The greatest gift of the British Raj to the Indian Subcontinent was probably the English language and its rich, varied literature. During the British regime, Indians (natives) ves had to learn the language for the purpose of education as well as to earn their livelihood by securing a government job. The Indian intelligentsia and men (also women) of letters who had sufficient mastery over the language, thought differently. They tried their hand at poetry, prose and fiction. It was a unique combination: The Indian litterateurs describing their environs and social milieu in a strange language that belonged to a faraway land As part of the Indians’ interactions with the Europeans, and the British, individuals from the affluent classes went abroad for their education, married foreign women, spoke English better than their mother tongues, lived in and toured the Continent, several times. Their progeny enjoyed tremendous advantage both in terms of exposure and language skills.
Nirad. C. Chaudhuri (1897 ─ 1999) devoted his life to study India's relationship with Britain. Chaudhuri gained critical acclaim and was one of the most successful writers of Indian origin, in English. His remarkable Bengali prose pieces were "Atmoghaati Bangali" (Suicidal Bengali) and “Bangali Jivone Ramani" (Women in Bengali Life). A conservative at heart, he eulogized the 19th century Britain, for which he was derided on many occasions by Indian critics. He was a fellow of the Royal Literary society of England and was conferred an Honorary Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by the Queen. He was also presented with Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by both Oxford and Stirling (in Scotland) universities. His other famous literary works are Continent of Circe, Three Horsemen in the New Apocalypse and Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (his own). At the age of 90 he added another volume in his autobiography, "Thy Hand, Great Anarch".
R. K Narayan (1906 ─ 2001) this patriarch of Indian literature in English highlighted the imaginary little town of Malgudi-a microcosm of life in southern India, during the early 20th century. The most outstanding of all the characters, portrayed by Narayan is the little Swaminathan−so full of mischief and yet aspiring to make it big, someday.
Mulk Raj Anand (1905 ─ 2004) hailed as the Munshi Premchand of Indian English writing, vividly and powerfully depicts the sordid lives of the lowest strata of the society in his novels, viz Coolie, The Untouchable etc.
Kamala Markandaya (1924 ─ 2004) is best remembered for her novel Nectar in a Sieve, published in early 50s. It is a touching account of the life of an Indian peasant woman, Rukmani, her struggle for survival and her abiding love for her husband. They also reflect the changing times and society.
Nayantara Sehgal (1927 ─) from the famous Nehru clan is a feminist writer, advocating women’s emancipation. She is a child of the tradition, where the women are deified as an epitome of power (Shakti). Her novels try to highlight the independent existence of women and their efforts to thwart attempts to isolate them from the centre-stage of human existence.
Anita Desai’s (1937 ─) works appearing in the 60’s are aptly classified under Post–colonial literature. Published more than a decade after Markandaya, her Voices of the City is a story about three siblings, and their divergent viewpoints on life in Calcutta. Fire on the Mountain, set in Kasauli, focuses on three women and their complex experiences in life.
About the same time, faraway in the islands of Trinidad & Tobago, V. S. Naipaul (1932 ─) a writer of Indian descent, started writing prolifically eventually bagging a Nobel, years later, for his literary masterpieces. He deals with specific themes: the loss of home in Post-colonial Britain, the loss of the past that is a consequence of these forced migrations, and the yawning void that still remains behind. The Mystic Masseur, The Suffrage of Elvira and A House for Mr. Biswas are widely read.
Shashi Deshpande (1938 ─) hails from Karnataka. A journalist by profession, she started at a very early age, publishing her first short story in 1970. To start with her stories were published in magazines like "Femina", "Eve's Weekly", etc. "Legacy" her first collection of short stories was published in 1978, followed by her first novel, "The Dark Holds No Terrors” in 1980. She is a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award for the novel, "That Long Silence."
Sasthibrata (1939 ─) appeared on the Indian literary scene in the late 1960’s with My God Died Young, an autobiography. Its unassuming style and youthful angst addressed an entire generation, and the book was an instant success. In this explicit and irreverent autobiography, Sasthibrata mainly deals with the social milieu he was born into, the experiences which left him shattered and disillusioned and isolated. Alternately tender and brutal, he exposes the double standards and hypocrisies of the tradition-bound society in India as well as in the West with his no-holds-barred honesty and astonishing insight and understanding.
Bharati Mukherjee (1940 ─) who describes herself as an American of Bengali Indian origin too falls in this cadre. She deals with the themes of the Asian immigrants in North America, and the change taking pace in South Asian Women in a new World. The Tiger’s Daughter, Jasmine and The Wife are her landmarks.
Though fictional works will remain forever popular; the reading trends today have slightly tilted towards non-fiction. There is of course no dearth of eminent writers in this category. If we go back a little, we find how in the 60s Gita Mehta (1943 ─) based her creative writing on the theme of the country’s struggle for freedom and finally the achievement of freedom independence, as is evident in Snakes and Ladders , Karma Cola and many more…
Salman Rushdie (1947 ─) one of the numerous “Midnight’s Children” (Those who were born at midnight of 14th August 1947) has suitably captured this epoch-making incident in his novel “Midnight’s Children". His controversial novel The Satanic Verses won him a death warrant from the global Islamic community, if not anything else. Other famous books by him include The Moor’s Last Sigh, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Rushdie’s novels are replete with symbolism, powerful imagery, allegory and a vivid narrative style. The language is a trifle queer with Hindi words phrases and colloquial expressions smoothly incorporated into English.
Shobha De (1947 ─) writes racy thrillers, with urban India as their backdrop and these are invariably bestsellers. The erotic content of her novels has been somewhat controversial, with some reviewers being contemptuous of her work while others feel that she is blowing away the taboos adhered to, by many women writers. Her novels include Starry Nights, Sisters, Socialite Evenings, to name a few. The speeding up of the sexual revolution in India with her sensuous novels and Western outlook may largely be attributed to her.
Uma Vasudev joined the bandwagon of non-fictional writers with her three exhaustive biographies of Smt. Indira Gandhi ─ Courage under Fire, Revolution in Restraint and Two Faces of Indira Gandhi. However she also has two novels ─ Shreya of Sonagarh and The Story of Anusuya to her credit.
In the writing of Vikram Seth (1952 ─) whose famous novels include The Golden Gate, A Suitable Boy and An Equal Music, we find a reflection of the post-independent, contemporary life, that we ourselves are a part of. Seth’s profound knowledge of western classical music, his romanticism, his welter of emotions, all come through very effectively.
Shama Futehally (1952 ─ 2004) was an academician by profession. She lived in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and finally Delhi. She has two anthologies of short stories to her credit, and her first novel, Tara Lane, won great critical acclaim. Her other novel Reaching Bombay Central is written with astonishing economy; it is an elegant and heart-warming novel. In pared down, poetic prose, Shama writes about the fears and hopes of an individual life which bring into sharp focus the larger realities of contemporary India.
Manjula Padmanabhan (1953 ─) is an author playwright and artist. Her books include "Hot Death, Cold Soup" (1996), a collection of short stories and "Getting There" (1999) a travel memoir. "Harvest", her fifth play, won first prize in the 1997 Onassis Prize (The foundation has its headquarters in Greece) for theatre. "Kleptomania" ( 2004), a collection of short stories, was published in 2004. She has illustrated 23 books for children including, most her own two novels for children, "Mouse Attack" and "Mouse Invaders".
Gita Hariharan (1954 ─) is a journalist by profession and based in New Delhi. Her first book, The Thousand Faces of Night won the Commonwealth Prize for the best first novel. Her other works include The Art of Dying (a collection of stories), The Ghosts of Vasu Master, When Dreams Travel (both novels) A Southern Harvest and In Times of Siege. She has also co-edited Sorry, Best Friend, a collection of stories for children.
Manju Kapur is a professor of English at the prestigious Miranda House in Delhi. Her first novel, Difficult Daughters, received the Commonwealth Award for the Eurasian region. The book is set during India's independence struggle and is partially based on the life and experiences of the author’s own mother. Her other novel A Married Woman is a seductive story of love, set at a time of political and religious upheaval within the country. Narrated with sympathy and intelligence, it is the story of an artist whose canvas challenges the constraints of middle-class existence.
Indian born Amitav Ghosh (1956 ─) demonstrates the blend and interstitial nature of diverse cultures, in his writings. Ghosh has already bagged several prestigious awards for his works. Some of these awards are Prix Medicis Etranger for The Circle of Reason (1986), the Sahitya Akademi Award for The Shadow Lines (1988), the Arthur C. Clarke Prize for science fiction for The Calcutta Chromosome (1996), the Pushcart Prize for his essay, "The March of the Novel through History: My Father's Bookcase”.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor (1956 ─) is the celebrated, award-winning author of several novels, as well as hundreds of articles in reputed international publications like The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and The Times of India. His most famous work is The Great Indian Novel (1989) which is included in various curricula as a fine example of post-colonial literature; Riot (2001), a searing examination of Hindu-Muslim violence in contemporary India, and Show Business (1992) which received a front-page accolade in the New York Times Book Review, and has since been made into a motion picture, "Bollywood". Shashi Tharoor’s books have been translated into French, German, Italian, Malayalam, Marathi, Polish, Romanian, Russian and Spanish.
Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni (1956 ─) s works are partly autobiographical, with most plots set in the Bay Area of California (where she lives). She also deals with the immigrant experience, an important issue in the contemporary world. Arranged Marriage is a collection of short stories, about women from India caught between two worlds. The protagonist of The Mistress of Spices, Tilo, provides spices, not only for cooking, but also for the homesickness and alienation of the Indian immigrant clients d frequenting her shop. She writes to unite people, fiercely breaking down all kinds of barriers.
Delhi-based bureaucrat Upamanyu Chatterji (1959 ─) made his debut on the Indian literary scenario with his novel “English August−An Indian Story” centering on the bizarre experiences of a young IAS officer, who is sent to the remote, nondescript town of Madna, for training. The language is colloquial Indian English with generous dosages of Hinglish.
Pico Iyer (1957 ─) based in the U.K and the U.S.A is one of the most revered and respected travel writers today. His essays, reviews, and other writings have appeared in Time, Conde Nast Traveler, Harper's, the New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and Salon.com. His books include Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, Cuba and the Night, Falling off the Map, Tropical Classical, and The Global Soul. These have been translated into several languages and published across several continents.
Arundhati Roy (1960 ─) whose God of Small Things fetched her the prestigious Booker, probes deep into the obscure, insignificant, inconsequential things in our mundane world.
Jhumpa Lahiri (1967 ─) the Bostonian, is a true-blue Bengali. In spite of having lived all her life in the U.K and the USA, she knows the subtle nuances of typical Bengali life and culture, like the back of her hand. While her Pulitzer- winning collection of stories Interpreter of Maladies is mainly based on her experiences in Kolkata, her novel Namesake powerfully depicts the angst, the disillusionment of the Bengali immigrants to the US, whose children grow up rootless ─ aliens to the culture of their country of origin, not completely comfortable in the society in which they actually live.
Hari Kunzru (1969 ─) is a young author of English and Kashmiri descent, who shot into fame with his novels The Impressionist and Transmission. Having grown up in Essex, he studied English at Wadham College, Oxford University, then gained an MA in Philosophy and Literature from Warwick University.He has worked as a travel journalist since 1998, writing for such newspapers as The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, and Time Out magazine. He has also published a short story collection "Noise”. Moreover Kunzru was named by Granta magazine as one of twenty 'Best of Young British Novelists'.
Kiran Desai (1971 ─), currently based in the U.K is the daughter of a celebrated mother, author Anita Desai. Her first novel Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, was published in 1998 and won appreciation from renowned literary figures including Salman Rushdie. It also won the Betty Trask Award, presented by the Society of Authors for the best new novels by citizens of Commonwealth of Nations under 35. Her second book The “Inheritance of Loss” published in 2006, has already won wide acclaim throughout Asia, Europe and the United States and won the 2006 Booker Prize.