I’ve been lazy, lazy, lazy about posting; so here’s some stuff.
(This was first published in the Business Standard on March 8, 2005)
“Why are people in love with lists?
Because they’re fun—so long as they aren’t done to excess. And because, if done well, they make you back up a bit and think. Jerry [Pinto’s list of the top 25 works of Indian fiction], for instance, includes the big guns—but he also includes writers who are rediscovered by each generation with fresh surprise (G V Desani, Kiran Nagarkar), and writers who are almost forgotten (Aubrey Menen).
Part of the fun we had this weekend involved rummaging the battered steel trunks of memory for our own personal lists of the great, the glorious, the unjustly remaindered.
Part of it involved re-examining books: would you really choose Mistry’s short stories, Tales from Firozsha Baag, over the better-known Such a Long Journey? Or how would you weigh the respective merits of R K Narayan’s Malgudi Days and The Guide versus Swami and Friends?
When you’re done with party games, you might want to settle down with the books themselves. Several of the books on Pinto’s lists are ones that I acknowledge, automatically, as classics—but that I haven’t revisited since my college days.
So I went back to Kanthapura and discovered in that tale of a village in upheaval contemporary echoes, as though R Raja Rao was also speaking to Bama or P Sainath or M Mukundan from across the years.
Some books belong to the category of works you should re-read every decade, to see what has aged faster, the books or yourself: Midnight’s Children, H Hatterr, The Shadow Lines.
And some books, unvisited for years, have remained as fresh as when they were written, like Swami and Friends and The Golden Gate. Most of all, what a good list does is to return you to the books and to reading. And if you disagree with Jerry’s 25, no problem (he likes a good argument): get out paper and pen, and make your own list.”
Jerry’s List of the Indian Top 25
1. Vikram Chandra: Love and Longing in Bombay
2. Aubrey Menen: The Fig Tree
3. Rohinton Mistry: Tales from Firozhsha Baug
4. Jhumpa Lahiri: The Interpreter of Maladies
5. Hari Kunzru: The Impressionist
6. G V Desani: All About H Hatterr
7. Vikram Seth: The Golden Gate
8. Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children
9. R K Narayan: Swami and Friends
10. Mulk Raj Anand: Coolie
11. Kamala Markandaya: Nectar in a Sieve
12. Anita Desai: Baumgartner’s Bombay
13. Amitav Ghosh: The Shadow Lines
14. I Allan Sealy: The Trotternama
15. Shashi Tharoor: The Great Indian Novel
16. Githa Hariharan: When Dreams Travel
17. Kiran Nagarkar: Raavan & Eddie
18. Shashi Deshpande: That Long Silence
19. Arundhathi Roy: The God of Small Things
20. Raja Rao: Kanthapura
21. Khushwant Singh: Delhi
22. Nisha Da Cunha: Old Cypress
23. Ruskin Bond: The Room on the Roof
24. Gita Mehta: The River Sutra
25. Indi Rana: The Devil in the Dustbin