Shashi Deshpande’s protagonist, Jaya, is full of resentments of the past and the possibilities of a better life. That Long Silence reflects on the social structures and roles that keep women silent in subservient positions. Jaya’s earlier marriage with Mohan, marital frustrations and disappointments, and her personal failure begin to surface. Jaya decides that she can no longer be a passive, silent partner in her marriage. Shashi Deshpande crafts a portrait of a woman trying to break free of the constraints of her life.
Nikita Singh's collection of short stories, What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror? explores the shifting nature of identity. The compelling stories ask the reader, How much of the person in the mirror is truly you? Author Nikita Singh examines the lives of her characters as they navigate through different challenges that life has to offer. The book explores the themes of love, loss, mental health, and grief.
Janice Pariat's The Nine Chambered Heart examines a young woman through multiple viewpoints. The young woman moves to many familiar cities between the east and west. The Nine Chambered Heart examines different view points that follow the young protagonist’s life. She appears real in one narrative and fleeting in the next one. Janice Pariat's prose is elegant and immersive. It examines the shifting and fragmented nature of a woman’s identity. The reader discovers the woman’s identity as told from the perspective of nine different men she has had one or the other kind of relationship with. The novel also questions what love looks like.
Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 1997. It unfolds the miserable lives of people in Kerala who are the captives of the caste system and patriarchy. The book tells a tale of betrayal where people break love laws that are dictated by the caste system. And there is a heavy price to be paid. Set against the backdrop of rise of Communism, The God of Small Things tells an agonizing story of gender and caste conflict.
Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 1999. The story alternates between two cultures and nations. It depicts life in a middle-class Indian household which is full of restrictions and prejudices about food. Another story runs parallel of an Indian adolescent far from home in America where people eat all types of meats. But it is women who suffer in the end in both the cultural settings. Desai’s protagonist, Uma, has dreams and aspirations but can never find the courage to tell her parents. Her parents constrain her with domestic duties. She is not alone. The book follows the lives of women who are bound in service to men and their own aspirations are never fulfilled.
Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories about families in Bengal, Boston and Beyond. And it won Lahiri the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2000. The stories chronicle lives of people who try to navigate a new world in Boston and the Indian identity they have inherited. Lahiri’s characters are crafted with compassion. And the stories are written with uncommon elegance. They offer refuge to anyone who has ever felt to be on the outsides of the society, or in exile.
Shaili Chopra and Meghna Pant’s collaborative effort, Feminist Rani, is a handbook for feminism in India. It is also being described as a testimony of women’s issues. Feminist Rani is a collection of interviews with leaders who have a bold feminist voice. Kalki Koechlin, Rana Ayyub, and Gauri Sawant among others have contributed to it. These leaders are advocating for equality, gender equity, and women’s rights. The book captures compelling and informative conversations which provide insights into the ever-evolving concept of feminism. This book has come at a time when women are refusing to be silenced. They are now lobbying for change. The co-author, Meghna Pant, believes that unlike in the West, India’s feminist history is unrecorded. Therefore, there is a need for this book now more than ever.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni presents us with a feminist portrait of Mahabharata and Panchaali in The Palace of Illusions. Panchaali is the wife of the legendary five Pandavas. And she is trapped in the crossfires of their battle for power and kingdom. She is forced to stay at their side through years of exile. The book explores Panchaali’s complicated friendship with Krishna. The Palace of Illusions also reveals Panchaali's secret desire to be with the Pandavas’ sworn enemy, Karna. Divakaruni chronicles the painful sacrifices Panchaali had to make as a woman. Chitra Banerjee retells the Hindu Epic from the perspective of a fierce and strong female protagonist in this compelling read.
Anuja Chauhan’s Those Pricey Thakur Girls is an entertaining read full of all kinds of flavour- from politics to romance. It tells the story of a family with five daughters (beautiful, bold, and troublesome) and their life in Delhi. Chauhan’s subplot about corruption and anti-Sikh riots adds to it a touch of a political thriller. Readers and fans have compared Those Pricey Thakur Girls to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice! It manages to make the reader laugh while also addressing the issue of free press in other parts of the book. Anuja Chauhan captures the nostalgia of Delhi in and around the 1980s with descriptive writing.
Tishani Doshi’s Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods is a compelling collection of poems. Doshi writes in response to violence against women. Women seem to dig their way out of hard earth from their graves in these poems. It is an act of poetic justice. These are women who have been raped and mutilated and they have suffered in silence. Doshi questions, “And what can be said about darkness after all?/ About men who board buses with iron rods?” Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods is unapologetic in its intensity.
Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss won the 2006 Booker Prize for fiction. It deals with the larger themes of nationalism, identity, and a sense of belonging. Desai's prose is easy-flowing prose. She analyses the immigrant experience with empathy and subjectivity in the book. Her plot examines the consequences of colonialism and its impact on migration and globalisation. Kiran Desai explores issues such as morality and social justice, immigration, social and economic inequality. But there is a larger question at the heart of the novel – what is the Indian identity? The Inheritance of Loss deals with fundamentalism and alienation of people of the margins of society.