One of the things that make Indian Literature the most interesting and yet so relatable are the lives of the middle class families. It is so surprising how this one vast group remains connected to each other in the basic mannerisms of living and yet each family has their own unique characteristics that make them diverge through the expanding threads of their needs, strengths, weaknesses and unavoidable journeys.
Novellas are essentially short novels with no more than 200-250 pages. And the ever expanding Indian literature has produced some of the best novellas in the recent years. With the discovery of these lesser known yet amazing authors has now led to appropriate appreciation that these books demand.
All the 3 books that I will discuss here – ‘Cobalt Blue’ by Sachin Kundalkar, ‘Ghachar Ghochar’ by Vivek Shanbhag’s (included in New York Times list of best books of 2017, nominated for Los Angeles Times Book Prize, International Dublin Literary Award), and ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by Jerry Pinto (won the Hindu Literary Prize, the Crossword Book Award, the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize) are all tales of the middle class walking through their own distinctive journeys of young love, the transformation that money brings and mental illness respectively.
‘COBALT BLUE’ BY SACHIN KUNDALKAR
‘Cobalt Blue’ is a story of feral love and heartbreak, and as Kamila Shamsie mentioned, “the impossibility of fully knowing other people”.
Originally written in Marathi and translated to English by Jerry Pinto, Sachin Kundalkar’s ‘Cobalt Blue’ explores a traditional middle class family in Pune, among whom is lodged a maverick artist without any ties of relationships or even a last name.
Both the siblings of the house, Tanay and Anuja fall in love with this man of mystery. He takes Tanay to LGBTQ+ meetings with him and then one day runs away with Anuja, overturning the lives of each of the members of the family and leaving them in ruins.
Kundalkar, and as the translator, Jerry Pinto has mastered the narration with easy intimate sensuality interlaced with the extreme tenderness of youthful love with its mysterious, unpredictable ways. Published by Penguin Books in 2013, this 244 paged novella speaks of the longing to come out of the confines of middle class, the different kinds of sexualities still somehow a taboo and the destruction that results from the truths of a heartbreak.
‘GHACHAR GHOCHAR’ BY VIVEK SHANBHAG
Translated from Kannada to English by Srinath Perur, this 2015 Harper Perennial published novella is a story of how progression of societal status can transform people and what they are capable of.
The narrator along with four other members of his family and another huge family, the latter that of ants, lived in a train compartment like home and now is indifferent when Chikkappa takes the assistance of local goons.
When Sona Masala started bringing money into the family, the son of the family, the narrator gets married to the educated and opiniated Anita.
When the lies about the narrator’s career and Anita’s unwelcome opinions become too uncomfortable, Chikkappa’s befriended goons get to work.
In this extremely short novel of 124 pages, Shanbhag’s voice of narration is extremely observant but simply a coward- who cannot even attempt to tease the strings apart when they knot together and go all Ghachar Ghochar, and gives in to the unavoidable desires of the family.
‘EM AND THE BIG HOOM’ BY JERRY PINTO
Jerry Pinto’s debut novel ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ tells the tale of pain, hatred, and most importantly ‘helpless corroded love’ for each other in a tiny apartment in Bombay.
Imelda Mendes – Em to her children and Buttercup to her husband is the brightest sun in their lives. She is the cool mother who smokes chains of beedis and has a general hatred towards taking baths. She has endless stories of her youth, her parents, her jobs and her love life; full of comic and excellent narration till her bipolarity kicks in.
Though her manic periods are beyond eccentric, the truly scary are her periods of depression – when she retires into her own dark universe and it becomes completely useless trying to pull her out. She gets recurrent suicidal thoughts and has unsuccessfully attempted suicide several times.
The whole story is narrated by Imelda’s son through his late teens and early adulthood. It portrays how his life has always revolved around his Em – from extreme care and alertness, to fierce love and protectiveness and sometimes equal hatred ; and the mysterious pillar that is the Big Hoom.
This 240 paged tale of mental illness is already made so very normal in between the family and thus the reader since the beginning, and so is the sorrow and the wild, wild comedy. The story is tremendously moving and is sure to last for a very long time with you, after the book is finished.
Indian literature is so vast and ever increasing. The elements so intriguing, sorrowful and lovable, and the writing so eloquent and beautiful. And yet somehow a possible account of our neighbours.
There are so many more authors to be discovered and so many more books to be read. Do let me know in the comments below some of your favourite books in the genre or anything you would recommend me to read.