50 Writers, 50 Books by Pradeep Sabestian, Chandra Siddan
Pradeep Sabestian is championing the cause of books on books in India. And thank God for that. His earlier book The Groaning Shelf was his first book on books. In this book 50 Writers, 50 Books he brings together 50 contemporary writers to write about 50 classic Indian books. Each author has picked up a book and sometimes an author from the vast canvas of Indian literature. And introduced the reader to both the work and the person behind it. The best part of the book is that it looks at the regional literature in various languages. There is a slight skew towards south Indian languages. But that is Ok because the literature from these languages is hardly known outside the region due to distinct language barriers.
I have read less than 10 books of the 50 mentioned here. That means what this book has done is given me a list 40+ more books to read. In fact, each introduction is like a teaser that makes you want to get up and grab that book as soon as possible and read it. Coming from regional literature they carry the sights, sounds and smells that we connect very easily with. That takes us back to our roots, with issues that are not alien to us and style that is all around us. You can always debate the selection of 50 books. As each of us will have some favorites that we think should have been featured here. Like I feel Srilal Shukla’s Raag Darbari should have been here. But then we know there is no way one can ever make two people agree on the selection.
You get introduced to literature from the Dalit sections of Gujarat and Andhra. From Chennai in the backdrop of the water crisis to Amrita Pritam and Manto talking about the tragic partition. Or the smells of Bengal in its vast literature. There are little-known works from languages like Konkani and Rajasthani. They introduce you to some small communities in the country that many of us do not even know exist. There are revolutionary, ahead of their time’s writers like Ismat Chugtai who spoke about issues that were definitely taboo then, if not even today. There are Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie too. But on a lighter note, I think they are more to make you feel not totally lost in what you have not read though.
This book 50 Writers, 50 Books is, like a collector’s edition. That you can use to refer to decide your next read from this collection. In fact, when you read the chapters, you get to know about more than just one book. As authors typically get talking about the other works of the author or similar works by other authors. My only big complaint – most of these books are out of print, at least their English – Hindi translations that I can potentially read. I hope the publishers of this book see the potential in publishing the popular translations of these books. And publish some of them if not all.
If Indian literature interests you even a wee bit, pick up 50 Writers, 50 Books.