From smelling freshly-brewed cup of coffee from the bylanes of Chennai to intriguing stories from northeast, this week IANS books treads on cultural and historical facets of a few Indian cities. Take a look. IANS | 2 years ago

1.Book: Degree by the Coffee Yard: A Short Biography of Madras; Publisher: Aleph; Pages: 158; Price: Rs.295

This is a tale of two cities - Madras and Chennai. In this book, the author braids together the essential aspects of these two cities to give us an exquisite portrait of the iconic city on the Coromandel Coast. The story of Madras, founded by the British almost four hundred years ago, gives way to that of Chennai in 1996, but the two are so intertwined that it is impossible to tell them apart. The history of the city is populated with fascinating characters - writers, builders and thinkers; British traders, luminaries and rogues; freedom fighters and politicians who changed the cities political milieu.

But the city's unique flavour is not limited to its history and politics, it owes much to its cultural, religious, gastronomic and sporting heritage. Sharply observed and filled with interesting facts while also being meditative and personal, this book brings a great city to rare and refreshing life.

2. Book: The House With a Thousand Stories; Author: Aruni Kashyap; Publisher: Penguin Viking; Pages: 226; Price: Rs. 399

It is 2002 and young Pablo, a city boy who has mostly lived a sheltered and privileged life in Guwahati, is visiting his ancestral village for his aunt's wedding. This is his second time in Mayong, in rural Assam, since 1998, when he had come for a few days to attend his father's best friend's funeral. As the wedding preparations gather pace, Pablo is amused as well as disturbed by squabbling aunts, dying grandmothers, cousins planning to elope for love and hysterical gossips. And on this heady theatre of tradition and modernity hovers the sinister shadow of insurgency and the army's brutal measures to quell militancy.

In the days leading up to the wedding, which ends in an unspeakable tragedy, Pablo finds first love, discovers family intrigues and goes through an extraordinary rite of passage.

3. Book: Che in Paona Bazaar: Tales of Exile and Belonging from India's NorthEast; Author: Kishalay Bhattacharjee; Publisher: Pan Macmillan; Pages: 242; Price: Rs. 399

Northeast India is not an "imagined community", separated from the politics and policies that govern the rest of the country. It is as real as the violence that has torn the land apart, leaving its people grappling for a semblance of normalcy, if nothing else. The northeast isn't just a hotbed of insurgency and deadly casual encounters, a stopover on every international rock band's schedule, or where used syringes lay waiting in dark alleys. There are other realities as well - of forbidden love, weddings, fascinating cuisine, childhood memories and other "unimportant stories" that never made it to our newspapers and television screens.

4. Book: City Adrift; A Short Biography of Bombay; Author: Naresh Fernandes; Publisher: Aleph: Pages: 168; Price: Rs. 295

For hundreds of years, Bombay held India in thrall. A metropolis, reclaimed from ocean and iniquity, it effortlessly manufactured the dreams that captivated a nation and drew fortune-seekers to it by the million. Once a princess's dowry, these seven conjoined islands were settled over time by the most diverse collection of people the Indian subcontinent has ever known; they proceeded to create a mishmash culture that perfectly reflected their heterogeneity and gave the city its unique verve. No longer.

For some time now, Bombay's charms have been wearing thin, other cities have become more alluring, and disastrous new trends such as its 're-islanding' into luxury ghettos, could spell its final descent into chaos and terminal decay.

The author writes with a mixture of passion, exasperation, poignancy, empathy and great elegance about his beloved Bombay - giving us a very deep understanding and appreciation of one of the world's most iconic cities.

(Posted on 07-12-2013)