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6 Absorbing Indian short story collections you’ll love

6 Absorbing Indian short story collections you’ll love

Want to read Indian authors but don’t know where to start? These Indian short stories make a great introduction to the subcontinent's rich literary scene

For many, picking up a novel is an investment of time they aren’t always ready to make. These collections from Indian writers, written in English, will whet your appetite.

These Circuses That Sweep Through the Landscape by Tejaswini Apte-Rahm

These Circuses That Sweep Through the Landscape by Tejaswini Apte-Rahm book cover

This seems like the work of a seasoned writer, a master of idea and execution, a wizard of plot and prose. With these ten stories, each a work of art, Tejaswini Apte-Rahm invites you to take a closer look, drink in every detail, and to savour them.

"A lady gets lost in a gargantuan shopping arcade and seems forever trapped in endless consumerism"

Each story is unique, dealing with realistic situations but embellished with strange twists. They touch upon something—a particular emotion, a way of thinking—that draws us into the story, making the unbelievable quite comprehensible.

Why you'll love it: In "The Mall", a lady gets lost in a gargantuan shopping arcade and seems forever trapped in endless consumerism. We can feel her claustrophobia and her panic as she tries to make her way, in vain, to an exit.

Venus Crossing by Kalpana Swaminathan

Venus Crossing by Kalpana Swaminathan book cover

With this collection of 12 stories from Mumbai, Kalpana Swaminathan weaves together tales of everyday life, sprinkling her own magic into the mix, dishing up a wonderful concoction.

In "The Arrangement", pain is described in shades of colour: “earth tones were the deep aches, gnawing, cold, feral…” 

In the pathos-laden "Euthanasia", a lady attempts to help her dipsomaniac husband end his suffering, all the while displaying her own addiction to something quite unusual.

Why you'll love it: Characters have an almost 3D effect. The little girl selling trinkets on the train appears real—reach out and you can touch her, maybe even protect her before her head hits the seat as the carriage lurches.

Next Door by Jahnavi Barua

Next Door by Jahnavi Barua

Set mostly in her native Assam, India’s north-eastern state known for its tea estates and natural beauty, Jahnavi Barua’s collection is replete with O Henryesque twists.

In "River of Life", a mentally challenged young man tries to change the course of a river and ends up changing the course of his life in the bargain. In "Holiday Homework", a friendship is forged between an old man and a young boy, but there is more than meets the eye.

"There is love here in many forms—filial love, love for her land and its people"

Barua’s writing is simple, yet her stories are skilful. There is love here in many forms—filial love, love for her land and its people—and she delicately handles matters of the heart. Here’s a voice you’ll want to hear more of.

Why you'll love it: The culture and scenic appeal of Assam is brought to life in each story.

Collected Short Stories by Ruskin Bond

The Collected Short Stories by Ruskin Bond book cover

Ruskin Bond is one of India’s most beloved writers, with an oeuvre consisting of more than 500 stories, essays, novellas and novels. No list on writing from the subcontinent can be complete without mentioning him.

This volume brings together stories from near and far—tales from the rails and from the hills that he calls home, stories of the sea and across foreign lands, each simply told but leaving a lasting impression.

Why you'll love it: "The Eyes Have It", about a blind traveller and an unusual entrant into his train compartment. "The Daffodil Case", set in London, features a familiar hunting-cap-wearing, pipe-smoking, inference-making persona.

The Five-Dollar Smile by Shashi Tharoor

The Five-Dollar Smile by Shashi Tharoor book cover

The joke goes that you need a thesaurus to read anything by Shashi Tharoor. Not so in this case, mercifully.

This collection of 14 stories and a play was written by the parliamentarian and former UN under-secretary-general in his adolescence and early adulthood.

"The joke goes that you need a thesaurus to read anything by Shashi Tharoor"

Yet, not one smacks of vacuity. On the contrary, the writing displays a maturity of thought and style, a confidence that results in an enjoyable read time after time and an indication of the gifted storyteller that he has gone on to become.

Why you'll love it: The title story deals with displacement, both geographical and emotional, told from the point of view of a child at the centre of a worldwide humanitarian appeal.

Malgudi Days by RK Narayan

Malgudi Days by RK Narayan book cover

Not all stories need drama, intrigue, romance… sometimes, they appeal purely because of their simplicity. Such is the case with RK Narayan’s collection, set in the fictional town of Malgudi.

Replete with a host of local characters (astrologer, beggar, mailman, doctor and others), they are a portrait of everyday life in small-town India, but Narayan in his introduction writes that the characteristics of Malgudi seem to him universal. “I can detect Malgudi characters even in New York,” he says.

In the 1980s, a few of the stories in the book were made into a TV series and it’s safe to say that an entire generation of Indians grew up on these.

Why you'll love it: "An Astrologer’s Day" was part of my school curriculum. Reading it again let me appreciate the writing in a new light.

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