Indian Storytellers

From the Puranas to Mrs. Funnybones

India’s tryst with stories goes back into the mists of time when stories were told but not written. I grew up with stories from the Aithihyamala and Panchatantra. I remember chortling with glee along with Naranathu Bhranthan as the gigantic rock he’d pushed up the hill came tumbling all the way down. I was too young to understand the philosophical significance of these stories back then, but they seeped into my consciousness. These stories would whisper to me in my grandparent’s voice whenever I felt down and needed a moral compass or a helping hand.

In the recent past, talented authors like M.T. Vasudevan Nair and S.L. Bhyrappa got us thinking with their retelling of the epics. Their acclaimed works like Randamoozham (translated to English as Bhima) and Parva are thought provokers with an emphasis on the human elements of the Mahabharata.

We’ve been similarly blessed with literary geniuses across our 23 official Indian languages. It would be a herculean task to talk about our literary wealth in all the regional languages. So, I’ve decided to give Indian English writing a whirl—starting with a few popular authors.

Can one talk about storytelling without mentioning the great Rabindranath Tagore? The answer is a resounding no!  Tagore’s Gitanjali earned him the coveted Nobel Prize. These are beautiful poems that read like conversations with God. Like the Biblical Hymns of David, but without the religious connotation. His works also include short stories such as Kabuliwala and Atithi, and novels like Chaturanga and Ghare Baire.

R.K Narayan’s novels and short stories initiated the average Indian into the world of English stories.

I was so enthralled with the happenings in Malgudi that I thought that it was a real village in Karnataka. While Malgudi days is by far his most popular work, I have found his versions of the epics beautiful in the telling. You can find all of them bundled into The Indian Epics Retold: The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, Gods Demons and Others.

Kushwant Singh’s, Train to Pakistan (adapted into a movie in 1998) is a poignant retelling of the story of the partition of India and Pakistan. Singh’s account of the human loss and horror involved in the partition, is an essential read for anyone wanting to explore Indian culture and history.

Ruskin Bond won our hearts with the adventures of Rusty in The Room with the Roof. He’s since then entertained us with many heartwarming stories like The Blue Umbrella and A Flight of Pigeons.

 The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is a refreshing take on the class disparities in contemporary India.

Kiran Desai’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Inheritance of Loss, is described as “a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom”. Anita Nair is another versatile Indian author. Her Ladies Coupe delves into the trials and tribulations of the contemporary Indian woman.

If you are in need of a pick-me-up, try one of Sudha Murty’s books. These stories are inspirational and heartwarming. A personal favourite is the collection of 11 short stories titled, Three Thousand Stitches. On the other hand, for laughter and uplifting your mood, try Anuja Chauhan. The Zoya Factor and The Battle of Bittora are absolute riots with their comic take on romance, cricket, politics, and life in general.

Chetan Bhagat, Amish, Devdutt Pattanaik – the list goes on and I find myself hard-pressed on where to stop!

But, are authors of literary works the only storytellers?

Theatre is one of the most vibrant and interactive forms of storytelling. Playwrights like Girish Karnad, Vikay Tendulkar and Badal Sarkar have made us proud by taking Indian theater to the world stage.

India has laughed and cried along with the creations of master storytellers like Javed Aktar, Imtiaz Ali and Satyajit Ray on the silver screen. Let’s not forget Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas and Parineeta.

Shobha De’s and Twinkle Khanna’s columns are not fictional, but they definitely have a storytelling feel to them. Twinkle Khanna’s collection of columns, “Mrs Funnybones” is certainly worth a read. 

I leave you with stories of these storytellers in the hope that you’ll sample their stories as you go. Enjoy!

Storytelling is indeed well and alive in India. From the ancient tales told around campfires to the modern-day boardroom tales narrated to draw in the VCs, the argumentative Indian is also a great storyteller. At Clearly Blue, we pride ourselves on telling authentic tales for our customers, their products and services. Let us know if we can spin an engaging yarn for you!

More Suggested Reads… 
R. K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends
R.K Narayan’s The Guide
Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace
Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance
Anita Desai’s The Clear Light of Day
Sudha Murty’s Mahashweta
Amish’s The Immortals of Meluha
Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy 
Ravi Subramaniam’s The Bankster

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