A note on Indian writing in English, Literary Magazines and Lessons Learnt
This blog post, I hope, will have some takeaways for aspiring writers and readers from India.
It contains my recommendations of books by contemporary Anglophone Indian writers, the role of literary magazines in shaping the careers of new writers in India and lessons I have learnt.
(i) Books by Indian writers in English- Recommendations
I am 24 now.
My reading was restricted to contemporary popular American and British fiction for most of my life. But I did read The Namesake by Indian-American literary author Jhumpa Lahiri and I aspired to be like her. To be able to move NRIs like I had been on reading her work.
I am an Indian, born and raised in Bahrain.
I was in Bangalore for a few years, for higher studies. There I attended many literature fests, panel discussions etc. If not anything else it made me aware of the pulse of Indian writing in English.
India has Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Dutta, Nikita Singh and others who are famous for their love stories. India has also witnessed many good literary writers in the recent years.
Since I did not study literature formally I decided to read contemporary literary fiction by Anglophone Indian writers to learn from their books first-hand.
Some literary Anglophone Indian writing I have read in these past few years:
Window Seat, Janhavi Acharekar
Rebirth, Jahnavi Barua
Next Door: Stories, Jahnavi Barua
No Direction Rome, Kaushik Barua
First Love, Brinda Charry
Lunatic in my head by Anjum Hasan
Neti, neti by Anjum Hasan
If you are afraid of heights, Raj Kamal Jha
The Blue Bedspread, Raj Kamal Jha
Manan, Mohit Parikh
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai
Transit For Beginners, Rheea Mukherjee
Family Life, Akhil Sharma (Indian-American)
Ghachar Ghochar, Vivek Shanbhag (Translation)
Outstanding books from all:
- Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto-
This was a random pick from the Indian fiction section at Blossoms Bookstore, Bangalore. Blossoms sells second hand books of different genres. The cover did play some role in my purchase decision. Loved the novel.
Readers: Do Read for the exquisite prose and throbbing pain of the protagonist who has a mother suffering from mental illness. It is an autobiographical novel.
Writers: The author took many years to arrive at this. This is a lesson for writers who are impatient. If you want to write a novel that matters, do take your time with it. Do not rush into self-publishing your manuscript which is hurriedly written and barely edited.
- Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph–
Again, this was a random pick at Blossoms. Loved it.
Readers: Do Read for the humour, suspense, for the character Ousep Chacko’s pain of losing a child to suicide, brilliant prose and plot. It is a semi-autobiographical novel.
Writers: Want to write a book that has well-written prose and will keep your readers hooked to the plot? This is it.
- Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua–
Again, this was a random pick at Blossoms. Loved it.
Readers: Read for the voice of the narrator/mother, smooth prose, for a glimpse of the life of a North East Indian in Bangalore. Barua is Assamese and so is her protagonist.
Writers: Want to write a story that will make your readers take a breath of relief from this hyperlinked, distracted, impatient world? This is it.
- Family Life by Akhil Sharma–
This I read thanks to all the amazing reviews online and a writer friend’s Goodreads 5 star rating.
Readers: Read for excellent prose, for the protagonist’s pain of having a sibling whose brain damaged. It is an autobiographical novel. It was disturbing for me but the book is worth the pain.
Writers: This book does everything right so you will know what you should never do.
I had attended Toto Funds the Arts 2015 in Bangalore. Mohit won Creative writing in English for his story The stroller in the supermarket. Amazing story. It is published in The Identity Theory.
Readers: Read Manan for the refreshing prose, for an intriguing commentary of growing up in 1990s in India.
Writers: Write what you know.
- No Direction Rome by Kaushik Barua–
Readers: Read for the sheer freshness, humour, experimental prose.
Writers: Risk it and rock it.
- Transit For Beginners by Rheea Mukherjee–
Will discuss in detail below.
- Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag–
This is a translation from Kannada by Srinath Perur.
Readers: Must read for the gripping story about a joint family who doesn’t know how to deal with sudden prosperity, for characters, for smooth prose.
Writers: Awesome prose. You will learn a lot from Shanbhag’s storytelling abilities and Perur’s translation skills.
(ii) Literary Magazines
There a lot of literary magazines in India like Out of Print Magazine, Vayavya, Nether, Antiserious and more. You will find more on Helter Skelter’s list of 20 Places to Submit Creative Writing in India.
The benefits of submitting to literary magazines:
-You can create a network of writer friends who will help you push your limits.
– You will be noticed among the lot of emerging writers but of course that depends on your work also.
– You will learn from the editorial process.
-They will keep you going till you have your debut book published.
The writers whose stories I have read online that make me want to buy their books are Annie Zaidi, Manu Bhattathiri, Jigar Brahmabhatt, Aravind Jayan, Prashila Naik, Arjun Rajendran, Sumana Roy, Nabina Das, Nandini Dhar and more.
The two writers I’m going to discuss in detail today have just published their debut books. Had it not been for literary magazines, I would not have been privy to their awesome prose.
Rheea Mukherjee’s debut short story collection Transit for Beginners was published by Singapore publisher Kitaab recently and Tanuj Solanki’s debut novel Neon Noon was published by Harper Collins India recently.
I had stumbled across Rheea’s short stories online in 2012. I had subscribed to Every Day Fiction. I had liked a few of the stories that I had read on their website so I decided to subscribe. I could unsubscribe anytime, right? Gladly I didn’t before I could read Rheea’s short story Small adjustments. It landed in my inbox on Nov 3, 2012. I loved it. I began tracking the writer’s stories online and each story kept me hooked.
The writer now has her debut collection published. Every story has characters so intriguing that you just cannot put the book down. Favourite stories from the collection are Hungry and Reckless though it is very tough to pick as all are good.
As a writer what I have learnt from her is that one must be patient and always aim higher. With every new piece, one must challenge themselves and never ever give up.
Highlight: She is an MFA graduate but you will find her voice unique, it is not dry at all. Her characters are very Indian and will stay with you for a long time.
The literary magazines she has been published in are Cha, QLRS, Bengal Lights etc.
He has founded The Bombay Literary Magazine. I liked the work he had published so I decided to submit to the magazine. Until then I had only submitted to magazines which have almost 100% acceptance rate. So the editorial process at TBLM helped me a lot as a writer. He provides feedback with rejections.
The first story of his that I came across online was The Bachelor in The Burrow Press Review in 2014. It is now the first chapter of his novel. I could not appreciate it then as my reading had not evolved yet. A year later I read his story The Other Room in One Throne Magazine. It is a long story and I read it without a pause which you know is difficult online with distractions on the Internet and all. It was that interesting, yes. Amazing prose. I later got to know that One Throne has an acceptance rate of under 1%.
Since then I have read most of his stories online and what I have learnt as a writer is that write what you know, be true to yourself and your prose. Quality matters, not quantity.
His novel Neon Noon was recently published.
Highlight: His prose is arresting. His writing is experimental. He has learnt everything by autodidacticism.
The literary magazines he has been published in are The Caravan, The Atticus Review, Identity Theory etc.
These two writers are not just awesome writers but great mentors too. They have contributed a lot to my writing journey. If I ever do publish something worthwhile I owe it to them.
And of course to my friends (writers, non-writers, editors) who beta read my work and make my life so much easier.
(iii) Lessons learnt
– Submit to magazines whose content you like. Where you think your piece might fit.
–Learn from rejections. Being defensive doesn’t help.
–Interact with the writers who have been published in magazines as you. Swap stories and beta read them. Win-win.
–Read a lot. Read analytically. Read for pleasure.
-Write what truly moves you and not what you think might please the reader.
-Always aim to outdo your previous piece. Edit. Edit. Edit.
–Quality is essential. Not quantity. Have I said this enough?
–Do not get carried away by praise. Reserve them for low times but keep the constructive feedback in mind. Always.
-Above all, be patient.
Hope this post helps!
Happy writing and reading!