In 2023, Chetna Maroo was shortlisted for the Booker Prize at London and with her debut novel Western Lane, she glows incandescently alongside Perumal Murugan and Geetanjali Shree as guiding stars of our literary compass. As far as English is concerned, translation still serves as the only recourse for storytellers like Mrinal Pande to get word out to those reading all across the world but in the case of graphic novelist Debasmita Dasgupta, her images speak a finer language. Though born in foreign countries, writers of Indian descent like Abraham Verghese keep returning to homegrown shores for literary inspiration and acclaim.
I. Terminal 3 illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta
Suffusing what is essentially a jaded story with the hopeful bravado of pinks and tangerines, the artwork of this second graphic novel by Debasmita Dasgupta is adept at recreating stylistic nuances such as the kashida embroidery and ornate deodar architecture blooming in the valley. The protagonist Khwab, a 17-year-old jiujitsu fighter, is people-watching at Terminal 3 of New Delhi's international airport while waiting for a flight that's been delayed. She can't even call back home because the crumbling down of Article 370 means that Kashmir has been flung into a connectivity black hole. An illustration Debasmita drew of a female kickboxer from Kashmir’s Bandipora district and her nurturing family planted the germ for Terminal 3 about a school-going hijabi girl who will not let herself be swept away by the greys and mournful indigo hues of personal tragedy.
You can order your copy here.
II. The Covenant Of Water by Abraham Verghese
A child bride awakens to bitter tears in 1900s Travancore (present day Kerala) but at least her 40-year-old husband has a modest estate to his name, unlike the Pulayan field workers he has hired to run it. Big Ammachi becomes a mother for the first time at 17 but questions her beleaguered world that doesn't let the farmhand's boy go to school with her children. The Indian origin author traces a family curse that hangs over the landowners, eerily linked to water, cascading through hereditary diseases and disfiguring birthmarks in a fascinating narrative that shows how much history we carry in our bodies. Abraham Verghese's prowess as a physician makes itself felt throughout this surgical dissection of a family's struggle with privilege and caste system in a legacy they pass down by blood.
You can get your hands on the book here.
III. Sahela Re by Mrinal Pande
The sutradhar (narrator) Vidya is a music scholar enamoured with old school gharanas (artistic families) and thumri legends who echoed through the gramophones of 20th century north India. As she swims deeper in pursuit of Hindustani classical rhythms, Vidya can find herself relating to the whale song of frustration that artists like Begum Akhtar or Girija Devi must have serenaded being shut out of esoteric mehfils or even public concerts for so long. But the tawaifs or courtesans who were integral to such events remained outsiders in respectable society. Author Mrinal Pande writes with a breath of fresh air, through the medium of letters (epistolary) and is translated luminously from Hindi by Priyanka Sarkar.
You can buy your paperback here.
IV. Western Lane by Chetna Maroo
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year, Chetna Maroo's debut coming-of-age novel takes place mostly at a squash court just outside of London. Gopi and her sisters have just lost their mother but the grief ricochets through their lives with a cyclical quality shared only by their squash training sessions. Helming the intense hypnosis, the stentorian father bolsters their courage not with honeyed endearments but critical notes on their performance, driving them to keep batting away the unforgiving onslaught of painful memories. Gopi grows to spot the eye of the storm, in the guise of a high-pressure tournament and somehow think clearly amidst the chaos of language barriers, personal loss and resentment.
You can purchase this novel here.
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