From Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni To Janice Pariat: Famous Books By 10 Prize-Winning Indian Authors

From Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni To Janice Pariat: Famous Books By 10 Prize-Winning Indian Authors
(L) Reader's Digest ; Amazon (R)

In the last couple of centuries female authors from the world over had mostly conformed to the stereotypical notions of femininity in the themes they explored in their writings, as well as the kind of language they used. Women authors stretching their craft too ahead of their times mostly fell victims to slander and defamation. However, it is not so at this point in time. In fact, there hasn’t been a better day and age for female authors to extend the scope of their craft in a way that was never seen before. Here’s a list of books by such authors in recent times, exploring innovative themes with a clarity and bravado never seen before.

I.The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Forest of Enchantments is a retelling of the ancient Indian epic, The Ramayana through Sita’s perspective. In taking us through Sita’s interactions with the other women characters in the epic, the novel attempts to decode their personalities and analyse their positions in a male-dominated society. These women characters include Kaikei, Ahalya, Surpanakha, and Mandodari who had been trivialised in the main epic. This retelling also questions the patriarchy running through the narrative in the way the women characters seek redemption through Rama. The novel also casts a new look at Surpanakha’s role, the male entitlement that runs through the story, as well as the character of Mandodari. The relationship between Sita and Mandodari has also been explored beautifully when the former was in captivity. The women in this retelling have various layers to them, whereas the male characters are relatively flat. Banerjee’s Ramayana is innovative in the way it humanizes characters we were brought up revering as Gods.

II. The Nine-Chambered Heart by Janice Pariat

A hat-tip to Anaïs Nin and her book, The Four-Chambered Heart, Janice Pariat’s The Nine-Chambered Heart is a book that explores a woman through the memories of men. Even though it is largely about how we remember one another, it is also about how men remember women as extensions of themselves. The novel explores the way in which essentially all recollections are false. It also explores the emotion of love in all its dimensions, whilst capturing the fascination between the young woman and her art teacher, as well as her friendship with another young woman at the university.

III. All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy

All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy is set at a point between India’s fight for independence and the Second World War. The novel revolves around the adult Myshkin, as he reflects on the course of his life, which was derailed when his brilliant and frustrated Bengali mother fled with her German lover in the late 1930s, abandoning him and his father, an Anglo-Indian academic turned ascetic. The novel alternates between the months surrounding his mother’s betrayal, and him reading old letters his mother wrote to a close friend about her departure from India and life in Bali. Instead of condemning absent mothers, the author points out the contradictory activities of Myshkin’s father, who seeks freedom from being ruled, whilst behaving like a tyrant in his own home.

IV. Ants among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla

It is a book by Sujatha Gidla on how India’s untouchables (Dalits) struggle to overcome poverty and social ostracism due to the rigid caste system. Gidla belonged to the third generation of a Christian Dalit family who grew up in a remote region of Andhra, as it was known in the pre-partition era where she begins her story. They were Dalits belonging to the Mala caste, forced to live outside the village proper, but within its perimeter by virtue of being educated. The book deals with the humiliation and caste-based discrimination which Dalits face in India.

V. The Queen of Jasmine Country by Sharanya Manivannan

In The Queen of Jasmine Country by Sharanya Manivannan a baby is found in a Tulsi grove near the house of a garland weaver in Tamil Nadu. The man and his wife would adopt this child that smelled of wild tulsi and basil. Thus begins the story of Kodhai, who became Andal (a Tamil poet renowned for her compositions Tiruppavai and Nachiyar Tirumoli, and the only woman among the twelve Alvars, or devotional poets who sang hymns in praise of Vishnu). While Andal “belongs to a pantheon from which she will never be shaken”, Manivannan envisions how an imperfect young woman yearning for love and burning with desire, transcends human adoration and disappointment to become one with Vishnu.

VI. The Ferment: Youth Unrest In India by Nikhila Henry

After the Second Mandal Commission, the social fabric of the student community underwent a drastic upheaval. Students from OBC castes across India started to occupy seats in universities — which had been elitist, savarna-dominated campuses — and witnessed their transformation into more egalitarian spaces. The Brahmanical psyche which governed these educational institutions saw this as a threat to their hegemony over the intellectual and moral world. This fear translated into discrimination. Humiliation and harassment drove many Dalit-Bahujan students to suicide, and this continues unabated, even today. The Ferment: Youth Unrest In India by Nikhila Henry is a dispassionate documentation of this phenomenon, its background, and a thoughtful prediction about the role that the youth will play in the the nation, in the years to come.

VII. Sky is My Father: A Naga Village Remembered by Easterine Kire
It is a richly detailed historical novel by Hindu prize winner, Easterine Kire. The first Naga novel to appear in English, it brings alive Khonoma of the 19th century, a natural fortress nestled amidst high mountains. The Khonoma warriors clashed with the British a number of times, stirring other Naga villages to join them as well. After the death of an officer in 1879, the British laid siege upon the tiny village. But despite being outumbered and ill-equipped, Khonoma held out against them for four long months, eventually signing a peace treaty on 27 March, 1880. It is a non-fiction narrative weaving together meticulous research and oral narratives to tell the story of a proud and remarkable community confronting radical change.

VIII. The Fate of Butterflies by Nayantara Sehgal

This novel follows the fate of a close group of characters living in an India marked by sectarian, gender-oriented and caste-based violence. It is an exercise in her right to freedom of speech which likens the fictional situation to Hitler’s Germany. Here Muslims are herded into camps, their corpses strewn across the road, completely naked but for the the skull cap, a massive gang-rape policy targets Muslim women, and all meat is banned until it is proven not to be beef. Sehgal uses her protagonist, Prabhakar, a political science professor to explore how this novel is a study of privilege, and how privilege often protects its own.

IX. I have become the Tide by Gita Hariharan

The novel consists of three interlinked narratives, which are essentially modelled on the stories of Rohith Vemula, M.M. Kalburgi and the 12th century Bhakti movement. The most prominent portion of the novel revolves around the lives of three best friends- Asha, Ravi and Satya- who face casteism on campus. They dream of a future that will let them and their families live with dignity. Besides this, the novel consists of three distinctive narratives weaving the past and the present in compelling ways, in order to raise an urgent voice against the cruelties of caste, and the destructive forces that crush dissent. Despite its emphasis on such injustice and cruelty, the novel never loses touch of humour, tenderness or the human spirit.

X. The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

It is the debut novel of the author, Madhuri Vijay that follows one young woman’s search for a lost figure from her childhood, a journey that takes her back from Southern India to Kashmir, and to the brink of a devastating political and personal reckoning. Shalini, a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore, sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir after her mother’s death. Certain that the loss of her mother is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a charming Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home, she is determined to confront him. But upon her arrival, Shalini is brought face to face with Kashmir’s politics, as well as the tangled history of the local family that takes her in. And when life in the village turns volatile and old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, Shalini finds herself forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.

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