“On the Shadow Tracks: A Journey Through Occupied Myanmar” by Clare Hammond

Railways are major public infrastructural projects; one would therefore think it should therefore be easy to find out which rail lines exist and at what times trains are running. Not in Myanmar. Aside from the well-known main lines, Clare Hammond a myriad of smaller branch lines in remote parts of the country, with little information as to when the trains will run or if the lines are even operational. Many of these train tracks are not part of a public service, rather they were built for use by

Book Review “Leech and other stories” by Ranjan Adiga

Ranjan Adiga’s debut collection Leech and other stories comprises 10 short stories based around the experiences of Nepalis adapting to new worlds, lands and experiences. The majority relate to migration, both internal, with migrants from rural Nepal traveling to try make it in the capital, or abroad, in search of their dream life in America. It is unsurprising that a nation shaped should produce a writer who tackles the subject with such nuance and tenderness. The individuals from all walks of

Book Review “Never Never Land” by Namita Gokhale

“Sometimes we have to retreat to return.” So says Iti, who is living in Gurgaon but is far from happy. A freelance editor, struggling to make it as an author, her life is a mess. Feeling lost and unsuccessful, particularly compared to her more successful classmates, who are rich and married while she lives alone consumed by a “pointless bitter anger, this bile that inhabits me.” As Iti spends each day looking at the WhatsApp chats of her former classmates, showing off their trappings of success,

Book Review “Maharajas, Emperors, Viceroys, Borders: Nepal’s relations North and South” by Sam Cowan

Sir Sam Cowan worked with Gurkha soldiers for many years in Nepal but also in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo, eventually becoming Colonel Commandment of the Brigade of Gurkhas and the Chairman of the Gurkha Welfare Trust. In this capacity he interacted with several of Nepal’s key players, including King Birendra and King Gyanendra. After retirement from the army, Cowan started researching and writing articles on Nepali history. This new book brings together a selection of his more popular and impo

Book Review “The Crossroads: Kashmir-India’s bridge to Xinjiang” by Kulbhushan Warikoo

Kashmir has always been the point of connection between South Asia, Central Asia and Xinjiang. Winding their way through the mighty Himalaya, Pamir and Karakoram Mountain ranges, traders, travelers and officials created a series of close historic economic, cultural and political ties that have bound the region together. Prof Kulbhushan Warikoo’s new book The Crossroads: Kashmir-India’s bridge to Xinjiang is a new history of Kashmir, focusing on its role in linking the Indian-subcontinent to Xin

Book Review “Mountains of Dawn: A Portrait of Arunachal Pradesh” by Mamang Dai

This large photobook offers a detailed visual portrayal of the ecology, history, and cultural diversity of the largest of India’s seven North Eastern states. Mountains of Dawn: A Portrait of Arunachal Pradesh was originally published in 2009; this updated 2023 edition includes over 100 photos. The visual portrayal of the land, “a belt of green shadowed in perpetual rain and midst”, is complemented by a well-written narrative, adding context and further information in support of the visuals on of

Book Review “Nepal: From Monarchy to Republic” by Lok Raj Baral

Nepal’s tumultuous political history is the focus of Lok Raj Baral’s latest book, Nepal: From Monarchy to Republic, which charts the country’s journey from its political unification in 1769 to its present status as a federal democratic republic. The veteran author and political scientist charts the seismic shifts that have fundamentally changed Nepal’s politics, society and structure as a state. The book kicks off with an explanation of King Prithvi Narayan Shah’s military conquests in the 18th

Book Review “Maymyo Days: Forgotten Lives of a Burma Hill Station” by Stephen Simmons

Pwin-u-Lwin is a town in upper Burma, situated in the hills east of Mandalay, known for its cool climate. Yet for many, Pwin-u-Lwin is better known as Maymyo. Renamed in 1896 after the head of the 5th Bengal infantry, Colonel James May, Maymyo was the most famous hill station in colonial Burma. The British occupied Maymyo in 1895 and a military garrison was erected there in 1897. It soon became a popular holiday destination for those living in Burma. In 1900, following the construction of a trai

Book Review “The Quest for Modern Assam: A History, 1942-2000” by Arupjyoti Saikia

Assam, which shares borders with Bhutan, Bangladesh and used to border Myanmar and China, is the largest state in India’s volatile Northeast region. Many of the Indian states that now border Assam; Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, were all carved out of Assam’s territory post-Independence following fierce political battles for representation and autonomy. Therefore a study of Assam is vital not just for understanding events in one of India’s most geopolitical important regions

Book Review “Smoke and Ashes” by Amitav Ghosh

In 2008, Amitav Ghosh released A Sea of Poppies, the first in a trilogy of historical fiction set in India and China in the 1830s amid the outbreak of the First Opium War. The Ibis trilogy details the growth of opium in India, the role of British agents in shipping it to Canton (modern-day Guangzhou) and the massive international impact of the opium trade. Now, eight years after the final book in the trilogy was released, Ghosh has released Smoke and Ashes, a non-fiction compendium to the series

Book Review “Anarchy or Chaos: MPT Acharya and the Indian Struggle for Freedom” by Ole Birk Laursen

In Anarchy or Chaos, Ole Birk Laursen sets out to bring the life and intellectual contributions of MPT Acharya, a relatively unknown yet vitally important Indian revolutionary, to a wider audience. This biography delves into Acharya’s involvement in nationalism, anticolonialism, revolution, and anarchism, drawing extensively from memoirs, letters, newspapers, and intelligence reports. The result is a remarkable and comprehensive portrayal of a man, for whom much of his life was spent at the cent

Book Review - “Baptizing Burma: Religious Change in the Last Buddhist Kingdom”

The impact of missionaries around the world has been widely condemned by anthropologists, historians and medical professionals. They have been accused of suppressing indigenous languages, religious and social practice, disrupting countries’ social fabrics and prohibiting contraception. Moreover, missionaries were, on the whole, stalwart defenders of European colonialism. However, that does not mean they are unworthy of nuanced academic study, indeed given the immense socio-political and religiou

Book Review “Negotiating Borders and Borderlands: The Indian Experience”, edited by Gorky Chakraborty and Supurna Banerjee

Negotiating Borders and Borderlands, edited by Gorky Chakraborty and Supurna Banerjee, delves into the intricate dynamics of India’s borders and the everyday experiences of those living in its borderlands. It features a diverse collection of articles contributed by various authors, aiming to analyze and portray how borders have influenced the destiny of countries and their inhabitants. In contrast to a statist approach to border studies, the book focuses deliberately on the lives of individuals

Book Review “Northeast India: A Political History” by Samrat Choudhury

Beyond the Siliguri Corrido, the so-called chicken neck of Indian territory that runs between Bangladhesh and Nepal, lies an India very different from that of common preconceptions. This is an area surrounded by Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, hemmed in by the Himalaya. As Samrat Choudhury writes in the introduction to his new book, Northeast India: A Political History, “the Northeast is a protuberance that hangs on to the rest of the country by a slender thread, barely 21 kilometres wide

Book Review “Fruits Of The Barren Tree” by Lekhnath Chhetri

Fruits of the Barren Tree, a translation of the Nepali-language novel Phoolange, is set near Darjeeling, the hill station in India’s West Bengal synonymous with the Raj, tea gardens and domestic honeymooners. Yet the mountainous region portrayed by Lekhnath Chhetri is a far cry from the clichés and tropes that are so often invoked when discussing the region. The book is one of the few novels set amid the Gorkhaland movement of the 1980s,which saw multiple years of political struggle, often viol

Book Review “Empire Building: The Construction of British India, 1690-1860” by Rosie Llewellyn-Jones

While most of the now common histories of the East India Company (EIC) and British India discuss the politics, conflict or culture of empire, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones’s Empire Building: The Construction of British India, 1690-1860 focuses on the physical construction of British India through the buildings that were constructed, the background to their design, the political and economic constraints that shaped their design and how these colonial constructions influenced India’s society, economy and

Book Review “I Feel No Peace: Rohingya Fleeing Over Seas and Rivers” by Kaamil Ahmed

In this remarkable debut, Kaamil Ahmed tells the story of the displacement of the Rohingya from their home in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and their ongoing search for refuge. This is not a new story, but Ahmed puts the spotlight firmly on the Rohingya perspective and allows them to tell their own story in their own words. The book is an impressive mix of history, political analysis and extensive reportage from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Ahmed charts the Rohingya struggle in Myanmar f

Book Review “Return of the Junta: Why Myanmar’s Military Must Go Back to the Barracks” by Oliver Slow

After the Myanmar military seized power on 1 February 2021, the country has been in the midst of a humanitarian crisis The military, who have been a major disruptive force in Myanmar politics ever since independence in 1948, is the focus of Oliver Slow’s new book, Return of the Junta: Why Myanmar’s Military Must Go Back to the Barracks: an overview of the history of the military, its role in politics, education, and the myths and propaganda its members believe and propagate. The book opens with

Book Review “Museum of the World” by Christopher Kloeble

While the foreigner in colonial India has become, at least since EM Forster, something of a genre unto itself, the foreigners are almost invariably British and the novels mostly in English. Museum of the World by Christopher Kloeble is something of a novelty not just because it is based on the true story of the three Bavarian Schlagintweit brothers who explored India for the East India Company in the mid-19th century, but also because it was written in German; this new member of the canon appear

Book Review “Tragic Nation Burma: Why and How Democracy Failed” by Amitav Acharya

Since the coup on 1 February 2021, Burma (the author’s term) has seen a humanitarian crisis in all regions of the country, with mass displacement and a myriad of human rights abuses. What happened in Burma and how the situation deteriorated to this point is the topic of Amitav Acharya’s new book Tragic Nation Burma: Why and How Democracy Failed. The book is a mixture of analysis and opinion, liberally layered with numerous quotations and interviews with members of Burma’s Civil Disobedience Move
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