On my second year in Hyderabad, living the second monsoon season. Time to curl up with a great book in the weekend when it gets blustery outside and rains frequently. Luckily, there’s no shortage of great writers in this country. But then those of us who read fiction for pleasure already know about Amitav Gosh, Anuradha Roy and Arvind Adiga, right?
If you’re not already familiar with Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy of Indian history from the early 1800’s, you’ve got treasures waiting to be discovered. After reading the Sea of Poppies and the River of Smoke, you’re like me, waiting with abated breath the publication of the last of this remarkable trilogy of Indian history. And you’ll know more you care to know about the East India Company and the Opium wars – all the dirty stuff that just aren’t kept in the history archives.
Right now I’m reading two great story collections. The Half a Rupee stories by Gulzar, available for the first time in English by this formidable Indian voice. Known better for his scriptwriting and as a Hindi film director with a career that spans over five decades in Indian cinema, Gulzar is also a poet and a writer of short stories. He’s the lyricist who won an Oscar for the song Jai ho in Slumdog Millionnaire. The twenty-five stories are all gems, covering India from Kashmir to Kerala.
My other new discovery is Murzban F. Shroff and his Breathless in Bombay short story collection of unforgettable characters and situations in Mumbai, or Bombay for him in his generation. Perhaps the collection has more meaning for anyone who’s actually been in the port city that never sleeps. The stories are as huge, as versatile and as alive as the city itself. No one even knows how many people live in Mumbai! Officially perhaps 10 million, unofficially, well, millions more. In the slums that are everywhere.
Bombay, meeri jaan is another interesting collection on writing on Mumbai….Edited by Jerry Pinto and Naresh Fernandes. Among these stories are fascinating tales about the Goans who came to Bombay in the 1930’s. Actors, jazz musicians, and artists who left their legacies in the city and helped to build the now famous Indian film industry. And many of these tales are told by the descendants of these early Bollywood celebrities.
Whenever I visit this amazing city where the filthy rich rub shoulders with the dirt poor, I totally understand how it continues to offer Indian writers the fodder for their characters and the backdrop to their fiction. There is no shortage of material to write about in that city – and the country for that matter – of colossal contradictions.
- Elephant – a lasting symbol of India at its best