In India, there has long been a commonly held misconception that history is a dull subject and that history writing is either a dry area entirely in the realm of the purely academic, or is pitched as a series of unlikely events in the form of sensational, deliberately romanticised historical fiction. While specialist historians such as Ramachandra Guha, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Nayanjot Lahiri, Upinder Singh, and others have contributed seminally to historical research and analysis, the reading and writing of this history was generally thought to belong to those interested in it academically or were academics themselves. Recently non-academic but rigorous history writing is gradually gaining ground and entering the arena of popular reading and culture. The work of emerging historical writers is easily accessible and engaging. Some of them give their views on why this is so. NEW RISE IN INTEREST Says Parvati Sharma, author of Jahangir: An Intimate Says Parvati Sharma, author of Jahangir: An Intimate There also seems to be a dawning realisation that people are products of their history. Manu S Pillai, whose books include The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore, and Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji, says, "What is most interesting is how there is finally an effort to bridge academic history with a large audience through narrative non-fiction. Today in India there is a growing appetite for history. My own sense is this is linked to larger trends: for instance, as more people move into the middle class, there is a greater desire to connect themselves to tradition, to the past, and to understand history." But this is not the only reason. "At the other end of the spectrum, the subject’s politicisation, which always existed but is much shriller today, means history is being talked about more," adds Pillai. Explains Ira Mukhoty, author of Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire, "As long as history writing remained the prerogative of professional historians who primarily wrote for the academic world, history writing was going to have a limited appeal for a wider audience." But things have changed. "However writers realise the importance of the craft of spinning a story, of contextualising history writing into a broader narrative, in addition to the emphasis on historicity. This makes the times and the characters much more interesting for the layperson." For her part, artist and oral historian Aanchal Malhotra, who has been shortlisted for the prestigious British Academy’s non-fiction book prize the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding for her book Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory, provides another perspective. "I believe every generation consumes knowledge in a different way and this is true even for historical reading. The way in which millennials understand historical events is particular to that generation, because it is a generation that now has access to a plethora of information over the Internet." Malhotra, like the others, stresses on the need for accurate historical research. "Bringing authentic historical depth to popular mediums will enhance our understanding of events, and is a way of making history memorable and relatable." At the same time, as historian and writer Swapna Liddle says, "While people are taking a greater interest in new works of history, it should also be focused on the works of specialist historians. It is actually a mistaken belief that these are invariably dull tomes." THE LITERARY WORLD Commenting on the rise of books on history and their rise in sales, literary agent, author and founder of Writer’s Side, Kanishka Gupta goes straight to the heart of the matter. "It is the hottest selling genre in non-fiction. There is a tremendous appetite for history writing in part because of the overwhelming success of emerging historians. It is mainly because we live in a time where history itself is being challenged, rewritten, reinterpreted and whitewashed and many of these books are a counter to these new narratives." The publishing world is indeed doing much to spread and influence the appeal. Gupta points out: "Several publishers are actively commissioning history books about lesser-known historical personalities." It also has an impact on the growth of biography writing in India, which many say is underrepresented, or not sufficiently indepth or objective. History is in many ways a portrait of people. Manu S Pillai’s characters such as Chand Bibi and Abdur Razzak in Rebel Sultans..., emerge as real personalities flawed yet admirable. "In India, we have tended to understand issues and people in terms of black and white, minus the nuance. So great figures of the past are glorified and presented in an acceptable’ manner. To understand a persona in all their complexity does not diminish them, it makes them more human." Sharma concurs with this factor for the increase in popular history writing. "It allows history to be looked at more dispassionately, not as hagiographies for good people. Exploring grey characters will heighten interest." Sharma’s own portrait of Jahangir goes beyond the established depiction of him as Noor Jahan’s besotted husband, and brings to life a threedimensional character, with a great deal of curiosity in the world about him, and an unforgettable figure in, as Sharma puts it, the Game of Thrones world of the Mughal era. PAST MEETS PRESENT However Malhotra not only says there is an abundance of biographies being written, but also that the term historical biographies’ can be constantly redefined. "The term biography’ can be malleable enough to encompass the unconventional biographies even of an entire generation of people, like in UK based author Kavita Puri’s Partition Voices." Malhotra’s own work on the Partition can be categorised as a kind of biography of ordinary people living through turbulent times, which many today can relate to. The new interest in history has brought home the fact that unlike what author LP Hartley said, the past does not have to be a foreign country. It is peopled with figures not so different than us. The paths they took, choices they made affect us in manifold ways even today. The past is a dynamic subject, and this new generation of writers is illuminating this for a new generation of readers.