General Firebrand and His Red Atlas, Tathagata Bhattacharya

In a world on the brink of totalitarian rule, one man rises from the shadows to ignite a revolution and becomes the unlikely leader of a war of resistance that will shake the very foundations of power. General Firebrand, an unsocial and recovered alcoholic, considered a pariah by society, rises up against the country’s fascist regime. In this guerrilla war, Firebrand garners support from the unlikeliest allies. Beasts and birds of the jungle join the struggle. Spirits of historical figures from past wars and fictional characters with supernatural abilities lend their strength to the cause. As a devastating secret is revealed that moves Firebrand to the core, the battle for liberation takes on new dimensions, exposing the fragility of rationality and the weight of historical wrongs committed in the name of a supposedly humane ideology.

Ma is Scared and Other Stories, Anjali Kajal, translated from the Hindi by Kavita Bhanot

An anxious mother waits for her daughter to return from work while deflecting comments from judgmental neighbours. A chance encounter with an old college friend triggers the memory of a cruel trap once set for a young student, just because of her caste. In the middle of a lecture on the legacies of sexual abuse, a woman feels the weight of a whole lifetime suddenly pressing down on her.

The stories in Anjali Kajal’s debut collection draw us into the lives of ordinary women in Northern India, making us realise quite how rarely we witness these experiences from Dalit points of view.
Whether combating the caste-based disdain of colleagues at work or in the classroom or enduring the new blows that the pandemic landed on Dalit communities, the characters find resilience and a
dignity that we can all learn from.

The Solitude of a Shadow, Devibharathi, translated from the Tamil by N Kalyan Raman

When the nameless protagonist of The Solitude of a Shadow unexpectedly encounters Karunakaran after nearly three decades, he is overwhelmed by a hitherto dormant urge to wreak vengeance upon this man who had molested his sister and abused him all those years ago.

Devibharathi’s novel – his first to be translated into English – describes with painful clarity the poverty and isolation of obsession, while life flourishes all around the protagonist. It is an astutely observed narrative of our society and its overlapping hierarchies of caste, wealth and power.

Under the Night Jasmine, Manav Kaul, translated from the Hindi by Vaibhav Sharma

When the pandemic strikes and the lockdown happens, the usually, always travelling Rohit is forced to introspect and dwell on his relationships thus far: with his mother, his teacher, his lovers – relationships that affect his current thought process, his relationships now. With the first stirrings of sexual attraction for his teacher and her lover came the shame of desire. His relationship with his lost girlfriend, with Dushyant, brings in guilt and remorse. What could he have done differently? What kind of a shameless person was he, using people to fulfil himself?

Boy, Unloved, Damodar Mauzo, translated from the Konkani by Jerry Pinto

In a sleepy village in Goa, a child grows up in a house whose windows are never opened. The door is often locked as well, and no visitors ever come by to meet the family. Vipin Parob has a strange and solitary childhood, dominated by his overbearing and cruel father. In this home, Vipin grows up friendless, till he begins to read voraciously. Now Vipin knows more about the world its mysteries and cruelties, its wonder and beauty. What he doesn’t get to know, is love.

Vipin steps into high school and becomes a reluctant friend to two girls Chitra and Fatima. Chitra sees the laughter hidden deep within him. Fatima brings chaos and joy with her, and into Vipin’s life. And slowly he finds he has an identity separate from his cold and unloving family. But can he ever overcome the loneliness that has seeped into him? When the time comes, will he know how to give and receive love?

The Thief’s Funeral, edited by Sucharita Sengupta, Chandra Chari and Uma Iyengar

In 2020, during the Covid-19 global pandemic, the Book Review Literary Trust announced a short story competition. More than fifty contributors from across India sent in their stories. This volume presents the best nineteen stories including the winning entry.