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A Literary Guide to India

David Pettitt

With 122 major languages spoken across the country, Indian literature is nothing if not diverse, producing masterworks in English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Oriya, and Malayalam to name but a few. However, although native authors such as Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things, 1997) and diasporic writers like Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s Children, 1981), Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger, 2008) and Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland, 2013) have made India a major player on the world literature stage, the vast majority of the country’s most seminal and critically acclaimed writers remain unknown to western readers.

With that in mind, our new infographic ‘A Literary Guide to India’ eschews some of India’s more well-known authors to include those who have had a bigger role in guiding the country’s literary identity; or identities, for that matter, as India is truly a nation of nations – each with their own distinct cultural heritage, languages and literary touchstones. Basing our selection of states on the most visited regions for domestic and foreign travellers, we’ve create a bookworm’s atlas that will allow you to dig into the local culture on your travels.

If your travels take you to Hyderabad, then you should seek out a translation of Gunturu Seshendra Sarma, a Telugu poet, critic and litterateur who was a colossus of modern Indian literature and its attendant movements. Born in 1927 in the Nellore District of Andhra Pradesh, Sarma penned over 50 works during the course of his lifetime, which have since been translated into English, Greek, Nepali, Kannada, Urdu and Bengali. He holds the distinction of being the second Indian author to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature (2004), the first being the aforementioned Nobel laureate Tagore.

And where better to settle in to read than Hyderabad’s new arts and literary salon, Café Khanabadosh (gypsy in English), which aims to become a new hub for social, cultural and political movements in the city and beyond. Conceived by Amar Sindhu, a university professor and rights activist, as Andra Pradesh’s answer to the T2F in Karachi and the Pak Tea House in Lahore, their book collection contains collections of novelists and poets such as Orhan Pamuk, James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nafisa Haji, Forugh Farrokhzad, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Jigar Muradabadi, Mir Anees and Mohsin Naqvi, among others. Also noticeably placed are Shah Jo Risalo and the works of Sachal Sarmast, Shah Sachal Sami, Baba Fareed and Bulleh Shah.

Decorating the wall are portraits of Maulana Rumi, Simone de Beauvoir, Najeed Mehfooz, Jean Paul Sartre, Edward Said, Shaikh Ayaz, Nizar Qabani, Amrita Pritam, Faiz and Arundhati Roy, steeping visitors in India’s literary heritage and acting as a gateway to world literature.

“Literary, revolutionary and political movements in the world have often sparked from such settings,” says Dr Sahar Imdad Hussaini, a Sindhi writer, so visiting litterateurs can interact with local artists and activists and see history in the making.

Looking to discover some of India’s hidden literary treasures as you travel the country? Then read the full infographic below and let us guide you through a whistle-stop tour of some of India’s greatest native and diasporic writers.

A Literary Guide to India

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Author biographies

Gunturu Seshendra Sarma

Tabish Khair

Ghalib

Shenoi Goembab

Surdas

Anuj Lugun

Kamala Markandaya

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer

Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh

Arun Kolatkar

Surajmal Misrana

Andal

Syed Waheed Akhtar

Ismat Chughtai

Sunil Gangopadhyay

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