By Vikas Swarup
Swarup’s 2006 debut novel has all the ingredients for a perfect Bollywood (or in this case Hollywood) potboiler – drama, action, romance, vengeance, suspense and a winning amount of Rs1 million. It’s no surprise then that Danny Boyle decided to make Q&A into a film; the Oscar-winning SlumdogMillionaire. Humorous, insightful and emotional in equal quantities, Swarup’s protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas’s struggle with life will have readers rooting for him throughout.
While the quiz show and the slum-dwelling protagonists are some of the few similarities between the movie and the book, what works for both of them is the message that sometimes life throws lemons at you and sometimes it throws a million rupees! Worth a read whether you’ve seen the film or not.
by Aravind Adiga
Our narrator and (anti)hero, Balram Halwai, is “a man who sees tomorrow when others see today” and will do whatever it takes to rise above the social class he was born into – in his Machiavellian world view, deception, burglary and even murder can be justified. Through him, Adiga’s 2008 Booker-prize win is a concise portrayal of modern India, where newfound capitalism meets age-old casteism, where glitzy new cities are built on the ruins of rural India, and where money talks and morals are futile – all against the chaotic city backdrops of Delhi and Bengaluru. Witty, nonchalant and morally ambiguous, Balram’s sardonic narrative illustrates the price contemporary India pays to acquire economic prosperity. A raw, pacey and frank portrayal of survival in India and an engaging read.
by Jeet Thayil
Thayil’s 2012 Booker-shortlisted debut novel is a series of interconnected vignettes recounting what life in the sordid underbelly of Bombay was like, before its reincarnation as Mumbai. Dom Ullis is the dysfunctional narrator, but the real protagonist is the metropolis itself – at once both tempting and grotesque in its array of addictions and deviances and the underworld that composes its lethal side. Part roman-à-clef, part cathartic confession, the disorienting, hypnotic prose is interposed with observations about the hypocrisies and complexities of Indian society, as well as visceral images of marginalised individuals living through poverty, organised crime and unimaginable squalor. At times as acridly intoxicating as the world that it depicts, Thayil’s novel, in his own words, captures a city that (perhaps thankfully) no longer exists, except within the pages of his book.
by Ruskin Bond
Summing up Ruskin Bond’s contribution to Indian writing is no easy task. From short stories to novellas, non-fiction and children’s fiction – you name it, this AngloIndian author has left his indelible mark on every aspect of Indian writing. Delhi Is Not Far, his critically acclaimed 1994 novella, deals with the small-towner’s ultimate dream – making it to the big city.
Arun, an amateur writer of Urdu detective novels, is biding his time in the sleepy, fictitious town of Pipalnagar until he pens his breakthrough novel, which he believes will be his gateway to Delhi, a dream every Pipalnagar resident harbours. Imbued with the charm and subtle humour unique to Bond, this is a story about optimism, dreams and human foibles.