Life and Death on the Ganges
An intoxicating tale of personal reckoning and self-discovery in today’s India.
When Aatish Taseer first came to Benares, the spiritual capital of Hinduism, he was the Westernised teenager of an Indian journalist and a Pakistani politician, raised among New Delhi’s intellectual and cultural elite. Nearly two decades later, Taseer leaves his life in Manhattan to go in search of the Brahmins, wanting to understand his own estrangement from India through their ties to tradition.
Known as the twice-born, the Brahmins are a caste devoted to sacred learning. But, for Taseer, Benares is the window onto an India as fractured as his own identity. At every turn, the seductive, homogenising forces of globalised modernity collide with the insistent presence of ancient customs amid a rising tide of nationalism, driven forth by a brutal caste system, cries of ‘Victory to Mother India!’, and vengeful anti-Muslim violence.
From the narrow streets of the temple town and a Modi rally in Delhi to the blossoming cotton trees and burning corpses of the Ganges, The Twice-Born charts one diasporic Indian’s struggle to reconcile magic with reason, and faith in tradition with hope for the future. Taseer’s lyrical, compelling personal account confronts his own myths about himself, his past, and his countries, old and new.
Aatish Taseer is the author, among others, of the memoir Stranger to History, the novel The Way Things Were, and the Costa-shortlisted The Temple-Goers. His work has been translated into over a dozen languages. A contributor to The International New York Times, he lives in New Delhi and New York.
Praise for The Twice-Born
‘A detailed, learned and highly readable tour of Hindu history . . . [and] a sharp-eyed condemnation of the evils of Hindu nationalism and caste.’ ―The New York Times Book Review
‘[The Twice-Born] doesn’t sit squarely in the camp of memoir, travelogue, or long-form reportage. It hovers among the three―but with such lilting grace as to make that limbo feel like a lovely hybrid . . . Taseer grew up in cosmopolitan, postcolonial New Delhi but has spent much of his adult life in the U.S. and Europe. The result is an alienation from the India he considers both his homeland and a foreign land . . . [The Twice-Born is] a poetic quest to bridge that gap or at least better understand it.’ ― Vogue
‘[A]n excellent, revelatory, provocative book’ — Hanya Yanagihara
‘Taseer sets [his] meditations against a gorgeous, sinister portrait of Benares … [His] wonderfully atmospheric rendition of landscapes and gnarled social psychologies make for an engrossing dissection of India’s discontents.’ — Publishers Weekly
‘I love Aatish Taseer’s writing: his introspection, his lucid and supple prose, his sensitivity to the interplay of East and West, old and new India. The Twice-Born is a poignant reflection on identity, change and politics on the banks of the Ganges. A moving and thought-provoking read.’ — Shashi Tharoor MP, author of Inglorious Empire and Why I Am a Hindu
‘The writing has a lyrical quality that makes you want to wander the streets of [Benares] once more. … The Twice-Born makes the reader think about religion, caste, culture and the idea of modernity, and most rewardingly, about where she stands in relation to all of these.’ — Hindustan Times
‘Taseer writes like he always does, relentlessly, intensely, sometimes unkindly, in a complex way, raising questions with a deep intelligence that disturbs more than it quietens.’ — The Telegraph, Calcutta
‘The most rewarding [book] written by a contemporary writer on the perpetually romanced—and sacred—geography of India. … Every encounter here is a story of wonderment and disillusionment … The Twice-Born … carries the most elegant sentences written about India by a writer of our time’ — Open magazine
Praise for Aatish Taseer
‘A young writer to watch.’ — V.S. Naipaul
‘Aatish Taseer is a tremendous talent’ — Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger
‘[H]as something in common with contemporaries Amit Chaudhuri and Neel Mukherjee, but his style—at once highly intellectual and deeply poetic—is unique.’ — The Independent
‘[T]hat rare writer who, like V.S. Naipaul, can move powerfully between novels and nonfiction, continually teasing out themes that straddle both genres.’ — Anderson Tepper, Vanity Fair
Praise for Aatish Taseer’s memoir Stranger to History
‘A remarkable book—touching, brave, honest, elegantly written and filled with political and historical insight’ — Amitav Ghosh
‘Indispensable reading for anyone who wants a wider understanding of the Islamic world, of its history and its politics.’ — Financial Times