A Fun Way To Learn History: My Top Five Indian Historical Fiction Books

If you ask people about their favourite subject in school, for the majority of them, history will come at the bottom of the list. History, with its innumerable dates, the unending wars, the boring prosing emperors, the treaties, was one long snooze fest for most of the people in school. I, however, have always been very fond of history. I look at history as a series of stories and narratives all intertwining to create our current world. There are valuable lessons hidden in the past, many mistakes repeated by subsequent generations, who refuse to learn from the missteps of ancestors. For those who like history but shudder at the thought of reading dry, boring historical tomes, historical fiction is a genre which brings fun into this staid subject. Historical fiction is about real events which took place but with a super-imposition of characters( who may be real or a figment of the author’s imagination). The authors do take a few liberties but on the whole they stick to the facts. History comes alive in this genre, making it feel real to the readers. The books of this genre are not only entertaining to read, but also a treasure trove of knowledge.

I have stuck to India’s history for this list of my favourite historical fiction authors/series/books. There are, of course, authors like Ken Follet and Phillipa Gregory who are experts in historical fiction, but I have reserved them for another post.

  • Amitav Ghosh. The Marchijappi Massacre; The fragile ecosystem of Sunderbans; Rubber plantations and expatriate Indians of Burma; The opium wars and the journey of girmitiyas to Mauritius, all these and much more can be discovered through the pages of an Amitav Ghosh novel. Researched in detail the human narratives of the books ensnares the reader. The reader starts identifying with the characters who seem as if they are someone known. Amitav Ghosh, the master storyteller, draws the reader into his books, transporting the reader to Burma or Sunderbans or on a ship to the colonies. My favourite series of his is “The Ibis Trilogy” about opium wars and the shipping trade routes of that time.

  • Alex Rutherford. If you are in the mood to know more about the great Mughals, Alex Rutherford’s series is the one you should pick. Starting from Babur till Aurangzeb, these historical fiction books give an in-depth account of each of the great Mughals. The author draws extensively from the accounts of Bernier, Manucci and also from the biographies and the court chronicles. These books are easy to learn about medieval India through the lens of a dynasty which is still making its presence felt in India. My favourite book of the series is “Brothers At War” which chronicles the life of that oft over-looked Mughal, Humayun.

  • Indu Sundaresan. “The Feast of Roses” and “The Twentieth Wife” by Indu Sundaresan are a fictional account of Noor Jehan, the Queen who wielded immense power and challenged the societal norms. Noor Jehan becomes a living breathing character in these books. The reader becomes aware of Noorjehan as a woman, privy to her innermost thoughts, desires and machinations to hold on to the throne and power.

  • Aruna Chakraborty. “Jorasanko” and “Daughters Of Jorasanko”, are two books which bare the family secrets of the Tagore family. The Tagore family had an enormous impact not only on Bengal but also on India’s history. The Tagores influenced religion, art, literature, civil services and public life. The book, Daughters Of Jorasanko, puts a spotlight on the women of the Tagore family, who despite being talented were outshone by the men of this family. The Jorasanko Thakur Bari comes alive in the pages of these two books.

  • Zindaginama, (Krishna Sobti). A sprawling magnum opus, this book meanders through early 20th century rural Punjab. There are no protagonists or a particular storyline, there are multiple characters in the book, depicting the life of ordinary folk living their routine lives. Living their insular lives, the villagers cannot escape the winds of change flowing through the world. The book is about mundane everyday life in a village, and yet it offers a fascinating glimpse into a piece of history.

Have you read any of the above books? Do you have any recommendations which I may have missed?

2 thoughts on “A Fun Way To Learn History: My Top Five Indian Historical Fiction Books

  1. “History not being favorite subject” is not a new fact, still its tremendous value has always been recognized by the intellectuals. In this context author’s blog is not only motivating but equally valuable from contents point of view.
    The blog has characteristic quality of -Quite informative and is valuable for every age group.
    Dr S.K. Nanda

    Liked by 1 person

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