Fantastical, lyrical and awesome in its nature, Indian fiction often derives much of its inspiration from real life events, lending credence to the old saying “the truth is stranger than fiction”. It can offer incredible insight into the country’s history, politics and culture in an incredibly engaging, entertaining and all too often, heart breaking manner.
A common and popular example of this is Shantaram (now almost as much of a pre-requisite to getting through customs as a visa is), so, without using the ‘s’ word, we asked our staff for their personal favourites.
White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
In a quote: “The story of a poor man’s life is written on his body, in a sharp pen.”
In a nutshell: In Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize winning debut novel, narrator, Balram Halwai reveals the dark, macabre tale of his acquisition of power through a series of letter. Beginning as a waiter in his village teashop and rising to a self-made entrepreneur in technological-hub, Bangalore, the novel explores the vast inequality between India’s poor and rich.
What our staff say: “A quick read that is as entertaining as it is educational which gives a vivid insight into India’s underclass and the struggles they face in a globalizing world. You will never look at your rickshaw wallah, or any Indian driver, the same way again.”
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
In a quote: “After all, our lives are but a sequence of accidents – a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call life.”
In a nutshell: Based in an unknown city (widely believed to be Mumbai) between 1975 and 1984, a time during which Prime Minister Indhira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency across the country for 22 months, Mistry charts the terrible history of this period which included slum demolition and mass sterilisation through the lives of four characters from of different caste, class and religion.
What our staff say: “No holds barred, this utterly compelling story tells it how it is. A mixture of positivity and despair, hope and corruption, and unapologetic realism, it had me transfixed from start to finish.”
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
In a quote: “He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out in the palm of his hand. She took it from him and put it in her hair.”
In a nutshell: Written in a language with a cadence, lucidity and structure so wonderfully crafted by the author, The God of Small things transports it’s reader the village of Ayemenem in beautiful, lush, rural Kerala, where all is not as it seems.
What our staff say: “A meandering, menacing plot told in a language of its own. Incredible”.
Midnights Children – Salman Rushdie
In a quote: “To understand just one life you have to swallow the world … do you wonder, then, that I was a heavy child?”
In a nutshell: The ‘Booker of Bookers’ tells the story of India’s march into and beyond Independence through the life of protagonist, Saleem Sinai, the first child born in post-colonial India, and the 1001 other children born in that first hour of freedom from British rule.
What our staff say: “Magical realism meets historical fiction. An incredible and engrossing way to learn about India’s modern history”.
The Interpreter Of Maladies – Jumpha Lahiri
In a quote: “Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination”.
In a nutshell: A collection of nine wonderfully woven stories spanning crumbling marriages, doomed affairs and civil war. Spanning India and American these exquisite tales typically centre on the theme of cultural heritage.
What our staff say: “in the span of a short story Jumpha Lahiri is able to captivate her audience with her intricate, elegant style. Try picking a favourite”.
Kim – Rudyard Kipling
In a quote: “This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”
In a nutshell: ‘Kim’ is the tale of an unlikely friendship between an orphaned white boy and an old ascetic Tibetan Lama. Charting the formers coming of age and rise in social status and how he reconciles his new life with his old.
What our staff say: “Now over 100 years old ‘Kim’ is an intricate, vivid and vital picture of India under the Raj told by an author who had his own complex, conflicting personal history with the country”.
The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
In a quote: “All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths.”
In a nutshell: Set across an isolated house in the foothills of the Himalayas and an illegal immigrant’s arduous existence in America, ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ explores what happens when modern life and echoes of past colonialism collide.
What our staff say: “Salman Rushdie holds Desai in hugely high regards. And he knows a thing or two about this sort of thing!”.
A Passage to India – E.M Forster
In a quote: “Adventures do occur, but not punctually. Life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate.”
In a nutshell: The adventures of two travelling Englishwomen as they step out of the confines of the stifling Anglo-Indian community to explore the ‘real’ India with a local Doctor. And the ensuing consequences…
What our staff say: “A compelling plot about a fragile friendship and delicate cross-cultural relations told against a rich backdrop of eloquently conjured, evocative descriptions of India”.
Rabindranath Tagore – Gitanjali
In a quote: “Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!”
In a nutshell: A collection of poems. 103 reasons why Tagore was so deserving of becoming first non-European recipient of the Nobel Prize a few years after publication of this collection.
What our staff say: “We couldn’t very well write a list of our favourite fiction without featuring the man who penned the national anthem and won the Nobel Prize in Literature”.
Khushwant Singh – Train to Pakistan
In a quote: “In a country which had accepted caste distinctions for many centuries, inequality had become an inborn mental concept”.
In a nutshell: A novel which tells the story of the bloody partition of India and Pakistan which claimed almost a million lives and visited unspeakable horrors upon so many more.
What our staff say: “An important piece of historical fiction. Absolutely chilling”.
What else would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments!