NPR correspondents are taking The Two-Way with them along the historic Grand Trunk Road that stretches from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Hindu Kush mountains in the west, across the Indian subcontinent. They're preparing an upcoming Morning Edition series about life along the route, and we've been getting reports from them since April 14. Click here to see all of the team's posts.
Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, who is joining the team in Pakistan for his part of the effort, says that "a new generation is growing up along that ancient road" and that the show will be telling the stories of those young Indians and Pakistanis who face vast opportunities -- and vast problems.
Today, we hear from one of the producers of the series about books that those on the team found useful as they've been working on the project:
By Nicole Beemsterboer
We've been reading a lot. When I asked our team to send me what's been sitting on their night tables, my in-box immediately filled with mentions of more than 30 books. This is by no means a complete list:
Few accounts can capture the horror of British India's partition in 1947 -- it separated the country into today's India and Pakistan -- but Khushwant Singh's historical novel, Train to Pakistan, recommended by correspondent Philip Reeves, comes close.
The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, by British historian Yasmin Kahn, is another easy read that provides historical context and lays bare the atrocities of an oft forgotten catastrophe.
And the first 40 or so pages of Arthur Herman's Ghandi and Churchill looks at partition through two leaders whose rivalry reveals just how similar they were. Steven Inskeep, by the way, reviewed the book for The Daily Beast. It "had me from the first word," he says.
Correspondent Julie McCarthy recommends Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, which deconstructs the last year of British India. And, she says, historian Ramachandra Guha contends that modern India has been much less studied, a problem he remedies with his massive and readable India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy. There's also In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce.
If you have time to read only one book that demonstrates how modern Pakistan became what it is, you could do worse than Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times, by Stanley Wolpert. It's the story of Benazir's father, a former president and prime minister who served military dictators and defied them, advanced democracy and undermined it. One New Year's Eve he told a gathering of businessmen they need not worry about him; there was no truth whatsoever to an evil rumor that he was about to nationalize all the banks. On New Year's Day, the businessmen awoke to news that Bhutto had just nationalized the banks.
It's hard to separate South Asia's history from its military history, which goes back much farther than the wars of recent years. The armies of Pakistan and India were once the single Army of India, commanded by British officers. And in Kabul Catastrophe: The Invasion and Retreat 1839-1842, Patrick MacRory details one of their low points. For a more modern look, choose Military, Inc., by Ayesha Siddiqa. She exposes the way Pakistan's military has taken over the economy. A military government tried to stop the sale of her book.
V. S. Naipul covered much more than the Grand Trunk Road while writing his travelogue, An Area of Darkness, in the early 1960s. The first of three books on India, Naipul takes a hard and unflattering look at his native country. His honest and stark writing would win him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.
Descent into Chaos is a remarkably detailed and comprehensive retrospective by Ahmed Rashid. There is no denying his extensive knowledge of south Asia and the political events surrounding it before and since 9/11. Chaos is unparalleled and insightful, but be warned: this not for the casual reader.
Steve says that My Feudal Lord, by Tehmina Durrani, is "the scandalous memoir of her life as the wife of 'the lion of the Punjab,' a great political boss in the Pakistani Peoples Party. Finding him abusive and unfaithful, she divorced him, and was ostracized by her own family. She got them all back by writing this bestseller in 1994."
Then there are Days and Nights on the Grand Trunk Road by Anthony Weller and Rudyard Kipling's classic, Kim. Weller took his journey on the 50th anniversary of partition and takes the same road we will.
When it comes to works of fiction, there are countless examples from Indian authors and several emerging from Pakistanis. I won't list them all here, but our producer for the India leg of the journey, Nishant Dahiya, who was born and raised there, says Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is "still perhaps the best book on India." He also says that Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, set in India in the second half of the 20th Century, should make everyone's short list.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid chronicles the life of a young Pakistani living in the states after 9/11 who sympathizes with the terrorists. And the hilarious debut by Mohammad Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, is a satirical look at the plane crash that killed General Zia of Pakistan in the late 1980s.
I highly recommend In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueednuddin's book of eight beautifully interconnected short stories centered around the staff of a wealthy land owner in Pakistan. It does in fiction what we will strive to do in our reporting: introduce people and places that together help de-construct the news out of South Asia.