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A happy beginning for short stories?
Dibyajyoti Sarma | Saturday, 27 February 2016 AT 08:20 PM IST
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The genre of short stories is picking up in the Indian publishing industry after seeing a decline in the 1980s. We track the trend...

Can we ever discuss Indian writing without the quaint charm of RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days or Ruskin Bond’s Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra? Short stories are a legitimate genre in India since modern writing was introduced in the 19th century. In regional writing, the short story is a respectable genre, which has both market and readership. For example, every literate Maharashtrian person has read at least one story by the great G A Kulkarni. Examples abound in other regional writing too like Rabindranath Tagore’s The Hungry Stone, Premchand’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s The Laughing Wooden Doll, Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi, Saddat Hasan Manto’s Toba Tek Singh and Ismat Chughtai’s Lihaaf.

In English language, however, the genre went into decline after Salman Rushdie put Indian literature on the world map with Midnight’s Children in 1980s. The novels, since then, have been the raison d’être of Indian publishers in English. There were exceptions like Khushwant Singh’s A Bride for the Sahib, but those were few and far between.

The winds of change began to blow with the publication of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. The Pulitzer Prize, which the collection won in 2000, was a shot in the arm for the genre. Aravind Adiga too published a short story collection Between the Assassinations after his Booker Prize for The White Tiger in 2008.

This year, two of the best-reviewed books were Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s The Adivasi will not Dance and Mahesh Rao’s One Point Two Billion. Shekhar’s short stories focus on tribal characters from Jharkhand. Each of Rao’s stories is set in a different Indian state, from Assam to Delhi. The title refers to the Indian population.

Kanishk Tharoor, the talented son of Shashi Tharoor, was the toast of Jaipur Literature Festival this year. His Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories, received enthusiastic reviews even before its release.

Now for some good news. In 2014,  David Davidar, the co-founder of Aleph Book Company edited A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories from the 19th Century to the Present. Now, Aleph is coming out with Arunava Sinha’s translations of The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told. And, Ashok Srinivasan’s The Book of Common Signs, a collection of 13 stories, which won the 2014 The Hindu Literary Award gives hope to every debutant author.

The other titles to watch out for in the recent years include Palash Krishna Mehrotra’s Eunuch Park, Anjum Hasan’s Difficult Pleasures and Manjul Bajaj’s Another Man’s Wife, among others. What does that signal for the novel? Last heard, each chapter of Siddharth Chowdhury’s The Patna Manual of Style was written to be read as a standalone story, before collected as a novel! The story continues...

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