U.R. Ananthamurthy: Bharathipura (Oxford University Press, India, Translated by Susheela Punitha)
Perhaps the most significant work in caste literature since Premchand’s Godan (1936), Bharathipura reveals U.R. Ananthamurthy’s preoccupation with moving beyond caste and class interests. First published in 1973, Bharathipura is about the practice of untouchability in a traditional society that is evolving into modernity through new economic forces brought in by a certain class of people. When the town’s wealthiest landlord returns home, multiple realities unfold. Violent and unexpected events follow Jagannatha’s attempts to revolutionize everyone and everything by linking his own transformation to the changes he wishes to orchestrate.
U.R. Ananthamurthy, a teacher of English literature and one of India’s leading contemporary writers, does all his creative writing in Kannada. A Jnanpith awardee and author of five novels, including the widely acclaimed Samskara (English translation, OUP 1976), he has six collections of short stories, five collections of poems, a play, and sixteen volumes of critical writings. He was Vice-Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi University (Kerala) and President, Central Sahitya Akademi.
Susheela Punitha has taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in English language and literature. Her publications include children’s fiction for UNICEF and course books in spoken English.
Chandrakanta: A Street in Srinagar (Zubaan Books, India, Translated by Manisha Chaudhry)
Srinagar, capital city of the famed ‘paradise on earth’, Kashmir. Ailan Gali, a deep, dark narrow lane that lies at its heart, where houses stand on a finger’s width of space and lean crookedly against each other, so deep, so narrow, so closely connected that even thieves do not dare enter. Yet people live and love here, they cling on to their old ways, they share stories and food, joys and sorrows, sufficient unto themselves. But the outside world beckons, youngsters begin to leave, and slowly change makes its way into Ailan Gali only to find its hitherto hidden mirror-image – the change that has insidiously been working its way into the lives of those who are the gali’s permanent residents. This funny, poignant, evocative story of a Kashmir as yet untouched by violence – but with its shadows looming at the edges – is a classic of Hindi literature, available in English translation for the first time.
Chandrakanta Studied in Srinagar and Rajasthan and published her first story in 1967 in Kalpana. She has since written and published many novels and short story collections as well as a volume of poetry.
Manisha Chaudhry has translated stories, novels and documents for a range of publishing houses and organisations, from both Hindi and English. She is currently Head, Content Development with Pratham Books.
Usha K.R: Monkey-man (Penguin/Penguin India)
3 January 2000. It is the start of the new millennium. On Ammanagudi Street in Bangalore, a strange creature is spotted. As the beast seizes the imagination of the city, the first people to sight it—Shrinivas Moorty, a teacher in a local college, Pushpa Rani, who works in a call centre, Neela Mary Gopalrao, secretary to an influential man, and Sukhiya Ram, her office boy—are invited to talk about it on Bali Brums’s hugely popular radio show. What was it that they saw? A bat? A malevolent avatar? A sign of the displeasure of the gods? The grotesque mascot of a city that is growing too fast and crumbling too soon? Or merely a monkey that has lost its way?
Usha K.R. is the author of the novels Sojourn, The Chosen and A Girl and a River was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, 2008, and won the Vodafone Crossword Award, 2007.
Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman (Random House, India)
Why am I chasing a man who only played four test matches for Sri Lanka? A man who denied me interviews, delighted me on occasion, disappointed those he played with, and disappeared three years ago.’ Retired sportswriter, W.G. Karunasena is dying. He will spend his final months drinking arrack, upsetting his wife, ignoring his son and tracking down Pradeep S. Mathew, an elusive spin bowler he considers ‘the greatest cricketer to walk the earth’. On his quest to find this unsung genius, W.G. uncovers a coach with six fingers, a secret bunker below a famous stadium, an LTTE warlord, and startling truths about Sri Lanka, cricket and himself. Ambitious, playful and strikingly original, Chinaman is a novel about cricket and Sri Lanka – and of Sri Lanka through his cricket.
Shehan Karunatilaka has written advertisements, rock songs, travel stories and basslines. Chinaman is his first novel.
Tabish Khair: The Thing About Thugs (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins-India)
Amir Ali leaves his village in Bihar to travel to London with an English captain, William Meadows, to whom he narrates the story of his life – the story of a murderous thug. While Meadows tries to analyse the strange cult of the Indian Thug, a group of Englishmen sets out to prove the inherent difference between races by examining their skulls – with bizarre consequences. Set in Victorian London, this story of different voices from different places draws intricate lines of connection from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, between England and India, across individual and cultural differences.
Tabish Khair is an acclaimed poet and novelist whose recent novels have been shortlisted for the Encore Award (UK) and the Crossword Prize (India). Translated into various languages, his works include Where Parallel Lines Meet, Babu Fictions: Alienation in Indian English Novels, The Bus Stopped, Filming: A Love Story, The Glum Peacock and The Gothic Postcolonialism and Otherness: Ghosts from Elsewhere.
Kavery Nambisan: The Story that Must Not Be Told (Viking/Penguin India)
Simon Jesukumar, an ageing widower, aspires to do something worthwhile with what remains of his circumscribed, frustratingly blameless, cocooned middle-class life. His aspirations are stirred by his nagging guilt about the slum next door—incongruously and deludedly named ‘Sitara’. The well off residents of his colony use the inhabitants of Sitara for menial jobs but ignore their real needs. Simon’s friendship with his errand boy Velu, and the strangely gifted Thatkan, propels him towards others from the slum—Swamy, the schoolteacher who is also the butcher; ‘Doctor’ Prince who has no medical degree; the belt-buckle factory owner who employs children to melt brass for buckles; Tailorboy, who has thirteen fingertips to please women; the bizarre and inscrutable Baqua; and Nayagan the Leader, optimistically called ‘Merciful Diamond’, whose party bosses consider Sitara to be nothing more than a captive vote bank. As the story plunges into the heart of the slum—bringing the most unlikely individuals to the brink of collision—Simon begins to understand that good intentions and small acts of kindness achieve little when faced with the problems of a stratum of humanity he knows next to nothing about. Simon’s dilemma is ours: how can, and how should the rich (and the not-so-rich) help the poor?
Kavery Nambisan graduated from St John s Medical College, Bangalore, and did her surgical training and FRCS in England; since then she has devoted a large part of her working life to practice in rural India. She is the author of several novels including The Scent of Pepper and Hills of Angheri. She lives in Lonavla with her husband Vijay Nambisan.