I am not sure if as many people have growing up reading Enid Blyton in her native England, as they have in India. Ask anyone of my age and background to name the first book they remember reading, and I am willing to bet my dog-eared copy of 'Five go off in a Caravan' that it will be an Enid Blyton book they mention. None of us had ever had bacon and eggs for breakfast and scones for tea, but all of us knew that scones were not scones unless they came with lashings of butter.
With Julian, Dick, George and Ann, and Timmy the dog as childhood companions, and Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes forming the logical progression, it is no wonder that I was well into my late teens when I first started reading Indian authors.
By now, I could see the pattern emerging. For a book written by an Indian in English to be popular, it seemed necessary to have a very strong mystical, exotic and/ or poverty striken angle to it. But was that really India? Wasn't India a lot more complex than just that? Shouldn't books written by Indians and set in India deal with issues that occupied mind-space in India?
After Riot, I decided to read "Indian" authors without thinking of them as "Indian" authors. I expected nothing more or less than a decent story, well written from them. If the characters and situations seemed familiar, I would be happy. If they did not sound familiar, I would just pretend they belonged to a foreign setting. The book I read immediately after taking that decision was the book which I still consider one of the best books I have ever read.
After that there was a whole bunch of books that I sort of liked (The White Tiger, Q&A, The Village by the Sea) even with being aware of their shortcomings, another bunch of books that I refused to finish (The Inheritance of Loss, Calcutta Chromosome), and a very large bunch of books that I refused even to pick up. One book, and only one book, stands apart from that lot.
Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance", was a book I picked up, strangely, because Cruella asked me if I had read it, and what I thought of it if I had read it. It had been a book I had been intending to read for a very long time, but which needed a catalyst to actually get me reading. And I am glad I did. Set in a particularly unsavourable period of recent Indian history, it is the story of four characters I have never met, and would never meet. The book got me thinking like few works of fiction have- it tied together all those assorted conversations which I had with various people, and from which I missed the core point. It made me start reflecting on the real cause of India's ills, and led me, many months and many conversations later, to hone in on what I now believe is the thing we most need to change in our society. I am not sure if everyone who reads the book will take-away what I did from it, but even otherwise, it is a book worth reading, if only for a story well told.
I could perhaps go on much longer with my opinions on "Indian" books, but that can be kept for Part 2.