Jawahara at Writing Life tagged me to come up with a list of Indian authors/books I’ve read or want to read. She herself has a formidable list of names which is fast giving me a complex.
There are two groups of writers below: the first group is plain old Indian, either by descent or by nationality. The second consists of what I like to call “Honorary Indians”. They’re people who’ve either written about India or whose work makes me think about India. Those who like to obsess over such things may also like to note that the list below comprises solely of Indian writers in English. Do drop me a line if you decide to go the regional route.
Writers whose work I’m yet to read are in italics. Books I haven’t read but am dying to read are in bold. In no particular order,
1. Fareed Zakaria – “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad”
Well researched, deeply interesting ringside view of democracy in action around the world. It’s more of a primer than a book but it’s one of the best reads I’ve ever had. Worth every penny and all the hosannas.
2. Gita Mehta – “Eternal Ganesha“
She’s always been a favorite. “Raj” was perhaps the only one that disappointed me. But her nonfiction books: “Snakes and Ladders”, “Karma Cola” and the slightly off-center “River Sutra” were all good reads. This one about Ganesha and his presence in Indian life sounds like one I must absolutely read.
3. V.S. Naipaul – “India: A Wounded Civilization”
If you have a chip on your shoulder about India or being an Indian, then it’s probably best you don’t read this one because it’s needless aggravation. Naipaul the fiction writer can make me jump through hoops, Naipaul the travel writer reminds me of a little old lady who really just wants to live in her cottage and cribs constantly about it to boot. Your first reaction to his work, especially if you’re not white, is to dismiss his opinions out of hand because his reputation as a “coconut” is by now so famous that it’s practically become canon. But the important thing to remember with him is that unlike a lot of polemical writers, his arguments are often a lot more complex and well-reasoned (certainly well researched) than taking his final statement by itself would have you believe. If nothing else, he provides a challenge.
4. Homi Bhabha – “The Right to Narrate” & “A Measure of Dwelling: Reflections on Vernacular Cosmopolitanism“
The title of a review of “Nation and Narration”, Bhabha’s most influential work, on Amazon.com read, “I’d rather stick my head in a blender than read this again”. I sympathize with that guy. Bhabha isn’t what I’d call subway reading – if the motion sickness doesn’t get you, then the prose will definitely give you a sick headache. But what’s a girl to do? His work is absolutely riveting. Sign me up for these books when they’re published later this year.
5. David Davidar – “House of Blue Mangoes”
It’s been lying on my bookshelf for the past I don’t know how many years. I heard it’s good. One of these days I’ll read it.
6. Kiran Desai – “The Inheritance of Loss”
Each week I pass it on a library shelf. Each week, I pick it up, hold it in my hand and then put it down. This one’s weird because I like the passages I’ve read from it, so I’m sure I’ll like the book. She says she worked on it for seven years. Give me seven years and I’m sure I’ll read it.
7. Jhumpa Lahiri – “The Namesake”
Good book, good movie. I preferred “The Interpreter of Maladies”. I once told a friend that one of my favorite writers was Isabel Allende; he said that made sense because Indian lurve the heavy prose. Well, here’s an Indian who manages to lay off the heavy and concentrate on the prose. Kudos.
8. Salman Rushdie – “Shalimar the Clown”.
Everybody I know seems to love this one. I’ve been a faithful follower for a long, long time but this book gives me the ‘enh’. I’ll read it, today or tomorrow, I won’t leave a Rushdie unread; but not right now. I think I’m on a nonfiction kick right now. These things are cyclical.
9. Khushwant Singh – “City Improbable: An Anthology of Writings on Delhi”
Singh the fiction writer is a little blah for my tastes. I just don’t like the narrative even if I find myself caring for the subject matter. Singh the nonfiction writer, on the other hand, has all the style the fiction writer lacks. Sometimes he makes me want to pull his beard but most of the time he’s great. This book isn’t exactly ‘by’ him but it’s one of my all time favorites. A couple of the essays were borderline stinkers but as a Delhi girl I’m pleased to give the majority of them my stamp of approval. If that means anything to you, go and buy it.
10. Madhur Jaffrey – “Climbing Mango Trees”
I have the review up somewhere on this site. I’m the biggest cynic there is when it comes to books by celebrities but this memoir was great.
11. Amartya Sen – “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny”
Sen kind of reminds me of my dad when he starts telling stories – he’s very methodical and loves to weave multiple threads of information together. “Identity” is without doubt one of the finest books I’ve ever read; this slim volume packs twice the punch of “The Argumentative Indian”.
12. Ashok Banker – the “Ramayana” series
First impressions are not always the best ones. The opening pages of Banker’s “Prince Of Ayodhya: Book One” immediately bored me to tears. It took a little patience and a chapter or two for me to get engrossed. Once I did, there was no looking back. Definitely recommended.
13. Jawahara Saidullah – “The Burden of Foreknowledge“
I’ve been burdened with foreknowledge – foreknowledge of how good a writer Jawahara is. I’ve waited and waited to get my hands on this one but now the end is at last in sight. For those of you who’ve been going crazy searching for her on Amazon, she tells me that it’s available on the UK site. Go for it!
14. Anees Jung – “Unveiling India: A Woman’s Journey“
A big fat thank you to Jawahara. I looked her up after J’s mention and it sounds really good. I’d watch Brit-Asian women on the BBC or in Brit newspapers and magazines writing about the hijab and wonder where the Indians were. Well, here’s one. Can’t wait.
15. Githa Hariharan – “In Times of Siege“
Hariharan is perhaps one of the most neglected contemporary Indian writers in English. “Siege” is uncannily prescient – it’s the story of a professor at a correspondence college in Delhi whose work on a 12 century poet and reformer lands him in trouble when an extremist Hindu group calls him anti-Hindu, launching him deep into a media circus. Ring any bells?
16. Ismail Merchant – “My Passage from India: A Filmmaker’s Journey from Bombay to Hollywood“
I never remember that I want to read this when I’m browsing – either online or in a library or even a bookstore. But everytime I remember it, I immediately want to get my mitts on it. Maybe putting it in here will make me remember. Argh. I’m so annoying.
17. Ramachandra Guha – “India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy“
The “Leftist, Leftist, Leftist” & “Anti-Hindu, Anti-Hindu, Anti-Hindu” chant has already begun. Whatever. I’m still going to read it. Guha is one of the few Indian historians who don’t write like they’re auditioning for NCERT or are begging for a political post.
18. Tenzin Tsundue – “Crossing the Border”
Strictly speaking, Tsundue’s a Tibetan. You might remember him from the Outlook-Picador contest – he won the very first one. His situation is representative of an issue that I’ve often thought about: an entire generation of Tibetans have been born and brought up in India. They are not citizens and the Dalai Lama talks about taking them back to Tibet some day. You’ve probably seen them on the street, bought knickknacks from their shops, eaten food from their restaurants and gone to school with them. It’s almost shocking to realize that they’re “foreigners”.
19. Behram Contractor (Busybee) – “The Best of Thirty Six Years”
I admit it. I have a weakness for journos. Most of the time they disappoint. This time, this one, didn’t. If Mumbai, or as I like to call it, Bombay, is a city that fascinates you then Busybee is the man you want for a guide. But the city is not the sum of his interests. The wit is dry, the style conversational. If you’re not a long time lover then you might look a bit askance at the accolades most reviewers give him work. But the more you read him, the better you like him… and his city.
20. GV Desani – “All About H. Hatterr”
This is probably the only good book he ever wrote. But it’s a worthy legacy to leave behind. One of the best openings ever. Read it.
This list could go on forever so I’m going to put a stop to it here. The above are just the first 20 who popped into my head. There’re probably billions who ought to be on that list – I’ll remember them all tomorrow and groan about it. Meanwhile, here’re some writers I just can’t bear to leave out.
1. Hari Kunzru – “Transmission“
He’s British but he is of Indian descent. That makes it ok for me to stick him in here. “The Impressionist” knocked my socks off. An excellent first novel is kind of like a millstone around your neck. The only thing worse would be a bad first novel. I’m looking forward to this one.
2. Mark Tully – “India’s Unending Journey”
Tully helped me teach a new word to a girl in a writing workshop once – “Indophile”. She knew about Francophiles but didn’t know it was an adaptable term. That’s Tully for you – always a new perspective. And even when he toes the conventional line, he manages to make it pretty readable. One of the few authors I read based on name alone.
3. William Dalrymple – “The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857″
He won me over with “City of Djinns”. Nobody falls in love with my city and gets me to crib about them. I’ve heard the complaints and I understand them – here’s something the complainers need to understand in return: good writing will always triumph. People like it, they’ll buy it. “Mughal” is not just well written, it’s also pretty emotional and the last few pages, as they trace the symbiotic line of Western aggression and Islamic fundamentalism, is ample food for thought. Read it!
4. Mohsin Hamid – “The Reluctant Fundamentalist“
So he’s Brit-Pakistani. My list of Pakistani authors I want to read (apart from the usual Bapsi Sidhwa crowd) is embarrassingly small. So I’ll stick him in here.
5. Bina Shah – “Blessings and Other Stories”
I remember Bina’s first book, “The 786 Cyber Cafe” from Chowk (I think they pulled it once she had it published). I didn’t know about this one until Jawahara mentioned it. I’ll definitely keep an eye out.
6. Nadeem Aslam – “Maps for Lost Lovers”
There are writers who might as well use blood for ink, so great is the work they’ve put into their stories. Aslam is one of them. “Lovers” was a great read, all the more for actually living up to the hype which not many books can do.
Okay, so that’s me then! DG, Kishore, Aditi, Aspi, Fleiger, Terri – you’re it!
Update: Readalicious (please do leave me a link if you decide to take up the tag) -
Aditi takes a trip through history at Muse
Kishore has a neat list of established and upcoming authors at All in a Day’s Work
Aspi’s list is short but well worth a dekko at Aspi’s Drift
DG bravely battled a blocked sinus to get this list at My Word
Ana, one of my all time favorite writers, has a Pakistani version at Khoshkhabri
Update II: I’m slowly beginning to make my way through that list of works and I’ve already got Jawahara’s book, so the review should be up soon. Meanwhile, Tanay went to a press junket for Ram Guha’s India After Gandhi and has an interesting post up at RemainConnected.
Update III: Fleiger’s list is pretty eclectic at Adlergedanke (Doesn’t that name just make you want to see what it’s all about?)