Fictional Indian Detectives

By Mehar Dhillon

Illustration: Arijit Dutta Chowdhury

Stories like that of Feluda, Byomkesh Bakshi, Kakababu and Gogol, satiate our innate curiosity and thrill-seeking nature. Following the mystery closely as it unravels page by page, the gnawing apprehension that grows with each chapter, expecting a certain resolution only for it to be turned on its head and the attachments we form with the Sherlocks and Watsons of these stories. This exhilaration is a feeling unique to the established genre and is the everlasting allure of detective stories. 

Celebrated writer and filmmaker, Satyajit Ray’s genius truly shines through in Feluda. His clear cut writing style allows for easy digestion of the story thus, clearly communicating the story to the readers and making it more effective. There’s a subtle charm in his writing style that twinkles through how he portrays the thoughts of the characters within the story and the short and concise details that are scattered throughout his writing. Satyajit Ray was a crime fiction enthusiast and his story, Feluda, was inspired by that of Sherlock Holmes. 

The story follows the Bengali private detective, Feluda and his gripping adventures as a detective. Feluda’s sharp observations, humorous quips and complexities immediately captivate the reader and keep them hooked to the story. Slowly, you find yourself becoming invested in the story and the various intriguing characters like Topshe, Jatayu, Sidhu Jetha and many more.

In 1932, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay created one of the most beloved and enduring pieces of Bengali fiction. Several generations have closely followed and continue to follow the story of Byomkesh Bakshi, the truth seeker. 

Illustration: Ritika Dureja

Set in Calcutta under the rule of the Raj, the story follows the razor-sharp detective, Byomkesh Bakshi accompanied by his chronicler friend Ajit and the menagerie of mysteries they take upon themselves to untangle. From investigating the disappearance of a priceless necklace in The Jewel Case to discerning the pattern behind the bizarre roadside murders in the Gramophone Pin Mystery, the character of Byomkesh Bakshi completely enthrals us. 

Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Kakababu follows the story of Raja Roy Chowdhury and his sleuthing. Sunil Gangopadhyay has managed to skillfully flesh out the character of Raja Roy, also known as Kakababu. Despite losing his leg while trying to save his friend, Kamal and often finding himself in dangerous situations as a detective, Kakababu’s will to continue with his adventures never wavers. A trustworthy and intelligent character, his expertise is sought after by the Indian Intelligence. Kakababu’s perseverance and resourcefulness, despite losing his leg, demonstrates his mental fortitude and helps propagate the idea that we as individuals are not limited or defined by our disabilities but are the sum total of so much more. 

Gogol’s name, given to him by his father, is one that was born out of love for the prolific writer Nikolai Gogol. The story follows the child prodigy Gogol and his many sleuthing escapades, an absolute hit with child readers. Samaresh Basu has managed to craft one of the most lovable characters in the world of detectives through the inquisitive and childlike Gogol. He managed to perfect the balance between Gogol’s relatability as a child and his extraordinary life due to his prodigious nature in order to ensure that his children reading his stories don’t feel alienated or intimidated by the young detective. Gogol’s story appeals to the uncomplicated world of children and continues to entertain and amuse generations of adolescents. 

Crime fiction isn’t restricted to old brooding men with conservative personalities, but is an imaginative genre that houses some of the most popular and multifaceted characters in the world of fiction. From the adult world of consequences of Byomkesh Bakshi to the uncomplicated and safe world of Gogol, the genre of crime fiction continues to expand and become more versatile. In our dogged pursuit of deadlines, our minds can no longer afford to complete puzzles and our growing tendency to avoid mental labour at every turn, has stunted our curiosity and drive to understand and learn. The crime fiction genre requires and encourages the reader to pay more attention to the little details, to linger on those unfinished ideas and piece together conclusions born of mental labour. The crime genre has and continues to give us enthralling stories and characters to grow up with and to pass on to the coming generations.

The Miraculous Conch

Once there lived an old man who was poor but generous. He lived in a small hut with his cat and dog. One night, a weary traveller knocked at his door, asking for some food. The old man didn’t have much but he gave away whatever food he had, including the dry chapatis kept for the dog and the cat, to the stranger. The stranger ate every last morsel, and then asked if he could rest there for the night. The old man offered his bed to the traveller and slept on the floor with his hungry companions.

Refreshed by the night’s meal and rest, the grateful traveller left the old man a parting gift – a conch.

“Drop the conch into your pot the next time you cook rice,” he explained. 

Though confused, the old man did not question it. The cat, on the other hand, was annoyed.

“What’s the use of a conch? Now if it had been money, our master could have fed us. We haven’t eaten since yesterday!” he grumbled.

That afternoon, the old man decided to test the stranger’s gift. As soon as he did, a delicious aroma rose from the pot of rice! The scent wafted far and wide, attracting many people. When they asked to have some, the old man could not deny them. However, a massive number of people had lined up.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Luis Fernandes

“I can only give each of them a few grains, or the pot will be empty before I know it!”

Thinking so, the old man began serving a small morsel each. The hungry cat was irked by his master’s kindness.

“Well, looks like we will be going hungry again,” he said to the dog.

Even if he was hungry himself, the dog didn’t say a thing. He liked that his master was a kind man.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Luis Fernandes

When the old man had finished serving all of them, he noticed that the pot was far from empty! So he offered all of them second helpings. Still, the pot was quite full. Once his guests had had their fill, he fed his companions.

“Here you go, I’m sorry you had to starve last night. Now that we have this conch, it will never happen again!”

The cat’s ears perked up at that.

“You hear that, dog, never again!” he rejoiced.

Every day, the old man cooked his “special” rice and people flocked to his hut for a share. Soon, there were so many that he started to charge them a small price for the rice, which the people were happy to pay. The cat and dog too had become fat with all the food they were eating, without doing any work.

Days and weeks passed this way. One morning, the old man’s first customers were some travellers. They bought a lot of rice from him and packed it to take it with them for the journey. Later, as he served more customers, he noticed that the rice was depleting! He ladled out more rice to see if his eyes were being deceived but the rice was indeed decreasing. Panicked, he began looking for the conch in the pot. It was nowhere to be found.

“Oh no! I must have given it to the travellers!” he thought.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Luis Fernandes

He rushed out, hoping that they hadn’t gone too far. The cat and dog looked on, wondering what was wrong. Seeing his master so worried, the dog chased behind him. Upon seeing the dog, the master directed him to find the travellers. They searched the whole village but there seemed to be no trace of them.

“Our good days are over. I’ll never see that conch again,” the old man lamented.

When they returned home empty-handed, the cat demanded to know what happened.

 “The conch is lost. Master thinks it went with the travellers’ food,” he said. 

The cat was aghast at the thought of starving again. The villagers, too, wondered why the old man had stopped cooking his delicious rice. Some of them went to enquire about it. When they heard the old man mumble about a lost conch in response, they worried that he was going mad. Soon, the news of his madness spread and everyone that once flocked there began to avoid his hut.

In the beginning, the old man had enough money from the business to feed himself and his companions. As the money ran short, he began serving less food. The cat was grumpy again.

“See how little we got today. Tomorrow, it will be lesser.”

The dog was annoyed by the cat’s tirade.

“It’s no use complaining. He feeds us before he feeds himself, it’s time we did something to help our master.”

 

“Well, what do you suggest?” the cat asked.

 

“We could look for the conch. If we find it, all our problems will be solved!”

 

“The conch?! Who knows where it is? That is so much work,” the cat whined.

 

“Do you have a better idea? If not, we are going to go with this plan,” the dog said finally.

Having no other choice, the cat unhappily complied.

Together, they reached the river across which they suspected the travellers had gone. The cat couldn’t swim, so he climbed onto the dog’s back and they crossed the river and went on to sniff every house in the village until they were met with the aroma of the special rice from a house. They entered the house and followed the scent, which led them to a locked trunk.

“Well, we can’t break into that, can we?” asked the cat. 

 

“Well, it depends,” the dog said. “Can you catch a mouse?”

The cat took up this challenge. As soon as he spotted a rat, he pounced on it and clutched it in his paw. “Please spare me!” the rat begged. “We will let you go if you do as told,” said the dog. The dog then asked the rat to gnaw at the trunk and bring the conch out to them. As soon as the rat pushed out the conch, the owner of the house stepped in. He was about to chase the animals away when he noticed that the dog had the conch in his mouth! 

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Luis Fernandes

“Hey, you pests! Drop that conch right away!” he yelled after them.

When the villagers heard the ruckus and came out, he told them to follow them too.

“Those two entered my house and took my conch! Catch them!” 

The villagers chased after them but the duo dodged them and reached the river.

To cross the river, the dog asked the cat to hold the conch in his mouth and climb onto the dog’s back. As they began swimming, some villagers nearby looked at them and started laughing. Hearing them laugh, the cat laughed along with his mouth wide open. The conch fell into the river. “Oh, stupid cat!” the dog said, as he dived in to find the conch. The cat, not expecting the fall, almost drowned, for he could not swim. Somehow, he beat his legs wildly and reached the other side. He decided that he would not go home, for the dog would blame him for the conch. Thinking so, he climbed into a tree and hid in a hollow.

Meanwhile, the dog was unable to find the conch. Dejected, he swam ashore and returned home. Seeing the dog alone, the old man thought that the cat had found a new home, one that could feed him.

Several days passed. The man and the dog hadn’t eaten anything. Desperate, the dog decided to go to the river and see if he could get a fish from a fisherman. The fisherman had had a good day, so he threw a big fish to the dog to take home to his master. The pleased dog took it back to the master. The old man was delighted with the catch and decided to cook the fish. As he cleaned the fish, he felt something firm inside. When he cut it open, it was the lost conch! Overjoyed, he hugged his dog and told him that the conch had returned. The dog felt proud of himself.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Luis Fernandes

The next day, the scent of the rice wafted through the village again. As usual, people flocked to the man’s hut to buy rice. The cat, too, smelled the familiar aroma. He sneaked back into the house, purring at his master’s feet.

“Oh, it’s you. Welcome home,” the master remarked, serving him a ladle of rice.

The dog looked at the cat questioningly.

Feeling his eyes, the cat said, “I felt so homesick, I just had to come home.”

 

The dog huffed, knowing the truth. “Don’t lie to me, cat, I know you smelled the rice.”

The cat, the dog and their kind master lived happily ever after, never losing the magic conch again.

Read more folktales of India in our title Legend and Lore, available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.

The Evolution of Indian Theatre

By Mehar Dhillon

A familiar definition of theatre is that it is a deliberate performance created by live actors and intended for a live audience, typically making use of scripted language. It initially began around the 15th century BCE, as a way to aid ritualistic practices. Evidence of this is present in Vedic texts, as dramas were enacted during Yajna ceremonies. However, the origins of Indian Theatre, to date, are the subject of dispute and debate. Though, it is widely believed that the art form finds its origins in Sanskrit drama and the works of Bhasa, Kalidasa, Shudraka, Vishakhadatta, Bhavabhutti and Harsha. Sanskrit drama’s golden period began in the 2nd century BCE and its end in the 10th century CE was marked by several foreign invasions and rulers that banned this art form, thus causing its decline. The essence of Sanskrit theatre, however, continued to live on in the southern part of India, especially in the form of Koodiyattam.

Following the decline of Sanskrit theatre, folk theatre emerged in the 15th century AD. We had the Jatra in Bengal and Orissa, Bhavai in Gujarat, Nautanki in Uttar Pradesh, Tamasha in Maharashtra, Ankiya Naat in Assam and Yakshagana in Karnataka.

Radical changes in Indian theatre took place in the 17th century AD with the arrival of Britishers in India. The East India Company’s presence in Calcutta had a dramatic effect on Indian theatre and plays. They brought with them their own dramas and introduced ways through which theatre’s production value could be dramatically increased, such as the use of intricate sets and special costumes. Theatre groups took to adapting the works of Shakespeare, Brecht and Lessing for the entertainment of the growing urban and working classes. The effects of industrialization brought about a rise in urban entertainment and people flocked from all over to view these performances in Calcutta. This allowed for the Parsi theatre, a term used to describe an influential theatre tradition presented by Parsis, to flourish during this time. It employed captivating music, dance and drama in a very theatrical manner, making the viewing experience a very enriching one. A new method of performing plays surfaced in Maharashtra. Kathakars and kirtankars began singing certain parts of the story and dialogue in an attempt to enhance the performance and succeeded greatly. Annasaheb Kirloskar was a pioneer of this field, being the first musical dramatist. This era of musicals in Maharashtra was known as the Gandharva period. 

Indian Theatre
Illustration: Mehar Dhillon

Indian theatre slowly started to branch out to involve literary drama, as the demand for it began to increase. Playwrights like Rabindranath Tagore helped in the advancement of literary drama greatly. Tagore masterfully melded Eastern and Western story elements in his work in order to create compelling and genius plays. His play Chitrangada was so successful that it was performed internationally. 

With the arrival of the talkies era in Hindi cinema in the 1930s, the theatre was pushed into the background. It was in the 1950s, post-independence, when its popularity was restored through the efforts of many experimental and mainstream theatre artists and the Indian People’s Theatre Association. 

In Bengal and parts of Kerala, the leftist movement was taking place and thus, the theatre was transformed into a political tool. Utpal Dutt, a pioneering figure in Modern Indian Theatre, enacted many plays such as Kallol, Manushar Adhikar, Tiner Talwar, Louha Manob and Maha-Bidroha which were soaked in Marxism. 

In 1962, Ebrahim Alkazi took over The National School of Drama as its director. Alkazi recognized the responsibility the director and actors involved in theatre shouldered as the interpreters of their time and how it was imperative that they brought insight and awareness to the text, in order to make it relevant to a contemporary audience. He implemented a systematic and practical manner in which the persons involved in the theatre were to conduct their practice. This helped improve the overall structure of the play and made the communication of the story much more effective and meaningful. While the National School of Drama was undergoing a dramatic shift under the direction of Alkazi, an unprecedented exchange of regional dramas was taking place throughout the country. Figures like Vijay Tendulkar and Mohan Rakesh contributed heavily to this exchange. The regional theatre was no longer limited to its area of origin and the gaps between separate regions, in the context of plays, was beginning to be bridged. Young directors and actors of this time like Vijaya Mehta began to rise in popularity during this period. Vijaya Mehta’s plays managed to skillfully and beautifully portray the complexities and subtleties of human nature and the connections we make with each other. 

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was a patron of the arts and contributed heavily towards its development and enrichment. He established national art academies all over the country, that were geared towards refining, nurturing and preserving the arts. Institutions such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi provided many successful theatre artists with the space to refine their skills and add to the theatre scene of India. 

Television has always challenged the survival of live theatre. Indian dramatist Badal Sircar propagated the idea of a flexible, portable and inexpensive theatre, which allowed for freedom from costly paraphernalia such as the sound equipment, auditorium and so on. Sircar’s practice of this idea for 15 years proved that voluntary donation provided by even the poorest community sufficed. He stated that not only did his theatre survive but it thrived.

Indian theatre has transformed from being restricted to ritualistic practices that took place only in palaces to a versatile and mammoth art form that has influenced masses over the ages and is performed in the biggest live theatres and on the simplest of streets. Indian Theatre has existed from the first millennium BCE, constantly evolving and progressing. As long as the human race exists, this cherished art form will continue to thrive.

Sudha Murty Books We Love

By Bhumishtha Bhadsavle

“Doing what you like is freedom, liking what you do is happiness.” – Sudha Murty

An engineering teacher by profession and a writer at heart, Sudha Murty is one of the foremost Indian writers of the 21st century. She has won a number of awards along with the title of Padma Shri for her notable work in Kannada, Marathi and English literature. As a versatile writer, Sudha Murty has written fictional and semi-autobiographical books that give us a broader idea about her views on hospitality, Indian culture and her never-ending love for her family.

Sudha Murty’s stories reflect her simplicity and kindness. Her books keep her readers engaged, making her one of India’s most loved writers. Here are some of our favourite stories by Sudha Murty.

Sudha Murty Quote
Illustration: Anvita Tekriwal
How I Taught My Grandmother to Read

This book by Sudha Murty is semi-autobiographical and is a collection of 25 short stories. Each story inspires its readers to believe in themselves and to be courageous enough to live their dreams.

The title story is about a 12-year-old granddaughter (Murty herself), who taught her grandmother, Krishtakka, to read Kannada. Murty used to narrate a story called ‘Kashi Yatre’ from her favourite weekly magazine to her grandmother. Once, she couldn’t do so for a week. When she returned home, she saw her grandmother crying because she could not read a single word of the story. That’s when the young girl decided that she would teach her grandmother to read and challenged themselves by setting a deadline.

Krishtakka, being hardworking, learnt Kannada before the deadline. She then touched her granddaughter’s feet as a gesture of respect and gave her a gift. In return, she handed her grandmother a book. There is great virtue in seeing how Krishtakka respects her teacher, age and relation notwithstanding.

The Bird with Golden Wings

This collection of 21 stories by Sudha Murty is full of magic and wit. In some of these stories, she portrays the concept of bad karma. Most of these stories revolve around the belief of “What you sow, so shall you reap”.

‘The Bird with Golden Wings’ is the eighth story of the collection. It is a tale that tells us how greed is a wrong way of life, and about the importance of kindness.

Sudha Murty Books
Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team
The Upside-down King

This book narrates a few unusual and rare tales from the lives of Rama and Krishna, the most well-known of Vishnu’s avatars.

The title story talks about King Satyavarta, who wished to go against the rules of nature to ascend to heaven in his human form. Conflict ensues, and the king gets stuck between heaven and earth! Sudha Murty’s story delves into the state of King Satyavrata when stuck between the two worlds.

Sudha Murty’s symbolism and connections are what make her storytelling so impactful. The stories are told in such a way that even a modern and disconnected will be drawn to it, thus effectively bringing Indian readers back to their roots.

How the Sea Became Salty

This one takes us back to a time when people could drink seawater, as it was said to be sweet. Murty is adept at incorporating wit and magic to fashion a tale that teaches her young readers the importance of not being greedy.

The story is about two characters, Leela and her husband Keshav, who steal a magical fan that grants them whatever they want. The couple promptly wished for salt, but not knowing how to stop the magic, thousands of salt bags fell into the sea and made it salty!

Every story of Murty’s conveys a life lesson in the most convincing manner. These simple yet inspirational stories are enjoyable reads for young minds.

The Magic of the Lost Temple

‘The Magic of the Lost Temple’ is a book that beautifully caters to the imagination of children. It consists of everything they love – folktales, vacations as well as magic, friendship and amazing grandparents!

The story is about a young girl named Nooni, whose curiosity is aroused by the story of a step-well that was lost in the forest. Her journey of discovering this mysterious well is one filled with adventure and keeps the young reader engaged.

The book is a great way to encourage children to have a relationship with nature, and take care of the plants and animals around them.

Profile: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay

By Srinidhi Murthy

A small boy from Bengal wasn’t able to attend college due to financial constraints,  nevertheless, he continued to believe in his dreams. He struggled and overcame all the hardships that life threw at him and became an iconic writer whose works had been adapted in multiple languages all over India.  Most Indian movie buffs would easily recall characters like Devdas and Parineeta which are Bollywood adaptations from this genius’s vast literary work. This storyteller was Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.  

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
Illustration: ACK Design Team

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay was born on September 15, 1876, in a small village in West Bengal to Motilal Chattopadhyay and Bubanmohini Debi. He studied in a village school and was known as a bright student. Though he wasn’t able to continue his education further, Sarat, in his teenage years, started writing several short stories and plays including some bestsellers such as Kashinath and Korel. He adopted the pseudonym St. C. Lara. During this period, he was fascinated by the writings of Charles Dickens and Henry Wood. 

Later, Sarat worked as a government clerk in Rangoon (present Yangon) to provide financial assistance to his family. However, he continued to write profusely and the writer in him blossomed. He published the short story named Mandir which gave him the prestigious Kuntalin Puraskar. Some of his finest works like, Ramer Sumoti, Bindur Chhele, Narir Mulyo and Charitraheen were written during this period. He portrayed women as strong characters. He also took it upon himself to teach his wife to read and write. This task further enhanced his own creativity.

 When he returned to Bengal in 1916, Sarat started writing for various Bengali magazines using the pseudonym Anila Devi. During this time, Sisir Kumar Bhaduri who was considered a theatrical genius adapted his work, Shoroshi for the theatre and it became a huge hit. Following this success, Sisir Kumar directed Andhare Alo for the movie adaptation.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay Books
Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

 It was the novel Devdas published in 1917 that became an important milestone in the life of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay as it became very successful on-screen too.  It was first released as a silent movie in 1928.  Then it was adapted twenty times on-screen in different languages. The irony was that though Sarat Chandra himself did not consider Devdas as his best work, it brought him the limelight he deserved and made him known and appreciated all over India. His novels, such as Parineeta and Pandit Moshai were later adapted into movies. 

Chattopadhyay’s portrayal of strong women characters in his novels also made him famous as a crusader for the cause of women. He wrote two significant essays on women emancipation, Narir Mulya and Swaraj Sadhonay Nari. His book Pather Dabi was about a fictional superhero-esque character fighting against the atrocities of British. It was, of course, banned by the British Government and the ban was lifted only a year after his demise.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay died on January 16, 1938, at the age of sixty-one. Though his books were written in Bengali, his words and character reached people all over India. He created a major impact in the minds of his readers and is still being remembered for his contribution to Indian literature.

Indian Literary Awards List

Awards are given not only to honour the artist but also the hard work and dedication he or she has shown. Every artist uses a form of art to give an expression to his or her thoughts and ideas and also to convey the same to others.  In that context, words play an important role in impacting a person’s outlook towards life. They have the power to take a person on a journey to a world that is different from their current reality.

Literary awards are a popular way of acknowledging meritorious works of literature and their authors. They often bring talented authors into the spotlight and inspire people to read new books. The awards mentioned below are some of the most prestigious ones in India and are conferred on significant works of literature in the Indian languages.

Jnanpith Award

The Jnanpith Award is the highest literary award bestowed upon Indian authors who have contributed to Indian literature in any of the official Indian languages and made it richer. Conceived in 1961 by Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain of the Times of India group, the first recipient of the award was G. Sankara Kurup in 1965 for his Malayalam work Otakuzhal. The winner gets a statue of the Goddess Saraswati, along with a cash prize of INR eleven lakh. As of 2020, there have been sixty recipients of the award. The most recent awardee is Mr Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri for his work in Malayalam.

Sahitya Akademi
Image: Wikipedia

The Sahitya Akademi Award honours outstanding works of literature published in any of the twenty-four Indian languages, including English. The Sahitya Akademi was formally inaugurated by the Government of India in 1954, and the first award was given in 1955. The award comprises of a plaque designed by the eminent filmmaker Satyajit Ray and a cash prize of INR one lakh. The library of the Sahitya Akademi is one of the largest multilingual libraries in India as it contains a rich collection of books written by various talented authors.

Rabindra Puraskar

Established in the year 1950, the Rabindra Puraskar is the highest honorary literary award given in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is named after Rabindranath Tagore and is awarded by the Government of West Bengal under the aegis of the Paschimbanga Bangla Academy. The award is given for creative literary works, non-fiction, and books about Bengal in Bengali as well as other languages. For the first few decades, Rabindra Puraskar was bestowed upon a writer for his or her outstanding work. However, from 2006, the award committee started conferring this award based on lifetime contribution in the literary field.

Yuva Puraskar
Image: Wikipedia

Yuva Puraskar, popularly known as The Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar is a literary honour that the Sahitya Akademi confers annually on young writers with outstanding work in one of the twenty-four major Indian languages. Initiated in 2011, the award recognizes writers under the age of 35 and includes a cash prize of fifty thousand rupees and an engraved copper plaque.

JCB Prize for Literature

Established in 2018, JCB Prize for Literature recognizes distinguished works of fiction in English and also translated fiction by an Indian author. JCB Prize for Literature consists of a cash prize worth twenty-five lakh. Founded by the construction behemoth JCB, aims to enhance the prestige of literary achievement in India and also to create greater visibility for contemporary Indian writing. As of 2020, eleven authors have been honoured with this award for their work.

Hindu Literary Prize

The Hindu Best Fiction Award or The Hindu Literary Prize, as it is popularly called, is a literary award sponsored by The Hindu Literary Review. One of the most respected literary prizes in India, this prize was founded in 2010 to commemorate twenty years of The Hindu Literary Review. From 2018, a non-fiction category was included, along with the fiction category, to recognize the extraordinary works of Indian writers in English and also for the translation of literature into other regional languages into English.

Biography: Akbarnama

By Srinidhi Murthy

Cover: Amazon | Illustration: ACK Design Team

It is a widely known fact that the Mughal Emperor Akbar was illiterate, but scholars flourished during his reign. It is fascinating to note that at the time of his death, in 1605, the imperial library of Akbar contained twenty thousand volumes. This was mainly because of Akbar’s interest in gaining knowledge and his enthusiasm in surrounding himself with wise men who provided him with the knowledge that he failed to gain through formal education.

Scholars at the court of Akbar
Illustration: P.B. Kavadi

Akbar’s capabilities as a ruler were exemplified by people he surrounded himself with. Among these were notable administrators like Man Singh, Khwaja Mansur, Amir Fathullah Shirazi, Todar Mal, and students like Nizam-ud-din Bakhshi. He also had the first Grand Mufti of India, an Islamic scholar, a historian and translator, Abdul Qadir Badayuni in his court. Akbar’s ingenious minister, Raja Todar Mal, introduced the Patwari system which is employed even in modern India.

Akbarnama, written by a learned courtier of Akbar, Abul Fazl, describes the increase of literature during the reign of Akbar. Abul Fazl served as the court chronicler at the Mughal court and also a personal confidant of Akbar. Subjects of intellect and philosophy were encouraged with a rise of students who migrated from Persia to the court of Akbar. Abul Fazl’s elder brother, Faizi, was also a distinguished scholar who gave more expression to his feelings in the first Qasida – an Arabic poem, which he wrote in praise of Akbar. Scholars from Samarkand and Bukhara encouraged the study of logic. Thanks to the efforts of those scholars, and also the interest Akbar displayed, the spread of education saw a brand-new footing in Mughal India.

Translation of Akbar’s favourite books
Illustration: P.B. Kavadi | Script: Toni Patel

Akbarnama narrates that emperor Akbar immensely enjoyed listening to for stories across genres. He had a personal storyteller who would entertain him using various voice modulations and hand gestures. Akbar enjoyed taking note of these stories. He got numerous books translated and closely supervised and cross-checked the translations of the texts. He was so particular at it that he even berated courtier Badayuni once for changing the meaning of the initial text and interpreting the message suitable to his understanding.

Akbar cherished stories of various religions, from the tales of Amir Hamzah, uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, to the greatest epic, the Mahabharata. He had also asked the Jesuit priests, who were present at his court, to figure out the Persian translation of the life story of Jesus Christ. The book was called Mirat al-Quds, which means the Mirror of Holiness. Akbar’s library contained many Persian translations including the Mahabharatha, the Bhagavata Purana, Stories from the Panchatantra, and Harivamsha.

The flourishing of learning centres 
Illustration: P.B. Kavadi | Script: Toni Patel

Mental sciences became crucial within the Mughal Empire. When the curriculum was standardised, these traditional studies occupied a very important place within the syllabus. The court of Akbar always had scholars who were well-versed in philosophy, astronomy, geometry, astrology, arithmetic, the preparation of talismans, incantations, and mechanics.

India, during the Mughal era, developed a stable and strong economy which resulted in a commercial expansion and greater patronage of culture. Akbar established the library of Fatehpur Sikri exclusively for women. He proclaimed that schools, educating both Muslims and Hindus, should be established throughout the realm. He promoted bookbinding, making it an artistic skill. Holy people of many faiths, artisans, writers, poets, architects, calligraphers, painters, and musicians, among others, visited his court from across the globe for interesting learning and discussion. Akbar’s courts at Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri became centres for education and training. Timurid and Perso-Islamic culture began to merge and blend with indigenous Indian elements, and a definite Indo-Persian culture emerged by the influence of Mughal style arts, painting, and architecture.

Read the complete story of the great emperor in our title Akbar available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

Profile: Amitav Ghosh

By Srinidhi Murthy 

Illustration: Amal C. Vijay

Born on July 11, 1956, in Calcutta, Amitav Ghosh has lived and travelled extensively across India, Bangladesh, Iran, and Srilanka. He completed his education in an all-boys boarding school in Dehradun. Prominent author Vikram Seth and historian Ramchandra Guha were his contemporaries at the school. In his student days, Ghosh regularly contributed to the fiction and poetry genre for The Doon School Weekly. He also founded a magazine called ‘History Times’ along with Ramchandra Guha. He received his degrees from St. Stephen College in Delhi and Delhi School of Economics before pursuing his PhD in Social Anthropology at the esteemed Oxford University under the supervision of anthropologist Peter Lienhardt. Ghosh also taught at several universities such as the University of Delhi, The American University in Cairo, Columbia University in New York City, and Queens College of the City University of New York to name a few. In 2004, Ghosh decided to pursue writing as a full-time career and split his time between India and the United States. 

Amitav Ghosh started his career at Indian Express during this period as a reporter and editor. Ghosh published his first book named ‘The Circle of Reason’ in 1986 and continued to write more books. Amitav Ghosh includes the themes of climate change, travel, history, political struggle, and communal violence in his novels and his narrative tends to be transnational in sweep and well-researched. His works have been translated into more than thirty languages. Amitav Ghosh also published his non-fiction works in the form of anthologies of essays such as ‘Imam and the Indian’, ‘Dancing in Cambodia’ and ‘At large in Burma’. Amitav Ghosh has written nine fiction novels and six non-fiction works.

Cover: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

It is also interesting to note that Ghosh’s writings, mostly, revolve around his birthplace, Calcutta. In his first novel. ‘The Circle of Reason’, he narrates the misadventures of a young master weaver from Bengal who is falsely accused of terrorism and his journey through the Persian Gulf to North Africa. In his novel ‘The Shadow Lines’, the author traces the lives of an English and a Bengali family whose lives intertwine in tragic and comical ways. The writer also worked on the genre of thriller in his novel ‘Calcutta Chromosomes’ that narrates the story of people who are brought together by a mysterious series of events.

Ghosh has served as a jury in the Locarno and Venice Film festivals and has been facilitated with an Honorary Doctorate by Maastricht University and the University of Puget Sound. ‘The Shadow Lines’ gave him the two prestigious Indian Awards –  Sahitya Academy and Ananda Puraskar in the same year. He was also awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel. His novels ‘Sea of Poppies’ and ‘River of Smoke’ were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He was also honoured with the Padma Shri by the Indian government for his contribution to literature. Amitav Ghosh is the first English language writer to receive the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honour. He was also named as one of the most important global thinkers of the preceding decade by Foreign Policy Magazine in 2019.

Profile: Bharati Mukherjee

By Srinidhi Murthy 

Illustration: Amal C. Vijay

Bharati Mukherjee was an Indian-American writer, born on July 27th, 1944 in present-day Kolkata. She authored several novels, short stories, and essays in fiction as well as in the genre of nonfiction. Her notable fiction works include Jasmine, Desirable Daughters, The Holder of the World, Leave it to Me, and The Tree Bride.

Born during the era of British India, Bharati Mukherjee belonged to a wealthy Bengali family. She travelled to Europe with her parents after the independence of India and lived in London and Switzerland for a short period of time. During this time, her father was able to pursue his research. She returned to Calcutta with her parents in the early 1950s. Bharati, along with her sisters, was taught English from the age of three and they attended Loreto Convent School in Calcutta. She later earned her Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Calcutta followed by her master’s degree in Ancient Indian Studies from the University of Baroda in 1961. She travelled to the United States to obtain her MFA from the University of Iowa and pursued her PhD in 1969. Bharati Mukherjee married Canadian-American author Clark Blaise when they were students at the University of Iowa. During their stay in Canada, Mukherjee published an essay in a Canadian magazine named Saturday Night.

Soon she settled in the United States and accepted a position to teach postcolonial and world literature at the University of California. She also taught at McGill University, Skidmore College, Queens College, and the City University of New York during her lifetime. She started writing her novels based on the lives of Indian immigrants in a foreign country. This was inspired by her own experience in Canada and the United States. Her first novel was named ‘The Tiger’s Daughter’, which was published in 1972. Bharati narrates the story of a sheltered Indian woman in the novel who finds herself shocked by her immersion in American culture. Four years later, she published her second novel titled ‘Wife’, in which she narrates the dilemma and thoughts of an Indian woman who was torn between the demands of Indian culture and the culture she witnessed in New York.

Bharati Mukherjee wrote various short stories such as ‘The Middleman’ and other stories that centred on immigrants from developing countries in the United States. The theme continued as a subject for her next two novels ‘Jasmine’ and ‘The Holder of the World.’ Jasmine was published in 1989 and was selected as Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review and considered as one of her famous and notable works. 

Bharati Mukherjee with her husband, Clarke Blaise wrote an account of their fourteen-day stay in India named ‘Days and Nights in Calcutta’, published in 1977. She also wrote about the assessment of leadership trends in India titled Political Culture and Leadership in India. Bharati Mukherjee died on January 28th, 2017 at the age of 76.

Profile: Rabindranath Tagore

By Srinidhi Murthy

Illustration: Souren Roy

Known as the Bard of Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore was a humanist and a universalist. He denounced the rule of British in India and supported the Independence of India from Britain. He was the first non-European to receive a Nobel prize for Literature. He received it for his most memorable work, ‘Gitanjali’. He was also awarded a knighthood in 1915 which he eventually repudiated to show his disapproval against the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Tagore is also known for modernising the art of Bengal by spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic structures.

Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, at Jorasanko Mansion in Calcutta. Tagore wrote his first poem when he was only eight years old and was encouraged warmly by his brother Jyotirindranath Tagore. Rabindranath continued writing and created various musical plays which exhibited his talents to a larger audience. He wrote his first play named ‘Valmiki Pratibha’ at the age of twenty and it was enacted at Tagore’s own mansion. During his early years, Rabindranath Tagore also published his poems under the pseudonym Bhanusimha and elevated himself as the author of short stories and dramas in the later years publishing in his own name.

Tagore’s novels, stories, poems, songs echoed his personal and political views on various social and national issues. He questioned superstitions and various social issues such as child marriage, the dowry system, and widow remarriage in his novels. He was known for his strong women characters who were educated and made independent decisions. In 1891, during his visit to East Bengal, Tagore interacted with the village people and his sympathy for them inspired him to write on themes based on a humble lifestyle. During these years he wrote several poetries such as ‘Sonar Tari’ and plays, notably ‘Chitra.’ When Bengal was gripped by the wave of nationalism, he wrote several powerful songs and one of them named Amar Sonar Bangla eventually became the National Anthem of Bangladesh.

Covers: Amazon | Design: ACK Design Team

Tagore wrote novels and novellas of various genres, among which Chaturanga, Shesher Kobita, Char Odhay, and Noukadubi can be considered to be his most memorable works. Tagore, from the age of sixteen, had written various short stories including known stories such as Kabuliwala, Adithi, Kshudhita Pashan and Bhikharini. Tagore was also a talented composer who composed around two thousand songs in his lifetime. His songs were known as Rabindra Sangeet as it merged fluidly into his literature. His composition ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was chosen as the National Anthem of India and the National Anthem of Sri Lanka was also inspired by his work. Around the 1920s, Tagore’s works were circulated in free editions with the works of Plato, Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, and Tolstoy.

Rabindranath Tagore died on August 7, 1941, six years before the independence of India which he dreamt of witnessing. His legacy was kept alive through the translation of his works by various authors to introduce Tagore to a wider and international audience. Various universities have been named to honour him in both India and Bangladesh. His works such as Chokher Bali, Gora, Ghare Bhaire and various others were adapted for big screens to familiarise his characters to more and more people to keep his memory alive forever.

Read the complete life story of Tagore in our title ‘Rabindranath Tagore’. Now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Flipkart, Amazon, and other major e-tailers.