Nannool: 6 greatest Indian authors you should read
Known for its jaw-dropping landscapes, temples and big urban sprawls, India boasts a rich literary heritage since ancient times. There are over 20 languages spoken in the country, giving birth to literary masterpieces that are celebrated all over the world.
Moreover, Indian writers are well-versed in the English language which allows them to extend their influence across the globe.
Since India is one of the oldest literature in history, finding an author to read may feel overwhelming. Each one of them focuses on different social issues that it can be challenging to read something that you’d relate to.
However, whatever your taste in literature is, there’s an Indian author that would match what you’re looking for. To get you started, here are the most famous Indian authors you should not miss out on:
Aside from being a writer, Arundhati Roy is a political activist known for her involvement in environmental and human rights cases. Her novel The God of Small Things won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997, making her one of the best-selling Indian writers.
Born in 1961, Roy has a remarkable literary life. Her father worked as a plantation manager, while her mother was a women’s rights activist who questioned India’s inheritance laws. Although she studied Architecture and worked as a production designer, she wasn’t fully interested in it.
Arundhati Roy wanted to pursue a writing career. However, she had to go through other things before she could achieve what she has today. She took a series of odd jobs as an artist and aerobics instructor. After that, she dived into the film world by writing scripts for television dramas.
Roy’s literary career was interrupted by controversy in 1995. She wrote two newspaper articles stating that the film Bandit Queen took advantage of Phoolan Devi—a female rights activist and one of India’s most wanted criminals in the 80s. The articles caught so much attention from the public that ended up in the court case, making Roy retreat into a quiet life.
However, it was not the last time Roy got involved in legal problems. Because of her activism, she would often get in trouble with Indian legal authorities. She received flak for her vocal support of Maoist-backed insurgency groups, Kashmiri independence and peace talks involving Afghan women.
Salman Rushdie is one of the most controversial Indian literary figures in the world. His works tackle philosophical issues by combining the elements of magical realism and historical fiction. Because of his treatment of political figures and religious issues, Rushdie was often involved in controversies.
The controversies started when his novel Satanic Verses was released to the public. In the book, Rushdie portrayed the Prophet Muhammad in a way that caught the attention of the Muslim community. The novel was labelled blasphemous, accusing Rushdie of abusing his freedom of speech.
Things got incredibly worse for Rushdie. In 1989, the spiritual leader of Iran issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie and his publishers. A bounty was offered to anyone who would kill them, leading Rushdie to seek the protection of Scotland Yard. He had no choice but to hide and restrict his movements to remain alive.
Despite the death threats and hostility he received, Rushdie continued writing books. This includes The Moor’s Last Sigh, Sea of Stories and Imaginary Homelands. After nearly a decade, the government of Iran lifted the fatwa against Rushdie, urging him to return to his normal life.
Born to Bengali parents from Calcutta, Jhumpa Lahiri is an English-born American novelist. Her literary works are known for their plain language that is easy to understand, focusing on the journey of Indian immigrants to America. She wanted to see the cultural differences Indians experience when they are met with the values from their adopted homeland. How are they going to reconcile them with their own principles?
Although Lahiri grew up in the West, she remained committed to her roots as an Indian. For instance, she has always planned to pass her country’s heritage and influence upon her children even if they reside in a country far away from home.
Lahiri’s literary career had a rough start. Her early collection of short stories was rejected by several publishers for years before she could find her place in the literary world. In 1999, her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies was finally published. The stories revolved around the lives and struggles of Indian immigrants, including marital difficulties, alienation, loss of culture and dislocation.
After publishing several works, Jhumpa Lahiri earned a 2014 National Humanities Award by Former US President Barack Obama.
Considered to be one of the most celebrated Indian writers in the literary scene, Anita Desai has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times. She is mostly known for publishing children’s books, evoking moods and characters using scenes from nature.
In 1957, Desai received her Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Delhi. Her first novel Cry, the Peacock revolves around the suppression and oppression that Indian women go through daily. However, her novel Fire on the Mountain received heavy criticism that relied too heavily on the use of imagery.
Anita Desai has received a couple of recognitions and awards that further established her as a literary giant across the world. She has been granted fellowships, professorships and prestigious awards such as the Padma Shri and the Taraknath Das Award.
Aside from that, she has also taught in the world’s most prestigious schools such as Cambridge, MIT, Oxford, Smith and Mount Holyoke.
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay did not have an easy childhood. He grew up in a poverty-stricken family within a small village because his father had irregular jobs. However, his father was a writer who had big dreams. This, in turn, inspired Chattopadhyay to establish a literary career he can call his own.
At an early age, he was already writing essays and literary pieces such as Korel and Kashinath. However, at the age of 27, he needed to move to Burma as a clerk in a government office. He did not let his employment get in the way of his literary career, publishing Mandir that earned him the Kuntolin Puraskar award.
He was instantly recognized in the literary world after the release of his short story collection. But the success of his first book did not push him to delight in the fame. Instead, he took things seriously, reflecting on the political and social state of his country through his written works.
Moreover, Chattopadhyay was best known for his feminism. He was vocal about his opinions against bigotry and patriarchy that are still prevalent up to this very day. For example, in his book Shesh Prashna, he saw the Taj Mahal as a monument that catered to an emperor’s whims, rather than being the symbol of love.
When writing his female characters, Chattopadhyay would make them outspoken and brave. The women in his books never followed societal norms unless they wanted to, which was something good to read.
He wrote this when Indian society had women by the throat. Even though West Bengal had movements that pushed for remarriage, freedom and education, women were still trapped inside their homes. It was his way of actively fighting against the oppression of women, something that made his works influential over the decades.
Amrita Pritam is a Punjabi author and poet who fell in love with literature at an early age. Although she was born in a religious family, Pritam lost her faith in God at the age of 11 when her mother died. This tragic incident urged her to write for solace, which helped her become a published writer at the age of 17.
She was a brave woman who never feared anyone during the pre-partition era, writing controversial texts left and right. To inspire people through her works, she joined the Progressive Writers’ Movement. Pritam published a collection of works titled Lok Peed in 1944 which heavily criticized the heartbreaking state of her war-torn country.
When the partition of India took place, she went through a tough time which influenced her to write her most influential Punjabi novel—Pinjar. In the book, she narrated the hopelessness, abuse and discrimination Indian women had to go through during the period. The novel was so successful that it was later made into a Bollywood movie, earning the National Film Award in 2004. However, in 1960, her writing style shifted and sounded more feminist compared to his previous works. It is believed that it reflected her unhappy marriage with Pritam Singh which ended in divorce. Her love affairs following her failed marriage were depicted in her literary pieces, including her autobiography Rasidi Ticket.