Who is an Indian? To answer this literally and historically: an Indian is anyone who lives to the west of the Indus river, and this was decided long before we configured our often excessively cherished religions. The fact that our very identity is defined by a river speaks a lot about how rivers have given rise to and shaped human civilisations.
Six rivers, six journeys and six books that bring them alive with a seamless flow – below is our choice of literature to time travel along ancient rivers.
1. Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River
By Alice Albinia
Discover the life that evolved along the Indus over the centuries and the politics that determine its division in our times. Albinia travels from Karachi to Tibet, on boat in the river, in a burqa off it, and then on foot to return the tale to its very source.
2. A River Sutra
By Gita Mehta
You might remember this author’s name from a book called Karma Cola found lying on the centre tables of many a crumbling guest house in India’s backpacker towns. In A River Sutra, Gita Mehta takes us to a view of ’90s India as seen from a government guest house along the Narmada river.
3. It Happened Along the Kaveri: A Journey Through Space and Time
By Padma Seshadri and Padma Malini Sundararaghavan
The two Padmas have done a fantastic job of actually travelling from Talakaveri to Poompuhar and unravelling the disputed river. Their fondness for the river, and the 10 years they spent with its stories, is obvious in the book’s many layers that recreate an image of Kaveri that is as folkloreish as it is factual.
4. The Lost River: On The Trails of Sarasvati
By Michael Danino
Sarasvati has been in the news. Not for the puja held in her honour every Vasant Panchami, but for its existence as a river (and some dubious attempts to revive it). This book is a perfect read for those interested in good research that brings alive a mysterious, invisible river.
5. Slowly Down the Ganges
By Eric Newby
Newby’s popular travelogue is considered a classic in travel literature. Except that things get quite weird. Especially when he starts to make observations about the natives’ reactions to his pretty white wife Wanda. Worth a read for this weirdness, if not for dated anecdotes on the move.
6. In Search of Yamuna: Reflections on a River Lost
By Sarandha Jain
Delhi-based environmental activist Sarandha’s book somewhat touches the surface of the Yamuna, but compared to the other books on this list it doesn’t quite swim along. Still, it is a decent attempt to tell the romantic myths and polluted miseries of one of India’s greatest rivers.
Mineli Goswami is a 24-year-old Assamese-East Indian, which usually translates into pretty good weekend feasts. When she’s not at her desk struggling with poetry – more often than she’d like – she’s seen wasting time on an assortment of things such as lugging an antique SLR, breaking nails climbing boulders, and chasing turtles. She’s graduated in history and has an unofficial PhD in Bandra-style jiving.