The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri (fiction)
Vishnu, the odd-job man in a Bombay apartment block, lies dying on the staircase landing: Around him the lives of the apartment dwellers unfold: the warring housewives on the first floor, lovesick teenagers on the second, and the widower, alone and quietly grieving on the top floor of the building. In a fevered state Vishnu looks back on his love affair with the seductive Padmini and wonders if he might actually be the god Vishnu, guardian of the entire universe.
Blending incisive comedy with Hindu mythology and a dash of Bollywood sparkle, ‘The Death of Vishnu’ is an intimate and compelling view of an unforgettable world.
First line: ‘Not wanting to arouse Vishnu in case he hadn’t died yet, Mrs.Asrani tiptoed down to the third step above the landing on which he lived, teakettle in hand.’
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry (fiction)
The setting is Bombay, mid-1990s. Nariman Vakeel, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, is the elderly patriarch of a small, discordant family. He and his two middle-aged stepchildren- Coomy, bitter and domineering, and her brother Jal, mild-mannered and acquiescent, occupy a once-elegant apartment whose ruin progresses as rapidly as Nariman’s disease.
When his illness is compounded by a broken ankle, Coomy plots to turn his round-the-clock care over to her younger, sweet-tempered half sister - living with her husband and two sons in an already over-crowded apartment - knowing that Roxana will not refuse. What ensues is a great unraveling, and repair, of the family, and a revelation of its love-torn past.
First line: ‘A splash of light from the late afternoon sun lingered at the foot of Nariman’s bed as he ended his nap and looked towards the clock.’
The Snake Charmer by Sanjay Nigam (fiction)
The Snake Charmer tells the story of Sonalal, a middle-age snake charmer making a living with his been pipe and his beloved cobra, Raju. Despite his great skills, Sonalal’s drinking and womanizing seem to have marked him for a life of insignificance.
But that all changes one remarkable afternoon when he produces music so beautiful he is certain the gods must be listening. In a moment that will change his life forever, Raju bites Sonalal, and Sonalal bites back, destroying the one creature who loves him. The Snake Charmer traces Sonalal’s bumpy journey through brief celebrity, profound remorse, and a quest for answers to unanswerable questions of love, life, and art.
First line: ‘Some lifetimes seem to hinge on a single day, and for Sonalal today was that day.’
The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami (fiction)
In a small, dusty Indian town near the Bay of Bengal, a middle-aged man lives in his crumbling ancestral home, uncomfortably aware of the encroaching modern world.
Sripathi Rao’s life hasn’t turned out the way he thought it would: his job as a copywriter is unrewarding; his old widowed mother nags him; his unmarried forty-one-year-old sister is on the verge of sexual combustion; his only son resists gainful employment; and his silently resentful wife blames him for the estrangement of their daughter, who lives in Canada.
Then tragedy strikes: Sripathi’s daughter and her husband have been killed in a car accident. Their seven-year-old child, Nandana, is about to become Sripathi’s reluctant ward. Yet Nandana has never met her grandfather, has never been to India, and hasn’t spoken a word since the tragedy. When Sripathi brings Nandana to India, life suddenly changes for everyone in the family, and the worn threads of Sripathi’s world begin to unravel. Small, silent Nandana may be the one person who can bring harmony into the house and hope back into her grandfather’s life.
First Line: ‘It was only five o’clock on a July morning in Toturpuram and already every trace of night had disappeared.’