Amitava Kumar says, "This is an inadequate list. I wish I had read more of Indian literature in translation. UR Ananthamurthy's Samskara surely deserves to be on that list, as does OV Vijayan's The Legends of Khasak. Or a novel by the great Bengali writer Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay.
To make matters worse, I had long been determined not to read anything in translation in my mother-tongue Hindi. I didn't want to ruin the intimacy I had with my own language. So I refused to read any of Premchand's novels or that great classic by Shrilal Shukla, Raag Darbari, which, I believe, hasn't been improved upon when it comes to representing life in the Hindi heartland. A few years ago, I broke with my own rule and read in English translation Rahi Masoom Raza's Aadha Gaon. I liked the experience immensely and that is why it is here.
I'm also aware that there are a few titles in English that have not met with widespread critical acclaim - I'm thinking, for example, of Sunetra Gupta's The Glassblower's Breath which had appeared mesmerizing to me.
For the most part, I've included only those well-known books that I think have put the author's imprint on a language, in this case English, in a way that was new and distinctive and utterly Indian. It occurred to me that a book with a primary claim on that description would be GV Desani's All About H. Hatterr but I confess that even while I immediately saw its linguistic brilliance I couldn't, despite trying more than once, ever read more than a few pages before l lost interest."
Greatest Indian Novels: Amitava Kumar's list:
1. Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
2. River of Fire by Qurratulain Hyder
3. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
4. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
5. English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee
6. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
7. An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma
8. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
9. The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri
10. The Feuding Families of Village Gangauli, Aadha Gaon by Rahi Masoom Raza (translated by Gillian Wright).
Amitava Kumar is the author of the novel Home Products, a finalist for the Crossword Vodaphone Prize. Most recently, he wrote the nonfiction book A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna. Kumar is professor of English at Vassar College in upstate New York.
From HT Brunch, June 22
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