Devika Sethi teaches Modern Indian History at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi, India. She has been educated at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and at JNU, New Delhi. She is the author of War over Words: Censorship in India, 1930-60. She recently published her second book Banned & Censored: What the British Raj didn’t want us to Read.
We recently did a candid interview with her.
- What is the last book you read?
I re-read Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer. This was written in 2014, well before Galgut won the Booker Prize in 2021. It is a fictionalized account of EM Forster’s relationships and his life. It is always difficult to write fiction involving a real-life person, but Galgut pulls it off magnificently, and with great sensitivity.
- A guilty pleasure?
Reading poetry, mostly in English translation, when I am supposed to be reading something else entirely in order to prepare my lectures.
- Where do you write? Do you have a favourite spot?
I am a college teacher – at IIT Mandi in Himachal Pradesh – and I find that my office desk, with its views of high mountains, is a place that induces focus as well as a pleasant sense of confinement in a mountain valley.
- What is a book that has stayed with you?
Shah of Shahs by the legendary Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński. He was in Iran during the 1979 revolution and combines a travel writer’s perceptiveness with a historian’s attention to patterns and change over time. His prose is crystal clear and his insights are marvellous. They have even survived translation to English!
- Your mornings are incomplete without…
Tending to my terrace garden.
- What apart from what you do today do you wish you could do or pursue as a career?
I have a passion for history and monuments, and would have loved to have been a tour guide. I may still become one!
- Your greatest fear?
Being thought incompetent.
- A trait you admire in yourself?
A certain zest for living.
- Who would be the guests at your perfect dinner party?
Travel writers, who would entertain one with accounts of their journeys and experiences of the world beyond the cosy dinner table.
- A book you’d recommend to someone to get them out of a reading slump?
Reading anything published by Ramachandra Guha is energizing. His research is impeccable and the lucidity and verve with which he writes makes one appreciate the craft of history-writing. His last book, Rebels against the Raj: Western Fighters for India’s Freedom (2022) is as informative as it is entertaining.