India is a country with a population of over a billion people. But unlike many western countries, the majority of its people still live in villages. A great many novels set in contemporary India focus on life in the urban core, many in Mumbai (Bombay). But I grew up in village India and have fond memories of the rice fields that surrounded our town in South India, the weekly bazaars where you could buy almost anything you needed, the mud huts and crowded alley ways. These are not often described by Indian authors these days. But I have found a few that do reflect this slower but often chaotic way of life.
Here are four titles that you might enjoy as I did.
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy - 1997
Set in South India, Ms. Roy opening paragraph describes so vividly the sights, sounds and smells of the landscape around a small village in Kerala where twins “fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family.” (Front Cover). Family relations are so complex and interwoven in fabric of Indian society and this novel portrays a particularly interesting family saga. Winner of the 1997 Man Booker Award.
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
by Kiran Desai - 1998
Indian people can be very creative in problem solving and this somewhat light hearted story of a young man who does not fit the traditional mold includes a great variety of solutions to the problems of everyday life in a small town. It felt at times like a Peter Seller’s movie gone awry! Desai won the 2006 Man Booker prize for The Inheritance of Loss.
The House of Blue Mangoes
by David Davidar - 2002
This novel spans three generations of the Dorai family in an area of South India renowned for a rare variety of blue mangoes. The story weaves historical and family events together to reflect the fabric to life in the South, with mouth watering descriptions of the dishes and fruit that were part of their diet. Did you know there are over 1,000 different types of mangoes in the world?
The Toss of a Lemon
by Padma Viswanathan - 2008
Sivikami is just ten years old when her parents arrange her marriage to a young astrologer and village healer. But by the time she is 18, she is a widow with two young children with Brahmin caste rules that dictate what she can and cannot do each day. It is a story of a woman’s love and perseverance against the norms of the times and how she uses her wisdom to affect the lives of her children. Is it all just a twist of fate, a toss of a lemon?