Other winners include Damon Galgut, Rana Dasgupta, Mahesh Rao and T M Krishna.

Renowned Malayalam writer MT Vasudevan Nair was honoured with the Life-time Achievement Award at the fifth ‘Tata Literature Live!, the largest literary festival of the megapolis on 2 November, in Mumbai, India.

The 81-year-old Nair, popularly known as “MT”, is one of the most renowned authors, screenplay writers and film directors in Malayalam today. In 1995, he was honoured with the highest literary award the Jnanpith Award for his overall contribution to the Malayalam literature.

The festival also bestowed the first Poet Laureate of India Award to renowned Bengali poet Joy Goswami, which marked the launch of the ‘silver edition’ of ‘The Great Indian Novel’ by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

smokeisrisingAuthor Deepti Kapoor’s “A Bad Character”, Shovon Chowdhury’s “The Competent Authority”, and Mahesh Rao’s “The Smoke is Rising” are among six books shortlisted for the 2014 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, the organisers said Sunday.

The award is named after journalist Shakti Bhatt, who passed away in 2007. The winners will be announced in November and will get a cash award of Rs.2,00,000. 

Anu Kumar reviews The Smoke is Rising by Mahesh Rao (Random House/ Daunt Books 2014)

smokeisrisingThere are many stories swirling in Mahesh Rao’s novel The Smoke is Rising. We know it is set in Mysore, for in the beginning, we read of the proposal to transform acres of farm land into a theme park to showcase Mysore’s history and culture.  We get an idea of the novel’s time when there is reference to India’s mission to the moon, and a city that is more crowded than before as Girish finds during his home commute.  There are road names that appear in a flash, a bit of conversation where the local lingo appears, but The Smoke is Rising could really have been set in any Indian city of recent vintage.

The sprawling city that Mysore is, not just in fact but in Rao’s novel, with years of history and a rich tourism potential, makes sporadic appearances in this book.  The book instead is teeming with people, whose lives we step into. Characters that could have appeared in any other sleepy, now awakening old town.

Mahesh Rao


Mahesh Rao was born and grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. He studied politics and economics at the University of Bristol and law at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. In the UK he has worked as a lawyer, academic researcher and bookseller. His short fiction has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, the Bridport Prize and the Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest; his work has appeared in The Baffler and is also due for publication in Prairie Schooner. The Smoke Is Rising is his first novel, which is already garnering great reviews. He lives in Mysore, India.

Kitaab recently reached out to him to ask him about his writing journey so far.

‘The Smoke is Rising’ is your debut novel. How did the idea of this novel (clash of modernity and tradition) come to you?

smokeisrisingIt was while walking past the house where R K Narayan lived in Yadavagiri, Mysore, that I began to wonder how Malgudi would appear on the page, if it were being written about today.  After a number of drafts, this eventually became a novel set in contemporary Mysore. And in the novel, the construction of Asia’s largest theme park, HeritageLand, and what it represents to the inhabitants of the city, raises questions  that could apply to almost any other city in India.

The Smoke is Rising, by Mahesh Rao, and The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter. A funny, angry view of contemporary India, and a Boy’s Own picture of one of its past tipping points: The Spectator

smokeisrisingThe Smoke is Rising Mahesh Rao

Daunt Books, pp.299, £14.99, ISBN: 9781444777604

The Strangler Vine M.J. Carter

Fig Tree, pp.311, £12.99, ISBN: 9780241146231

Mysore, once the capital of a princely kingdom in South India, has lost its lustre. In Mahesh Rao’s darkly comic novel, grandiose futuristic visions are being floated: in a city desperate to reinvent itself for today’s brave new world, ancient temples and palaces are no longer enough. With India’s space programme about to send a man to the moon, Mysore must make its own giant leap. All hopes are pinned on what is destined to be a global tourist attraction: HeritageLand, planned as Asia’s largest theme park (think Mughal Waterworld — the Disneyland of south India!) And Mysore needs a new marketing slogan — ‘The Geneva of the East?’  suggests a desperate PR person. Well, at least there’s a lake.