the grey hornbills and rose-ringed parakeets at Lodhi Garden to the handsome resident Indian eagle-owl at Tughlakabad Fort, she records all manner of birds and animals in this book.

She describes how the different seasons bring about changes to Delhi’s flora and fauna. During fog-shrouded winter days, she makes her way to Sultanpur lake to watch the migratory birds, sometimes dragging reluctant family members along.

Stray cats and howling jackals, startled nilgais and crafty koels inhabit the pages of this book as the author takes us on an unforgettable nature ramble around Delhi.

3. Book: Shadow Boxing with the Gods; Author: Vijay N. Shankar; Publisher: Celestial Books; Pages: 224; Price: Rs. 299

This book is a tour through many traditions and beliefs in the history of man, to arrive at the truths we recognise today. Based on the core truth that the greatest ideas, if carried to extremes, can become ridiculous and hurt people, the book traces the diverse strands of human belief in various civilisations, starting with fantasy and myth-making.

Ideas about life, divinity, nature and community have enriched existence but have also caused mayhem and tyranny holocaust; the burning of witches and heretics at the stake, the indignity of widowhood and caste practices in India were all the result of beliefs that overpowered the minds of large sections of people.

4. Book: The Bone Clocks; Author: David Mitchell; Publisher: Sceptre; Pages: 595; Price: Rs. 699

One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for asylum. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking.

This book follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality.

Metaphysical thriller, meditation on mortality and chronicle of our self-devouring times – this kaleidoscopic novel crackles with the invention and wit that will keep the readers engaged.