The announcement of the year’s Booker shortlist struck a chord with Indians as it featured Avni Doshi among the six selected authors. And while it is a singular feat in itself, this does not mark Indian authors’ first tryst with the coveted honour. Over the years, five Indian authors, VS Naipaul (1971), Salman Rushdie (1981), Arundhati Roy (1997) Kiran Desai (2006) and Arvind Adiga (2008) have won the prize. Here are the novels they won it for.
In A Free State by VS Naipaul
Naipaul’s genius lay in giving a human face to the inhuman process of dislocation and rendering it a rare humanity. A fitting testament to this is his 1971 work, In A Free State which starts with a car trip in Africa. Bobby and Linda are driving back to their enclave from the capital but in the midst encounter a country with no name. The farther they travel, the closer they come to crossing the line that separates privileged outsiders from the victims. Reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in many accounts, In A Free State is a masterful example of VS Naipaul’s genius.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Rushdie’s magnum opus on India’s independence has been quite a favourite at the Bookers as it lapped up the Booker of the Bookers as well. Centered on Saleem Sinai, who shared his birthday with India, Midnight’s Children is Rushdie depicting the changing times post 1947 India by using the crutch of magic realism. In many ways the Shame author appropriated the language or chutnification as he referred to it, to locate the identity of the postcolonial citizen. Using the flight of imagination, the novel provides a timely snapshot of everything that followed including Emergency lending an enduring as well as an urgent quality to his celebrated work.
God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Roy’s devastating novel is about lost youth as much as it is about lost love. Set in Kerala, it is about a married woman Ammu who falls in love with a younger, lower caste man. And though they are aware of the price they have to pay, they embark on this perilous journey putting their own fate as well the fate of Amu’s children at stake. Roy creates a distinctive language for this work, composing prose like poetry and making heartbreak read like a hollow cry. And in this remarkable journey she broke love laws in more ways than one.
God Of Small Things remains a watershed novel in the landscape of Indian writers writing in English. It gives a glimpse of the inequalities of the country without compromising on depicting the varying shades of love which bridges the brokenness.
Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
In an isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalaya, a judge is suddenly paid a visit by his orphaned granddaughter Sai. On the other hand there is Biju, son of a cook who works for Sai’s grandfather who is living illegally in the US. As the narrative alternates between both of them, Desai presents a rewarding and moving picture of people navigating through the effect of colonialism as it comes to confront the modern world.
She spins her narrative around the theme of identity, the way it becomes a site of becoming and unbecoming in a postcolonial country, and how its lack assumes a feeling of loss across generations.
Soon to be adapted into a Netflix series, Adiga’s The White Tiger is a tightly-cut portrait of the class struggle embedded in the fabric of the country. The friction magnifies when seen from the lens of Balram Halwai, a village boy as he looks back in retrospect. Through his circuitous journey first to Delhi where he worked as a chauffeur to a rich landlord, and then to Bangalore where he runs away after killing his master, the novel looks at the various facets of a country like India which thrives on poverty, corruption and occasional loyalty.