Tagged: Indian Writing

Tagged by Madrasi Chick, I am forced to ponder about “Indian Writing”. I grew up in RK Puram. RK Puram, originally named Rama Krishna Puram is a huge development in South Delhi, meant for housing Central Government employees. As things stood, the houses in RK Puram were rather sought after. They probably still are. When we moved into a lovely house in Sector 3, I was about nine years old. The house was built along the standard lines of government accommodation. High roofs, thick walls, a lawn up front and a kitchen garden for backyard. The floors so cool, that in the summers, there was nothing more delicious than lying down, pressing one’s cheek and stomach on the bare floor.

Wonderful as that house was, because it was so sought after, most people managed to get these houses only after twenty years or so of government service. Which meant that most of our neighbours’ kids were a good decade or so older than I was when we moved in. The neighbourhood I came from looked like a horror advert for family planning. There were children of all sizes running about. I had friends to play with in the evening. While after a few years, more kids my age moved into the neighbourhood, I remember those early years in the new house feeling very lost in the evenings. There’s only so much cycling a kid can do.

And so, one turned to books. I admit, I gobbled Enid Blytons in the beginning. But this world of islands, lemonade, scones and tea can get annoyingly alien after a while. RK Narayan was probably the first Indian writer that I read. I read everything written by him at an alarming rate. Including the columns in Frontline. Perhaps the familiarity of the landscape, mindscape etc. I associate RKN with train journeys for some reason. I find his non-fiction essays equally amusing and endearing. I picked up Ruskin Bond‘s books around the same time.

While RKN opened a window to South India, Ruskin Bond brought alive the Himalayas. His books had a certain gentle melancholic quality to them. I loved Rusty Runs Away, and in all honesty, many of his other books aren’t really meant for children. But the book that really drew me to Indian Writing has to be A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I loved the characters, the story line. Everything was so easy to relate to. After reading that book, I started hunting for books written by Indian authors. Unfortunately, not many of them were great. But at that age you have a lot of time to waste on bad books. You are a little less fussy. I loved Afternoon Raag by Amit Chaudhuri. It was one of the first books I read with an element of Hindustani Classical music as the context.

Among translated works, UR Ananthamurthy‘s Samskara and Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki are my favourites. It was in fact Ponniyin Selvan that drove me to read AK Ramanujan‘s works – both his works of translation and his own poetry. When it comes to more contemporary stuff, I think Rohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh‘s works always keep me deeply engaged.

Sometimes, you end up borrowing books that you don’t feel like returning. Keya, a classmate from school unwittingly gave me Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. The book never went inside Keya’s bag again. The other had to be Lament of Mohini by Shreekumar Varma. That book never made it back to Ranjani’s collection and is one of the few books I read over three times. I suppose the book is not really a literary masterpiece, but there’s a certain appeal to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. The book that sprung a complete surprise was David Davidar’s House of Blue Mangoes. I never expected it to as enjoyable as it was.

I don’t really know what I want to read in the future. I tend to pick things at random. Though, I do want to read a lot more translated Tamil literature. Don’t really know who to tag, but please feel free to respond to the tag!

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8 Comments

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8 Responses to Tagged: Indian Writing

  1. I read Kumudham and Anandha Vikatan when I was 10. I thought every other kid did that as well.

  2. Omeet Chowdhoory is da goods.

    J.A.P.

  3. There was a small sep. Perhaps a sidestep. With Nancy Drew. Secret Seven. The Three Investigators. Hardy Boys. Before i hit Ruskin Bond…! Some of the other books, i ‘ve noted down. Sometime..soon !

  4. Read Pankaj Mishra………..quite possibly one of the finest Indian writers writing today.
    His ROMANTICS blew me away.
    His essays in various newspapers are interesting too.Quite original.
    Sashi.

  5. now what has Indian literature got to do with RK Puram? Or were you just building that link to RKN?? Whateva.. if you were still around in the early nineties in the RKP marketplaces – sector 12′s Prince dhaba or at Sangam cinema or Vasant Vihar’s Priya cinema perhaps [we had no PVR then] :), then i must have ogled at you (excuse me for that after all this time :))

    as for books, yes Famous Five was the first series for me too… then Hardy Boys, then Nancy Drew (found her pretty charming always!), then Alfred Hitchcock, then a series of James Hadley Chase (all ‘cos of the erotic coverpages!), Sidney Sheldons, Rushdie… oh wait… that was my first go at Indian literature… “The Moors Last Sigh”.. if you can call Rushdie Indian…

    among others Amitava Ghosh, Arundhati Roy (the one shot star that degenerated to boring essays later), Jhumpa Lahiri sparked interest.. of course at different points in time..

    The complete Ayn Rand years were great… you ate, drank, slept her characters… wait the topic is Indian writing… but Indians don’t write only great stuff and never get that published…

    Vikram Seth’s poems are a hit with me… but his novels (including the Suitable Boy) aren’t quite the same mettle…

    RKN was simply great… perhaps the best amongst all Indian authors… Ruskin Bond’s Room on the Roof was quite well written…

    But in my opinion, Indian literature is not the names above.. but what India really reads… the Radiant Readers… the Gulmohur press stuff.. the hindi poems by the likes of Sumitranandan Pant, and the stories of Premchand (that I read as much as I could lay my hands upon) are the true essence of Indian literature…

    my last read from anyone Indian? Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.. but before she won the Oscar… er.. booker prize… :)

    someday we hope to see nehavish on the shelf (i mean the author’s pennings) and i’ll search for a whole chapter describing RKP in the late 80s early nineties :), and all the love affairs that went with it… ;)

  6. Nilu: Go read Junior Vikatan.

    JAP: Orl Right.

    Kavi: I’ve read all the Nancy Drews and etc. But they were never read too seriously. Mostly at the bus stop, or in the school bus. :)

    sashi: I think Romantics is interesting, but its execution as a novel is a little clumsy. And I don’t always agree with Pankaj Mishra’s opinions. But I definitely enjoyed reading The Romantics.

    tinkertoon: In Tamil Cinema – all that is called “build up”. My build up was to establish my complete lack of social life. Nothing else explains how I was able to read so much. I associate the discovery of books with that house. We moved there sometime in 1989 btw. :) Indian Literature, incidentally, is not an average of what India reads. That is quite irrelevant.

    It is anything written by an Indian – or even perhaps of Indian origin sometimes – even if it has never found adequate readers. I liked the Inheritance of Loss a lot.

    As for me publishing. Well, that appears to be a really long while away.

  7. Famous 5 , Secret 7 series are still HIT among 9-12 years.
    and offcourse J K rowling also roars
    :)

  8. My response is on my own blog. Thanks for the prompt. ^__^