If you are the type of traveler that loves to immerse yourself in your next destination months in advance before arrival, this post is for you! Reading awesome local literature on the country you are traveling to can be an excellent way to get you hyped up for your upcoming trip….and make the time go faster! Before traveling to India, we recommend reading all or as many as possible of the books listed below. When doing a volunteer or internship abroad project for a short amount of time (such as one month) you may be too busy to do much reading when you’re actually there. So why not kill some time before you leave and learn a bit more about other people’s experience of being in this complex country.
Our favorite 5 Books to Read Before Volunteering in India!
WHITE TIGER by ARAVIND ADIGA: The novel provides a darkly comical view of modern day life in India through the narration of its protagonist Balram Halwai. The main theme of the novel is the contrast between India’s rise as a modern global economy and its working class people who live in crushing poverty. Other themes touched on include the corruption endemic to Indian society and politics, familial loyalty versus independence, religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims, the experience of returning to India after living in America, globalization, and the rivalry between India and China as superpower countries in Asia.
SHANTARAM by GREGORY DAVID ROBERTS: A 2003 novel by Gregory David Roberts, in which a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped from Pentridge Prison flees to India where he lives for 10 years. The novel is commended by many for its vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Mumbai. Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Mumbai’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere. As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Mumbai mafia. Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas – this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart.
TWO STATES by CHETAN BHAGAT: Love marriages around the world are simple: Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. They get married. In India, there are a few more steps: Boy loves Girl. Girl loves Boy. Girl’s family has to love boy. Boy’s family has to love girl. Girl’s Family has to love Boy’s Family. Boy’s family has to love girl’s family. Girl and Boy still love each other. They get married. Welcome to 2 States, a story about Krish and Ananya. They are from two different states of India, deeply in love and want to get married. Of course, their parents don’t agree. To convert their love story into a love marriage, the couple have a tough battle in front of them. For it is easy to fight and rebel, but it is much harder to convince. Will they make it?
A FINE BALANCE by ROHINTON MISHRY: Set in Mumbai, India between 1975 and 1984 during the turmoil of The Emergency, a period of expanded government power and crackdowns on civil liberties, this book is about four characters from varied backgrounds—Dina Dalal, Ishvar Darji, his nephew Omprakash Darji and the young student Maneck Kohlah—who come together and develop a bond. Through the dramatic and often shocking turns their lives take, we get an intimate view, not only of their world, but also of India itself in all its extraordinary variety. As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.
IN SPITE OF THE GODS by EDWARD LUCE: India remains a mystery to many Americans, even as it is poised to become the world’s third largest economy within a generation, outstripping Japan. It will surpass China in population by 2032 and will have more English speakers than the United States by 2050. In In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce, a journalist who covered India for many years, makes brilliant sense of India and its rise to global power. An enlightening study of the forces shaping India as it tries to balance the stubborn traditions of the past with an unevenly modernizing present. Deeply informed by scholarship and history, leavened by humor and rich in anecdote, it shows that India has huge opportunities as well as tremendous challenges that make the future “hers to lose.”
Do you have any other suggestions for us? Let us know if you’ve volunteered or interned in India during a gap year or summer abroad and what books you picked up along the way. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add it to the list!
For an even deeper understanding of the volunteering in India experience, listen to what our former volunteers and interns have to say about being a volunteer in India by visiting our video page.