Delhi: A Soliloquy – M. Mukundan


Winner of the JCB Prize for Literature 2021

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It is the 1960s. Delhi is a city of refugees and dire poverty. The Malayali community is just beginning to lay down roots, and the government offices at Central Secretariat, as well as hospitals across the city, are infused with Malayali-ness.

This is the Delhi young Sahadevan makes his home, with the help of Shreedharanunni, committed trade union leader and lover of all things Chinese. His wife Devi and their children Vidya and Sathyanathan adopt Sahadevan as their own, and he soon falls into a comfortable rhythm: work, home and long walks across the city, in constant conversation with himself. One day, these meanderings will find their way into a novel, or so he dreams.

Then, unexpectedly, China declares war on India. In a moment, all is split asunder, including Shreedharanunni’s family. Their battle to survive is mirrored in the lives of many others: firebrand journalist Kunhikrishnan and his wife Lalitha; maverick artist Vasu; call girl and inveterate romantic Rosily; JNU student and activist Janakikutty. As India tumbles from one crisis to another—the Indo-Pak War, the refugee influx of the 1970s, the Emergency and its excesses, the riots of 1984—Sahadevan is everywhere, walking, soliloquising and aching to capture it all, the adversities and the happiness.

Hailed as a contemporary classic in Malayalam, this is a masterful novel about ordinary people whose lives and stories have leached into the very soil and memories of Delhi.

About the Author

M. Mukundan was born and brought up in Mahe. He rose to critical acclaim and popularity with Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil (1974). His stories and novels have been widely translated into various Indian languages, English and French. He has been awarded Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, the highest literary honour given by the Government of Kerala, the Crossword Book Award twice, first in 1999 for On the Banks of the Mayyazhi and again in 2006 for Kesavan’s Lamentations, and the Sahitya Akademi award and N.V. Puraskaram for Daivathinte Vikrithikal (God’s Mischief). His other major works include Kesavante Vilapangal (2009) and Prasavam (2008). He was presented with the insignia of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1998. He also served as the president of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi from 2006 to 2010. Four of his books have been adapted into award-winning films. Delhi Gathakal (2011), translated as Delhi: A Soliloquy, is based on his experiences of living and working in Delhi for forty years as a Cultural Attaché at the French embassy. In 2004, he retired from that position and returned to Mahe, his hometown.

Fathima E.V. is an award-winning writer and translator. Her translation of Subhash Chandran’s Manushyanu Oru Amukham, translated as A Preface to Man, was awarded the Crossword Book Award (2017) and the V. Abdulla Translation Award (2017). She was the translator-editor of the Indian Ink Mag, and her poems and short fiction have appeared in international anthologies and journals. She holds an MA and a PhD from the University of Calicut, and completed the TESOL course from the University of Surrey. Currently, she heads the department of English at Krishna Menon Memorial Government Women’s College, Kannur.

Nandakumar K. started his career as a sub-editor at Financial Express, after completing a master’s degree in Economics, followed by stints in international marketing and general management in India and abroad. Having travelled in over fifty countries, he claims he can speak enough German and French to save his life. Strangely, his tryst with translation started with a paper in French on the blood diseases of fishes for his sister-in-law, using a borrowed dictionary. He is now an empanelled copy editor with Indian publishers and IIM Ahmedabad. Delhi: A Soliloquy is his first published translation from Malayalam. He lives and works in Dubai. Nandakumar is the grandson of Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon.


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