Sakina’s Kiss, Vivek Shanbhag, translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur
Venkat answers urgent knocks on the door to his flat one evening to find two insolent young men claiming to have business with his daughter Rekha. He deals with them shortly, only to find his quiet, middle-class life upended by a bewildering set of events over the next few days. Even as Venkat is hurled into a world of street gangs and murky journalism, we see a parallel narrative unfold of a betrayal and disappearance from long ago. Could there be a connection? Set over four mostly sleepless days, we see Venkat lose grasp of the narrative even as he loses grasp of his wife and daughter.
Conversations with Aurangzeb, Charu Nivedita, translated from the Tamil by Nandini Krishnan
A writer hopes to get some primary research done for his new book by interviewing the spirit of Shah Jahan. But the endeavour turns into an obstacle course, with his translator arguing about how to start a novel, a fellow writer giving him unsolicited feedback, and a friend plaguing him with phone calls. Worst of all, Shah Jahan is elbowed out by Aurangzeb, who hijacks the novel. In a series of conversations that touch upon everything from marketing strategies for emperors to mutiny, from Marxism to Sunny Leone, and culminates in two men and a spirit going to a bar, Aurangzeb and various other visitors tell a story no one could have predicted.
After Messiah, Aakar Patel
Now the Big Man is gone, with nobody named as his successor. Into this void is pushed Mira, who is reluctant at first but increasingly interested in the position she finds herself in. Will she use her authority to further her agenda, or will she hold on to her principles? Watched by her political rivals, Jayeshbhai and Swamiji, and guided by well-wishers Ayesha, Prabhu and Du Bois, she marches on and discovers something about power – and about herself.
Life Was Here Somewhere, Ajeet Cour, translated from the Punjabi by the author
The opening story in this collection by a doyenne of Punjabi literature jolts the reader into facing uncomfortable questions – and each story that follows holds us in a similar grip. In “Walking a Tightrope”, the narrator is shocked to find she has a second maternal uncle. Why had his existence been kept hidden for so long – and who was more to blame – the uncle, or his tyrannical father, Bhaiyaji?
After the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her uncle, Mansukhani in “Unsought Passion” forever thinks of men as “devils and pigs” – but does her difficult childhood give her the right to force her attention on Raaj? In the eponymous “Life Was Here Somewhere”, the narrator finds many lessons about life and human nature in a pile of garbage in front of her home.
The Girl Who Kept Falling in Love, Rheea Mukherjee
The very fact of being loved seems to be proof of Kaya’s worth, her purpose. But at age 40, her past stretches out behind her in a long string of loves lost and she is weary of being broken-hearted. Desperately seeking purpose elsewhere, Kaya finds it in the world of activism, where she becomes greatly invested in resisting the growing fascist and Islamophobic forces of present-day India. However, she is rudely reminded that much of the middle-class social activism she is part of is fuelled by a collective saviour complex. A high-caste Hindu with a US passport, Kaya is no exception. Still, the marginal danger and the instability are addictive, and the sense of righteousness is quite validating.
When Kaya meets and falls deeply in love with a fellow activist from the very religious community the country is actively trying to erase, her twin purposes are miraculously aligned in an intoxicating combination that she becomes immediately fearful of losing. In the midst of spirited protests and rising violence, Kaya bears witness to vast human suffering while experiencing profound joy. It is time to make a choice. Kaya knows if she chooses love this time, she will betray everything she has claimed to believe in. If she is willing to do that, can Kaya truly be loved by the person she most desires?
Kismat Connection, Ananya Devarajan
Madhuri Iyer is doomed. Doomed for her upcoming senior year to be a total failure, according to her astrology-obsessed mother, and doomed to a happily-ever-after with her first boyfriend, according to her family curse. Determined to prove the existence of her free will, Madhuri devises an experimental relationship with the one boy she knows she’ll never fall for.
Arjun Mehta is also at the mercy of the stars, but he isn’t complaining. His astrological reading destines him for success, and he resolves to use his year of good luck to show Madhuri that they should be more than just childhood best friends. When Madhuri offers him the opportunity to be her relationship lab rat, it feels like the universe is finally on his side, so Arjun puts his heart on the line.
But as their opposing prophecies slowly become true and real feelings begin to cloud their experiment, Madhuri will have to decide if charting her own destiny is worth breaking Arjun’s heart – and her own.