Maybe there just aren’t enough awards in India for all the good books. That’s a fact exemplified by our publishers’ indigenous produce this season. If you haven’t grabbed these marvels already, it may be a worthwhile exercise now.
The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury
Burlesque: Every pore of this novel is suffused with novelty. Chowdury’s debut – a contemporary political satire – is a winner hands down. Hailed as a protégé of Miguel de Cervantes, François Rabelais, and Jonathan Swift, Chowdury stretches the length and breadth of creativity in presenting his futuristic view of this country bristling under the rule of a despot. The action never flags in this very unusual piece of work.
The Mirror of Beauty by Shamsur Rahman Faruqui
Historical romance: A reconstruction – not a translation – of the poet-writer’s stupendous Urdu novel, Ka’i Chand the Sar-e Asman, this version, like the original, is epic in its scope. Wazir Khanam, the protagonist, was a real-life person, the mother of Dagh Dehlavi, an Urdu poet. The story of a spirited woman who refuses to be domesticated has been narrated superbly with an aesthete’s fervour for detailed descriptions.
The Blind Lady’s Descendants by Anees Salim
Satire: After a hat-trick of bestsellers, Salim returns with another scintillating novel – a narrative bursting with black humour. The story revolves around the protagonist, Amar, and his dysfunctional family. The entire book is essentially a suicide note that draws the reader in from its opening paragraph. Though thematically more sombre than his other works, it is unique in the sense that even amidst abject gloom it has the ability to provoke the reader’s laughter. As usual, the authentic small-town Kerala ambience is an added bonus.
Panty by Sangeeta Bandopadhyay, translated from the Bengali original by Arunava Sinha
Erotica: The two novellas in this collection are layered literary narratives, subtle yet gripping. The original Bengali edition is said to have sent shock waves in the Bengali community when it first appeared, given its subject matter – a forthright portrayal of women dealing with their sexuality. The first, Hypnosis, is about a divorced journalist who falls in love with a well-known musician who still hasn’t disconnected himself from his past. Panty is centred on a woman who arrives in Kolkata and discovers an old, mouldy leopard-skin panty in the apartment where she is staying.
The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey
by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
Socio-political drama: Sowvendra Shekhar’s acclaimed debut novel portrays life in an adivasi society in Jharkhand through the figure of Rupi Baskey and her family. Rupi herself, a strong and healthy woman, suffers a decline in health after the birth of her son. The story is set in the village of Kadamdihi and reviews the lives of women, little known places, people and cultures. The most interesting of them perhaps is the idea of the “dahni” or “dain” – the evil witch versus the ojha – the exorcist, but not simply at the literal level. Metaphors abound and also reflect trammelled ambitions and defeated desires of the adivasis, especially set against the altering face of politics in the region.
The Book of Gold Leaves by Mirza Waheed
Romance: Waheed’s second novel is a romance set against the backdrop of unrest in the Kashmiri valley in the 1990s when Pakistani militants began their infiltration into India. Ordinary civilians – Hindus and Muslims alike – find themselves under siege. Faiz, the protagonist, paints papier mache pencil boxes for tourists. He meets his beloved, Roohi, at a Sufi shrine in Srinagar. Besides the Shia-Sunni theme, this novel also explores the reasons behind young men taking to bloodshed in Kashmir.
Hangwoman by KR Meera, translated from the Malayalam original by J Devika
Social drama: Another piece of literature in translation to have made its mark this year is KR Meera’s extraordinary novel, Hangwoman. Chetna is 22 and the daughter of Phanibhushan Grddha Malik, who belongs to a family of veteran hangmen. One of Chetna’s accomplishments is the ability to tie a perfect noose using her own dupatta. Since executions are no longer an acceptable mode of punishing criminals, the family lives in difficult circumstances. They now hope Chetna will take on her father’s mantle as the world’s first hangwoman – a symbol of woman power.
No Ghosts in this City by Uddipana Goswami
Short stories: Goswami’s debut collection of short stories is set in the fictional city of Barbari in Assam. The 12 stories deal with the themes of violence, loss, religious intolerance, childhood dreams and adulthood realities. The author’s angst is clearly visible in her writing which also reflects a certain kind of ingenuousness.
The Golden Pigeon by Shahid Siddiqui
Historical fantasy: One morning at the Old Delhi railway station, Hamida Begum deserts her husband and the elder of her twin sons leaving for Pakistan post Independence, to return home to her mother. Aijaz and Shiraz grow up separately in Delhi and Lahore, their lives different yet intricately linked. Siddiqui’s voice is clear, sensitive, persuasive. It compels the reader to believe. Full of exquisite descriptions of old Delhi, this debut novel has a nostalgic quality.
The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer
Family saga: Taseer’s latest release is based in Delhi and goes back and forth in time. Toby, the Maharaja of Kalasuryaketu, is dead. It falls on his son, Skanda, to fulfill his father’s final wish – returning his ashes to his birthplace. The personal and the political become deeply entwined in this story covering three generations. Taseer’s prose is fluid and offers a rich pageant of Delhi’s modern history.
Divya Dubey is Publisher, Earthen Lamp Journal.
Disclaimer: Arunava Sinha, the translator of Sangeeta Bandopadhyay’s Panty , edits Scroll.in’s literary section.