India has a rich literary heritage that continues to bring forth some of the world’s greatest writers. As the country celebrates 75 years of independence, we look at four contemporary novels and one fascinating travelogue that truly bring the subcontinent to life in all its vivid colour – from intimate family dramas to historical epics.
1. In the Footsteps of Rama by Vikrant Pande and Neelesh Kulkarni
A quest to retrace the trail of Rama’s fabled travels during his years of exile, authors Pande and Kulkarni were curious about the places mentioned in the Ramayana (A Sanskrit epic poem from Ancient India). Along the way they would discover how closely the narrative of the Ramayana is linked to local folklore and how the moral framework that binds the stories still speaks to the people who live in the land. For the armchair traveller as well as the enthusiast for epic tales, this is a wonderful book through which to revisit the world of the Ramayana.
2. Train to Pakistan by Singh Khushwant
This is a story of an isolated village, Mano Majra, that is plunged into the abyss of religious hate as a border is drawn between two countries. It is also the story of a Sikh boy and a Muslim girl whose love endured and transcends the ravages of war. The Partition in history is a record of a point in time when the country was split apart along religious lines. Train To Pakistan is one of the books that focuses on the human drama, the real suffering of the people caught in the middle.
3. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
In this masterful novel a close-knit family is delivered from near-destitution to sudden wealth after a miraculous change in fortune. As the narrator, along with his sister, his parents, and his uncle move from a cramped shack to a larger house and encounter new-found wealth, the family dynamics begin to shift. As the dream of middle-class, aspirational living comes true, allegiances and desires realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background.
4. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is a special child. However, this coincidence of birth has consequences he is not prepared for: telepathic powers connect him with 1,000 other ‘midnight’s children’ all of whom are endowed with unusual gifts. Inextricably linked to his nation, Saleem’s story is a whirlwind of disasters and
triumphs that mirrors the course of modern India at its most impossible and glorious.
5. White Mughals by William Dalrymple
This is the romantic and ultimately tragic tale of a passionate love affair that crossed and transcended all cultural, religious and political boundaries of its time. Set against a backdrop of shifting alliances and mercantile ambitions this love story would change many people’s lives and shows how everything changed in less than a generation. In White Mughals, William Dalrymple discovers a world almost entirely unexplored by history, and places at its centre a compelling tale of love, seduction and betrayal.