With archives closed, libraries out of reach, and travel stopped, how will writers research books?


In 2013, I walked out of my office for the last time. I possibly should have felt slightly embarrassed at the fact that I had, unlike most of my colleagues, spent less than two years working as a research analyst specialising in Chinese foreign policy at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. But I felt no such thing.

Instead, I remember feeling free to do what I always wanted – to write, research, immerse myself in history, the subject I’d graduated in. I even knew what I wanted to write: the biography of a man who set his school on fire, who ran away from his home in rural Kerala to work in the goldmines of Kolar, who sold hand-towels outside Victoria Terminus, before landing himself a job as a temporary clerk in the Government of India, and rising through the ranks to draft the prototype of the Instrument of Accession for all of India’s 565 princely states and change the course of history.

The man was Vappala Pangunni Menon, and he was my great-grandfather.

The only problem was, aside from his own seminal narratives self-explanatorily titled The Transfer of Power and The Story of the Integration of the Indian States, there was nothing else in the…

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