The Capital’s literary calendar is as busy as it gets with book lovers showing up in hordes to listen to their favourite authors. A reading, hosted by the Oxford Bookstore in partnership with the British Council, was one such event and the names — from Rana Dasgupta, Jeet Thayil to Nilanjana Roy, Urvashi Butalia and Jahnavi Barua, all nominated at some point for the Commonwealth Book Prize — were enough to draw crowds.
The session started with Assamese writer Jahnavi Barua reading from her critically acclaimed book Rebirth. The novel is about a woman dealing with a bad marriage through imagined conversations with her unborn child. Nilanjana Roy, whose first novel The Wildings released last year, is already working on a sequel tentatively titled The Hundred Names of Darkness. “There wasn’t a time in my life when I wasn’t connected to stories. When I can sit back and look at the book in my head, it is magic,” she said. It was this celebration of contemporary Indian writing that lent a distinct quality to the readings. “I have been asking myself why I have chosen an objectively miserable lifestyle,” said Rana Dasgupta, who read from his 2009 book Solo, when asked what inspires him to write. “Writing each book is like suffering from a long disease. It often brings along with it isolation and loneliness. But I can’t help it; it is a compulsive need to process the world in a way that satisfies me.”
On the other hand, speaking about his Booker-nominated novel Narcopolis, author Jeet Thayil said that his novel was an examination of “the addicted, deranged people who are called the lowest of the low. The narrator in my book is a deeply unpleasant man, but I hope by the end of it you may actually begin to like him.” Considering the commercial as well as critical accolades the book has won in the past year, this may well come naturally.
Recent projections by the Frankfurt Book Fair had indicated that the Indian publishing industry was booming, registering a growth rate of 15 percent. There might be considerable truth in that claim, and if Maina Bhagat, director of the Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata, is to be believed, the new books being churned out every day are fresh and brilliantly unusual. “A writer becomes immortal through his books. Shakespeare or Austen will never cease to leave us, and in the same way, these young writers are going to live on for generations.” The event marks the beginning of a chain of literary meets and festivals, which are open to book aficionados the world over.