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