Tagged by Madrasi Chick, I am forced to ponder about “Indian Writing”. I grew up in RK Puram. RK Puram, originally named Rama Krishna Puram is a huge development in South Delhi, meant for housing Central Government employees. As things stood, the houses in RK Puram were rather sought after. They probably still are. When we moved into a lovely house in Sector 3, I was about nine years old. The house was built along the standard lines of government accommodation. High roofs, thick walls, a lawn up front and a kitchen garden for backyard. The floors so cool, that in the summers, there was nothing more delicious than lying down, pressing one’s cheek and stomach on the bare floor.
Wonderful as that house was, because it was so sought after, most people managed to get these houses only after twenty years or so of government service. Which meant that most of our neighbours’ kids were a good decade or so older than I was when we moved in. The neighbourhood I came from looked like a horror advert for family planning. There were children of all sizes running about. I had friends to play with in the evening. While after a few years, more kids my age moved into the neighbourhood, I remember those early years in the new house feeling very lost in the evenings. There’s only so much cycling a kid can do.
And so, one turned to books. I admit, I gobbled Enid Blytons in the beginning. But this world of islands, lemonade, scones and tea can get annoyingly alien after a while. RK Narayan was probably the first Indian writer that I read. I read everything written by him at an alarming rate. Including the columns in Frontline. Perhaps the familiarity of the landscape, mindscape etc. I associate RKN with train journeys for some reason. I find his non-fiction essays equally amusing and endearing. I picked up Ruskin Bond‘s books around the same time.
While RKN opened a window to South India, Ruskin Bond brought alive the Himalayas. His books had a certain gentle melancholic quality to them. I loved Rusty Runs Away, and in all honesty, many of his other books aren’t really meant for children. But the book that really drew me to Indian Writing has to be A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I loved the characters, the story line. Everything was so easy to relate to. After reading that book, I started hunting for books written by Indian authors. Unfortunately, not many of them were great. But at that age you have a lot of time to waste on bad books. You are a little less fussy. I loved Afternoon Raag by Amit Chaudhuri. It was one of the first books I read with an element of Hindustani Classical music as the context.
Among translated works, UR Ananthamurthy‘s Samskara and Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki are my favourites. It was in fact Ponniyin Selvan that drove me to read AK Ramanujan‘s works – both his works of translation and his own poetry. When it comes to more contemporary stuff, I think Rohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh‘s works always keep me deeply engaged.
Sometimes, you end up borrowing books that you don’t feel like returning. Keya, a classmate from school unwittingly gave me Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. The book never went inside Keya’s bag again. The other had to be Lament of Mohini by Shreekumar Varma. That book never made it back to Ranjani’s collection and is one of the few books I read over three times. I suppose the book is not really a literary masterpiece, but there’s a certain appeal to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. The book that sprung a complete surprise was David Davidar’s House of Blue Mangoes. I never expected it to as enjoyable as it was.
I don’t really know what I want to read in the future. I tend to pick things at random. Though, I do want to read a lot more translated Tamil literature. Don’t really know who to tag, but please feel free to respond to the tag!