ELLE Book Club

Name to know: Karan Mahajan

The Delhi native's second novel is one of the most anticipated releases of the year

Family Planning (2008), Karan Mahajan’s debut novel, begins with an explanation for its protagonist’s sizable progeny. The Delhi minister and father-of-13 finds the pregnant body irresistible, for reasons that include the unborn fetus “pleading for another sibling — begging, sobbing, moaning through the parched throat of his wife.”

The Delhi native developed the sharp, merciless satire after he noticed chinks in contemporary Indian literature while teaching a class on it as a Stanford undergrad. “I grew up in a fairly mainstream Punjabi setting, and I felt that a lot of writing was not representing a certain kind of middle class that I knew, or the sexualisation of Indian life,” he says. The novel sparked instant interest, was picked up by Salman Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie, and landed Mahajan a Dylan Thomas Prize nomination alongside Booker-winner Eleanor Catton.

In his next, The Association Of Small Bombs, Mahajan takes a zoomed-in view on terrorism. His account of a 1999 blast in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar market traces the long-term effects of the tragedy on two families and is flagged as one of the most promising releases of the year. “Like many people, I was surprised by how much the 26/11 attacks affected me. They really filled me with an unusual rage,” says Mahajan, 31, who laboured through all manner of books on terrorism to separate emotion from reason. “Writing about [terrorism] can just become writing about grief. I read a huge number of books on the history of terrorism, radical Islamic terrorism, revolutionary Marxist terrorism to arrive at a very clear picture of the day-to-day life of a terrorist.” 

The Association Of Small Bombs (HarperCollins India) is out this month

Photograph: Lucky Malhotra