W is for writers

W is for writers, specifically Indian writers. I asked my Facebook peeps to suggest their favorite Indian writers. The answers were enlightening.

Expats living in India suggested authors like Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, and Arundhati Roy, while Indians suggested Jhumpa Lahiri, Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, and Ashwin Sanghi. Of course, I have my own favorite Indian authors. Many writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Amartya Sen (one of my favorites) are Bengali. Because my site is Mumbai-focused, for this challenge, I have not ventured beyond Mumbai’s borders. You won’t read about the Taj Mahal or Kerala on this blog this month. So, I decided to focus on Mumbai-based or Mumbai-born writers. Mumbai is India’s financial capital, so it’s no surprise that many of its best writers have a corporate or banking connection. You can follow many of these writers on Twitter, where they hone their skills.

The brothers Bhagat: What Young India Wants and Complete/Convenient

Writing runs in the family here. The Bhagats are the Bronte sisters of Bombay. Except they’re brothers. And Indian. And funnier.

Chetan is the Times of India columnist and the best-selling English language author in India.  Some critics dismiss Chetan’s writing as simplistic and lacking sophistication. But, Indians love reading his books and watching them become movies. His style has a staccato-like rhythm that feels natural to my American sensibilities. Where other authors spend 50 words to describe the protagonist’s hairstyle, he uses 5. As an editor, I appreciate that brevity. His book, 2 States, about cross-community love marriages, was recently released to much fanfare and earned many crores at the box office. While I enjoyed that book, and would recommend it, Chetan’s real strength is in his editorial essays. What Young India Wants is a collection of those essays. Stretching across the categories of society, politics, and youth, the essays offer an optimistic view of India’s future. His essay “My Great Indian Dream” is particularly hopeful for the country’s future.

In Complete/Convenient, younger brother Ketan explores the expat life of an NRI (nonresident Indian) couple in Sydney. Even though I’m not an NRI, as an expat, I understood many challenges the characters faced throughout the book. Many expats living in India wonder why an NRI would return after experiencing life abroad. This book answers that question. Although they share a last name, the brothers do not share the same writing style. Ketan sprinkles more Hindi into his prose, but that lends authenticity to the scenes as Indians rarely communicate in English only. For Mumbaikers, a highlight of the book is his description of the old international airport terminal. Spot on accurate.

Rohinton Mistry: A Fine Balance

Without exception, every single expat, and most of the Indians, who commented on my Facebook post recommended this book. Sadly, I’ve not read it yet. Set in Bombay during the Emergency in the 1970s, this book is next on my list of must-read Mumbai-based books. As much as I love Indian politics, I can’t believe I haven’t read this book yet.

Ravi Subramanian: Bankster

Subramanian has been called the “John Grisham of banking.” His 2012 novel, Bankster is set at one of Mumbai’s ubiquitous banks. This book won the 2013 Crossword Book Award in the Popular category, beating What Young India Wants and The Oath of the Vayuputras, among others. The book offers good insight into Indian corporate culture and features several well-known Mumbai hot spots, including Mainland China, my favorite Asian restaurant. Although I liked this book, I found it took some time to develop the plot. Unfortunately, I think the “John Grisham” tag worked against him here as I expected the action to be more intense from the beginning. He has a number of other books, including his latest, Bankerupt.

Amish Tripathi: The Shiva Trilogy

The first book I read in Mumbai was Immortals of the Meluha, the first book in the Shiva Trilogy by Amish. Although I found the final book, Oath of the Vayuputras, a bit lengthy and preachy, the first two novels are thrilling retellings of the Shiva story. In the books, you meet many of Hinduism’s most important gods: Shiva, Sati, Ganesh, and Karrthik. I have a friend in Bangalore named Karrthik, so I was always curious about his namesake. In Amish’s mythology, Karrthik is a fierce, loyal warrior. If you want a fun introduction to popular Hindu gods, the Shiva Trilogy is an easy read. A Hollywood producer has recently purchased the English language film rights. Keep an eye out for the trilogy at a theatre near you.

Bombay blogger shout-out: Native Goan and Mumbai resident, Corinne Rodrigues has three blogs! And, you think blogging on one site is tough! Whew! This month, on her From 7Eight blog, she is blogging books A to Z. Check out her entries.

2 thoughts on “W is for writers

  1. Nice piece Jean. I’m tempted to point out one author who has captured Mumbai and it’s ethos very effectively and I have found after reading his books, new appreciation and a sense of belonging with Mumbai. And that author is Vikram Chandra!


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