India, Bengal & the World

This page gives links to websites, books and visual materials about India and Bengal and their connections to the world. Note these are not Guidebooks. For Guidebooks please consult the Lonely Planet Guide to India.

Places nearby

Kolkata (Calcutta) and its neighborhood:

Books on or set in Calcutta:

"Calcutta" by Geoffrey Moorhouse

"Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta" by Joanne Taylor

"Mr. Dimock explores the mysteries of the East" by Edward C. Dimock (Review: Who is Mr. Dimock? An enchanting storyteller, an eccentric scholar, a wise man, a self-professed "Indophile." Exactly what does he explore? Everything: monkeys, karma, snake charmers, monsoons, curry, ancient sages, the Dharma-Shastras, cricket, even UFO's. In an amusing and intriguing book, Edward Dimock takes us along on a spirited tour of India, starting in 1955, when he and his family first sailed to Bombay. From the bustling streets of Calcutta, where monkeys roam among thousands of people, to the tiny island of Diu, Dimock brings him to the house of an elusive maharaja. A run-in with a water buffalo teaches him that things aren't always what they seem. The tale of an ascetic sage reveals the power of mediation. An ancient mythical figure by the name of Manu gives advice on how to live wisely. Mr. Dimock Explores the Mysteries of the East traces Dimock's numerous trips across India and his explorations of its culture and customs. Whether he's haggling with gypsies or riding through town on an exotic land. Charming, playful, and full of insight, Mr. Dimock Explores the Mysteries of the East illuminates the wonders of India as well as the vibrant personality of its author).

Sunderban and other forests of West Bengal

The Sunderbans are mangrove forests home to exotic wildlife, the most famous of which is the Royal Bengal Tiger. The forests are a few hours away from Calcutta down roads and rivers. Raichak, 3-4 hours away from Calcutta, is close to the confluence of two other rivers: Ganga (also known as Hoogly or Bhagirathi) and Roopnarayan.

"Wild trail in Bengal: Travel Guide" by Swati Mitra, this book on Sunderban, Dooars and other forests in Bengal is sponsored by the Directorate of Tourism, Government of West Bengal.

"The Sunderbans Inheritance" by Bittu Sehgal, Sumit Sen and Vikram Grewal (eds), Sanctuary, Asia, 2007. A few images here.

Travel to India

Books:

"From Heaven Lake" by Vikram Seth, Peguin Paperback (2012); Phoenix (Orion Publishing group 2006). Winner of Thomas Cook Travel Book award. The Introduction reads: "I am an Indian, and lived in China as a student at Nanjing University from 1980-82. In the summer of 1981 I returned home to Delhi via Tibet and Nepal. The land route - for this was a hitch-hiking journey - from the oases of northwest China to the Himalayas crosses four Chinese provinces: Xinjiang (Sinkiang) and Gansu in the northwestern desert; then the basin and plateau of Qinghai ; and finally Tibet. This book is based on the journal I kept and the photographs I took while I was on the road". For a map of the author's travel route see here.

"Monkey: Folk Novel Of China" by Wu Ch'Eng-En, translated by Arthur Waley,  Turtleback Books, 1988. This is a novel length account concerning the adventures of a mischievous trickster Monkey given godlike sorcerous powers. It's divided into two parts, one where he messed with heaven, the second half with him redeeming himself by trekking from China to India to retrieve ancient Buddhist Scriptures. Though the story is loosely based on the historical pilgrimage of a Chinese Buddhist monk, Hsuan tsang, to India in the years 629 - 645 to obtain Buddhist scriptures, in fact the narrative bears little relation to what actually happened. Instead, it is fabricated from many popular tales told by storytellers, which over the years embellished the factual chronicles left by Hsuan-tsang with many Chinese beliefs about the monsters and demons of the lands he passed through. The tales teem with humor, invention, and memorable characters, and have been a great favorite with Chinese audiences for centuries.

Articles in the Press:

The Eye magazine of the Indian Express, November 4, 2012, Mumbai edition has an article about the Russian artist and explorer Nicholas Roerich of the early twentieth century, on the "Museum by the name of Nicholas Roerich" in Moscow.

Nicholas Roerich's paintings on the Himalayas, Lights on the Ganges, the river Brahmaputra, and Tibet are in the Nicholas Roerich Virtual Museum. The Nicholas Roerich Museum is located in upper Manhattan in New York and recounts his biography and extensive travels in India in the twentieth century.

History, Culture and Identity

"The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity" by Amartya Sen, Penguin Books 2005. "In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects--the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country's huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world" (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times, UK).

Chapter 8 on "China and India" begins: " 'Is there anyone in any part of India who does not admire China?' asked Yi Jing in the seventh century, on returning from India to China" (p. 161). Later in the same Chapter (p.179) Sen writes: "There are detailed Chinese records of the fact that several Indian astronomers and mathematicians were employed in high positions in the Astronomical Bureau at the Chinese capital in this period (eighth century). ...one of them, Gautama (Qutan Xida), became President of the Board of Astronomy in China. He produced the great Chinese compendium of astronomy Kaiyvan Zhanjing - an eighth-century scientific classic....Even though the Indian astronomers, such as Gautama (Qutan), or Kasyapa (Chiayeb) or Kumara (Chumolo), would not have been in China but for the relations generated by Buddhism, their work can hardly be seen primarily as contributions to Buddhism."

Fiction (expatriate Indians; Bengal, India and the World)

"The Hungry Tide" by Amitava Ghosh, Houghton Mifflin 2005. Book description: "Off the easternmost corner of India, in the Bay of Bengal, lies the immense labyrinth of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans, where settlers live in fear of drowning tides and man-eating tigers. Piya Roy, a young American marine biologist of Indian descent, arrives in this lush, treacherous landscape in search of a rare species of river dolphin and enlists the aid of a local fisherman and a translator. Together the three of them launch into the elaborate backwaters, drawn unawares into the powerful political undercurrents of this isolated corner of the world that exact a personal toll as fierce as the tides."

"The namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri, Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Book description: "The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. The New York Times has praised Lahiri as "a writer of uncommon elegance and poise." The Namesake is a fine-tuned, intimate, and deeply felt novel of identity."

"Nothing is Blue" by Biman Nath, Harper Collins, New Delhi 2009. This novel by an astronomer  working at the Raman Research Institute, Bangalore, blends history and astronomy. Set in the seventh century AD eastern India with Nalanda University, the ancient seat of learning as its backdrop, the novel recounts the travels of the Buddhist monk from China, Xuanzang to Nalanda. The main character of the story Ananda is a young boy from a typical Bengali peasant family and is a scriptural apprentice as well as a local guide of Xuanzang. A brilliant student, Ananda joined Nalanda despite the initial reluctance of his family to send their son to a far off Buddhist monastery. A crucial astronomical discovery has been hushed up due to the monastic politics of Nalanda. Ananda the student monk stumbles on secrets better left hidden and cannot be left to tell the tale. The story entwines the mythical woman astronomer Khona (Kshana) and her theory of the zodiacs and the moving sun and the problem of shifting calendars leading to festivals such as Buddha's birthday being celebrated on wrong days. Ananda meets the astronomer of repute, Brahmagupta in the city of Ujjayini and has discussions on the theories of the Greeks and of past Indian astronomers and mathematicians. The story unfolds in a time  of rapid change for the academia of Nalanda, brought about by the study of astronomy, mathematics and a rising undercurrent of Tantric Buddhism.

 

Ganga

Ganges: The Wiki Article

Photography Books on Ganga

The Ganges: Raghubir Singh

Ganges: John Nicholson

 

India 1947-1948: through the lens of Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

Travel to other places in India

These are merely by way of examples. There are many other good places in India as well, whose descriptions can be found in the Guidebooks. The following links are from Wikipedia.

Konark Sun Temple This is the closest among the most famous "sights" from Calcutta, in the neighbouring state of Orissa. You need a day to see the temple and for travel from and  to the town of Puri on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Puri is an overnight train ride from Calcutta. Konark can be reached through Bhubaneshwar, connected by airlines.

Fatehpur Sikri This historic citadel, served as the capital of Mughal empire in India from 1571 to 1585. Now abandoned, it is close to Agra the home city of Taj Mahal, and is a wonderful day trip to make to from Agra.

Taj Mahal  Taj is probably the most famous of all Indian "sights", but to cover the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur circuit you will need a minimum of 10 days.

Ajanta Caves and the Ellora caves have the best of cave art, architecture and sculpture of ancient India. They are close to the city of Aurangabad in south-western India; you need two full days to see both and a third to see other interesting areas nearby. Aurangabad is easily accessible from Mumbai by overnight train or by air.