The third story in The Gurkha's Daughter explores the changing relationship between a father, Prabin, and Supriya, his daughter. The father in A Father's Journey is a bookstore owner in my Himalayan hometown of Gangtok in India. This after-school ritual the duo partake in at the bookstore is one of my favorite parts of the book:
Father and daughter then spent time reading books, looking at pictures, and talking. Supriya sat on a sat of encyclopedias holding court with the two helpers and anyone who was in the store. When the math involved wasn't too taxing, Prabin asked her to handle change as the customers smiled indulgently and said a word of praise or two. He was too busy to read a Hans Christian Andersen book to her today, so she took over and read the book out loud, occasionally stumbling and pausing, again ingratiating herself with the customers with a showmanship that improved with each passing day.
I've often wondered about this story's potential to swell into a novel. That would give me the room to devote pages and pages to the father's bookstore (modeled after Rachna Books, my town's favorite independent bookstore), his favorite books (he'd love RK Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand), how the books were arranged on the shelves (the Indian titles would be arranged alphabetically; the Booker Prize winners by the year of win) and arguments between father and daughter about tomes and writers (both would only agree on VS Naipaul being over-rated; I, too, agree with them). The father's list would probably reflect my list below:
Malgudi Days by RK Narayan
I grew up in Gangtok, a small town in the Indian Himalayas, where nothing happened. I tried romanticizing it then, and I romanticize it today when people ask me about it. It's a beautiful place, but I was constantly bored there. Narayan's Malgudi Days, based in the imaginary South Indian town of Malgudi, taught me to find stories in the quotidian and to find beauty in the mundane. To this day, I find my best stories in Gangtok and base big chunks of my books there. And no, I don't glamorize my hometown in my books. It's okay writing about it the way it is, just the way Malgudi was perfect the way it was.
The Village by the Sea by Anita Desai
I discovered Anita Desai when I was in the sixth grade. Her tale about an impoverished family living in a seaside town in the Indian state of Gujarat was so powerful that I went back to the book again and again. I think no other book of Desai's holds a candle to The Village by the Sea.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth was among the first writers who taught me that simple writing is the best writing. A Suitable Boy may be one long book, but it has very few lengthy sentences and even fewer subordinate clauses. The novel had the same impact on me that Hemingway's books have on many American readers. It's okay, Seth seemed to be saying, to eschew the grandiose for simplicity, austerity even.
The Red Carpet by Lavanya Sankaran
One of the most delicious short-story collections I've read. No other writer has chronicled contemporary Bangalore this well. The eponymous story starts with "Rangappa was content to live in a realm of different names." It is, to me, one of the most memorable beginnings to a story. The Red Carpet is the modern-day equivalent of Salinger's Nine Stories.
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Sure, no list on the best Indian writing is complete without this book. Sure, the language wows you, awes you, makes you jealous and eventually distracts you from the plot. And sure, after Page 150, the book becomes increasingly difficult to read. But you get to the end, and you see why it won the Booker, the Booker of Bookers and the Best of the Booker.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
If one book were to top my list, it'd undoubtedly be The God of Small Things. Roy writes about children like no one else and plays with language much the way Rushdie does. How could a debut writer have been this ballsy? If there's one book that makes me feel thoroughly unaccomplished as a writer, it is this.
The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri
The Death of Vishnu a delightful first novel. Suri to me is the contemporary RK Narayan. The families in this book--two feuding Hindu families sharing a kitchen on the first floor, and the Jalals, a more prosperous Muslim family upstairs--are wonderfully caricatured, but it's Mr Jalal, perpetually yo-yoing between religions, who wins me over completely.
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
It's the most tender family novel I've read, and one of the best books on growing old. My grandfather, the greatest story teller I knew, was dying when Nariman, the father in the book, was dying. Everything described in the book--the fecal problems, the hand-in-rectum to aid fecal passing, the matter-of-fact fecal disposal--is hauntingly real.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Pakistani gentry, lapidary prose and servant-master dynamics come together in beautiful harmony in this debut collection of short stories that won the Story Prize. Mueenuddin's second book, a novel, will be one book I'll read the day it's in stores.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a page-turner. That Hamid manages to retain the reader's interest until the end with this monologue of a novel is a testament to his skills as a storyteller. The book is the best 9/11 novel (or post-9/11 novel if we are nit-picking) if ever there was one.