Must Read: Ira Mukhoty Recommends 8 Best Books on History & Science

Ira Mukhoty Recommends 8 Best Books

Looking for your next book? Check out these 10 must-read books on history and science recommended by author Ira Mukhoty.

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Amid the various ways in which people interpret the Mahabharata, some believe it was about Draupadi, whose humiliation eventually led to the war. Yet, most retellings speak mostly about the Kauravas and Pandavas — the men who fought the war. 

But women authors like Ira Mukhoty are changing the narrative and giving a voice to the powerful women in mythology and history

Her ‘Song of Draupadi’ retells the epic from the points of view of Gandhari, Kunti, Amba and Draupadi. Her other books ‘Heroines: Powerful Indian Women of Myth and History’ and ‘Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire’ shine a light on women like Radha, Raziya Sultan, Meerabai, Jahanara, Laxmibai, Hazrat Mahal and other queens from India’s history. 

“Draupadi appeals to us because she’s the voice of female anger, which is rare in Indian society. Even now, most of us are told to control our anger and to watch the way we speak to men and elders. We are not able to give a voice to these feelings but through Draupadi, we can.  Draupadi is vulnerable, passionate, has angry outbursts – people can relate to her,” said Ira in an interview with Hindustan Times. 

The author’s prowess reflects not only in the books she has written, but also those that she reads and recommends. 

Here’s a list of books recommended by Ira Mukhoty, curated from interviews across various publications.

India in the Persianate Age by Richard M Eaton

India in the Persianate Age by Richard M Eaton
India in the Persianate Age

American historian Richard M Eaton has written several books on the history of India before 1800. In this book, he tells the story of the rise of Persianate culture, beginning in the 11th century. His book seeks to explain how India evolved over the years, thanks to her engagement with different people and cultures. 

“Eaton brilliantly elaborates on the complex encounter between India’s Sanskrit culture—an equally rich and transregional complex that continued to flourish and grow throughout this period—and Persian culture, which helped shape the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and a host of regional states,” says Goodreads. 

Mukhoty recommends this book in a Chalchitra Talks interview and calls Eaton one of her favourite authors of historical non-fiction. 

Buy the book here. 

Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World by Ruby Lal

Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World by Ruby Lal
Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World

In this book, the author explores the domestic life of women during the times of the first three Mughal kings in India — Babur, Humayun and Akbar. Lal challenges the traditional interpretations of haram, revealing a complex society set in the Mughal courts. The book delves into how these men and women negotiated their life in the inner chambers and the outer courts.

Mukhoty calls this book groundbreaking.

Buy the book here. 

Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India by Suchitra Vijayan

Midnight's Borders: A People's History of Modern India by Suchitra Vijayan
Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India

Suchitra Vijayavan travelled 9,000 miles over seven years, across India’s many borders. She embarked on this journey in 2013 to bring forth the voices of the people living across our country’s many borderlands, be it the one with Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Myanmar among others. It speaks about how people survive in these areas. 

Reviewing the book for Open Magazine, Mukhoty said, “What it achieves, in fine, careful and lyrical prose, is a transformation with grace and dignity of these everyday lives into a catalogue of memories, the walking wounded which we, as fellow citizens, are duty-bound to remember. Not as Muslims, or as Hindus, but simply as human beings.”

Buy the book here. 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness

This science fiction book that has completed over fifty years takes us to an icebound planet of Winter. A lone human ambassador is sent to this planet. What’s special about Winter is that the inhabitants are gender fluid. 

“This book is such an interesting take on gender and sexuality,” said Mukhoty to Chalchitra Talks.

Buy the book here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Set in England in the 1500s, this book is a fictionalised biography set in the time of King Henry VIII. Set in the period from 1500 to 1535, it documents the rise in power of Thomas Cromwell in the king’s court during a time of great political instability.

In an interview with Scroll.in, she praised Mantel and said that she was instrumental in discovering her writing style.

“I love Hilary Mantel’s writing. Think Wolf Hall – even though Mantel writes historical fiction, she writes it with so much scholarship that it almost reads like nonfiction. When I read Wolf Hall, I realised I wanted to do something similar in my writings,” said Mukhoty.

Buy the book here.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of a woman haunted by the past. It speaks about the devastation caused by slavery, through its protagonist, Sethe. Born a slave, Sethe escapes to Ohio but continues to be haunted by the memories of the farm where horrible things happened. She is also haunted by the ghost of her baby who died, and whose tombstone is engraved with the word- Beloved.

Mukhoty called Morrison “the first writer who had an extraordinary impact on me.”

Buy the book here. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

In 1951, a young Black woman, Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer. During her treatment, samples of her tumour had been taken. These cells, called HeLa, are ‘immortal’ and are alive even today. They had been used for research without her family’s knowledge or consent. Learning about this, author Rebecca Skloot uncovered the story over a decade. It also deals with the ethical issues of race and class in medical research.

In a tweet, Mukhoty called this one of her favourite books “which combines my twin interests, science and literature”. 

Buy the book here. 

Hunchprose by Ranjit Hoskote

Hunchprose by Ranjit Hoskote
Hunchprose by Ranjit Hoskote

In a world torn by the pandemic and climate crisis, among other problems, we all have a lot of questions. Ranjit Hoskote seeks to answer these through his collection of poems.

“Infused with wry humour, informed by the wisdom traditions, Hunchprose urges us to look at our world, and within ourselves, with renewed ardour,” reads the book synopsis.

Mukhoty tweeted about this book and called the author marvellous.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

Sources
‘There is a great hunger to see ourselves reflected in history, to hear our stories: Ira Mukhoty’ by Sayari Debnath for Scroll, Published on 02 April 2022
‘Interview: Ira Mukhoty, author, Song of Draupadi’ by Huzan Tata for Hindustan Times, Published on 27 August 2021
‘The Walking Wounded’ by Ira Mukhoty for Open Magazine, Published on 21 May 2021
Chalchitra Talks

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