Greatest Indian Novels: Harish Trivedi's list
1. Kadambari (7th century AD) by Bana Bhatta, in Sanskrit; tr.Padmini Rajappa, 2010
The Mother of all Indian novels, as Don Quixote is of Western novels; in fact all, novels in Marathi and Kannada are called kadambaris. A sophisticated narrative of three love-stories spanning three rebirths and three worlds; contains magnificent descriptions.
2. Indulekha (1889) by Chandu Menon, 1889, in Malayalam; tr. Anitha Devasia 2005
Early encounter between Sanskritic tradition and Western modernity, with a lively heroine defying old Nair customs including sambandham/polygamy.
3. Umrao Jan Ada (1893) by Mirza Hadi 'Ruswa,' in Urdu; tr. Khushwant Singh and MA Husaini, 1970
Fond recreation of the last days of elite Islamicate culture terminated by the upheaval of 1857. The novel is fuller and even finer than the film by Muzaffar Ali.
4. Playground/Rangbhoomi (1924) by Premchand, in Hindi; tr. Manju Jain, 2011
This stirring saga of Gandhian nationalism with a morally resolute blind beggar as a hero, a pair of ardently idealistic young lovers spreading his cause, and a doubly frustrated British district magistrate was Premchand's own favourite among his novels until he published Godan in the last year of his life.
5. The English Teacher (1945) by RK Narayan
A moving autobiographical novel of love and death by the most 'Indian' and the most abidingly popular of all Indian writers in English.
6. This is Not That Dawn (1958-60) by Yashpal, in Hindi (original title Jhootha Sach); tr. Anand, 2010
The great epic of independence and Partition by a bomb-throwing terrorist turned Marxist-novelist, this novel begins in 'vatan' in Lahore in 1947 and ends in 'desh' in Nehruvian Delhi in 1957. Translated late so not much known, but is bigger than the Partition writings of Manto, Khushwant Singh and Bhisham Sahni put together.
Raag Darbari (1968) by Shrilal Shukla, in Hindi; tr. Gillian Wright, 1991
A trenchant satire on how within a couple of decades of independence, we had merrily and comprehensively corrupted all our democratic institutions. One of the funniest novels ever.
8. English, August (1988) by Upamanyu Chatterjee
A zany account of the huge disconnect between two Indias, as seen by a young civil servant fresh out of St Stephen's who's shunted off to the back of the beyond and expected to start governing.
9. A Suitable Boy (1993) by Vikram Seth
Set in the early years of independence, this novel is vast in scope and so deeply culturally embedded that it reads like a Hindi novel -- though the creative Hindi translation by Gopal Gandhi (1998) goes one better by adding value!
. As with the 10th avatar of Vishnu, this slot is still vacant. Meanwhile, as a rotating place-holder, let us put here a current bestseller (for what are novels if they are not read?):
Those Pricey Thakur Girls (2013) by Anuja Chauhan
. This unpretentious and constantly entertaining novel is set in the eventful year 1984, hits numerous DD-Days nails on the head, excoriates social stereotypes, and offers hilarious examples of Hinglish, our unintentionally comic lingua franca.
studied Sanskrit at Allahabad University, did a Ph. D. in Britain on Virginia Woolf, and has taught at St Stephen's College, Delhi University, and (as a visiting professor) at Chicago and London. He has published in the areas of Translation, Postcolonialism, Indian Literature, and World Literature.
From HT Brunch, June 22
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