INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.

INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.

From Booker to Nobel, from fatwas to phenomenal advances, from literary parvenus to peerless wordsmiths, Indian writing has seen them all in the past 30 years. India Today examines the incredible evolution of post-colonial Indian literature.

Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre's
Freedom at Midnight is released. 1975
If 1947 is India's most significant year in history, the book is the most important popular account of it. If Partition was painful, reading the book was catharsis. History, uncensored, unbiased and popular, set the stage for many more.

Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses is published. 1988
Strange that the work that took away so many years of his life-Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989-didn't even win the Booker (like Shame, which was shortlisted in 1983). But then, the uproar was something to live for.

Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children wins the Booker Prize. 1981
This is how the West was won. A year after Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day is shortlisted for the Booker, a masterpiece is born. Could the subject of swapped babies, standard Bollywood fare, lead to such brilliance? But then Rushdie and Hindi films share the city of birth, a city the writer returns to repeatedly for inspiration.

Raja Rao wins the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature. 1988
Writing in a language "not his own", Raja Rao pens the brilliant Kanthapura, where he turns India into a spiritual concept for the West. The only Indian to win it, the prize has gone to an elite group of writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz.

Pakistani diaspora writer Bapsi Sidhwa writes Ice Candy Man, which is later made into the movie Earth by Deepa Mehta. 1991

Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy is released. 1993
Size does matter. And Seth proves himself suitable for prose as well as poetry. The upper middle classes read about themselves now, from their arranged marriages to their boarding school experiences.

Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August, is released and is later made into one of India's first English language uber urbane movies.

City guy meets back-of-beyond in this account of an urban brat becoming a man in mildewed Madna

Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey, also made into a film, is shortlisted for the Booker. 1991
Forget the past, and look at modern India. Writers seemed to realise this as Mistry chronicles the Indian man trapped in his circumstances. Five years later, A Fine Balance is shortlisted for the Booker, again.

Vikram Chandra wins the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Red Earth and Pouring Rain in the Best First Book category. 1995
It mingles fact and fiction, magic and realism, past and present in a melting-pot bubbling over with a monkey, Indian myths and our love for storytelling.


Amitav Ghosh wins the Arthur C. Clarke Award for The Calcutta Chromosome. 1997
Is it a thriller? Is it science fiction? It's how Indian literature saw the computer age. And the identity crisis that modern India faced.

Taslima Nasreen's Lajja is banned and sends one of the subcontinent's most controversy-seeking writers running to Europe. 1993

Jeyamohan's Vishnupuram is published. 1997
Set in three different times, the novel, which analyses Indian thoughts such as Vaishnavism, Buddhism and Jainism, is a bestseller. The Katha Award-winner is planning a work in Malayalam next.

Nirmal Verma is nominated for the Neustadt Prize. 1996
His story Maya Darpan was adapted into an award-winning film by Kumar Shahani in 1972. He won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Kawe Aur Kala Pani. His other novel that won him a huge following was Lal Tin Ki Chhat (1974).

Arundhati Roy wins the Booker Prize for The God of Small Things. 1997
And never writes another novel, although every word she has written since then has been rehashed and reprinted over and over again. But we live in hope.

Jhumpa Lahiri wins the Pulitzer Prize for Interpreter of Maladies. 2000
A compilation of short stories on the Indian diaspora wins the prestigious prize. Miracles do happen in the form of beautiful Bengali women with transcontinental upbringings.

Mahashweta Devi wins the Legion of Honour from the French government. 2003
Each of Mahashweta Devi's novels such as Hajar Churashir Ma and Aranyer Adhikar is a landmark. She may be better known now as an activist, but only by those who have not read her.

Alka Saraogi's Kalikatha-Via Byepass is published. 1997
A brilliant and one of the bestselling Hindi novels in recent times. Saraogi recounts the evolution of the Marwari diaspora.


Anita Desai wins the Alberto Moravia Prize for Literature in Italy. 2000
Little wonder that she did. India's Anita Brookner, her sensitive writing steeped in her experiences, couldn't have deserved it more.

Ramachandra Guha's A Corner of a Foreign Field looks at why cricket is more than a sport in India. 2003

Raj Kamal Jha sells the world rights to The Blue Bedspread, to Picador for £160,000. 1999
Jha gets all the money on the basis of three short stories. The era of huge advances begins.


Sunil Khilnani's The Idea of India is published. 1999
The book examines whether post-Independence India has lived up to the vision of those who established it in 1947.

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi wins the Grinzane Cavour Prize. 2005
And marks a new breed of 20-something smart authors like Samit Basu and Rupa Bajwa, who are emerging from the shadows of Rushdie and Roy.

Udai Prakash's novella, Peeli Chhatri Wali Ladki, wins the PEN Award in New York. 2005
It is significant in the way modern Hindi literature has turned irreverent and is trying to find a footing in world literature all over again.

The Inscrutable Americans by Anurag Mathur is published. 1990
It becomes a bestseller and remains the funniest desi account of East-meets-West campus fiction.

Vikram Seth gets £1.3 million as advance from Time Warner Books for his Two Lives. 2003
First, this is Time Warner, a publishing megalith. Second, this is Seth's biography/memoir, with a dash of World War II thrown in. Three, it is a lot of money.

William Dalrymple's White Mughals wins the Wolfson Prize for History. 2001
The Indian takeover is almost complete. Now, Brits are writing love stories on India and Indians. The success of White Mughals is a landmark in the way Indian writing has become cross-cultural.

Suketu Mehta's Maximum City is nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and wins the Kiriyama Prize. 2005
Mehta's account of the unfamiliar bylanes of a familiar city is a landmark. He gets the Pulitzer committee to take note of vada pao, benc*** and bar girls. What could be more fun?

Sir V.S. Naipaul wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. 2003
The Swedish Academy mentions him as a "British writer born in Trinidad". But we Indians can't help rejoicing. This is the original Indian diasporic writer.


Hari Kunzru scoops up £1.25 million for his acclaimed first novel, The Impressionist. 2001
An allegory of the identity crisis that cross-cultural people face, this is the new International Indian writer. His book is lauded about as much as his suave, semi-Indian, semi-British persona. The cool Indian in Britland is really being noticed.

Katherine Frank's Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi creates a furore in the Gandhi family. 2001
Don't touch the sacred cow. And if you do, be prepared for a flurry of lawsuits. Still, the book is a bestseller, full of juicy insights into Indira Gandhi's sex life, or lack of it.

-By Swagata Sen


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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
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