The form of the memoir in contemporary Indian literature has started to gain traction and has finally begun to receive it’s due. This growing interest has also been due to the rising popularity of celebrity memoirs like The Perks Of Being Moderately Famous by Soha Ali Khan. Memoirs tell true stories about lived realities, the writers are often vulnerable, sharing intimate details of their lives, their politics and their pain. Memoirs could be written as self-healing and through the book, the author allows the reader to journey through their life as it unfolds. The list has some of the Bound team’s favourite memoirs, it includes guests who have been on our podcast and shared a little bit of themselves with our listeners. The list also includes strong Indian women like Baby Haldar and literary legends like Shanta Gokhale and Temsula Ao who give you a rare insight into their life through their memoirs.
So Now You Know: Growing Up Gay In India by Vivek Tejuja
Vivek Tejuja’s coming of age memoir about growing up gay in Bombay in the 90s is funny, sharp and breaks conventional stereotypes. With light chatter, recollection of family anecdotes, banter, and catty comments, Tejuja makes this a fun read. He recollects the isolating loneliness of navigating relationships post his discovery of his sexuality and intersperses the narrations with visits to the Bombay sea and his love affair with Bollywood. Michelle and Tara absolutely loved the book and even had Vivek as a guest on an episode in Season 1 of the Books and Beyond podcast.
Close To The Bone by Lisa Ray
This book is not just another celebrity memoir, through almost lyrical prose Lisa Ray celebrates life. She lays bare her unique journey starting from her career as one of India’s first supermodel, her career as an actor and later being diagnosed with cancer and her journey towards recovery. In charting her life on her terms and on a quest for love she pursues different spiritual paths and firmly believes that one you can belong to multiple places simultaneously. The Bound team found this memoir inspiring and so relatable as women. Michelle and Tara had a surreal experience speaking to Lisa Ray on the Books and Beyond podcast
Ants Among Elephants by Sujata Gidla
In Ants Among Elephants, Sujata Gidla, born in the untouchable community traces the life of three generations of her family. The book shakes up the idea of freedom in newly Independent India. The memoir focuses on the life of Gidla’s uncle KG Satyamurthy who was majorly involved in the communist struggle in Telangana. Gidla also narrates the extensive financial and physical hurdles her mother had to overcome owing to her caste and family background. I loved this memoir because it checks your privilege and reveals how caste operates in disguise to maintain the status quo.
A Life Less Ordinary by Baby Haldar, Translated by Urvashi Butalia
Baby Haldar’s autobiography shook the literary world with its calibre of writing, especially unique as it is written by an uneducated domestic help. Married off at 12, and a mother 14, Haldar’s unhappy childhood was cut short only to take a turn for the worse with an abusive husband and with little options to fend for herself and her three children. She later fled to Delhi where she became a house help. Originally written in Bengali, it was her employer in Delhi who urged her to write down her incredible story. Haldar’s simplistic prose and honest narration tell a remarkable tale of her will to survive against the odds.
What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang
This recently published memoir takes you through the interiors of a mother-daughter relationship and how it grows, deepens and yet is still fraught with the unknown. Maya Shanbhag was always in awe of her mother, an accomplished physician who immigrated to the United States. Her mother was always a constant source of support, an attentive and loving parent. Thus when Maya has her own child and her mother is suddenly unavailable to her, she struggles to navigate motherhood and her own relationship with her mother. When her mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Maya is led on a journey of rediscovering her mother as a woman.
One Foot On The Ground by Shanta Gokhale
Writer, translator, columnist, social commentator, Shanta Gokhale is the stuff of legends in the Indian literary space. In this candid memoir, filled with her signature light humour, Gokhale takes the reader through her journey as a child growing up in a progressive Marathi household in Shivaji Park, Bombay, through the warmth of her adolescence and the love and losses of her adulthood. We get to live through the joy of her first translation as well as the tough moments where she nurses her mother through cancer and later as she battles cancer herself. This memoir gives us a personal history, a story of courage and acceptance.
Once Upon a Life: Burnt Curry and Bloody Rags: A Memoir by Temsula Ao
Temsula Ao’s happy childhood in Jorhat, Assam was cut short when she and her five sisters lost both their parents. In her autobiography, she narrates the immense impact of the Christian missionaries on her during her time at boarding schools. Through humorous anecdotes she narrates her courageous journey, battling poverty and overcoming several obstacles to become one of the most respected authors of North East India. A fierce feminist and poet, Ao’s memoir tells of her resilience and is written with searing honesty that makes it a must-read.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Do you ever wonder how doctors deal with getting sick themselves? Kalanti, on the verge of completing his decade long training as a neurosurgeon, was diagnosed with fourth stage cancer at just thirty-six. When Breath Becomes Air is his journey of living in the face of death, embracing fatherhood with the birth of his child while he confronts his own mortality. This profoundly moving book confronts the question of what do you do when your life is catastrophically interrupted? The memoir was published posthumously, and the book went on to resonate with people worldwide and became a bestseller.
Unladylike: A Memoir by Radhika Vaz
Unladylike by Radhika Vaz is a bang on, hit the mark femoir, a term coined by Kaitlyn Fontana: a memoir written by a female comedian. Instantly relatable, Vaz bares all including her insecurities about her body, her struggle to fit in America and her disdain for children. With her quirky, irreverent narration, she broaches taboo topics and asks questions on everyone’s mind like what’s the big deal about premarital sex anyway? Tara and Michelle loved her style and can’t wait till you get to hear us interview her on Season 2 of the Books and Beyond Podcast.
Yarn: An Interwoven Memoir by Pragya Bhagat
In Yarn, Pragya Bhagat weaves the life of her grandmother Shyama. The memoir is centred around the experience of a woman post the Partition of India and its lasting impact on her family life. The memoir is structured much like a collage of memories, assembled from interviews, journal entries, photographs and home videos. Shyama goes through several migrations starting with the journey from Pakistan to India at the age of 10. Through her Naniji’s story, Pragya finds a little bit of herself. Pragya is also a Bound instructor and shares her valuable knowledge of publishing her memoir in her class Writing Non-Fiction The Personal Essay.
If you would like to learn the technique of translating your memories and anecdotes into a written memoir then check out our Explore Non-Fiction: The Personal Essay conducted by Pragya Bhagat. Learn how to apply the techniques of fiction writing into non-fiction and create a safe space that allows us to be both vulnerable and honest.