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Love to read? Here’s some great reads on love!

Feb/17/2022 / by Pratika Yashaswi
Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

The soaring of the heart. The vertiginous feeling of one’s defenses dropping. The crackling frisson of connecting with a stranger for the first time. The courage it takes to walk away from families, run away from horrors like honor-killing and caste-related murders because two have decided their love is undeniable. Love is mysterious, love is powerful, love is healing.

Everybody loves love—even those who turn their nose up at cheesy notions of Valentine’s Day and Bollywood movies. Especially when it’s at the center of a richly told narrative. There are the exceedingly gratifying reads from the romantic comedy genre with their feisty heroines and heros with lopsided grins. And the sombre tales from South Asia’s dark side, where love perseveres through caste and class divides and even war. The romance genre is a diverse one and in this month’s booklist, we’ve done our best to include something for everyone.

This Valentine’s, cosy up with any one of these beautiful tales from some of South Asia’s finest storytellers.

  1. The Road from Elephant Pass by Nihal De Silva

During Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, Sinhalese soldier Captain Wasantha’s routine assignment to pick up a woman informant (a Tamil Tiger and activist, Kamala) near Jaffna turns into a nightmare when the Tigers attack the camp at Elephant Pass. Adversaries from the beginning, the two are forced to escape together and cross the abandoned Wilpattu National Park on foot. This novel won the 2003 Gratiaen Prize for creative writing in English “… for its convincing demonstration that resolution of conflict and reconciliation of differences are feasible through mutual experience and regard.”

  1. Written in the Stars  by Aisha Saeed

Dating — even friendship with a boy — is forbidden by Naila’s conservative immigrant parents. She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up — but they will choose her husband. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid, and promptly pack the family off to Pakistan to get in touch with their roots. On the vacation, plans change and an arranged marriage is planned: stat. Is Naila’s fate sealed? Or can Saif come through before it’s too late?

  1. The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam

Zubaidah Haque experiences a liberated life at Harvard where she becomes a paleontologist, participates in a dig at Baluchistan, Pakistan, and then moves back to Bangladesh to get married to her childhood friend, leaving behind Elijah Strong, the love of her life. 

The third in a loosely connected trilogy, “The Bones of Grace” is in the form of an epistle to Elijah, explaining Zubaida’s decisions. The novel dwells upon the narrator’s search for identity as an adopted child caught between two worlds: Bangladesh, her motherland, with all its political upheavals, and the U.S., her home. Lyrical, atmospheric, and breathtaking, it’s a great introduction to Anam’s work.

  1. How to Kidnap the Rich by Rahul Raina

“How to Kidnap the Rich” has been called “a monstrously funny and unpredictable wild ride.” Ramesh, the gifted son of a tea stall owner, earns money by taking exams for the sons of rich men but accidentally puts Rudi first in the All Indias, a competitive national exam. Rudi catapults to celeb status and Ramesh decides to cash in — except the two are kidnapped. Through their escapes and capers across Delhi’s slums and a chain of impossible (but hilarious) situations, we find a caper, social satire, and love story rolled into one.

  1. The Wayward Daughter by Shraddha Ghale

“The Wayward Daughter” is a bildungsroman set in Kathmandu’s bustling politics. Cosmopolitanism exists alongside conservative attitudes; and a civil war looms in the distance. Sumnima has got dismal grades in her exams, due to which she’ll need to settle for an even more dismal college in town while her friends, the daughters of the rich and the royal will be off studying abroad. Her parents are disappointed, her annoying relatives are causing havoc in her home and worst of all, she has been lying, sneaking around and stealing money for her RJ boyfriend, who never seems to return her calls. 

  1. Honor by Thrity Umrigar 

Indian American journalist Smita is in India covering the story of Meena, a Hindu woman attacked by members of her own family for marrying a Muslim man. She also finds herself increasingly drawn to Mohan, an Indian man she meets while on assignment. Smita tries to right the scales of Meena’s fate, while nursing the wounds of her own painful past. Exploring themes of love, hope, familial devotion, betrayal, and sacrifice, the two stories progress in parallel as the women strive to reconcile being true to their homelands while being true to themselves at the same time. 

  1. Unmarriageable by Soniyah Kamal

Ever dreamed of your own Mr. Darcy? Alys Binat, who has found joy teaching English literature to schoolgirls, is our Jane and Valentine Darsee is our Mr. Darcy in an entirely entertaining remix of “Pride and Prejudice” set in modern small-town Pakistan. A fabulous read for eternal Jane Austen fans, readers are divided: either they love this book for being a straight retelling of the beloved novel, or they feel it follows Austen’s book too closely right up to the character names. However, Kamal discusses homosexuality, abortion and “late marriage” which could not find a better backdrop than a Pakistani wedding.

  1. Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan 

Anuja Chauhan is one of India’s best romcom writers, with her work flying off shelves and being turned into Bollywood films consistently for years now. Her heroines are memorable, and her writing is very punchy and of-the-times. But every book she turns out is inevitably compared in the reviews to “Those Pricey Thakur Girls.” In 1980s India, Justice Thakur and his wife watch anxiously over their five beloved daughters with all their quirks including the Judge’s favorite, the quietly fiery Debjani, who reads the English news on DD and clashes constantly with crusading journalist Dylan Singh Shekhawat and his incredible good looks. 

  1. The Singles Table by Sara Desai

Opposites attract in this rib-tickling romance about Zara, a free-spirited, charismatic lawyer determined to find the perfect match for Jay, a military specialist and grumpy bachelor at her cousin’s wedding. In the third installment of a well-received series called “The Marriage Game,” matchmaker and matchmakee fall inescapably in love. As Jackie Lau, author of “Donut Fall in Love” quipped, “You won’t feel lonely at the singles table with this book to keep you company.” A sexy romcom and contemporary romance with a multicultural twist. 

  1. Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Another Indian American play on a much-loved Austen classic, Yash Raje, California’s first serious Indian gubernatorial candidate blacks out in a panic at a rally, shattering an inner fortress built on a lifetime of repressed feelings. Before the truth of his condition can leak out, the family ropes in his sister’s best friend, India Dashwood, California’s foremost stress management coach, to manage the situation. What happens when Yash is forced to confront the secrets of his past — including a too brief, magical night from 10 years ago.