How we picked the 50 books for this guide to India
This is almost entirely a note about the books we didn’t include
This is a list of books by Indian writers for Indian readers published in English post 1947. See the Lounge guide to India in 50 books.
First, we had to let go of the works in translation. Including works in Indian languages—Bhisham Shahni’s Tamas, Mahasweta Devi’s Mother Of 1084, Perumal Murugan’s One-Part Woman, Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar, Sankar’s Chowringhee, to name a few—made this list run beyond the scope of the real estate available to us in this special issue. With works in translation being in the publishing industry’s spotlight at the moment, there are several terrific contemporary additions to this list of classics, so we decided to make this a separate list entirely, one that will come to you soon.
This is a list that is close to our hearts, anchored by our books editor Somak Ghoshal, finalized after weeks of deliberation, and several disagreements. It has shaped up to become a list of books that we would gladly put on a covid-19 lockdown curriculum about India for a young cousin. The fact that it is a list of books by Indians for Indians is important to note, because it would be a remarkably different list if either of these criteria were to be relaxed.
Who is an Indian writer? We included Indian-origin writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri and V.S. Naipaul and naturalized Indians such as Ruskin Bond and the Scottish-born, Indian travel writer Bill Aitken, whose book about the Nanda Devi had a big champion in deputy editor Bibek Bhattacharya. You will find glaring omissions; certain international award-winning books aren’t in this list because they didn’t have a champion in the Lounge team. We were clear at the outset that we would honour what we have read and loved rather than go by tokenism or worry about trial by Twitter. We stayed with one book per author to offer a broader scope for our readers. Ramachandra Guha is the only exception, with two books in the list—we chose a good night’s sleep over picking between the two. Of course, this is a subjective list. Is there any other kind?
We are a bunch of readers who believe fiction is far more instructive about people and culture than the best of non-fiction, so you will find a heavy leaning towards novels. I am also happy that we had several votes on volumes of poetry. The books on art and sexuality were my personal picks—The Spirit of Indian Painting by B.N. Goswamy and Intimate Relations by Sudhir Kakar—and I am happy they didn’t face much resistance from the team. At least none that I know of.
How to read the list? There’s no sinister logic to the order in which the books appear so we hope each page throws up favourites and surprises. You might take offence at books you hold dear to your heart being left out. We hope you do. Please write to me and hopefully we will have enough grievances to publish a Reader’s List of the Ones That We Missed.
Write to the Mint Lounge editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.