Greatest Indian Novels: Chiki Sarkar's list
1. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Profound, heartbreaking, and full of humanity, this novel set during the Emergency is one of the truly great Indian novels ever written. Very few Indian novelists can match the depth of Mistry or his restraint.
2. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
I first read this book as a bound proof as a teenager, and then reread it at university (when I didn't get out of bed for two days). Last year I went back to it again and found that apart from its charm, wit, and its memorable characters, the novel is also an extraordinary portrait of 1950s India. Seth's lightness belies his ambition and Suitable Boy is not just one of the most lovable novels of the last twenty years but also one of the most accomplished.
3. Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
The most ambitious and startling Indian novel of the last decade - the story of a Mumbai cop and a gangster, Sacred Games fuses the high octane colour of Bollywood with superb storytelling. Chandra is the novelist whose next book I am most interested to see.
4. In Custody by Anita Desai
Anita Desai's great novel about the relationship between a college teacher and a decaying old Urdu poet is cerebral, ironic, bittersweet, exquisite and written with high intelligence.
5. The Enigma of Arrival by VS Naipaul
Does Naipaul qualify for this list? Nontheless I will claim him and could include a number of his books for this list. My favourite is The Enigma of Arrival. A complicated, deep feeling novel about home and establishing roots, I think this is one of the great books of all time
6. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
No other novel has influenced a generation of South Asian writers more than Midnight's Children. It is bold, exuberant, inventive, written in an extraordinary language and is perhaps the most important English novel by an India in the last 25-odd years.
7. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Sizzling with energy, burning with passion, perfectly formed, and ingeniously structured -- this is a dazzling book.
8. The Guide by RK Narayan
Narayan's best known novel about a guide/con man who becomes a holy man has all the vintage Narayan traits - a classic, lucid prose style, sly humour, and a simplicity on its surface but with real depths below.
9. English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee
Black, ironic, full of a savage humour, English August - about a young, lonely, bored bureaucrat- is perhaps 80's India's most iconic novel.
10. The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh
While Ghosh's Ibis trilogy is his most ambitious and accomplished work, Shadow Lines is my first love. I read it almost continuously through my school and university, and reread it last year - when it had an even greater impact on me. Ghosh's vision of history, the deep skein of emotion running through the book, and its heartbreaking portrait of a riot (the book was written in the shadow of the '84 riots), is what makes this novel stand out for me.
Chiki Sarkar is the publisher of Penguin India.
From HT Brunch, June 22
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