Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Happy Independence Day! + The First Indian Books my Sister and I Read and Loved.

Happy Independence Day, fellow Indians! 
71 Years of Freedom after centuries of oppression and tyranny. 
I can't thank the hundreds and thousands of people who gave their life to attain us our freedom. No amount of gratitude will ever be enough. 

I love India- it's people. It's culture. It's 5000 plus years of history and heritage. There is so much to see and experience and do in this country of ours. 


The literature that comes from India is one of my biggest loves. 
We have books and stories coming from each and every corner of our country. Stories written in our mother tongues and in English- our medium of education. And in both cases the stories and characters and worlds built are rich in texture and nuanced and some of the best literature the world has ever seen. 

Today I want to talk about the very first Indian books I read and the books that made me fall irrevocably in love with Indian Writing.
My sister was the person who shaped my love for books and I read a lot books she read and recommended. So today, apart from me talking about the books from India I loved first, she will talk a little bit about her finding her way to Indian Literature.

But first me!

Most of the first books I was exposed to as a teenager were written in English, it was only later that I discovered the wonder that is translated books and I mostly delved into Bengali Literature, given it was my mother tongue and I had spent years hearing my family wax eloquently about the Bengali classics. As I became a more seasoned reader, I sought out books from all corners of the country. To learn more and to read more. And it's been one of my absolute favourite things to read about. 

My first exposure to Indian Books was when I was around 13 or 14 year old and it was thanks to my sister and her own love for the written word. My sister was in college in LSR, and was beginning to build her own personal library, something we've been adding to ever since. My sister read a lot of incredible books in college and since I was such a me too, I read what she read, even if some of it was beyond my years. Precocious much? :) 

This is when I discovered the wonderful world of Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and I was smitten silly. I was in awe of these stories and the writing chops of these incredible writers. They remain to this day some of my all time favourite writers. 

So here are some of my first and some of my favourite Indian Books! 

1. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: Ah! What can I say about the book that made me fall madly in love with Indian writing and the book I still love so much?! It is one of my favourite books of all time and it is one that I recommend all the time. I remember reading it when it first came out and being stunned by the writing and hoping and praying that some day I'd write something remotely close to this. 

2. The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh: If I had to describe this book in one it would be exquisite! It really is a sublime work of art, aren't all of Amitav Ghosh's books exquisite? He writes about a place and time that most people don't quite think about. He talks about World War II but instead of the fighting fields in Europe, he will take you to Mandalay. He talks of families and love but he does so in his own unique often unsentimental way. His work is infused with history, impeccable research, irony, humour and just characters that linger long after you've turned the last page.

I am not sure which of his books I read first, it was either The Glass Palace or The Hungry Tide. I read them both soon after the other because I couldn't have enough.
Everyone recommends you start with The Shadow Lines but I started with these two books and read Shadow Lines much later. His work in incredible and I honestly cannot recommend him enough.

3. Riot by Shashi Tharoor: I read Riot well into my teens and I loved it. I really, really should be re-reading because I remember very little of the actual plot. I do remember being stunned by the prose and the backdrop of a riot in a small town being used as a means to tell a love story and to see a town simmering with communal tension. I have since read a few Tharoor books, pretty much all of his fiction and I am a fan.

4. Sister of my Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: I read this book and was hooked and in love with the writing. So much of the world CBD writes about feel familiar to me. I guess because pretty much all of her books deal with Bengali families. I read this book in pretty much one sitting and I have re-read it a few times since. I love CBD's books, her older books are the best. Sister of my Heart, it's sequel The Vine of Desire and Arranged Marriage- a collection of short stories are some of my all time favourites. I also really enjoyed Before We Visit The Goddess- her latest book, which came out last year.
I think after years of reading only Western, mostly British literature, it was wonderful to read about my people and homes that mirrored mine.

5. Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chungtai: This has got to my first introduction to feminist Indian writing. She wrote of things considered quite scandalous for her time. I read this book when I was very young and TBH I think I was way to young to be reading some of her stories. But I loved them. I loved her voice and her observations about people and the things they did and thought. I especially loved how she wrote women. I haven't read anything for her in far too long and I really need to change that.


Oh hello, hello! This is Pooja's sister. You can call me Debs and I am here to share some of my early journey into reading Indian Writing.

I have been a voracious reader from a very young age. I started reading Enid Blyton books when I was six years old, right after I had won one of her books as a prize in school, and moving on very rapidly to the classics. I had read Little Women, Pride & Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and several Sherlock Holmes books before I turned 11.

By the time I got to college, I was almost exclusively reading English books written by western authors. It was in college that I noticed several books written in English by Indian authors and, I am ashamed to admit, promptly turned my nose up at those titles convinced that they were going to be less than stellar!

It was in the middle of my first year in college, during a particularly acute reading rut, that one of my seniors gave me her copy of Anurag Mathur's Inscrutable Americans. I took it skeptically and started reading it with a semi-open mind. By the time I finished the first chapter, I had laughed out loud several times and I was hooked!

Some of my earliest forays into Indian Writing involved Shashi Throor's The Great Indian Novel, which is AMAZING! It is insightful, well written and utterly hilarious! One of the best works of satire that I have ever read! I rapidly devoured his other books and enjoyed The Five Dollar Smile and also, to some extent, Showbusiness. 

After that, I discovered and fell in love with the brilliant writing of Amitav Ghosh. I did read Shadow Lines first and then Calcutta Chromosome and then all his other books. He is just so, so, so brilliant!

One of the best, most wonderful ways in which I got to read a lot of translated regional Indian writing was through the Katha Prize Stories series of books. Katha used to publish an annual collection of prize winning regional short stories translated into English in these nifty volumes. It was through these volumes (I remember binge reading volumes 1 to 7 over a two week period!) that I got exposed to so many wonderful regional authors from every corner of our country! Seriously, if you can get your hands on these books, buy them!

Once I got hooked to Indian Writing, I read several Indian authors back in college and, of course, over the years. Some of my favourites include Jhumpa Lahiri (all her books!), Vikram Chandra (Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Love and Longing in Bombay), Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (almost all of her books! So good!), Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Upmanyu Chatterjee, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry and so many, many more!

Quality Indian Writing in English is a thing! Don't let our recent "bestseller" lists fool you! Even better, read some of our regional authors- in regional languages- or their translated works. Ismat Chugtai and Manto's translated stories are some of the first books I bought once I started working!

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Indians.

We have so much to be proud of and so much more to achieve!

No comments: