Annie Zaidi's Top 10 Reads
Annie Zaidi writes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and scripts. She is the author of Prelude to a Riot, Gulab, Love Stories #1 to 14,and Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales. She is also the editor of Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing. She lives in Mumbai
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Gollancz, ₹666
I came to the book quite late, and already identified as feminist, having read a little about gender not being binary, but this novel opened my mind to what gender means. Perhaps, on another planet—perhaps on our own planet—because ultimately all science fiction is derived from human experience.
Animal Farm by George Orwell, Penguin Classics, ₹691
If I had to pick one book every high school student should read, it would be this. Through very simple language and the use of a fabulous device, it tells the story of authoritarian power and the dangers posed to modern democracies.
No Other World, selected poems, by Kunwar Narain, translated by Apurva Narain, Rupa Publications, ₹395
Kunwar Narain is one of my favourite modern Hindi poets. In some ways, when I take his name or refer to this book, I am actually also referring to a small cluster of Hindi poets whose work finds deep resonance with me. Kedarnath Singh, Mangalesh Dabral, Anamika, Mamta Kalia and many other Hindi poets. They sit adjacent to each other on the same shelf.
Herzog by Saul Bellow, Penguin Modern Classics, ₹598
I admire this particular novel for its craft and its jugglery of themes. Politics, jealousy, ruptured family and justice are stitched together through a clever mix of literary devices.
The Story of My Experiments with Truth by M. K. Gandhi, Maple Classics, ₹195
Gandhi’s autobiography showed me how personal politics is shaped. Political beliefs don’t descend from the heavens, and should not be swallowed without challenge. You have to evolve and come to a unique political position, then defend it with your life.
Mangosil by Uday Prakash, Vani Prakashan, ₹300
This book includes three long stories in Hindi—Tirichh, Dilli ki Deewarein, Mangosil—each of them written in spare, unsentimental prose. It makes you feel like you might burst with grief at the human condition, particularly, in large cities like Delhi, with their inequities and the burden of anonymity.
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, Virago, ₹699
My favourite Atwood is The Handmaid’s Tale, but Cat’s Eye is also special in a personal way. It plays against the myth of childhood innocence, and captures petty cruelty so simply, it wrings my heart. I had already felt its truths—that sometimes, little girls need to be protected from each other too—before I found this book.
Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi, Seagull Books, ₹499
There is that famous line by Simone de Beauvoir: One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. One also has to learn the multiple ways in which the female body is used, harnessed and injured towards some indefinite larger cause in a particular social and cultural context. Breast Stories was that book for me. It brought me to a rude awakening of what it means to be female and disadvantaged in India. It taught me the many meanings of the breast in a patriarchal, unequal, feudal and violent system.
Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, Penguin India, ₹699
I read this when I was quite young, not quite in my teens. It was one of the first accessible history books I read and it gave me a broad view of the country in every sense.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Pan Macmillan India, ₹599
I cling to this book as a way of clinging to my teenaged self. When I first read it, it felt so powerful, so ‘right’—as a guide to life. Now I think of it as somewhat romantic, given the complications of good and evil in society, and our neuroses. Yet, one must hold on to idealism and innocence too, or all is lost.