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Bhasha Reading List: Part 2

The second part of our vernacular reading list

Our favourite books and poems from the world of Hindi, Punjabi & Urdu literature

It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? The floods in Kashmir, the Bilawal rantings and the anticipation about expanding economic times with China and the US.  Meanwhile, the MBRB girls are celebrating India’s lone warriors at the #IncheonAsianGames and salivating over a slew of exciting releases in the disparate worlds of  English fiction and Bollywood.

We’ve also just stumbled upon a Hindi translation of J. Krishnamurti’s “Happy Is The Man Who Is Nothing: Letters To A Young Friend”. Given that we are in the midst of compiling the best of Hindi, Punjabi & Urdu writing, this appears to have a touch of kismet around it. Be that as it may, we’re delighted to read the comments and suggestions from our readers to Part 1 of our Bhasha Reading List – it goes to show that interest in vernacular writing amongst the English reading population is alive and well.

Here then is Part 2 of MBRB’s reading list of an India that still bears the scars of partition and the shame of  dowry and female foeticide, but has retained its rustic wit and unwavering belief in karma. If you haven’t already, do check out Part 1 of our vernacular reading list and don’t forget to share your suggestions!

9. Nithalle Ke Diary by Harishankar Parsai  (Hindi)

If Hindi literature ever came close to producing a P.G. Wodehouse or a Jasper Fforde, it has to be Harishankar Parsai. The Sahitya Akademi Award winner always chose the road less travelled, and there isn’t a better introduction to his wicked irony and keen understanding of Indians than Nithalle Ki Diary (Diary of a Lazy Bum). Just the opening page in which he explains how his aversion to work finds inspiration in the Bhagwad Gita will have you addicted.

nithale ki diary

Image courtesy: Amazon 

10. Terhi Lakir by Ismat Chugtai (Urdu)

The feisty diva of Urdu literature gained widespread fame – or should we say notoriety, given that she was summoned to court – for her depiction of lesbian love in her short story, Lihaaf  which was published in 1942. Like the other women writers on this list, Chugtai  gave expression to female desire and sexuality, a genre that seems to have gone extinct when it comes to Indian writing in English. After you’ve read Lihaaf (and the other stories in the compilation), we suggest you move on Terhi Lakir (The Crooked Line), a semi-autobiographical exploration of isolation, longing and freedom.

Chugtai Terhi Lakir

Image courtesy: Goodreads 

11. Kitne Pakistan by Kamleshwar (Hindi)

The English speaking bhasha readers are well versed with Manto and Gulzar, but they are unlikely to have the same familiarity with Kamleshwar. Yet this is the man who shaped and edited some of the most influential Hindi dailies of this century, while also writing the scripts for movies such as Aandhi, Muasam, Choti Si Baat & Rang Birangi. The pantheon of subcontinental literature is incomplete without Kitne Pakistan (How Many Pakistans), an allegory of human egotism and disharmony that defies place and time. 

Kitne Pakistan

Image courtesy: Amazon 

12. Suraj Ka Saatwan Ghoda by Dharamvir Bharati (Hindi)

You may have seen the National Award winning film starring Rajit Kapoor & Pallavi Joshi – now it’s time to read the book. At first glance, the book appears to be collection of stories, but as the preface to the first edition declares – it is actually a single tale running through many stories. Part Chekov, Part Rashoman, Bharati skilfully unveils the morality and dilemmas of middle class India and the price it extracts from us women.


Image courtesy: Gesture Graphics 

13. Aag Ka Dariya by Qurratulain Hyder (Urdu)

One of the finest Urdu novels of the 20th century, the publication of Aag Ka Dariya (River of Fire) kicked up a storm in the literary world. Hyder’s lifelong “search of the lost epochs” finds voice in this magnum opus, which begins during the Empire of Chandragupta Maurya and ends just after the Bangladesh War. Over 2,000 years of history notwithstanding, Aag Ka Dariya, like many other works in this list, is a futile search for something, anything, to explain the unprecedented violence that marked Partition. 40 years after its original publication, Hyder released an English translation of the book.

aag ka dariya

Image courtesy: Amazon 

14. Krishnakali by Shivani (Hindi)

One of the most widely recognized names in Hindi literature was an expert polyglot and a prolific writer who experimented with numerous forms of writing, from short stories to books, essays, travelogues and memoirs. Gaura Pant a.k.a. Shivani’s stories of ordinary people – especially women – displayed a rare compassion and an undying passion for the everyday life of Kumaon. If you never read Shivani while growing up, you can start with Krishnakali, her most popular novel. Also read this lovely sketch of Diddi, as her children fondly called her, by writer Ira Pande.

shivani krishnakali

Image courtesy: Puskak

15. All Works of Saadat Hasan Manto (Urdu)

The Germans have Kafka, the Brits have Amis, the Americans have Franzen and we have Saadat Hasan Manto – a candid chronicler of the dysfunctional-normal and one of the finest writers of the 20th century. The simplicity – even ordinariness – of his language amplifies the brutal starkness of his tales, many of which were written during the Partition years. It’s worth speculating how differently Manto’s life and career would have turned out had he not decided to migrate to Lahore post-Partition, but Bollywood’s gain would have been sub continental writing’s loss. (Manto was just beginning to carve his own special niche in the Hindi film industry when Partition struck).


Image courtesy: Urdu Books 

Cover image courtesy: seeveeaar via Compfight cc


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