Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Indian History - Facts and Fiction - from Indus valley to the Independence times and beyond

Here are the books on Indian History which start from the Indus valley civilisation, traverse through the various kingdoms and dynasties of India, take us through the freedom struggle and also shed light on  the years following our Independence.

The Puffin History of India (Vol 1 and Vol 2)
Author : Roshen Dalal
Publisher : Puffin Books
Age : 10 - 15 yrs
Historical Facts
Review by Vibha

If I have to recommend one place to get the basics of Indian history clear, Roshen Dalal's History of India would win hands down. The book begins by setting the stage through story of human evolution and not by abruptly starting the lessons on Indian history. The content is logically divided into chapters and further subheadings aid in understanding the sequence of happenings easily. The things which make these two volumes stand apart are
- Not ignoring the regional historical facts completely. Most of the history books seem to focus on the   Northern region only.
- Ample illustrations and map work
- History of India post 1947 (not many books seem to be dealing with that period very comprehensively)
- Quantum of information packed without overwhelming the readers' minds.
(Pic Src : Flipkart)

Of Kings and Commoners
Authors : Monisha Mukundan and Subhadra Sen Gupta
Publisher : Ratna Sagar Publications
Ages 10 +
Historical Facts +  Fiction
Review by Ranjani

A beautiful book which blends the historical facts of an era into a story and then follows it up with a detailed "Facts" section. This section talks not only about the political situations, but also about the life of the common people, the architectural achievements of the era, religious sentiments of the people, arts and crafts of the region and so on. The facts section is as interesting as the story, which can be considered a mini representation of the specific times. So we have the Toy monkey of the Mohenjodaro times (which is currently in the National Museum Delhi) in the Indus valley story, the awe inspiring Brihadeeshwara Temple of Tanjore in the Chola story, Qutub Minar in the backdrop of the Mughal story and more such fine details in all the stories. It is one of those books that I have not seen around much and luckily got from our library. It is very similar to  "The Forbidden Temple" by TV Padma, though in TV Padma's book the stories take a centre stage than the facts section.
(Pic Src : Flipkart)

The story of India for Children
Author : Gratian Vas
Publisher : Shree Books
Ages 10 - 12 years
Historical Facts
Review by Ranjani

Here is a neatly packaged book on Indian history which spans from the Indus valley civilisation times to the nineties of the last century. Every chapter is neatly planned with appropriate pictures or maps showing the boundaries of the kingdoms. So we course through in a chronological order - early civilisation, Mauryan dynasty, various significant kingdoms/kings of the North and South, a few chapters on the culture and religious flavours of the times, early invaders, Mughals, arrival of the British on the Indian soil and finally the Indian Independence movement. This book concentrates more on the political side than the cultural settings or the life of common people of an era.The chapters have a good amount of information on the specific topic. This book has been picked up by my son a number of times, just to randomly read a chapter or to refer for some school project. I must say it is a really good book from Shree Books publishers.
Pic Src : Flipkart

Let's Go Time Travelling !
Author : Subhadra Sen Gupta
Published by Penguin Books India
Age 9-12 years
Review by Sandhya

In her interview in The Hindu at the publishing of her book Let's Go Time Travelling Subhadra Sen Gupta says, “My target readers are the kids in classes 6 to 8, who begin studying Indian history. The book aims at making history less intimidating for them and also talk about things that kids are curious about. The stuff that textbooks leave out, like food and clothes, transport and school.” Very true. History textbooks have a way of putting the child off the subject, unless there is an exceptional teacher in the offing. This book fills in exactly that void. For my daughter in the 6th grade, this was THE book to read, much in the mould of the irreverent Horrible Histories series.

A period of close to 5000 years has been divided into 4 parts- Early India from 2600 - 500 BCE, Ancient India from 300 BCE – 1100 CE, Medieval India from 1200 – 1850 CE and British India from 1800 – 1940 CE. I give the dates here not to overwhelm the reader of this review with dates: something that always put me off from an academic study of history, but to demonstrate the scope of this slim and wonderfully crafted book.

Subhadra Sen Gupta deconstructs the weight of all that history and distils it into bite-sized parts. She keeps her finger firmly on the pulse of the middle school child who is lured into wanting to find out more after reading the short story at the beginning of each chapter, comprising ordinary people from that particular period. The story tells a lot about their thoughts, ideas, customs and beliefs. She focuses on the ‘storytelling aspect’ of history, giving a holistic yet richly detailed view of each era.

Along the way, we get a peek into how historians decode the data they have at hand from archaeological findings, written records, period literature, and any other relics of a period to recreate the how and why of all that has happened. For example, we can know what food people of a period ate and why. In the chapter on the Pallava and Chola dynasties, we learn that people ate many varieties of the dosa, but the idli was not invented yet. How? From the references in the literature of the period. Odes to dosas, but no idlis. Also that spices used in sambar were pepper and tamarind. Chillies and tomatoes were a colonial import, brought by the Portuguese from the Americas in the 1700s.

An enjoyable book, and a valuable addition to the study of Indian history, along with Anu Kumar’s 'In the Country of the Gold-digging Ants' and Roshan Dalal’s twin volumes by Puffin.
(Pic src : flipkart)

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