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Friday, 17 February 2012

Getting over the Famous Fives!

I was recently listening to one of the TED talks titled "Danger of a single story" in which Chimanmanda starts with the fact that she grew up reading American novels and thus when she began writing, her stories set in Africa too had white girl with blue eyes as protagonist which clearly were not truly African stories!

The moment I listened to this - all the books I have read immediately flashed across my mind. Keeping aside the non-fiction books, the only works of fiction by an Indian author or about India I remember reading are The Guide by RK Narayan, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, The sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lehri and Glorious Gharwal by Ganesh Saili. Life of Pi by Yann Martel can too be loosely classified in this category given that a bit of it is based in India. Moreover, I am astonished with the fact that I can't recall much from either the Sea of Poppies or the Interpreter of Maladies.

The Guide is thus the only India book which is etched deeply in my mind, rubbing shoulders with the likes of David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, Diary of Ann Frank, Catch 22, The Story of my Life, Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and scores of other such English and American books. Shantaram was another book I liked a lot, but it gives more of an outside-in perspective (a foreigner settling in the Indian lifestyle, his numerous observations which we take for granted having seen such things day in and day out!)

In fact, all my childhood novels were also Famous Five, and early teenage novels were those of Sydney Sheldon's. Thus to my mind somehow eating cold milk with cake in brunch by the lighthouse in company of seagulls holds a special place. Through these books I have lived a different life in a different country, in a different culture. However, the irony is that I haven't lived such a life in my own land understanding various cultures within, through books of my own country.

The situation in case of non fiction books is quite different - I have read, and have loved some of the books: I Dare by Kiran Bedi, book on JRD Tata, Small wonder - the story of Tata Nano (not written in a great fashion though); and plan to read Discovery of India, and My Experiment with Truth in near future.

But coming back to fiction, as I think about it - I feel I want to read some of the Indian books. Some books which are written well, and are as epic tales such as David Copperfield. And please don't start by saying 'Suitable Boy'. I don't want to be bored to death while reading such books. And no to Chetan Bhagat's and other cheeky stories as well!

So where should I look at? White Tiger maybe. Maybe some stories by Ruskin Bond. Maybe Bhagwat Gita, and Mahabharata, and Ramayana. What else?

Edit: Came across the review of this book in The Hindu: Beautiful Country: Stories from another India. Looks interesting, though I will wait for some more reviews before buying this. 


  1. Hmm.. White Tiger has pretty good reviews but it doesnt have that Indian character which you or me expect. Frankly what I think it will be difficult to find something which is similar to what the American Author is talking about.
    The question is how do you define being Indian when it comes to culture? Being American is associated with few core values/culture aspects/physical aspects. India is too much diverse, in every aspect. When I read White Tiger, characters behave opposite to the way I think an Indian would behave.

    1. I don't expect book to show me a particular image of India which I have in mind. I want to develop those images through the books. So it boils down to book being well written, with characters well developed, spawning across the life and style of several generations, blended in the culture where they are residing and so on...

    2. "I want to develop those images through the books."
      I saw Calcutta of the 1950's through Chowringhee that way! :)

  2. I grew up with Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton and my first proper novel was Windmills of the Gods. :) I have always enjoyed Tagore poems and Ruskin Bond stories, as they were a part of school curriculum, but that was about it with the Indian fiction reading. About a few years back, I came across Jhumpa Lahiri, and I was hooked. Adding to your list, here are some of the titles I have read and thoroughly enjoyed.

    Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
    Chowringhee - Sankar
    The God Of Small Things - Arundhati Roy (I found this book extremely interesting, but haven't met anyone else who felt likewise..)
    Gora - Tagore
    Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie (on it now)
    Delhi - Khushwant Singh (not a fan of the city, but the book is beautifully written!)
    Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts (I know this is not really Indian fiction, but no other book has actually come close to describing Mumbai as I know it, this perfectly.)

    Someone recently also recommended Rohinton Mistry to me, so will definitely pick up his books next!


    1. Err. How can I forget Shantaram. Editing to add that to the list of books I've read and remember well enough.

      2-3 books catch my attention - Delhi by Kushwant Singh and Gora by Tagore. I have never read either of these 2 people of who I have heard so much about.

      Thanks Annie

  3. My list extends to books that develop images about countries far and wide.
    Burnt Shadows (Japan, India, England, Turkey, Pakistan), Purple Hibiscus (Nigeria) and Inheritance of Loss (India) are a few books I really liked- other than the works of R K Narayan, Amitav Ghosh, Khaled Hosseini, Ruskin Bond etc.

    Glorious Gharwal- worth a read?

    1. Glorious Gharwal - definitely worth a read if you romance mountains. It has got several nice short stories of life in those part of our world.

      Inheritance. Hmm, another addition to the list. Thanks!

  4. Same story here. I've always wondered (and still do) what are these 'scones' that the famous five keep devouring summer after summer.

  5. Ruskin Bond and RK Narayan for some good earthy Indian writing. Simple people from simple places having simple stories.
    Rohinton Mistry is extremely good and hard-hitting, as I've mentioned somewhere in my blog.
    Salman Rushdie has been hit and miss, as far as I'm concerned. The God of Small Things is an interesting read. I liked it.
    Something I'd really like to read is an Indian version of American Gods.