Reading Indian Writers

My first love toward Indian literature happens when I read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I once hear her name from my friends and read my senior graduating papers at the beloved Rainblow (sorry, Rainbow, I mean). The title of the book steals my heart at the very beginning.

I have no chance (and money) to purchase it while I am a student. Never even bother myself to borrow it from the library, too. My curiosity toward the book goes on until I am in Jakarta. I search for the book at my favorite bookstore but to no avail for quite some time. When I find it at the Asian Literature section at the bookstore, I do not hesitate to spend almost Rp 200,000 for it (quite expensive for my book budget).

Initially, I think The God of Small Things would be a book of positivity. A novel that drives me, as a reader, to always be thankful with everything in store. Well, if you guys start to consider it that way, well.. you are cheated! Like I do.

The God of Small Things is such a vulgar story ( if I may say so). It revolves around a forbidden love tale between the rich and the poor. Its like a Cinderella story. But it is the man who becomes the fighter with the affluent woman serves as the recepient. The core of the whole story may not be special but all that occurs in between the sad ending fairy tale is a way more beautiful.

Sensitive issues, such as culture, caste, and society, are told in a creative language through the eyes of twin kids. Roy uses their innocence to observe what’s going on between their mother and their servant. Also, Roy brings up their family dead trap when it comes to unequal love life.

One the reviews I find at the internet says Roy imitates Salman Rushdie. I strongly oppose that statement. For me, Roy is much more awesome. Her language is just different. That what makes her is a distinctive writer.

Least, the title of the novel itself tells us the opposite. The God of Small Things refers to the greatest escape from all things. Sinful but tempting…

I move on to Jhumpa Lahiri.  Her name reaches to a fame through her well-known short stories collection Interpreter of Maladies that wins Pulitzer Prize. I don’t read that novel simply because I dislike reading a compilation of short stories. I also do not read her another collection of short stories called An Accustomed Earth. I think I get bored with her stories on how Indian immigrant survive amidst Western culture. Anyway… I admire so much for her ability to, as what The Times says, spin gold out of the straw of ordinary lives.

I am talking about The Namesake of which I already write at the previous note at this blog. The novel is about a boy who is so shy because of his weird name, Gogol. He later changes his name which turns out to be a tiny matter compares to the whole message of the book itself. It is actually his name and his Indian culture that attracts people’ attention. The rest of the story is usual but worth reading till the last page to satisfy my curiousity about Gogol’s life. I am amazed with Lahiri’s choice of theme; extraordinary values in ordinary lives. Her language is simple, a bit poetic, not as creative as Roy’s. But still… Lahiri’s work is a very warm cultural identity story. The one that keeps me, and probably you, to want more and more…

Aravind Adiga, an Indian born and a former journalist. His novel The White Tiger puts him as one of the promising authors as it brings him to win The Man Booker Prize. Adiga is such a bold writer who chooses serious issues as the topics for his finest works. Initially, I am not interested at reading The White Tiger because of its boring first page. But as I stumble upon the following pages I cant stop reading it. Balram Halwai, the leading role of the story, brings readers to observe his life through letters he writes to Wen Jiabao. Balram is a successful character who lives a complicated life. Hard and bitter life as a poor person. The White Tiger itself refers to him as a rare distinguished person who is able to break through folded walls of poverty and inequality.

This novel is so realistic, serious, witty, satirical, with dark humour. I love all aspects of the novel except its too-good-to-be-true ending. Balram is raised up in an extended family who hangs its fate on the hands of his grandmother. Its already been bitter to see how his father, his brother let alone himself has a very small role in such a big family. Adiga even writes that the grandmother and another member of the family prefer to feed their cows instead of their male members. All the boys including Balram have to work so hard not only to make ends meet but also to pay for their sisters’ weddings. Till one day, Balram, who is forced to leave school, has an idea to take a driving course. He believes this is the only way that brings him to cut his poverty cycle. After he finishes the course, he seeks for a job at the city then works for Mr. Ashok and his family. At this point, Adiga moves up to another problem hampers the lives of the rich; corruption. Ashok’s family is a successful businessman in coal industry thanks partly to bribes they give to government officials.  Ashok likes Balram and vice versa till one night Ashok kills his driver trust. Ashok’s wife Madam Pinky forces to drive even though she is drunk at one night. She takes the front seat and drives carelessly until she hits a streetchildren. Shocked! They run away. When the policemen come to their apartement, Ashok’s brother tells the officers that it is Balram who hits the kid. Ashok agrees. Balram does not go to the jail anyway because of the lack of evidence. But Balram begins to think sadly on how good person like Ashok can betray him.

Since then, Balram’s characteristic changes to be just another bad driver. He does not manipulate the cost of fuel but he does more. One day, he takes his master to go to a place, supposedly to bribe another officer. At the middle of the journey, he stops the car and tells his master to help him with the engine. Right after Ashok takes a look at the engine, Balram swings a bottle at Ashok’s body. Yes, Balram kills his boss.

He then drives all the way to Bangalore with millions of money he steals from his master. There, he opens White Tiger Drivers that takes business on buying secondhand cars and providing transportation service. To keep from being caught, he bribes officers. So there it goes… he uses bad ways to become a good boss for his drivers. Just too good to be true…

His last book that I read is Between The Assasinations, a compilation of short stories. Just like The White Tiger, the second book features serious, idealistic themes we commonly find in daily lives. Theres a bookseller who often stays behind bars for selling pirated book, including the banned The Satanic Verses. A story of a lonely rich boy who puts terror to his own school is interesting as well. See, problems are even more serious for rich people compared to the poor ones.

Adiga also highlights an idealistic journalist who eventually chooses to resign after he refuses his boss order for not publishing a story of a hit and run accident allegedly commited by one of the richest persons in the town.

Straight-forward, skeptical but honest. Thats my conclusion about Adiga’s works.

The Fury of Salman Rushdie

Dont get trapped in controversy! I like and hate controversy in some ways. I am curious to read Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses when I am at the college. Too bad that the book is banned. Or may be its good for me after I read Fury.

It is already confusing once I read the first page. Professor Solanka, a successful lecturer, prefers to leave his profession as a teacher and start to sell dolls. He abandons his family in India without words to New York, to find a peace of mind. Weird already, huh????

I barely remember on how the story goes anyway. I give up completing reading the novel after finishing the half of it. The book is too dark and pesimistic. Words like “shit and fuck” appear everywhere at the novel. I can only recall that Solanka’s fellow decides to commit suicide. Thats what I know about Rushdie. And thats all. From Fury I get to know may be  I should not read The Satanic Verses. Though its fiction, may be I will be so depressed to know how he mocks and turns everything around about Prophet Muhammad saw. I just dislike one takes a very private matter as religion as a controversial way to produce a popularity.


2 thoughts on “Reading Indian Writers

  1. Hi Eny,
    I followed your blog from FB. Hehehe. It is nice.

    I have never read the books you talked about. Well, I hardly read any Indian author, except the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi years ago. Then I read a review about The Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan. It is quite interesting, following ordinary lives of ordinary people to see that there is no ordinary life. Everyone’s story is unique in its own way. However, the stories are very ‘quiet’, which may be how life is actually — events without soundtracks. I think i need to reread it.
    Check it out if you like.

    Btw, on different topic. I bought the book from a website It is very good because it gives free shipping. The book took 3 weeks to arrive. In case you want any book you can’t find here 😀


    • Wah Mari, thanks a lot for the comment. Yes, I am reading books from Amitav Ghosh, just another amazing Indian author. And I am going to read R.K. Narayan. He already passes away but he is one the legends in Indian literature, so I am gonna check it out. I find the book you already read. Wow, thanks for the web info. Some of my favorite books, I think, are no longer available in the city. So, I guess I need to buy them via online.


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