Part-1: Must read books in Regional Indian Languages

In wake of the whole pro-Hindi controversy courtesy Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s tweet about Hindi representing India’s national identity, Sabrang India has put together a list of three books in each of the remaining 21 official languages of India.


The books range from fiction to poetry to non-fiction and compilation of folk tales and songs. We have just picked three, but you can contribute to this list by adding your favourites in the comments section. This is just the first part, watch this space for more!

*Some book description text courtesy Wikipedia, Amazon and Good Reads.

Assamese: The eastern Indian state of Assam has been in the news recently for the National Register of Citizens (NRC). But it has a rich and varied history of literary works by stalwarts from the state.

  1.  Asamar Loka Sanskriti: This is a study in folk culture by Birinchi Kumar Barua who won the Sahitya Akademi Award for this book in 1964. Barua was a folklorist, scholar, novelist, playwright, historian, linguist, educationist, administrator and eminent 20th century littérateur of Assam, with both scholarly and creative pursuits. He was the pioneer in the study of folklore in North East India, and was one of the many founders of Gauhati University. Barua’s contributions to Assamese literature are significant, both as a novelist and as an early literary critic.
  2. Sudirgha Din Aru Ritu: This is a book of poetry by Nirmalprabha Bordoloi, an eminent Assamese poet, lyricist and folklorist from Sibsagar district of Assam. She was the president of the Asam Sahitya Sabha in 1991 held at Dudhnoi in Goalpara district of Assam. Bordoloi wrote over 54 Assamese and English books and thousands of songs. She was honored with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 for Sudirgha Din Aru Ritu which contains 104 poems divided into four categories: Batcharar Kavita, Sudirgha Diner Kavita, Ritu and  Sudirgha Diner Gaan.
  3. Aghari Atmar Kahini: This book is written by Padma Bhushan awardee Syed Abdul Malik. Malik one of the stalwarts of Assamese literature, hailed from the village of Nahoroni in Golaghat. He was the president of Asam Sahitya Sabha in 1977 held at Abhayapuri. Malik received many other honours including Padmashri, Sankar Dev Award, Xahityacharyya, as well as the 1972 Sahitya Akademi Award this novel the title of which translates into Tale of a Nomadic Soul.

Kashmiri: Kashmir has been in the eye of the storm since the communication blackout and bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. A great way to trace the history and vivid culture of the people of this state is to read the following books in Kashmiri language:

  1. Shuhul Kull: This is a collection of poems by Dina Nath Nadim, a prominent Kashmiri poet of the 20th century. It means the Shady Tree. Nadim was an important member of the progressive writers movement in Kashmir. While Nadim’s language was spoken Kashmiri, he initially wrote in Hindi and Urdu as well. Nadim also wrote operas like Vitasta ( Jhelum River ), Safar Taa Shehjaar ( The Journey And The shade )Heemaal Taa Naaegrai ( Heemaal and Naagraaj ) and Bombur Taa yamberzal ( Bumble Bee And The Narcissus Flower).
  2. Na Thsay Na Aks: This is also a book of poetry by Naseem Shafaie, a Kashmiri language poet who writes about a variety of topics including the turbulent atmosphere of Kashmir from a woman’s perspective. In 2011, she became the first Kashmiri woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for this collection of poems. The title of the book means Neither Shadow Nor Reflection. Na Thsay Na Aks was also among the eight winners of the inaugural Tagore Literature Award in 2009.
  3. Sheen Tu Watu Pod: This is a novel by Padmashri award winner Pran Kishore Kaul. Kaul is a noted Kashmiri theatre artist, who shot to fame with his screen play of famous Television serial Gul Gulshan Gulfam starring Parikshit Sahni, Radha Seth, Neena Gupta and Pankaj Berry. He won the Sahitya Akademi Aaward for this novel in 1989. The title means Snow And The Bridle Path. This is the story of Reshma and Rajwali, a shepherd couple whose son Qamroo does not return from a sojourn into the upper reaches with their livestock. It showcases how the couple copes and how their relationship evolves in the aftermath of their son’s passing.

Tamil: Perhaps the strongest opposition to “Hindi Imposition” came from Tamil Nadu. The Tamil language is one of the oldest in the world. Here are some of the must-read books from Tamil literature.

  1. Ponniyin Selvan: Written by Kalki Krishnamurthy, this is a historical novel spread over five volumes and 2400 pages! It tells the story of early days of Arulmozhivarman, who later became the great Chola emperor Rajaraja Chola I. Ponniyin Selvan is widely considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written in Tamil literature. Even today, the novel has a cult following and fan base among people of all generations.
  2. Why were women enslaved: The book by the great social reformer Thanthai Periyar EVR, showcases his ideas on the empowerment of women. As a rationalist and ardent social reformer, Periyar advocated forcefully throughout his life that women should be given their legitimate position in society as the equals of men and that they should be given good education and have the right to their family’s and husband’s property. The raised his voice against orthodox traditions like arranged marriage, child marriage and dowry system. He also advocated for women to have the right to separate or divorce their husbands under reasonable circumstances. While birth control remained taboo in society of Periyar’s time, he advocated for it not only for the health of women and population control, but for the liberation of women.
  3. Vengayin mainda: This is one of the famous works of Akilan, a freedom fighter, novelist, short-story writer, journalist, satirist, travel writer, playwright, script-writer, orator and critic. He is also a children’s novelist. In this novel, Akilan gives insight about the life and achievement of the great Rajendra Chola who was a Vengaiyin Maindhan to the rest of the world. RajendraCholan is the son of Rajaraja Cholan and his period can be referred as the height of Tamil empire in art, literature and administration. He captured many countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia (Kadaaram), southern and eastern coastal parts of India. He lived around 1010 AD and his dynasty had many business relationships with foreign countries. This novel depicts his victory over Kadaaram and the building of new city Gangaikonda Cholapuram upon his victory over northern part of India.

Marathi: Maharashtra also has a reputation of having produced some of the most celebrated writers and poets in the country. Here are just three books from a literary goldmine.

  1. Baluta: The first Dalit autobiography to be published, Baluta caused a sensation when it first appeared, in Marathi, in 1978. Set in Mumbai and rural Maharashtra of the 1940s and ’50s, it describes in shocking detail the practice of untouchability and caste violence. But it also speaks of the pride and courage of the Dalit community that often fought back for dignity. Most unusually, Baluta is also a frank account of the author Daya Pawar’s own failings and contradictions—his passions, prejudices and betrayals—as also those of some leading lights of the Dalit movement. In addition, it is a rare record of life in Maharashtra’s villages and in the slums, chawls and gambling dens of Mumbai.
  2. Vyakti ani Valli: This is a compilation of 20 character-sketches by Marathi literary stalwart Pu La Deshpande. The characters come from various backgrounds, are diverse in their traits. But almost all of them have one thing in common. They all form some part of tragedy of life, and when they try to fight their lives, that’s what causes the idiosyncrasies which are the root of the comedy in their life. Some of the most popular characters are the wallflower Narayan, the philanthropist Gampu, and the inimitable Sakharam Gatne. Pu La won the Sahitya Akademi award for this book in 1965.
  3. Shivaji Kon Hota: Written by slain rationalist Govind Pansare, this book traces and establishes the secular credentials of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It showcases how this brave and progressive ruler whose identity is inextricable from the state of Maharashtra, was far cry from the picture painted by right wing supremacists who invoke his name while committing hate crimes against religious minorities.

Malayalam: Many writers from Kerala are known for their outstanding books of literary merit. Many have gone on to win international acclaim for their work.

  1. Aalahayude Penmakkal: Written by Sarah Joseph, novel is the first in the trilogy which includes ‘Mattathi’ and ‘Othappu’. The novel deals with the condition of marginalized groups in society pointed out as subalterns by Marxist Antonio Gramsci. The living and existential conditions of these groups are seldom acknowledged by the society at large and generally they are displaced from their places of stay and livelihoods, usually in the name of development and change. This transformation in their existential struggle is narrated by Annie, the central character, who gives voice to three generations of her subaltern group albeit with a feminine perspective.
  2. Don’t want caste: It is a collection of Malayalam stories by Dalit writers. In many of the stories, the protagonist must abandon home and family to escape the oppressions into which they are born. It is edited by MR Renukumar.
  3. Chemmeen: It is a Malayalam novel written by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai in 1956. Chemmeen tells the story of the relationship between Karuthamma, the daughter of a Hindu fisherman, and Pareekutti, the son of a Muslim fish wholesaler. The theme of the novel is a myth among the fishermen communities along the coastal Kerala State in the Southern India. The myth is about chastity. If the married fisher woman was infidel when her husband was in the sea, the Sea Goddess (Kadalamma literally means Mother Sea) would consume him. It also showcases the helplessness of lovers facing social stigma and the reality of economic oppression. Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai received the Padma Bhushan, Jnanpeeth and Sahitya Akademi awards for his literary genius.

Punjabi: The land of agriculture also has a rich literary culture, with stalwarts like Amrita Pritam, Nanak Singh and many others. Here are some of the mose celebrated Punjabi books.

  1. Pinjar: This is a 1950 Punjabi novel written by noted poet and novelist Amrita Pritam. It is the story of a Hindu girl, Puro, abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid; Puro’s parents refuse to accept the defiled girl when she manages to escape from Rashid’s home. Pinjar is widely considered one of the outstanding works of Indian fiction set during the period of the Partition of India.
  2. Chitta Lahu: It is the story of Sundri, an orphan girl found and raised by   Rodu, a juggler. She is unable to attend school because of the taboo of untouchability when she meets and is tutored by a young idealist Bachchan Singh. They eventually fall in love but cannot marry as the villain Pala Singh has his eye on Sundri himself. Pala Singh implicates Bachchan Singh in a fake murder case and has him hanged. Meanwhile a courtesan Anwarjan discovers that the young girl Sundri who is dissuading her from performing dance numbers at her village is her own daughter she abandoned at birth. It turns out that Anwarjan was once Gurdai and forced into becoming a courtesan when a hypocrite upper caste man of her village violates her when she was a young widow. Sundri vows revenge against Pala Singh. To find out what happens next, read the book!
  3. Heer Ranjha: A timeless masterpiece, this is one of the greatest love stories ever told. Heer Ranjha was written by Waris Shah. Some historians say that the story was the original work of Shah, written after he had fallen in love with a girl named Bhag Bhari. Others say that Heer and Ranjha were real personalities who lived under the Lodi dynasty and that Waris Shah later utilised these personalities for his story. Shah states that the story has a deeper meaning, referring to the unrelenting quest that man has towards God. It is a story of star crosses lovers, an upper caste woman in a forbidden relationship with a working-class man. Society gets in the way, but true love shines through… just before darkness engulfs them both…

Bengali: There are just way too many heavyweights in this category and it was hard to restrict our picks to just three.

  1. Chander Pahad: This novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay tells the story of an ordinary young Bengali man, Shankar Roy Chaudhary, as he adventures in Africa in the years 1909 and 1910. After graduating from college at 20-years-old, his family’s financial struggles almost force him take a job in a jute mill in Shyamnagar — a prospect he absolutely loathes. Shankar loves the subject of geography, he wants to follow the footsteps of renowned explorers like Livingstone, Mungo Park, and Marco Polo. He wants to explore the wilderness, passionate for learning about African forests and animals. By a stroke of luck, he gets a job as a clerk at the Uganda Railway and rushes to Africa without a second thought. His adventures involve being attacked by animals an dmythical monsters, getting lost in a forest and escaping a volcano… all on a quest for an elusive yellow diamond.
  2. Aranyer Adhikar: While author Mahashweta Devi is better known for masterpieces like Hazaar Chaurashis Ma and Rudaali, it is this gem that we would like to recommend. This novel talks about the Adivasi struggle for land and forest rights and its evolution into a full fleged struggle for independence from the British. The novel tells the story of the indomitable Birsa Munda.
  3. Kabuliwala: If this book doesn’t make you sob uncontrollable, you have a heart of stone! Written by none other that Rabindranath Tagore, Kabuliwala tells the story of a heart-rending friendship between a 5-year-old Bengali girl Minnie and an Afghan moneylender, Abdur Rahman or Rahamat. The story beautifully ties a bond of mutual affection and the unconventional relationship between the two. Misinformation and fate play spoilsport and the Kabuliwala is imprisoned for 10 years. When he is relased he immediately goes to visit Minnie. But she has grown into a young woman and it is her wedding day. Watching her dressed in bridal finery, the Kabuliwala realizes he has also missed the childhood of his own daughter in Afghanistan.



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