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A date with history, democracy and Kohinoor
Saturday October 26, 2013 5:28 PM, IANS

What we see today has a lot to do with our past, and what we witness will soon be etched in history. There is an uncanny correlation between the past and the present.

Like two inseparable twins, they are intertwined. Hence, IANS bookshelf this week takes you on a tour of popular events, people and things that have shaped our present and are remembered every now and then.

1. Book: The Mountain of Light; Written by: Indu Sundaresan; Published by: HarperCollins; Price: Rs. 299; Pages: 352

By the time Queen Victoria slipped the Kohinoor on her wrist, the gem had travelled around the world, changing hands over the centuries from one ruler to another in Persia, Afghanistan and India.

The fascinating story of this 105-carat diamond opens in 1830, when the Indian Maharaja and founder of the Sikh empire, Ranjit Singh, takes possession of the massive jewel that has been passed from man to man, king to king, and emperor to emperor, through bloodshed and destruction, since the 1200s. When Ranjit Singh dies, four of his sons are slaughtered in wars with the British and the diamond is left to Prince Dalip Singh, a six-year-old child. The British governor-general orders that it be secreted out of India in 1850, and the teenage-king Dalip Singh follows the diamond to London to officially present it to the queen as a spoil of the Sikh War.

He is feted and petted by the British monarchy for a long while - until he realises that all that Britain has given him cannot make up for the loss for his country and its celebrated diamond.

2. Book: Transforming India: Challenges to the World's Largest Democracy' Written by: Sumantra Bose; Published by: Picador India; Price: Rs. 699; Pages: 337

This book tells the story of India's democracy in early 21st century.

The ninth Lok Sabha election of November 1989 marked the beginning of a new political era, and since then the nation's political landscape has been dramatically transformed by the rise of regional parties and leaders. The author illuminates the roots, significance and challenges of this bottom-up federalisation driven by the will of the people and the transition to a de-centered democracy. The principal personalities, events and turning points of the pre-1990 and post-1990 eras come to life with this.

The author provides riveting accounts of the long-term challenges posed by the Maoist insurgency and the unresolved issue of Kashmir. The combination of lucid writing with incisive analysis, and masterly command of detail with unwavering attention to the big picture provides an essential guide to understanding the present and future of India's politics.

3. Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten; Written by: Rajmohan Gandhi; Published by: Aleph; Price: 695; Pages: 432

The book offers, perhaps for the first time, a history of the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus of undivided Punjab over a 240 year period: from the 1707 death of Aurangzeb to the Partition of India under Mountbatten's royalty. Encompassing Punjabi's anarchic 18th century, the surprising Sikh rule that restored stability, the British conquest of Punjab, why many Punjabis assisted the Empire in suppressing the 1857 Revolt, the Punjab of the imperial achievements, the tension between Indian freedom and the rights of Punjab's Muslim majority, why separation occurred and its trauma was most avoided, and the future prospects, on both sides of the border, of Punjabis and Punjabiyat, the book sharpens our understanding of today's India and Pakistan.

4. Book: The Rani of Jhansi; Written by: Prince Michael of Greece; Published by: Rupa; Price: Rs. 295; Pages: 390

An account of the life of Lakshmibai, the heroic warrior-queen, The Rani of Jhansi, vibrantly portrays one of the bravest women in Indian history. Along with the throne, Lakshmibai inherits steep challenges - she becomes a widow to a deceased king and mother to an adopted heir. Her brother-in-law aggressively contends her right to the throne, and the ominous presence of the British spells uncertainty for Jhansi's future. Meanwhile, war clouds gather as several states prepare to fight against foreign domination. A rebellion seems inevitable.

Using a number of characters, some known, others invented, the author paints a compelling portrait of Maratha aristocracy and their courts in the 19th century, of the first nationwide struggle against the British and of Lakshmi - woman, ruler and a symbol of steely courage against all odds.

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