NaCoHus, Purushottam Agrawal, translated from the Hindi by Noor Zaheer and Ritambhara Agrawal
Suket, Raghu, and Shams are no strangers to taking on powerful political interests. They’ve never shied away from speaking their minds, with words or on the streets. And they’re used to a few bones being broken every now and then for it.
But something feels wrong about the state of affairs in the country now which they can’t quite put their finger on. Increasingly hard living conditions are met with breathless praise for the great work of development by the government. A politics of identity – of the religious kind – has all but replaced the pursuit of social justice. And people’s sentiments are so easily hurt that just about any divergent word you speak may bring a mob to your door. What has gone so wrong? Why does it feel like the entire nation has been lobotomized?
There are days when the three friends think they are close to an answer. But they have no idea how little they know. In any case, their time’s up. They’re going to find out tonight. The National Commission for Hurt Sentiments is bringing them in for a “friendly interaction”.
Soft Animal, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
March 2020: 36-year-old Mallika Rao is largely insulated from the struggles of the millions fighting for their existence all over India. Instead, her Delhi flat and her husband threaten to imprison her as she searches for the confidence that has always eluded her. A rescue dog in her care provides more fulfilment than her husband, who is consumed by work and self-obsession, and she must also confront the universal challenges of having a woman’s body.
Soft Animal channels an uncomfortably-and sometimes heartbreakingly-intimate experience of millennial marriage that is seldom portrayed but all too real.
Traces of Boots on Tongue, Rajkamal Chaudhary, translated from the Hindi by Saudamini Deo
Drawing influences from Indian folktales, French existentialism, and the Bengali Hungryalist movement, Rajkamal Chaudhary’s oeuvre is like a secret back alley in an old city – not completely forgotten but existing only for the few. Even though Chaudhary also wrote in Maithili and Bengali, it was his writings in Hindi that established him as the bold new experimentalist of Indian literature.
His India of the 1950 and 60s is populated with hopeless literature professors, scattered alcohol bottles, prostitutes, hysteria patients, and sell-out painters. His unconventional life and writing place him outside the mainstream, and so he remains as uncategorizable as the characters and lives he wrote about. Bringing together twelve of his most representative short stories, translated for the first time into English, Traces of Boots on Tongue and Other Stories allows a glimpse into the early decades of independent India and its weariness, which many readers will find in today’s India as well.
Ponniyin Selvan (Book 1): First Flood, Kalki, translated from the Tamil by Nandini Krishnan
When Ponniyin Selvan was first serialised in Tamil, no one could have imagined the impact it would have on the circulation of the magazine. Nor that, years later, this Tamil magnum opus, which blends travelogue with history and Chozha myth-making, would lend itself to the big screen, making it a blockbuster movie.
The novel invented a distinct style, in which slang alternates with erudition, wordplay with euphoric prose and vivid imagery – a style that critics came to call “Kalki Tamil”. Today, this pioneering work is considered one of the great classics of Tamil literature.
One Night Only, Saumyaa Vohra
Om an impulse, Natasha, Saira, and Faiza revive a languishing plan to take a trip to Goa. Over the course of their holiday, the four girls drink, dance and karaoke, even as they nurse old wounds, kindle new romances and discover metamorphic truths about each other – and themselves.
It’s a vacation with all the fixings of a quintessential girls’ trip – emotional drama, secrets unveiled, bonds strengthened – as each friend recounts the one-night stand that changed her life. Amidst this swapping of stories, Natasha has a mysterious midnight tryst, Saira meets a man who makes her question her disdain for commitment, and Faiza discovers that her ex still gives her butterflies.
Meanwhile, Rubani, with a mission yet to be accomplished, finds her interest piqued by a girl who’s exactly her type – and a man who isn’t. Now the holiday is drawing to a close and she must make her choice: to be or not to be wild as the Goan winds.
The Past is Never Dead, Ujjal Dosanjh
In the year 1952, Kalu escaped Banjhan Kalan in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur for Bedford in the British Midlands, hoping to find a life of dignity that he had been denied because of his caste. He was in his late teens and had grown up believing in Sikhism’s tenet of equality preached by Guru Nanak and Ravidas, a principle the villagers never sincerely practised. They had maimed his father, accusing him of stealing a zamindar’s ox; they had thrown father and son out of a Quit India rally; they had mercilessly thrashed young Kalu himself for daring to enter a temple. He had never been allowed to forget – even by his schoolmates – that he was a Chamar, destined to skin dead cattle like his ancestors.
England promised a new life of respect and opportunity. But Kalu’s fellow expatriates had brought caste along when they came to that country, and he would be forced to adhere to its degrading rules just as he was in Banjhan. Determined not to bend – as he had refused to do back home – Kalu fights back, but his resoluteness in the struggle will put him and his family at serious risk.