A reader’s guide to the six books in the running for the Muse India Young Writer Award


Published on 22 November, 2015 in Scroll.in

Meant for writers below 35, the award is helping the discovery of many first or second novels.

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Young writers are almost the default mode of Indian publishing in English. That’s why awards for young writers are always a valuable way to discover new fiction. Here are the six writers – and books – in the running for the Muse India–Satish Verma Young Writer Award, which is given to a writer below 35 years of age for producing an outstanding original work in English, or in English translation from any Indian language. This year, all the contenders are books in English.

The Dove’s Lament, Kirthi Jayakumar
Having worked as a volunteer with the UN agencies and collaborations, Kirthi Jayakumar has had a chance to speak to many victims and survivors of wars, conflicts and trafficking. This very experience forms the genesis of her book The Dove’s Lament, a collection of twelve short stories, each of them recording and reflecting on conflict and violence. While one story brings to life the Rwandan Genocide, another laments the Israel-Palestine conflict. From Baccha Baazi in Afghanistan to child marriages in India, and from suicide bombings in Sri Lanka to the drug trade in Colombia – every theatre is familiar and acts as a reminder of the wrongs that we desperately try to ignore.

The Courtesans of Karim Street, Debotri Dhar
Debotri Dhar with her new book The Courtesans of Karim Street challenges the conventional notion of the term courtesan and gives us two strong, intelligent female characters – Megan and Naina – who shine through the course of history, fiction and mystery. Megan Adams, a professor in the US, receives an anonymous letter stating she’s a whore, not a scholar. She enquires about her dead mother’s past and travels all the way to India to find the answers. Here she meets Naina, the daughter of her mother’s friend, who’s undergoing her own set of trials and tribulations. Together they form a bond of sisterly friendship and attempt to resolve matters of the heart and of the past.

Blue: Tales of Reddumone, the Two-Faced, MR Sharan
Twenty-five-year-old MR Sharan’s ultra-modern take on the Ramayana has everyone talking about him. An economist by profession who harbours a fascination for Indian mythology, he has produced a debut work which plays with philosophy while being grounded in realistic politics. Reddumone is clever, loyal and powerful. He is the perfect Lankan spy. Rama is noble, strong and brave. He is the quintessential king. Paired against the backdrop of gruesome civil wars, their friendship endures the test of ideals and mutual respect.

I Do, Do I?, Ruchita Misra, HarperCollins India
What happens when things fall apart suddenly? Story of most of our lives, isn’t it? Ruchita Misra’s I Do, Do I? has Kasturi Shukla in the limelight, a young lady who is all set to marry the man of her dreams and lead the perfect, happily-married life. But life’s never without hurdles – a messy engagement, a moment of indecision, a hopeful mother-in-law, an angry colleague, and so on. In Misra’s own words, “the book is a masala entertainer and full of hearty laughs with a love story that is full of theatrics.”

The Half Mother, Shahnaz Bashir
Shahnaz Bashir’s first novel The Half Mother is set in 1990s Kashmir, and focuses on the involuntary disappearances of young men during the long war. The story spans three generations in Natipora near Srinagar – there’s Ghulam Rasool Joo, his daughter Haleema, and her teenage son Imran. One night, Imran is mistaken for a separatist and picked up by the Army, and so begins Haleema’s search for him. She battles not for her own lonely existence, but for answers about her son. She visits torture camps, jails, and even morgues to find a trace of Imran. She hopes for a sign, a clue, that’ll lead her to him. The valley of Kashmir has so many untold stories; The Half Mother is just one of those.

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
The story is about a woman named Rupi in Kadamdihi, a Santhal village in Jharkhand, who was once known to be the strongest woman in the village. She is now found bed-ridden, rotting away under the influence of a mysterious disease given to her by Gurubari, the wife of her husband’s best friend. Rumour has it that Gurubari has used witchcraft to ruin Rupi’s health. The novel travels through the life of the Baskey family and unveils notions of good and evil in the village life.

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