Armchair #Travel to #India – my favourite #books and #movies about the culture

South Indian child - photo credit - Karen Anderson - @savouritall
South Indian toddler – photo credit- Karen Anderson

I feel privileged to travel to India every year. I felt its pull when I began practicing yoga 15 years ago. I wanted to go to the place that taught people to focus on awareness and fully living in this existence. Now that I’ve been a few times, I am increasingly drawn and look forward to each new journey’s discoveries.

So, that’s all the more reason I find it shocking when people say to me, “Why would you ever want to go to India?” Some people have indeed had poor experiences. They tell me INDIA is an acronym that stands for I‘ll Never Do It Again. I’ve learned to recover quickly and to share the reasons why I personally love it. I tell them INDIA stands for I Need to Do It Always.

I love the food, the patterns of daily life, the markets, the natural beauty and diverse landscapes, the arts and crafts, the monuments, the colours, the textiles, the exotic plant life, the cows everywhere, the ancient culture, the fascinating religions and most of all – THE PEOPLE.

I know most of you will never go to India but, if you’re at all curious, this post will give you some books and movies to explore so you can know it a bit better – from your armchair – at least.

marigolds and prayer beads - photo credit - Karen Anderson - @savouritall
Prayer beads and marigolds – photo credit – Karen Anderson


Books and movies can help you understand the history of this young nation and to also understand how rapidly it’s changing. This is a mixed bag of classic and modern choices. I’d be thrilled to know your favourites so please drop me a line in the comments with any of your suggestions.

My favourite books about India are as follows:

Rohinton Mistry – Such a long journey – This is my favourite book about India by far. I love the look into the minutiae  of daily life and the slow dawning of the effects on that life of greater forces.

Rohinton Mistry – A fine balance – This is joy and despair and life, all unflinchingly in your face.

Sarah MacDonald – Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure – This is a great round up of every possible religion in India explored by a young and very skeptical Australian journalist.

Gregory David Roberts – Shantaram – The dignity of the poor, the corruption of the rich and one hell of a storyteller surfing through an adrenalin rush in Mumbai.

Paul Theroux – The Elephanta Suite – Thoroughly modern short stories of Americans in India and how their pre-conceived notions of the country unravel in somewhat disturbing ways.

Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children – I can’t stand Salman Rushdie’s fantastical drifts but still this book is an excellent history lesson.

Katherine Boo – Behind the Beautiful Forevers – I’m reading this now which is good as I’ll visit the slums of Mumbai this year.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda – Secret Daughter – This is on my night table to read soon.

Anuradha Roy – An Atlas of Impossible Longing – Quite lovely and quietly torturous.

Yann Martel – Life of Pi – I like Pi’s very Indian outlook on the world.

Michael Ondaatje – Anil’s Ghost – (set in Sri Lanka) – This is haunting and therefore very well named. As with all Ondaatje books, I wanted to reread it immediately.

Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger – Wow, this is quite revealing in its stories of modern corruption in India.

Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book – I had to buy this after walking through the jungles of South India and hearing the sounds of villagers nearby while monkeys swung in the branches above me. I was looking for Mogli around every corner.

M. K. Ghandi – The Story of My Experiments with Truth – Ghandi’s autobiography.

Arundhathi Subramaniam – More Than a Life: Sadhguru – A frank version of a Jaggi Vasudev’s enlightenment and journey to becoming today’s great mystic teacher – Sadhguru.

adiyogi - Isha Yoga Centre in Coimbatore Tamilnadu, India - @savouritall
Adiyogi statue at Isha Yoga Centre – photo credit – Karen Anderson

Movies about India that I’ve seen and enjoyed are as follows:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – These are humorous and accurate on many levels. They profile ancient and the modern India in collision and celebration.

The Lunchbox – This is a completely charming story of what happens when a lunchbox is consistently delivered to a man who is not the lunch maker’s husband. It is set in Mumbai and is delightfully not Hollywood or Bollywood but Indian drama at its best.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – This translates to “you can’t live twice” and it stars my favourite Bollywood actor Hritik Roshan with equally talented co-stars Abhay Deol and Farhan Aktar. Anyone will love this very modern action-packed movie shot in over 100 locations in Spain. My husband and son laugh up roaringly every time we watch it.

Bride and Prejudice – This is so funny.  Jane Austen would have loved this modern day take on a wealthy Punjabi farmer trying to marry off his five daughters – complete with a ridiculous mother and beautiful heroine falling for arrogant Mr. Darcy.

Monsoon Wedding – An articulate and deep look into modern life in Mumbai through the stressful period of a family reuniting for a daughter’s wedding.

Deepa Mehta’s trilogy – Water, Fire, Earth – I’ve only seen Water but LOVED it for the depth of understanding about old Indian customs pertaining to widows, women and marriage.

Midnight’s Children – I haven’t seen it because I think it would be impossible to capture the book but since the book is not a fun read maybe it would be better to watch the movie?

Bollywood Hollywood – This is set in Toronto and stars Indo-Canadian superstar Lisa Ray.

When the Rains Come – Set in Kerala at the time the British were building roads to plant tea and spices, this reveals how exploitation can hurt people in a deeply emotional way.

Ghandi – This is the man’s life. Take an intermission, but do watch it.

Slumdog Millionaire – It’s astounding – that is all I have to say about it.

A Passage to India – British and Indian relations in a nutshell.

I’ll leave you with the one and only “Bollywood” dance scene from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Even though the rest of the movie is NOT like this, the movie just would not have been complete without at least one over the top dance production. Enjoy or as I like to say, savour it all.

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