Jwala Kumar and the Gift of Fire

July 27, 2018

Mohan Chandar lives with his wife and three children in the tiny and remote village of Champakbagh. One day, he rescues a strange creature from the storm that is raging outside. When he brings the creature home, the family is astonished. What sort of animal is this? Is he friendly? What does he eat? Where will he sleep? They name him Jwala Kumar, and as the days go by, they discover that Jwala Kumar is no ordinary animal. He has special powers that he uses to help his human family in their times of need. When the days are dark and hope seems to dim, Jwala Kumar lights up their lives in many ways. But who is Jwala Kumar and will he stay forever?
Jwala Kumar and the Gift of Fire is a captivating story of innocence and friendship, of magic and love, and of gifts that last a lifetime.

Right Arm Over

July 27, 2018

Jibon and Ananto are best friends and promising cricketers—Jibon a stylish batsman, and Ananto a gifted fast bowler. But one day they have an accident and Jibon loses half his right arm. Considered the more talented of the two, his cricket career is over. Not one to give up, he makes it his mission to see that his friend plays for India. Meanwhile, the Indian cricket team is in turmoil as it heads into a Test series against Australia. Jibon is determined that Ananto will find his opportunity and shine at the international level. But even if he gets his chance, will Ananto be able to deliver?
With its fascinating descriptions of playing cricket for the country, the workings of a cricket team, the politics of selection committees and the life of sportspeople, Right Arm Over is not just a novel about sports. It is also about the grit and determination needed to succeed, about friendship, and about sacrifices that are made out of love and commitment.

When I Hid My Caste

July 6, 2018

Baburao Bagul’s debut collection of short stories, Jevha Mi Jaat Chorli Hoti (1963), revolutionized not only Dalit but all Marathi as well as Indian literature, bringing to it raw energy and a radical realism—a refusal to understate or dress up gritty, brutal reality.

Through the lives of people on the margins—rebellious youth and migrants, sex workers and street vendors, slum-dwellers and gangsters—Bagul exposed the pain, horror and rage of the Dalit experience. The unnamed young protagonist of the title story risks his life and job, and conceals his caste from his fellow workers in the hope of bringing about social change. Damu, the village Mahar, demands the right to perform a religious masque—a preserve of the upper castes—thus disrupting the village order. Jaichand Rathod revolts against his parents’ wishes and refuses to take up the caste-enforced task of manual scavenging. Years of repressed maternal love begins to resurface when, in the face of death, Banoo calls out to her estranged son. And behind Savitri’s desire for revenge lies the gruesome pain she suffered at the hands of her husband.

Utterly unsparing in its depiction of the vicious and inhumane centuries-old caste system, this landmark book is now finally available in English, in a brilliant new translation by the award-winning author and translator Jerry Pinto.

The Other

July 2, 2018

Who is the Other? Is it you? Is it me? Is it all of us?

Childhood and teenage years—adults insist they are the best time. They cotton wool adolescence in soft lights, ignoring the heartaches and shadows. In this collection of stories, award-winning writer Paro Anand exposes the secrets and sorrows—and courage—that are part of today’s life.

A girl dealing with grief; another who is witness to a horrible assault on a woman in broad daylight; a boy who pushes himself to the brink of extinction; teenagers coming to terms with their otherness. Her stories ask, how do you tell a friend that you are different from everyone else in a deep, fundamental way? How do you go back to school and face friends and teachers when your own family has betrayed you? And when you put your faith in Superman, does he deliver when the bullies come calling?

Dark yet uplifting, unflinching yet deeply positive, these stories are a searing portrayal of the minds of today’s teenagers. In Paro Anand’s The Other, we are forced to examine our actions and inactions and every reader will find a fragment of themselves in the stories. It is a book every young adult and adult must read.

Pilgrimage

July 2, 2018

From early to middle age, Pilgrimage tells the story of Monica—Mona at home—over three defining, pivotal events in her life.

In the opening section, set in contemporary times, Monica, now a woman with a penchant for causes and sympathy for the dispossessed and the underdog, is stranded on a highway, surrounded and stalled by aggressive kanwariyas marching to the Ganga, even as her father struggles for life in the ambulance they are travelling on.

Then, going back in time, the novel unearths two incidents which made the girl the woman she has become.

‘Punishment’ finds Mona stepping into adolescence in a small town in north India in the 1980s, becoming aware of her body and its possibilities for the first time, the norms and attitudes which seek to control it, and the ways in which she can subvert them. But when her mother catches Mona spying on a rooftop homosexual encounter, everything changes.

And the in-between story, ‘Transgressions’, follows Monica as a young scholar of Delhi University in the 1990s—having rejected the demands of home and parents—conducting research on the psychology of drug-addicts, and a doomed, intense love affair with Ajay, a heroin junkie.

Evocative, precise and spare, Pilgrimage is an extraordinary exploration of one life negotiating family, sex, love—and the illusion of home. It is also the story of middle-class India and its dysfunctions, its casual bigotry and paralyzing insecurities.

The Escapists of J. Mullick Road

July 2, 2018

‘What I would like to understand is why you, anyone would do this to themselves. Swim against the tide. It’s such a struggle. And for what?’

‘I suppose for the same reason there are elections. There has to be an opposing view, else people will get away with murder. They do anyway, but why make it easier for them?’

In the aftermath of a bizarre confrontation with KalolMondal—a small-time hustler and Party goon—Pinaki Bose, a timid Bengali babu, bumbles into the ambit of the savagely brilliant architect, Biren Roy. Dazzled by Biren’s breadth of vision and his utter contempt for the conventional, he commissions him to design a country house—committing the whole family’s savings to the project. But Biren, paralyzed by his grand ideals and his passion for perfection, is slowly sinking into a drunken torpor. And Pinaki, ignorant of the Party’s involvement in all land deals, must endure not just KalolMondal’s ominous presence while buying his plot, but more worryingly, his infatuation with Dona, Pinaki’s young daughter.

Set in the bleak Communist Calcutta of the 1980s,The Escapists of J. Mullick Road is a wry meditation on a fabled city in physical and moral decline. Usha Ananda Krishna’s subtly witty but compassionate take on the disparate lives that entwine over the building of a house is a tour de force of modern literary writing.

The Impossible Fairy Tale

July 2, 2018

The Impossible Fairy Tale is the story of two unexceptional grade-school girls.

Mia is ‘lucky’—she is spoiled by her mother and her two fathers. She gloats over her exotic imported color pencils and won’t be denied a coveted sweater. Then there is the Child who, by contrast, is neither lucky nor unlucky. She makes so little impression that she seems not even to merit a name.

At school, their fellow students, whether lucky or luckless or unlucky, seem consumed by a murderous rage. Adults are nearly invisible, and the society the children create on their own is marked by cruelty and soul-crushing hierarchies. Then, one day, the Child sneaks into the classroom after hours and adds ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks. This sinister act unlocks a series of events that end in horrible violence.

In this dreamy, hypnotic and deeply unsettling novel, Han casts an uncanny glow over the innocence of childhood, and the ethics of art-making. Brilliantly rendered in Janet Hong’s translation, Han’s prose makes us question where life ends and the book begins.

The Revenge of the Non-vegetarian

June 1, 2018

On a September night in 1949, a house goes up in flames in Batia town, burning, to soot and cinders, everything in it, including a family of six and their dog. The head of the family, Nadeem Dalvi, had been the subordinate mamlatdar of Madhusudan Sen, ICS, the Magistrate of Batia, and his trusted supplier of fresh eggs, fish and red meat. When it is discovered that the deaths had not been accidental or caused by fire, Sen vows to turn vegetarian until justice has been done.

In this novella of stunning force and impact, a true original of Indian writing is in brilliant form.

The Unsafe Asylum

June 1, 2018

After Partition, India exchanged the Muslim patients in its Mental Hospitals for their Hindu and Sikh counterparts in Pakistan. These interlinked short stories explore the impact of this decision, together with the ongoing consequences of Partition. Rulda Singh and Fattu (Fateh Khan), patients at Lahore’s Mental Hospital, are separated, possibly for ever. Years later, Prakash Kohli, an Indian psychiatry student, hears Rulda’s account of his journey to India, with its casual official cruelty and unexpected tenderness. When he visits Lahore, Prakash discovers the story of his own birth in 1947, forms a lifelong friendship with a Pakistani colleague—and realizes that nobody knows why so few mental patients survived the exchange.

As Prakash becomes curious about this, he realizes that Partition continues to have a profound effect on the psyches of his patients. A middle-aged woman passes on a delusion of being chased by murderous mobs to her children. A young boy from Simla is convinced that Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani President’s daughter, loves him and they have discussions in his dreams every night. And Prakash, seeing Punjab go up in flames under a militant call for another land of the pure, wonders if Partitions can happen again.

These stories, and more, with their recurring and shared characters, remind us that Partition does not merely lie in the past. Powerful and unsettling, this collection is essential reading.

Yasodhara

June 1, 2018

A long time ago, in a far-off kingdom, a boy and a girl, born on the same day, were destined to be together—and then painfully wrenched apart. The boy was Siddhattha, heir to the Sakya kingdom and the future Buddha; the girl was the beautiful and precocious Yasodhara, his friend who became his loving wife.

In this exquisitely crafted narrative, we encounter Yasodhara as a fiercely independent, passionate and resilient individual. We witness her joys and sorrows, her expectations and frustrations, her fairy-tale wedding, and her overwhelming devastation at the departure of her beloved.

It is through her eyes that we witness Siddhattha’s slow transformation, from a sheltered prince to a deeply sensitive young man. On the way, we see how the gods watch over the future Buddha from the clouds, how the king and his ministers try to keep the suffering of the world from him and how he eventually renounces the throne, his wife and newly-born son to seek enlightenment.

Resurrecting a forgotten woman from the origin stories of the Buddha, Vanessa R. Sasson combines the spirit of fiction and the fabulism of Indian mythology with impeccable scholarship, to tell the evocative and deeply moving story of an extraordinary life.

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