Fear and Other Stories, Dalpat Chauhan, translated from the Gujarati by Hemang Ashwinkumar

Fear and Other Stories is a reminder of the inherent dangers of the Dalit life, a life subjected to unimaginable violence and terror even in its most mundane moments. In this collection of short stories, Chauhan narrates these lived experiences of exasperation and anger with startling vividity. His characters chronicle a deep history of resistance, interrogating historical, mythological and literary legends, foregrounding the perspectives of the disenfranchised.

In “The Payback”, for a change, we see famished savarnas begging Dalit families for food that they scorn otherwise. The eponymous “Fear” follows the heroic but doomed resistance of Dalit youths fighting against savarna men with the “right” to enter their homes and molest women inside. And the allegorical “Cold Blood” features a doctor who tries to leave behind his identity with his surname, only to be reminded of it when the savarnas accept his blood, but not water from his hands. Chauhan deftly wields his prose to counter dominant narratives, pointing out gaps and voicing the silences within.

The Bandit Queens, Parini Shroff

Five years ago, Geeta lost her no-good husband. That is to say, she actually lost him – he walked out on her and she has no idea where he is. But in her remote village in India, rumour has it that Geeta killed him. And it’s a rumour that just won’t die. As it happens, being known as a “self-made” widow comes with some perks. No one messes with Geeta, harasses her, or tries to control (ahem, marry) her. It’s even been good for business: No one dares to not buy her jewellery.

Freedom must look good on Geeta, because now other women are asking for her “expertise,” making her an unwitting consultant for husband disposal.

And not all of them are asking nicely.

With Geeta’s dangerous reputation becoming a double-edged sword, she has to find a way to protect the life she’s built – but even the best laid plans of would-be widows tend to go awry. What happens next sets in motion a chain of events that will change everything, not just for Geeta but for all the women in the village.

Nala Damayanti, Anand Neelakantan

When Brahma the creator, fed up with humans, wants to undo this mistake and erase them, Hemanga the swan is horrified and pleads with Brahma to give him a chance to prove true love exists among mankind. The little bird, however, is sent to the kingdom of Vidarbha by Narada. That celestial troublemaker says Hemanga should unite Nala, the king of Nishadas, with Damayanti, the princess of Vidharbha.

Damayanti is a feisty beauty who has a mind of her own. She is no damsel in distress and has no need for a prince to rescue her. Nor has Nala any interest in finding love, for he is building a city for his tribe. Besides, he is a tribal king and thinks Damayanti is too above his position. Hemanga almost succeeds in making them fall in love with each other when Kali hears of his plan. Trapped on earth as he is not the creator of Brahma, he can’t be free unless humans cease to exist. When he learns about Hemanga’s mission to save humans, he seizes his chance. If Damayanti gives up Nala, he can prove that no true love exists in a woman’s heart. Brahma will erase the human race and Kali will be free.
All that stands between the future of humans and the mighty Kali is a little bird and the determination of Damayanti.

What Will People Say?, Mitra Phukan

When Mihika, 56 and a widow, gets into a relationship with Zuhayr, a 60-year-old divorcee who was her late husband Aditya’s friend, it doesn’t seem to her like an event that should cause more than a raised eyebrow or two. Not in the 21st century, and not when their grown-up children are happy that their parents have found a second chance at happiness.

But in Tinigaon – a small town in Assam – it is just not done for a woman of Mihika’s age to have a romantic relationship – that, too, with a man from the another religion: a Muslim. Mihika decides to ignore the gossip-mongering and slander and remain true to her relationship with Zuhayr, who has filled a void in her life after Aditya’s death five years ago. As long as her four closest friends, Tara, Triveni, Shagufta and Pallavi, stand by her, she doesn’t care if others turn away. But when the gossip turns into something more sinister that could threaten her daughter Veda’s happiness, Mihika is forced to take a call – should she give up the man she loves for her daughter’s sake, or is there an alternative that could give them both what they want?

Filmi Stories, Kunal Basu

The eight stories of this collection are about unforeseen terrors and adventures, surreal comedies, the apocalypses and the sublime poetry of everyday life. A disgruntled trucker sets out to kill his rival, ending up as the saviour of migrant workers trapped by a pandemic. A novice jailor breaks the law only to learn that nothing in this world is beyond pardon. A corpse dressed immaculately in a suit is discovered on a beach, the trail of the suspects stretching across continents in casinos and cruise ships. The nude paintings of a dead artist set the stage for a murder in a gallery. Hunt for a terrorist leads to a dangerous game of luring a prey out of its lair using a human bait. A man finds himself as the sole passenger of an airplane flying from one deserted airport to another. An innocent shopkeeper learns the wisdom of the Mahabharata on the verge of losing his innocence.

Written with words and marked by light and shadow, sounds and silence, these tales stalk a bunch of unruly actors performing roles that take on lives of their own.

A Man from Motihari, Abdullah Khan

When dapper Aslam, an aspiring writer from a small town of India, who is recovering from a broken relationship accidently meets gorgeous and intelligent Jessica, an actor, activist and ex-porn star from Los Angeles, they fall hopelessly in love with each other. Besides telling his story, Aslam, the protagonist, also meditates over his understandings of national and religious identities, political violence, and morality. Set against the backdrop of the meteoric rise of extreme right-wing politics in India, the novel also takes its readers on a cultural journey of the Indian hinterlands telling them about George Orwell’s connection with Motihari, a dust-ridden town which is famous for its sweet mangoes, its criminal politicians, and kidnapping gangs.