22 Famous Indian Authors (And Their Best Books)

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Once upon a time, I spent a few months living in the north of India. This constituted one of the greatest adventures of my life (so far – I’m not done yet). And on this journey, I picked up a few books that captured my attention.

 

I realized that India has a rich literary tradition and is home to some of the best and most imaginative authors out there. More people should read these books.

 

The sun goes down in a different way in India. And you can feel the same warm, exotic glow by sitting back and opening a book through which monsoons and smells of spices will flow.

 

Of course, I haven’t read all the authors from this list (I intend to). But this is to serve as a reference for anyone interested in Indian literature who wants to go deeper and to learn about its most distinguished literati, classic and contemporary.

 

I’m sure I haven’t captured all the names that should be included here. Please support my efforts by naming some of your own favorite Indian writers in the comments section.

 

22 Top Indian Authors And Their Notable Works

 

taj mahal in the distance

 

1. Rabindranath Tagore

 

Rabindranath Tagore

 

This was the first Indian author I’ve ever read. I remember sitting on a bus going to my office in Chandigarh and reading Gitanjali and Stray Birds in an old paperback version.

 

These poems changed my life and opened me up to something I’ve never experienced before.

 

Tagore was born in 1861 and during his life, he wrote hundreds of poems, books, and articles. His father knew Persian and could recite the poetry of Hafiz by heart. You can see that many of these Sufi mysteries are also detectable in the great author’s work.

 

It is always related to The Power of Love and the closeness to God. Later in life, Tagore actually visited the tombs of Saadi and Hafiz in Shiraz and admired these poets greatly.

 

He was also deeply influenced by Baul mysticism, Sahaja Buddhism, Vedanta Philosophy, and the Upanishads.

 

He was knighted by the British Empire in 1915, but within a couple of years, he resigned the title as a protest against British policies in India (especially the massacre in Amritsar in 1919, which grounds I walked during my stay in Punjab). Tagore was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1913).

 

Notable works:

Gitanjali

Heart of God

Stray Birds

 

Quote from the author:

 

“The small wisdom is like water in a glass:

clear, transparent, pure.

The great wisdom is like the water in the sea:

dark, mysterious, impenetrable.”

 

2. Jiddu Krishnamurti

 

Jiddu Krishnamurti

 

Krishnamurti was a great Indian writer and philosopher who later in life moved to the USA. You can still find many recordings of his talks and lectures on YouTube (highly recommended).

 

His interests were wide-ranging and included psychological revolution, the nature of the mind, meditation, societal change, and human relationships. I’ve learned a lot about meditation and the nature of consciousness from him. This includes the principle of non-grasping and non-judgment which serve me well to this day.

 

He was one of the first people to bring the Eastern thought to the West. His thesis was that a revolution in the society can only be brought about at the level of an individual. By changing ourselves for the better we can change society as a whole.

 

He pledged no allegiance to a nationality, a caste, or religion and spent the later years of his life traveling around the world and giving lectures to large and small groups.

 

Notable works:

Freedom From The Known

Awakening of Intelligence

 

Quote from the author:

 

“You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life.”

 

3. Chetan Bhagat

 

Chetan Bhagat

 

Chetan Bhagat is a modern author, columnist, screenwriter, and television personality, especially known for his books geared towards young readers from the Indian middle class.

 

He’s one of the most popular writers in the country and his books sold over 7 million copies all over the world (he writes primarily in English). The New York Times called him “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history”.

 

Interestingly, instead of literature, he studied mechanical engineering and business management. At some point, he even applied to work in investment banking for Goldman Sachs. He wrote his first books while still working for the company but later quit his full-time job and focused on writing.

 

Many of his books served as an inspiration for Bollywood films and the Time magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010. However, in 2017 he has been accused of plagiarism (regarding two of his books) and is now involved in a legal trial.

 

Notable works:

2 States: The Story of My Marriage

Half Girlfriend

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Pretty girls behave best when you ignore them. Of course, they have to know you are ignoring them, for otherwise, they may not even know you exist.”

 

4. Aravind Adiga

 

Aravind Adiga

 

Adiga, born in 1974 in Chennai (Madras) is a modern Indian writer whose book “The White Tiger” won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. After growing up in Mangalore, he emigrated to Sydney, Australia with his family. Later on, he studied English literature at the Columbia University in New York under the famous English historian, Simon Schama.

 

After his studies, he began his career as a journalist, traveling the world and writing for publications such as Financial Times and TIME. He finally went freelance and then wrote his first big book The White Tiger, which portrays Balram, a lead character coming from crushing rural poverty but witnessing the rise of India as a modern global economy. The book sold over 200,000 copies of the hardcover edition.

 

Now the author is back in India, living in Mumbai, where he writes and releases a new book every other year.

 

Notable works:

Last Man in Tower

The White Tiger

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Go to Old Delhi, and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they are next, yet they cannot rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with humans in this country.”

 

5. Shashi Tharoor

 

Shashi Tharoor

 

Tharoor is not only famous for his writings. He’s one of the most influential Indians by any measure because of his involvement in politics and media. He’s been writing since 1981 and authored 18 best selling works of fiction and non-fiction.

 

All of them are centered around the history, culture, film, and politics of his native country. Moreover, he wrote hundreds of columns for prestigious publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Times of India.

 

He’s a controversial figure in India known for his polarizing stances on many social and political issues. It’s almost too much to digest (he even got charged with abetment to suicide of his wife in 2018).

 

Notable works:

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

The Great Indian Novel

 

Quote from the author:

 

“India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”

 

6. Amrita Pritam

 

Amrita Pritam

 

Pritam, born in 1919 was a novelist, essayist and a poet who, unlike many of the authors on this list wrote in Punjabi and Hindi.

 

She is known as the most prominent Punjabi poet who is loved both by Indians and Pakistanis. She lived a long life during which she produced over 100 books of poetry, fiction, biographies, as well as a collection of beautiful Punjabi folk songs. Her works have been translated into many Indian and foreign languages.

 

Her book Pinjar (The Skeleton) was groundbreaking and ultimately got adapted into an award-winning movie in 2003. She has been often compared to Mohan Singh and Shiv Kumar Batlavi, and was the most prominent voice for the liberation of women in Punjabi literature.

 

Notable works:

Raseedi Ticket

Pinjar

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Warish Shah I call out to you, Rise from your grave, speak out and turn, Another page of the Book of Love”

 

7. Kamala Markandaya

 

Kamala Markandaya

 

Another widely known female author from India, Kamala Markandaya, who was born in Mysore in 1924. She was an acclaimed novelist and journalist known for writing about the conflict between different strata of the Indian society (rural vs. urban), as well as the adoption of Western values in her country.

 

Her book “Nectar in a Sieve” is a classic of Indian literature and has been in print continuously since 1955. After the Declaration of Independence, she moved to Britain but she always remained loyal to her native country and labeled herself an expatriate.

 

Notable works:

Nectar in a Sieve

A Handful of Rice

 

Quote from the author:

 

“For where shall a man turn who has no money? Where can he go? Wide, wide world, but as narrow as the coins in your hand. Like a tethered goat, so far and no farther. Only money can make the rope stretch, only money.”

 

8. Khushwant Singh

 

Khushwant Singh

 

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Khushwant Singh, a Punjabi author, lawyer, diplomat, journalist, and politician.

 

He lived through the partition of India in 1947 and this inspired him to write “Train to Pakistan”, which became his most famous novel (also made into a film in 1998).

 

He fought fiercely for the independence of India from the British Empire and in the ’50s worked for the All India radio and UNESCO.

 

Unlike many Indian authors, he abhorred spirituality and treated life with wit, humor, sarcasm and unending love for poetry.

 

Notable works:

Train to Pakistan

Delhi: A Novel

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Not forever does the bulbul sing

In balmy shades of bowers,

Not forever lasts the spring

Nor ever blossom the flowers.

Not forever reigneth joy,

Sets the sun on days of bliss,

Friendships not forever last,

They know not life, who know not this.”

 

9. R.K. Narayan

 

R.K. Narayan

 

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanaswami is mostly known for his fiction works related to the South Indian town of Malgudi. He was a leading English language author in India along Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao.

 

It might come as a surprise, but he was a close friend of Graham Greene, who actually helped him to get publishers for his first books. The fictional town Malgudi was first introduced in his book “Swami and Friends”. The made-up town had a pristine historical record dating back to the times of Ramayana and Buddha.

 

He loved to show the humor and of everyday life and has been often compared to William Faulkner. He wrote for over sixty years and lived to be 94.

 

Notable works:

The Guide: A Novel

Malgudi Days

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Friendship was another illusion like love, though it did not reach the same mad heights. People pretended that they were friends, when the fact was they were brought together by force of circumstances.”

 

10. Salman Rushdie

 

Salman Rushdie

 

This author should not require an introduction. Rushdie first came on the map with his novel “Midnight’s Children” (1981) for which he won the Booker Prize.

 

His works are a great combination of the magical realism and historical fiction and are often set on the Indian subcontinent.

 

His novel “The Satanic Verses”, put him in the mortal danger from assassins who haunted him for many years on orders from Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa, condemning the author to death, for his “blasphemous” novel which ostensibly offended the Prophet.

 

He wrote many novels afterward and has been ranked 13th on the list of the best British writers since 1945.

 

Notable works:

The Satanic Verses

Midnight’s Children

 

Quote from the author:

 

“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

 

11. Arundhati Roy

 

Arundhati Roy

 

Roy is mostly known for her novel of the “God of Small Things” for which she received a Man Booker Prize for fiction in 1997. This book became a huge bestseller and sold more copies than any other non-expatriate Indian novel. Her novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” also won many awards and found its way to the Man Booker Prize 2017 longlist.

 

She’s also a political activist and a fighter for environmental causes. She’s a polarizing figure in India, known for her scathing comments about Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister.

 

Roy was featured in Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list in 2014.

 

Notable works:

The God of Small Things

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

 

Quote from the author:

 

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

 

12. Vikram Seth

 

Vikram Seth

 

Born in 1952 in Calcutta, Seth is a part novelist, part travel writer known mostly for his first novel “The Golden Gate” and the epic novel “A Suitable Boy”.

 

The author was actually raised in London and graduated from Oxford, and Stanford where he studied economics.

 

It took him a long time to get the attention of the public and some of his first volumes did not attract critical attention. The first book that conquered the hearts of readers was a humorous travelogue “From Heaven Lake.”

 

His books are most often written in verse but his book of prose “A Suitable Boy”, which has 1349 pages, is often compared to the works of Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens.

 

Notable works:

A Suitable Boy

The Golden Gate

 

Quote from the author:

 

“But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they’re bad they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they’re good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch.”

 

13. Anita Desai

 

Anita Desai

 

Anita Desai is an author of many widely acclaimed children’s books written in the English language. She was born to a German mother a Bengali father and grew up speaking German, Hindi, and English.

 

Except for children’s books she wrote many novels on the theme of women’s oppression in India. Her writing style is poetic and not shying away from tragedy and high-drama.

 

She received many awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the British Guardian Prize for her work. And in 1993, her novel “In Custody” was made into a film which won the 1994 President of India Gold Medal for Best Picture.

 

Notable works:

Clear Light of Day

Fasting, Feasting

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Isn’t it strange how life won’t flow, like a river, but moves in jumps, as if it were held back by locks that are opened now and then to let it jump forwards in a kind of flood?”

 

14. Jhumpa Lahiri

 

Jhumpa Lahiri

 

Although she was born in London, and now has American citizenship, her background is ethnically Indian (her parents come from West Bengal). Her work often explores the Indian immigrant experience in America.

 

Her book the “Interpreter of Maladies” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN/Hemingway award. Moreover, her second novel “The Namesake” was made into a popular movie of the same name.

 

In 2011 she moved to Rome and since then she has translated a few Italian books into English. Her forthcoming book is going to be written in Italian as well.

 

Notable works:

Interpreter of Maladies

The Namesake

 

Quote from the author:

 

“You are still young, free.. Do yourself a favor. Before it’s too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late.”

 

15. Amitav Ghosh

 

Amitav Ghosh

 

Ghosh is mostly known for his English works of fiction. He’s also the winner of the Prestigious Jnanpith award for his outstanding contribution to literature.

 

He was born in Calcutta in 1956 but later moved with his family to New York, USA, where he joined The Queen’s College as a distinguished professor of comparative literature. He’s also been a visiting professor in the English department of the Harvard University

 

He later returned to India where he began working on his Ibis Trilogy. He wrote eight novels (the most famous one being the “Sea of Poppies”), as well as 6 works of nonfiction including many notable collections of essays.

 

In his works, he often deals with epic themes of history, memory political struggle, and communal violence which include elements of anthropology as well as art.

 

Notable works:

Sea of Poppies

The Glass Palace: A Novel

 

Quote from the author:

 

“What would it be like if I had something to defend – a home, a country, a family – and I found myself attacked by these ghostly men, these trusting boys? How do you fight an enemy who fights with neither enmity nor anger, but in submission to orders from superiors, without protest and without conscience?”

 

16. Ruskin Bond

 

Ruskin Bond

 

Bond is an Indian author of British descent. He’s known for his contributions to the children’s literature genre and he received many literary awards including Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan.

 

Many of his works are inspired by the hill stations at the foothills of the Himalayas. The author spent most of his childhood there. I also visited these places, including Dharamshala and attest – they are truly breathtaking. His most famous children’s book is called “The Angry River.”

 

He once said: “I had a pretty lonely childhood and it [writing] helps me to understand a child better.”

 

He’s been writing for over 50 years, and he lived through many societal and political changes in India. This is reflected in many of his works.

 

Notable works:

The Room on The Roof

The Blue Umbrella

 

Quote from the author:

 

“How evanescent those loves and friendships seem at this distance in time… We move on, make new attachments. We grow old. But sometimes, we hanker for old friendships, the old loves. Sometimes I wish I was young again. Or that I could travel back in time and pick up the threads. Absent so long, I may have stopped loving you, friends; but I will never stop loving the Day I loved you.”

 

17. Kiran Desai

 

Kiran Desai

 

Kiran is the daughter of Anita Desai, already mentioned in this list. Her novel the “Inheritance of Loss” which took her seven years to complete won the Man Booker Award 2006. She received many other accolades (including praise from Salman Rushdie) for her works and has been named as one of 20 most influential Indian women.

 

She was born in Delhi but later on, she moved to India and then to the United States where she studied creative writing at the Bennington College, Hollins University and Columbia University.

 

Despite publishing just two books, she’s still one of the most widely known English language writers from India

 

Notable works:

The Inheritance of Loss

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.”

 

18. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

 

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

 

Chitra is an author and poet who was born in Kolkata but now holds American citizenship as well. She received many awards and many of her books are currently turned into movies and TV shows.

 

Her works are set both in India and the United States and quite often depict the life of immigrants.

 

What’s quite distinctive about her work is that she writes in many different genres and for many different audiences including adults as well as children. She penned a dozen books of fiction, a couple of books for young adults and children as well as many books of poetry.

 

Notable works:

The Palace of Illusions: A Novel

Sister of My Heart: A Novel

 

Quote from the author:

 

“Looking back, I could not point to one special time and say, There! That’s what is amazing. We can change completely and not recognize it. We think terrible events have made us into stone. But love slips in like a chisel – and suddenly it is an ax, breaking us into pieces from the inside.”

 

19. Nirad C. Chaudhuri

 

Nirad C. Chaudhuri

 

Chaudhuri lived to be 101 years old, and he almost lived in three different centuries. He was born in 1897 still in British India and died in 1999 in Oxford, England.

 

He wrote both in English and Bengali. His books often touch upon the themes of the history and cultural changes in India, especially in the context of the British Empire.

 

His magnum opus “The autobiography of an unknown Indian” attracted many admirers over the years, including Winston Churchill. It’s an autobiography of Chaudhuri from his birth to the age of 50. The book brought about much controversy and was a great account of how the colonial rule really worked.

 

Notable works:

The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian

A Passage to England

 

Quote from the author:

 

“I understood the life around me better, not from love, which everybody acknowledges to be a great teacher, but from estrangement, to which nobody has attributed the power of reinforcing insight”.

 

20. Mahatma Gandhi

 

Mahatma Gandhi

 

This man doesn’t need any introduction. He played a huge role in a political movement that ultimately led to the liberation of India from the British Empire.

 

Most people know him for his political activism and service to his country. But he was also an avid writer who left behind many interesting books that chronicle his fight for independence as well as his personal philosophy.

 

His book “The story of my experiments with truth” is a collection of 105 essays covering different aspects of his life and the development of his philosophy.

 

Another book called “Hind Swaraj” was written in 1909 but already sketched out a dream of free India.

 

Notable Works:

The Story of My Experiments with Truth

India of My Dreams

 

Quote from the author:

 

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

 

21. Dilip Hiro

 

Dilip Hiro

 

Hiro’s career spans over many years and unlike other authors mentioned in this article, he’s known mostly for his works of non-fiction, on the theme of war and politics. He’s a fierce political commentator who to this day contributes to publications such as The Guardian.

 

His latest book is called “The Cold War in the Islamic World” and it’s about the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Now he’s based in England where he continues with his analysis of the current political landscape (including the rivalry between India and Pakistan).

 

Notable works:

The Longest War

Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran

 

Quote from the author:

 

“When asked about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, “Minimal.”

 

22. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay

 

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay

 

Chatterji could be as well in the first place on this list as he is the most popular, and the most translated Indian author of all time.

 

He was born in Bengal at the end of the 19th century and remains the most widely known novelist in the Bengali language. His works mostly deal with every day, often tragic life of the villagers of his native land.

 

He didn’t receive much formal schooling but was endowed with the love of literature from his father. He later improved his writing skills under the tutelage of Kishorimohan Mukherjee. From then on, he was involved in the fight for independence and established himself as one of India’s most famous writers.

 

Notable works:

Srikanta

Devdas

 

Quote from the author:

 

“They’ll have the sweet, intimate memories of a lost paradise, and beside it a sea of sorrow… People looking on from outside think all is lost… What remains when everything is lost can be held in the palm, like a jewel. It can’t be flaunted in a pageant, so the lookers-on are disappointed and jeer as they return home..”

 

Conclusion

 

You can’t overestimate the value that Indian literature played in the world literary tradition. I hope that this short list of the most notable Indian authors will inspire you to grab some of their books.

 

This is going to be a valuable experience, especially if you come from a Western tradition. You will learn so much more about a world you never truly experienced.

 

And this newfound knowledge will bring you to a new plane of understanding, and perhaps, inspire you to explore the literary traditions of other countries.

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