19 Indian Literature Books through the Decades: The 1990s!

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Team P3 curates a list of recommended reads from Indian Literature Books through the decades focusing on the 1990s.

This was the decade of economic liberalization, this was also the decade of the Babri demolition, this was the decade of political uncertainties, this was also the decade of new socio-economic certainties. As Dickens’ legendary quote goes:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Read the list of recommended Indian Literature Books through Decades: 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s| 1980s

Naturally, the Indian Literature Books in this era reflected the changes in Indian society, and Indian presence in global literature grew with each passing year.

We continue our series where we look at the most prominent books from each decade after Indian independence, beginning from the 1940s. In this article, we’re going to look at the most influential Indian Literature Books that were published in the 1990s.

While we’ve tried to be comprehensive, it’s entirely plausible that we’ve missed out on a few. If you spot a book that you think deserves to be on this list, please comment below and we’ll consider adding it to our list here.

List of Indian Literature Books through the Decades: The 1990s

A History of India

Title: A History of India

Author: Romila Thapar

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 1130

Pages: 384


This book tops the list of 19 Indian Literature Books, through the Decades: The 1990s! begins at the very beginning of Aryan culture and takes us through the ages to the arrival of the Mughals in 1526 AD. Thapar’s story brings to life thousands of years of history, shining a light on the prehistoric roots of the subcontinent. From the mysterious cities of the Indus Valley Civilization to the rise of great dynasties like the Mauryas, Guptas, and Cholas, each chapter reveals a new chapter in India’s colorful story.

Romila Thapar introduces us to towering figures like Ashoka, whose far-sighted rule shaped eras, as well as lesser-known individuals who have left their mark, however small. From reflections on marriage and social class to musings on art, erotica, and astronomy, her writing paints a detailed portrait of a civilization that flourished amid a diversity of languages, landscapes, and beliefs.

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கருக்கு (Karukku)

Title: கருக்கு (Karukku)

Author: Bama

Publisher: Kalachuvadu Publications

Price: 145

Pages: 118


Karukku, Bama’s debut novel, is as profound now as it was then, at the time of its publication, for history’s lessons tend to slip from our grasp. This classic among Indian Literature Books acts as a mirror, reflecting the lives that history often consigns to shadows—the lives of Dalits and the battles waged by women.

Bama’s prose is more than ink on paper; it’s a call to awaken, a challenge to the obliviousness that sometimes hides uncomfortable truths. Like a relentless knock on the doors of complacency, Karukku seeks to rattle the souls of those who pretend that the disquieting realities don’t exist. It has the power to slice through the thickest of barriers and penetrate even the most insensate hearts.

The struggles of the marginalized, the silences that echo in their lives, find a voice within these pages. In an era where the past is at risk of slipping through the cracks, this book deserves to be read and remembered. It challenges us to confront the amnesia that can pervade societies and urges us to recognize the multifaceted narratives that compose our shared history. With raw honesty, Bama gifts us a work that is not just a book, but a mirror, a plea, and a call to remember.

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A River Sutra

Title: A River Sutra

Author: Gita Mehta

Publisher: Penguin

Price: 264

Pages: 292


A River Sutra, set against the backdrop of India’s most revered river, the Narmada, follows the journey of an elderly bureaucrat who seeks quietude on retreat from the bustling world, only to find that his choice has brought him into the midst of a complex web of human stories that converge by the riverside.

There are several characters here, each navigating their own personal tides of existence. Among them are a young executive trapped by a mysterious lover, a Jain monk who has cast aside glamour for simplicity, a woman whose voice holds both pain and gold, an ascetic with a past, and the child he rescued from the clutches of prostitution.

Through their individual narratives, the book among Indian Literature Books probes at the delicate yearnings of the human heart, presenting an amalgamation of desires, struggles, and aspirations that define our shared humanity. The river itself becomes more than just a setting; it becomes a metaphor for the ebb and flow of life, carrying with it stories both ancient and modern.

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A Suitable Boy

Title: A Suitable Boy

Author: Vikram Seth

Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Price: 1475

Pages: 1488


Within the pages of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, the canvas of a nation in transition is visible. This literary masterpiece is a panoramic portrayal of a society in flux—a story where the threads of ordinary lives are interwoven with love, ambition, humor, sorrow, prejudice, and reconciliation, all amid the delicate dance of social etiquettes and the harsh notes of violence.

At its heart, this is a love story, but it’s not just about romance—it’s about the ceaseless pursuit of connection, belonging, and understanding that reverberates through generations. Lata, the central figure, and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are at the crux here, with their journey to find a suitable partner for Lata in the midst of it.

Set against the backdrop of India’s newfound independence in the early 1950s, the story navigates a nation’s teething struggles and aspirations. The richly imagined world by Seth has four expansive, interconnected families, each harboring its own secrets, aspirations, and idiosyncrasies. Through their experiences, Seth deftly navigates not only the internal dilemmas but also the broader social shifts of the era.

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ഒരു സങ്കീര്‍ത്തനം പോലെ (Oru Sankeerthanam Pole)

Title: ഒരു സങ്കീര്‍ത്തനം പോലെ (Oru Sankeerthanam Pole)

Author: Perumbadavam Sreedharan

Publisher: Sangeerthanam Publications

Price: 270

Pages: 224


With the backdrop of Saint Petersburg, this popular novel shares the tale of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Russian literary maestro, and his impassioned romance with Anna, who would eventually become his life partner. The pages are a window into the author’s world, his hopes, dreams, and inner struggles, as he navigates the tangled corridors of creativity and commitment.

At the heart of it lies the promise Dostoyevsky made to his editor—a promise to complete “The Gambler” in just a few months. This promise sets the stage for the entry of Anna, a stenographer whose reverence for the novelist slowly evolves into something deeper. Beyond the surface veneer of Dostoyevsky’s vices, Anna peels away layers to reveal the multifaceted brilliance of his character. The novel opens up the human spirit, showing us that behind flaws lie virtues, and behind the mundane lies the extraordinary.

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Our Films, Their Films

Title: Our Films, Their Films

Author: Satyajit Ray

Publisher: Orient BlackSwan

Price: 717

Pages: 228


This book among the Indian Literature Books is divided into two parts, each offering an engaging exploration of Ray’s cinematic journey and his thoughts on renowned filmmakers from around the world.

The first part gives us a glimpse into Ray’s personal experiences and reflections. In these pages, you’ll find a collection of interesting stories and musings that provide insights into the life of this visionary filmmaker. Amidst these narratives, Ray also shares keen observations on how Indian cinema has evolved over time, reflecting on its changing trends and development.

The second part takes us on a global journey, spanning different periods and locations, to look into the memorable works of filmmakers who have left a lasting impact on the history of cinema. From the silent film era to the modern day, Ray’s writing depicts the creations of cinematic legends like Renoir, John Ford, Kurosawa, and Charlie Chaplin—filmmakers whose artistry continues to reverberate through the generations. Ray doesn’t simply offer analytical assessments; he paints vivid portraits that bring new life into the cinematic stories crafted by these directors.

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Indian Food: A Historical Companion

Title: Indian Food: A Historical Companion

Author: KT Achaya

Publisher: Oxford

Price: 685

Pages: 340


This book among the Indian Literature Books explores how flavors, ingredients, and cooking traditions have evolved in India over the years, using a mix of archaeology, anthropology, literature, language, and botany to paint a vivid picture. The book is beautifully illustrated with over 150 black-and-white drawings, photos, and maps, as well as 55 color photos, enhancing the reading experience.

Achaya’s exploration begins in prehistoric times, uncovering early food preparations and cooking methods. He looks at everything from the Harappan civilization possibly making wheat cakes like chapati to the culinary practices of the Aryans as seen in their Vedic texts. Each chapter shows the various historical and cultural contexts that shaped Indian cuisine.

The narrative then takes us on a journey through different regions of India, such as Karnataka, Hyderabad, Bengal, Gujarat, Kashmir, and Uttar Pradesh, highlighting the unique culinary identities within the country. Alongside the flavors, Achaya explores the customs, rituals, and beliefs that have made Indian food culturally significant.

But the book moves beyond Indian cuisine, with detours into topics like the historical use of Bhang and opium, the evolution of ice cream, the history of weight systems based on natural grains, and even the origins of non-Indian foods like tapioca and potatoes. It’s a feast for the food and history lovers in you.

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A Fine Balance

Title: A Fine Balance

Author: Rohinton Mistry

Publisher: Faber

Price: 411

Pages: 304


As the government declares a State of Emergency, a storm of political turmoil unfolds, providing the stage on which four very different people’s lives become deeply interconnected.

Mistry weaves a complex story that captures the essence of modern India, with elements of corruption, violence, heroism, and resilience. The world here is reminiscent of a Dickensian classic, filled with compassion, humor, and profound insights that shed light on the human experience, even in the most challenging circumstances.

The lives of the four strangers in the novel reflect the broader society, showcasing the constant interplay between individual choices and the powerful currents of destiny. Amid the chaos of political upheaval, the story of the Indian Literature Book looks at the lives of characters whose paths would never have crossed under ordinary circumstances, resulting in a mix of destinies. A Fine Balance is a contemporary classic that speaks to both the universal and uniquely Indian aspects of the human experience.

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Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts

Title: Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts

Author: P. Sainath

Publisher: Penguin

Price: 304

Pages: 224


Everybody Loves a Good Drought is a highly regarded book known worldwide and valued in academic circles for it goes beyond typical reporting, going deep into the heart of India’s poorest regions to highlight stories that are heartbreaking yet enlightening.

Over the past two decades since its publication, this book among Indian Literature Books has not only remained relevant but has also gained a reputation for its comprehensive portrayal of the daily challenges faced by marginalized communities. Its pages offer an unfiltered view of the harsh realities that shape the lives of those often ignored by mainstream stories. These stories serve as a reminder of how development doesn’t always lead to progress and that efforts to uplift communities can sometimes suffer from inefficiency, mismanagement, and even absurdity.

This book brings the stories of India’s most impoverished areas to the forefront, emphasizing the importance of empathy, advocacy, and change in the ongoing fight for a more equitable world.

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Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture & Political Economy

Title: Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture & Political Economy

Author: Kancha Ilaiah

Publisher: Bhatkal & Sen

Price: 1550

Pages: 164


In Why I Am Not a Hindu, Kancha Ilaiah talks of the inequalities that affect marginalized people in terms of socio-economics and culture. He explores the complex issues of caste divisions, power dynamics, and the strong influence of Hindutva ideology in modern society.
This manifesto encourages us to think about the divisions within Hindu society, especially the gap between the Dalitbahujans (often considered “low castes”) and the larger Hindu population. Ilaiah’s words help you understand the perspectives and experiences of those who have historically been marginalized and left out.
From childhood to family life, business interactions, power structures, and even spirituality, Ilaiah depicts the disparities that exist in different parts of society. The book questions the very foundations of society, from family bonds to the relationships between deities, presenting the subtle and obvious influences that shape our views and maintain divisions.
The book reminds us that progress is a collective effort—one that requires empathy, understanding, and the courage to confront uncomfortable truths.

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The God of Small Things

Title: The God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 346

Pages: 356


At its core, this literary masterpiece of a novel revolves around the lives of Esthappen and Rahel, siblings who grow up facing the challenges of caste systems, the complexities of the Keralite Syrian Christian way of life, and the influence of communism. As the story plays out, you enter a world that blends childhood wonder with the harsh realities of societal expectations.
But this novel isn’t just about Esthappen and Rahel’s lives; it also explores the broader political events shaping Kerala, their parents, and their relatives. Through this wider perspective, Roy offers insights into the societal fabric, the underlying ideologies, and the intricacies of human relationships that profoundly affect the twins’ experiences. It’s a journey that reflects life itself—filled with ups and downs, dreams, and disappointments.

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Women Writing In India

Title: Women Writing In India

Author: Edited by Susie Tharu and Lalita K.

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Price: 537

Pages: 794


Women Writing In India, curated by Susie Tharu and K. Lalita, is a groundbreaking compilation of Indian Literature Books that brings together literary stories from 11 different languages, making them accessible to English-speaking readers. This collection is not just about literature; it’s a cultural revolution that showcases the stories, voices, and perspectives of Indian women spanning 2,600 years of history.

From the songs of Buddhist nuns to the writings of medieval rebel poets, from the works of court historians to the narratives of writers in the 18th and 19th centuries, these pages contain stories that have been waiting for a wider audience. The biographical, critical, and bibliographical notes offer valuable insights, helping you understand each writer and their works within the larger cultural and historical context of India.

Among Indian Literature Books. this book is more than a literary collection it’s a homage to the power of stories as a way to capture lives, histories, and the evolution of a nation.

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The Country Without a Post Office

Title: The Country Without a Post Office

Author: Agha Shahid Ali

Publisher: Penguin

Price: 166

Pages: 104


In this poetry book in the list of Indian Literature Books, the poet explores the complexities of history, loss, and longing, creating a narrative that deeply touches readers’ emotions.

With the backdrop of rain, fire, and destruction, the poems in this volume convey both tragedy and resilience—reflecting the poet’s birthplace and the landscapes of his heart. Agha Shahid Ali’s words carry the weight of history, tradition, and the intricate fabric of human experiences that have shaped the land he writes about.

Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry becomes a channel for the unspoken emotions hidden beneath the surface of human life. The themes of loss, exile, and the search for home are universal and timeless, bridging cultural gaps and weaving a story that connects with anyone who has grappled with questions of identity, heritage, and the longing for connection. This collection is a contemplation on the human condition, an exploration of emotions that are both universally shared and deeply personal.

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Title: Cuckold

Author: Kiran Nagarkar

Publisher: HarperCollins

Price: 599

Pages: 624


Against a combination of political intrigue, warfare, and shifting alliances, the novel goes into an extreme battle being waged, that extends beyond the external conflicts—it’s a battle for power, succession, and the very spirit of identity. It deserves a mention on this list of Indian Literature Books.

The Mewar kingdom’s external conflicts with the Sultanates of Delhi, Gujarat, and Malwa act as the setting upon which the internal power struggle ensues. The Maharana’s life is on the line and the question of succession is being asked everywhere, casting a shadow over the kingdom’s destiny and the course of India’s history.

The exploration of the feudal world in which the story is enmeshed becomes a journey of self-discovery—one that questions the very codes, conventions, and assumptions that underpin the society in which it is set. The immediacy of the narrative draws readers into a quintessentially Indian story that resonates on a global scale. Cuckold as a story highlights the power of historical fiction to illuminate not just the past, but the human condition itself.

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The Idea of India

Title: The Idea of India

Author: Sunil Khilnani

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 252

Pages: 264


Next on our list of Indian Literature Books, is the Idea of India that presents an eloquent exploration of a foundational concept—Nehru’s idea of nationhood in India. In a time when this vision is subjected to scrutiny and evaluation, this book comes as a timely and important discourse.

Khilnani’s long essay tries to explore India’s national identity, offering a persuasive argument for the relevance of Nehru’s vision. The book is not merely an intellectual exercise; it’s a conversation, a reflection on the ideals, aspirations, and complexities that define the nation.

In the context of contemporary discourse, where differing perspectives vie for attention, The Idea of India is a repository of insights that force you to introspect. The significance of this book extends beyond a historical exploration of Nehru’s vision for it prompts you to reflect on the core tenets that continue to shape the nation today. 

The Idea of India doesn’t merely champion a particular perspective; it encourages you to engage in a broader dialogue—one that encompasses diverse viewpoints and challenges preconceptions. It’s a book that doesn’t provide easy answers; rather, it ignites conversations, stimulates thought, and encourages you to critically assess the contours of the nation’s identity.

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The Insider

Title: The Insider

Author: P. V. Narasimha Rao

Publisher: Penguin

Price: 661

Pages: 844


This is an important mention in the list of Indian Literature Books. It is a firsthand account of the complex and often shocking political landscape of India as witnessed by the author during his tenure. Through the lens of fiction, Rao pens a story that goes into the complexities, intrigues, and power dynamics that define the political world.

Anand is a young man who foregoes a lucrative career to embark on a journey of political reform. The story follows his path as he enters the arena of politics, contesting against an oppressive ruling party. Now each choice and decision of his will weigh heavily on the country’s political landscape. 

Anand’s journey, from contesting against the oppressive regime to finding himself in the corridors of power, mirrors the complexities of real-world political transitions. The book’s setting evolves alongside India’s political history, with Anand’s experiences taking him through significant events such as the rise to power of Indira Gandhi, her second term, her tragic assassination, and the subsequent entry of her son, Rajiv Gandhi, into politics. Through Anand’s narrative, Rao steers the web of power, governance, and the personal dynamics that shape political decisions. The Insider is a window into the world of politics—a world often hidden from public view.

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Fasting, Feasting

Title: Fasting, Feasting

Author: Anita Desai

Publisher: RHI

Price: 245

Pages: 248


This is a novel from the Indian Literature Books that goes beyond the landscapes of India and America, demonstrating the impact of societal norms and family dynamics on individuals. Through the lives of Uma and Arun, Desai creates a story that looks at the hunger for freedom, identity, and fulfillment.

At the heart of the novel is Uma, a woman whose life is constrained by tradition and familial expectations. Unmarried and relegated to her childhood home, Uma is a character defined by unfulfilled potential. Her parents’ overbearing nature and the shadows cast by her successful sister and disappointing brother contribute to this sense of stagnation that she feels. Desai’s portrayal of Uma’s life is bittersweet—marked by the tastes of home-cooked treats yet overshadowed by a hunger for more, for a life beyond the confines of tradition.

On the other side of the world, in Massachusetts, Arun’s experiences paint a stark contrast. The Pattons, the family he lives with, represent an American suburban lifestyle that is bewilderingly different from what he’s known. The Pattons’ consumption-driven culture, their dietary choices, and the dynamics within their household act as tools through which Desai portrays American life. Arun’s yearning for invisibility becomes a metaphor for his desire to escape from the overwhelming strangeness of this new world.

Through her characters, Desai delves into the dichotomy of hunger and plenty—both literal and metaphorical. Uma’s longing for a life of her own and Arun’s quest for identity within an alien culture reflect the universal human pursuit of autonomy and self-discovery.

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Wings of Fire

Title: Wings of Fire

Author: A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and Arun Tiwari

Publisher: Universities Press

Price: 340

Pages: 180


A luminous autobiography from the Indian Literature Books, this  illuminates the life journey of a visionary scientist who rose from humble beginnings to become the President of India. Steeped in personal insights, anecdotes, and life experiences, the book not only talks of Dr. Kalam’s remarkable achievements but also invites you to kindle your inner fire of potential and determination.

Dr. Kalam’s tale is one of resilience, hard work, and unwavering dedication, forming a blueprint for those seeking to overcome challenges and fulfill their dreams. The book is filled with the belief that each person is endowed with the strength to effect meaningful change in the world. The book highlights the key moments of Dr. Kalam’s life—his childhood, school days, college experiences, and his time at renowned institutions like the Langley Research Center, NASA, and Wallops Flight Facility. The autobiography also shows his personal triumphs and struggles, touching on the loss of his father and the emotions he felt when receiving prestigious awards like the Padma Bhushan.

The book’s second half offers an intimate glimpse into Dr. Kalam’s groundbreaking contributions as a scientist. His instrumental role in shaping India’s missile program is shown, highlighting his dedication to the nation’s security. The moniker “Missile Man of India” is more than some honorific—it’s proof of his pursuit of innovation and excellence.

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ആലാഹയുടെ പെണ്മക്കള്‍ (Aalahayude Penmakkal)

Title: ആലാഹയുടെ പെണ്മക്കള്‍ (Aalahayude Penmakkal)

Author: Sarah Joseph

Publisher: Current Books

Price: 260

Pages: 176


This novel from the Indian Literature Books brings to light the untold stories of marginalized communities, focusing on the life and experiences of Annie. Sarah looks into the lives of those pushed to the peripheries of society, often disregarded and displaced in the name of development and progress. The novel is narrated through the eyes of Annie, an eight-year-old child residing in the suburban region of Kokkanchira. This locale, once portrayed as undesirable and forgotten, helps the reader witness how social stratification and displacement works.

Through Annie’s perspective, you get to see the apathy and disdain shown by society towards those from Kokkanchira.

With an awareness of the impact of urbanization and development, Sarah Joseph stresses the struggles faced by marginalized groups.

The book emphasizes the harsh realities faced by individuals who often work in roles society looks down upon, such as latrine cleaners and scavengers. These individuals, belonging to marginalized communities, are rendered invisible even as they contribute significantly to the functioning of the city.
Sarah Joseph’s exploration of the lives of subaltern groups resonates with the Marxist concept of subalternity put forth by Antonio Gramsci.

She provides a nuanced look into the complexities of displacement, societal prejudices, and the intrinsic worth of every individual’s story by giving voice to the voiceless.

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Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh doesn't know what to do with his life, so he writes. He also doesn't know what to write, so he reads. Gift him a book if you chance upon him and he'll love you forever.

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