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Week #1: Ranjit Lal

4 January 2014
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52 Weeks
Do you remember being in school and writing one of those “My favourite author” type of essays? Well—fair warning—this is one such post.

Last year, I finally had the nerve to go up and say hello to one of my favourite Indian authors writing for young people, Ranjit Lal. You’d be hard pressed to find him hobnobbing with the who’s who of the publishing world—though I believe he fully belongs there, more so than various others who insist on elbowing in—which is probably one of the reasons that his work doesn’t get as much of a fuss made of as it should. He says that his books are “for everyone from age 10 to 100”, and he’s certainly quite prolific, but I particularly love his YA stuff.

Ranjit Lal does people particularly well. The one thing you’re certain to take away from any of his works is how well the characters are drawn. It is notable that he writes girls and boys equally well, and tends to shy away from gender stereotyping. Overall, he’s an adroit narrator and writes the kind of books that make you think even after you’ve turned the last page. Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote for the now defunct Books & More magazine nearly two years ago:

Ranjit Lal’s Faces in the Water (Puffin, 2010) tackles an ubiquitous and rampant social evil—female infanticide. Fifteen-year-old Gurmi is your regular rich spoilt brat, belonging to the affluent Diwanchand family that boasts of having only sons. When he accidentally ventures into forbidden territory, he meets the ghost-sisters he never had and finally understands why there are no girls in his family. Lal’s 2007 novel The Battle for No.19 (Puffin) is set in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, when a group of schoolgirls takes refuge from a violent mob. This gripping story brings to the fore how violence, so commonplace in today’s world, affects the lives of young people and the choices they must make.

But perhaps no other Indian novel pushes the boundaries as much as… Smitten [2012, Young Zubaan], the story of a young girl being sexually abused by her stepfather. Despite the disturbing subject, it is also combines a rather sweet side story of two teenagers falling in love.

Sounds like heavy stuff, but the writing is clean, pacy, non-didactic and very believable. Another of my favourites is Taklu and Shroom (Harper, 2012), which narrates an unlikely friendship between the angry, grieving seventeen-year-old Gaurav, whose dog has been brutally gunned down by the prime-minister’s security people, and a cancer survivor Rukmini, all of twelve, and living in her own world where she’s an intrepid secret agent.

Finally, I have two Ranjit Lal novels waiting in my bookshelf: The Deadly Royal Recipe (Duckbill, 2012) and autographed copy of Black Limericks (IndiaInk, 2011). Of course, these are just a few of the two dozen and counting that he’s written. Someday I’ll get through them all—and do a few reviews.

~PD

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