Live, Love, & Learn Through The Memoirs Of These Indian Authors

Aniruddha Mahale
Aniruddha Mahale(L) voiceoffashion.com; amazon.in (R)

“This is how I does see the world: by reading books. I does go to London, Hong Kong, Siberia, even, when I read a book. I does meet all kinds of people. Learn all kinds of words. Live all kinds of words. Thank God for books,” as Lisa Allen-Agostini wrote in her book, ‘The Bread The Devil Knead’. It couldn’t be truer. Books are one of the best ways to tell a story, and the ability to weave detail and memories together doesn’t come easy to most people.

However, these Indian authors have masterfully crafted the story of their lives, taking us through momentous occasions as well as the smaller moments of joy and grief. From the fields of Kashmir to the frustrating queer-dating world of Bombay, these memoirs have it all.

I. This Life At Play: Memoirs By Girish Karnad
This Life at Play is jointly translated from Kannada by Karnad and Srinath Perur and was released in 2021, two years after the iconic actor and playwright’s death. Movingly written, he has shaped Indian cultural history, all the way from Kannada cinema to the Bollywood art films of the 70s. He talks about the influence his mother had on him, how she gave him his love for reading and writing as well as also the inherent power she held to subvert the patriarchy in her own way. He also talks about how his life changed when he went to Oxford University; transforming, from the shackles of his caste to a modern aesthete and going from a provincial Indian boy to a cosmopolitan intellectual, with grace, humour, and a fierce love for an independent, democratic India.

Eminent economist Amartya Sen’s new memoir published in 2021, is the long-awaited story of Nobel Laureate Sen’s life. Best known for his work on famines and poverty inspired by his boyhood home of West Bengal, he talks about the other places he has called home from Dhaka, Bangladesh to Trinity College, Cambridge where he first studied with the greatest minds of his generation. Witnessing tragedies like the famine in Bengal in 1943 to the political violence of the freedom struggle has given his writing its characteristic tone of compassion and moral clarity. At heart, it’s a book that gives a new meaning to being at home in the world and is an extraordinary story of human empathy across distance and time.

Image Courtesy: (L) Girish Karnad, newindianexpress.com; Amartya Sen, briannica.com (R)

Growing up gay in India is no easy feat, as outlined by Vivek Tejuja in his memoir about growing up gay in a joint Sindhi family. Tejuja realised he was gay when he was eight and realised, to his horror, that he was in love with his best friend. He talks about growing up idolising Sridevi, dressing up as her in the fleeting private moments he got and then finally coming out to his family and being taken to a therapist. Funny, poignant, and heartbreaking all at once, Tejuja’s novel takes you back to the 90s, growing up without acceptance, with only books, Bollywood, and the Bombay sea for company.

Fresh off the presses is Aniruddha Mahale’s insightful look into the queer dating scene in India. Using his own dating experiences –– the stylist who taught him how to dress, the teacher who taught him how to behave, the socialite who taught him how to charm, Mahale puts together his romantic misadventures to advise, guide, and pass on learned lessons to the uninitiated. Following his long-drawn adventure to self-acceptance, Mahale acknowledges that the road to coming out of the closet is not an easy one, but that once you do your courage builds every day. What started as an advice column, the book is now a testament to being a queer Indian, standing proud and free.

Image Courtesy: (L) Get Out by Aniruddha Mahale, goodreads.com; Rumours of Spring by Farah Bashir, amazon.in (R)

A former photojournalist with Reuters, Farah Bashir accounts in unforgettably excruciating detail, her adolescence growing up in Kashmir. Starting each chapter with an event, she accounts her time growing up in 1990s Srinagar, a time and place of near-constant siege. A coming-of-age novel at heart, Bashir recounts a time of simplicity, of secretly dancing to pop songs on banned radio stations and writing her first love letter. Turmoil and trauma went hand in hand with the smaller moments, from studying for exams to walking to the bus stop. With heart-stopping terror juxtaposed with stunning beauty, Bashir’s book makes it easy to see how territorial conflict so intensely affects everyday life.

Published in 2019, Dutt’s novel is an extensively researched and vital commentary on what it is to be a Dalit in India today. Contextualised with stories from her own experience, the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula changed the life of the US-based journalist. She took a stand and after years of carrying the fear of being ‘found out,’ she admitted to her friends and colleagues that she was Dalit — a fact she had kept hidden for 10 years. In her deeply personal, completely riveting memoir, she is able to cover her own identity as a Dalit, as well as crucial questions about caste and privilege, the injustices of caste, and the very necessary call to action that we must take notice of. This is a must-read for any Indian wanting to explore the evils of the caste system as well as the efforts of the activists working to eradicate it.

Born in 1945 in the Assamese town of Jorhat, Ao grew up orphaned, with five siblings. From a childhood of running wild and playing truant, she was then sent away to an English-medium school where she learnt the value of education. Ao describes the book as “...an attempt to exorcise my own personal ghosts from a fractured childhood that was ripped apart by a series of tragedies… [it] is about love and what it is like to be deprived of it.” Ao’s powerful memoir looks back through seven decades of her life, from tragic beginnings to becoming one of North East India’s most prominent voices.

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