12 Recommended Post-Emergency Indian Literature: The 1980s

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Team P3 curates a list of recommended post-emergency Indian literature for your TBR list.

The country was at the precipice of change: the Emergency was issued in the previous decade itself, and political volatility was as high as it could be. The regional arts and culture were seeping into the mainstream, and how! Not just that, India saw some significant technological developments in this period, which would give way to many larger things in due time. Yes, we’re talking about the India of the 1980s, an India that was as complex, dynamic, and volatile as ever.

With this article, we’re at the fifth juncture of our series where we look at the best of Indian literature through the decades immediately after the Emergency. We’ll be looking at the most influential and popular books of this decade, which in many ways, can help us better understand the various changes and moments this country has seen over the years. While we’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible, we might miss out on any title you think should be on the list, for which you can comment below and we’ll consider adding it to our list here. With all that being said, let’s look at the Indian literature of the 1980s!

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Recommended Post-Emergency Indian Literature

അവകാശികള്‍ (അവകാശികള്‍)

Title: അവകാശികള്‍ (അവകാശികള്‍)

Author: Vilasini

Publisher: Poorna Publications

Price: 4000

Pages: 3920


Considered to be the longest book in post-Emergency Indian literature after Jeyamohan’s Venmurasu, Avakasikal is set in Malaysia and follows an old millionaire named Velunni Kurup.

He’s surrounded by his greedy relatives, all trying to rid him of his wealth. Through Krishnanunni, a successful lawyer and a good friend of Velunni, we look at four generations of characters, each with their challenges and unique personalities. 

Each character is looked at with an incisory detail, examining their mental states and motivations, and creating something compelling and beautiful out of it. One of the most unique things about this book is how it reinterprets the same events through the eyes of different characters, which allows Vilasini to tie various stories into one cohesive narrative and create something exemplary.

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Midnight's Children

Title: Midnight's Children

Author: Salman Rushdie

Publisher: RHUK

Price: 383

Pages: 672


Salman Rushdie’s magnum opus Midnight’s Children combines magical realism with historical narrative. The post-Emergency book chronicles India’s post-independence era through the lives of children born at the stroke of midnight, each endowed with unique powers. The plot intertwines their individual stories with the nation’s struggles and aspirations, creating an allegorical masterpiece. 

No wonder the book has won the Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers. Rushdie’s inventive prose and ideas paint a multifaceted nature of Indian identity, politics, and society. The book perfectly mirrors the complexities of a newly independent nation and its journey of self-discovery and is undoubtedly one of the finest works of Indian literature.

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Title: Durgaastamana

Author: T. R. Subba Rao

Publisher: Hemantha Sahitya

Price: 500

Pages: 672


Set in 18th-century Karnataka, this Kannada classic looks at the decline of the Nayakas of Chitradurga, a ruling dynasty spanning two centuries. The story has the backdrop of the epic battle between Madakari Nayaka and Hyder Ali of Mysore in 1779 and investigates the political intrigues and events leading up to this critical moment.

Not only does the story present the various historical events but it also offers a reflection on power dynamics, loyalty, and the inevitable clash of kingdoms. TaRaSu’s journey into Madakari Nayaka’s life and the convoluted landscape makes Durgaastamana a major work in Indian literature.

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The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism

Title: The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism

Author: Ashis Nandy

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Price: 381

Pages: 144


The Intimate Enemy analyses the psychological impact of colonialism on the Indian psyche. Nandy explores how the colonized individuals navigate their identity and cultural values under colonial rule. The book is more than just some conventional historical account as it probes into the emotional and psychological repercussions of colonial subjugation as well. 

He looks at how leaders like Mahatma Gandhi resisted this phenomenon of colonialism by promoting and adopting the lifestyle and culture of normal Indians all the while resisting the influences of the colonialists. Nandy’s work offers a unique and intriguing perspective on the complexities of colonialism and its enduring effects on the collective consciousness of the nation.

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രണ്ടാമൂഴം (Randamoozham)

Title: രണ്ടാമൂഴം (Randamoozham)

Author: M T Vasudevan Nair

Publisher: Current Books

Price: 420

Pages: 300


Randamoozham reimagines the epic Mahabharata from the perspective of one of the Pandava brothers, Bhima. The story brings out the inner conflicts, emotions, and motivations of characters often overshadowed in the original epic. Through this retelling, Vasudevan Nair creates his own version of the timeless tale, delivering a fresh interpretation of its moral complexities and human dilemmas. 

It’s incredible how the post-emergency book recontextualizes a beloved myth, urging you to question, reflect, and engage with the essence of human nature. Largely considered to be Nair’s magnum opus, the book has won several literary awards since the time of its release.

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Yajnaseni: The Story of Draupadi

Title: Yajnaseni: The Story of Draupadi

Author: Pratibha Ray

Publisher: Rupa

Price: 352

Pages: 408


Another retelling of the Mahabharata, but this time from the viewpoint of Draupadi. Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray looks at the Mahabharata from the perspective of Queen Draupadi and fleshes out her identity beyond her role as a wife, and looking at her agency, desires, and the various challenges she undergoes. 

Ray’s novel contains nuances of gender dynamics and societal expectations within the epic narrative, something oft-ignored in the original story. With its feminist reinterpretation of a popular character and post Emergency story (a character who’s blamed for causing the war, only further showing how a patriarchal lens is used to look at these stories), Pratibha Ray gives voice to women’s voices in a predominantly male-centric narrative.

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മയ്യഴിപ്പുഴയുടെ തീരങ്ങളിൽ (Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil)


This Malayalam post-Emergency novel roams around the historical and social contexts of Mahé, the former French colony, mystically. We see clashes between the younger generation’s desire to unite the enclave with India and the older generation’s romantic loyalty to French rule, with key figures like Kanaran and Dasan leading the struggle against the French.

The novel portrays the allure of French influence in Mahé, with its streets adorned with French names and a blend of Christian churches and Hindu temples. It recounts the tale of two revolutions – the first unsuccessful, marked by the activists’ retreat, and the second triumphant, leading to the end of French rule.

Mukundan’s novel is a post-emergency journey through history, ideology, and personal sacrifices, with a complex interplay of love, revolution, and cultural identity within the backdrop of Mahé’s rich heritage.

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ಚಿದಂಬರ ರಹಸ್ಯ (Chidambara Rahasya)

Title: ಚಿದಂಬರ ರಹಸ್ಯ (Chidambara Rahasya)

Author: Poornachandra Tejaswi

Publisher: Pusthaka Prakaashana

Price: 225

Pages: 280


Chidambara Rahasya is set in the Malnad region in Karnataka and brings out the mystique of the region. The plot circles around a murder mystery, amalgamating elements of folklore, psychology, and human intrigue humorously. Tejaswi’s writing is imbued with regional flavors, capturing the essence of rural life and its complexities. 

It’s how Tejaswi merges suspense with cultural exploration, offering you a glimpse into the distinct charm and enigma of the Malnad landscape, that makes this book as popular and loved as it is.

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Rich Like Us

Title: Rich Like Us

Author: Nayantara Sahgal

Publisher: HarperCollins

Price: 387

Pages: 312


In the backdrop of New Delhi, a month post the Emergency declaration, Nayantara Sahgal grounds her novel Rich Like Us. This story examines India’s people and its evolution after gaining independence. The Emergency has varied implications: power and profit for some, incarceration for others, and even mobile vasectomy clinics. 

For Sonali, an idealist, it marks the shattering of a dream—a promising future for the nation since its inception. Her pride in her senior civil service position is replaced by demotion due to corrupt governmental dealings. Dev, an opportunist, capitalizes on this deal, using it as a stepping stone to revive his father’s business and become a leader among the New Entrepreneurs. Ravi Kachru, once a fervent Marxist, molds himself to serve the “royal line.” Meanwhile, Kishori Lal, a resilient shopkeeper and survivor of Partition, finds himself unjustly imprisoned. 

Rich Like Us combines these individual stories and voices into a fascinating record of India’s past and present. At its core is Rose, the cockney memsahib brought to India decades earlier by Ram, facing the complexities of a family that doesn’t truly embrace her. Sahgal’s novel mirrors India’s splendor and flaws, reflecting its rich history and experiences.

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ਕੋਠੇ ਖੜਕ ਸਿੰਘ (Kothe Kharak Singh)

Title: ਕੋਠੇ ਖੜਕ ਸਿੰਘ (Kothe Kharak Singh)

Author: Ram Sarup Ankhi

Publisher: Unistar Books

Price: 163

Pages: 344


Kothe Kharak Singh is a political novel set in a Punjab village that contains stories of three generations. The heart of the tale is about the fight for India’s independence before Punjab’s partition. The novel not only shows this struggle but also fleshes out the socio-economic and cultural shifts occurring in the state during that era.

As we journey through the lives of the characters, we can look at the evolution of Punjab, both politically and socially. The local setting provides an intimate backdrop to the larger backdrop of India’s fight for freedom. Kothe Kharak Singh cleverly toggles between history and individual destinies, offering a glimpse into the struggles, aspirations, and changes of an era on the brink of transformation.

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India's Struggle for Independence

Title: India's Struggle for Independence

Author: Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan, and KN Panikkar

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 255

Pages: 600


India’s Struggle for Independence is a comprehensive and informative book that looks into the Indian independence movement in detail. The book fills a gap by providing a nationwide perspective rather than focusing on one region and it not only covers the events but also looks into how the movement impacted the people.

Chandra, alongwith his co-historians, traces the journey from the initial uprising led by Mangal Pandey to the heroic efforts of leaders like Rani Laxmi Bai and Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation and civil disobedience movements. The book includes every facet of the struggle for independence, encompassing movements of varying scales and impacts, all united by the common goal of freedom. It leaves no chapter of the independence story untouched, providing an extensive understanding of the evolution of India’s fight for freedom.

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That Long Silence

Title: That Long Silence

Author: Shashi Deshpande

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 176

Pages: 204


In this novel, Jay’s life goes haywire when her husband faces allegations of business malpractice, forcing him to leave his job. This unexpected turn disrupts their familiar routine which puts their family’s future in jeopardy. Jaya, a struggling writer, is haunted by memories from her past as she wrestles with the challenges she faces. The strains in her marriage, the frustrations accumulated over seventeen years, her disappointment in her teenagers, and the shadows of her childhood claustrophobia all resurface together. 

Within the confines of her small suburban apartment in Bombay, Jaya must come to terms with these truths. Deshpande crafts the tale of a woman as she strives to break free from a ‘long silence’ that started with her childhood and is intertwined with the constraints of her life.

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English, August

Title: English, August

Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Price: 359

Pages: 352


English, August follows Agastya Sen, also known as August, a member of India’s privileged class. While his friends pursue education at prestigious institutions like Yale and Harvard, August lands a coveted government job which takes him to the remote town of Madna, where scorching temperatures dominate. Among his new colleagues are a mix of inept individuals, oddballs, time-wasters, bureaucrats, and many other eccentric characters. 

Faced with this peculiar environment, August’s coping strategy involves getting high, evading work, succumbing to the sweltering heat, and indulging in aimless contemplation. Interestingly, dealing with the local people seems easier compared to the challenges he grapples with internally. This is a comedic gem in contemporary Indian literature looking at August’s experiences as he faces a world that mirrors his own complexities.

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The Great Indian Novel

Title: The Great Indian Novel

Author: Shashi Tharoor

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 348

Pages: 648


This is a blend of the ancient Mahabharata and modern Indian history where the satirical genius of Tharoor is apparent. He combines the tales of the Mahabharata with the lives of well-known political figures, drawing parallels and mirroring the legendary figures from the epic, all connected to a mysterious figure called Draupadi Mokrasi, or D. Mokrasi for short. 

Tharoor’s writing is filled with sharp humor and fascinating insights, keeping you hooked. A unique premise and brilliantly executed at that, The Great Indian Novel blurs the lines between reality and myth, creating one hilarious riot of a story.

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Socialite Evenings

Title: Socialite Evenings

Author: Shobhaa De

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 308

Pages: 392


Let’s follow the life of Karuna, a well-known socialite in Bombay. She’s divorced and has gone through several unsettling affairs, all of which have left her feeling drained and miserable. As she wallows in her misery and reflects on her life, we look at the cast of characters around her. There’s Anjali, a neurotic love-seeking friend; Ritu, a stunning lively presence; Varun, a high-profile editor with unconventional preferences; Krish, a pompous adman who navigates extramarital affairs with his wife’s assistance.

Shobhaa Dé’s debut novel is nothing short of scandalous. It takes you into the world of India’s high society, where secrets, relationships, and betrayals are the order of the day. The story caused waves of scandals and controversies at the time of its release and lays bare the intricacies of the elite world. While not critically acclaimed, the book was a commercial success and announced the arrival of Shobhaa De in the world of literature.

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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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