Rituparna Mahapatra in conversation with Avni Doshi talking about her journey, the writing process and the future plans.

Photo credit: Sharon Haridas

The first sentence came to me as a revelation, within it was the shape of the whole story. I wanted to begin with something powerful!

Avni Doshi, writer of Indian Origin, longlisted for Booker 2020.

Not many can claim their debut novels to make it to the list of the World’s most prestigious literary awards. Dubai based Indian novelist Avni Doshi has done that; her debut novel ‘Burnt Sugar’ has been long-listed for the 2020 Booker prize. The novel made it to the ‘Booker Dozen’ after judges assessed 162 novels, published in the UK  or Ireland between October2019 and September 2020. 

Burnt Sugar’  was earlier released in India under the title ‘Girl in White Cotton‘ to critical acclaim. The judges at the Booker panel called it an “‘utterly compelling read’ that examines a complex and unusual mother- daughter relationship with honest , unflinching realism” it is “emotionally wrenching but also cathartic, written with poignancy and memorability”. 

The final act of Rajkumar’s life opened to neither cheers nor applause. 

He looked down at the gentle, placid Rapti flowing fifty feet below. It should have been a raging torrent at this time of year, but the river had no sense of occasion. He held the bridge’s railing tight with his left hand, the other inspecting the iron weight tied to his ankle. 

He had no choice. All his life, Rajkumar had only wanted to be a jadugar. Unfortunately, he was a very bad one. He could never distract an audience, so his illusions never worked. Tea sets shattered when he pulled tablecloths from under them. His white pigeons defecated liberally into his turban. The rabbits bit him. Card decks flew out of his hand, prrrrrrr-uh! and scattered on the stage. 

She stares idly into the distance, an empty ceramic tumbler in front of her.

“The beach there is different…in my country.” She says lost in the reverie of the waves. 

Did she say bitch to me? No, No, it’s the beach, the beach of Mexico. I remind myself of the Mexican Spanish accent. People’s vowels and consonants, my own diction is my Achilles heel even after years of mac and cheese.  Why would she call her life-coach a bitch? Calming my heart, I try to concentrate. Usually, I am the focussed type, I can come to the point easily. A seasoned counselor,  I can anticipate in the first five minutes the story which has got the weary heart to my doorsteps.

Listening is my profession, my bread and peanut butter and what they call in Japan- the Ikigai. Okay, close to Ikigai.  Occasionally I get jolted, dismayed by a story, as and when a 15-year-old girl talked about being drugged at a party at a friend’s house and later found herself in the morning without clothes on her body.  She was suffering from herpes apart from the guilt that she was responsible for being sexually assaulted. I was worried for my teenage daughter.

The tall handsome man got down from the Jaguar convertible. His sunburnt face and bleached blond hair was as sleek and shining as the surface of the car he was driving. He bent his head to open the door on the passenger side of his car. His companion, a tall brunette with a mass of curly black hair, did not appear to think that a figure-hugging Dior dress teamed with blood-red stilettos was an incongruous selection of attire for the Australian outback.

The Jaguar, a flashy yellow, infused some color into the bleak vistas of land, which stretched to the horizon in all directions. Andrea, who had been busy feeding the horses, wiped her dirty hands on her jeans, smoothed her hair and started to contemplate how to get inside the farm without being seen.

Editor’s note: This is the first of Asia Uncensored blog debates that we are kicking off our Blogs section with, curated by our blogs editor Rheea Mukherjee.

The influx of commercial fiction in India is an undeniable fact. Is it good? Is it bad? Two writers–Soumyadipta ‘Shom’ Biswas and Tanuj Solanki– share their perspectives on this volatile topic. We would love to hear your thoughts on this subject too!

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All a person needs is the first good book

by Tanuj Solanki

Tanuj Solanki
Tanuj Solanki

I live and work in Bombay, and so, for me, traveling to my hometown Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh entails reaching Delhi first and then taking a bus or a train. For the Bombay to Delhi journey, I find the Rajdhani trains to be the best option, because of the overnight comfort and the promise of being able to squeeze in four hours of solid reading into the seventeen hour journey. In November 2014, I had, for personal reasons, to take three trips to visit my family there.

Dr. Nazia Hasan reviews Reading New India: Post-millennial Indian Fiction in English by E. Dawson Varughese (Bloomsbury: London, 2013)

ReadingNewIndiaAll blood and gore apart, Reading New India: Post-Millennial Indian Fiction in English by E. Dawson Varughese is a very patriotic book, written in a post-colonial temperament. The Hindustaani expression “dil se” hooks you effortlessly. It is obvious in many ways, the first being the red line that accompanies as I type each word…the baffling response of the computer to each part of the author’s name. But as the sea goes calm after a tempest, now the red mark of doubt/incomprehension sticks to the surname only, it is accepting most of the things coming in its range. The new millennium announced its arrival with various new ideas and concepts, strewing them around; we collected some in a rush, some in a thoughtful mode. So does the world to any evolving culture and ideology.