This is the second part of a round-table discussion with writers, critics, academics, and editors about Indian speculative fiction. You can read the first part of this round-table, which discusses definitions and characteristics, here.
Question 4: The worlds of the future in golden-age SF had all sorts of wonderful gadgetry but their social relations were usually derived from the 40s and 50s. Nuclear families, all-white crews, etc. etc. These blindspots are obvious now, but weren't obvious to them then. What are some of the things not being addressed (but should be) in Indian fiction, speculative or otherwise? Or if they're being dealt with, are we simply dealing with them on terms largely set by "the" West (for example, Bodhi's suggestion that the very words 'Indian spec-fic' will result in one kind of fiction rather than another)?
Shweta Narayan: I have no answer to this one. I'm simply not widely enough read to say what is being written and what's not, and my perspective is too set by the US/UK.
Suchitra Mathur: This is a question after my own heart—my chance to say a little about what sort of speculative fiction I'd like to read. Here I find feminist spec-fic having opened up certain avenues that I would like other non-mainstream spec-fic to pick up. First, as a co-relate to feminist spec-fic's exploration of gender, one could have explorations of other non-dominant identities, be it questions of caste (very interestingly explored in one way by Manu Joseph in Serious Men), class (especially in light of Development discourses and their impact on the global South), alternate sexualities/abilities. While 'mainstream' Indian writing in English has explored some of these, it is interesting that at least to my knowledge, 'Indian' spec-fic has not speculated with these 'other' identities. Another blind spot that was challenged by feminist spec-fic in specifically gendered terms was the very definition of science, its content, methodology, history, philosophy. This engagement with the history/discourse of science itself, whether in specifically local terms (the Bhabha-Saha debate, for instance) or more global terms (through the lens of colonisation or contemporary globalisation) is something I have not seen much of in the little I've read, and would definitely like to see more of. I strongly feel that such engagement can give a distinctive identity to spec-fic emerging from outside the Anglo-American mainstream.
Swapna Kishore: I haven't read enough recently to comment on specific blindspots, so I can't comment on this.
Samit Basu: I don't think there should be any such should-address topics for any nation in any genre. How is that different from the general 'Indians should write about India' nonsense? I've certainly never picked up a work of fiction because it addresses particular issues that I feel writers from a region/race should address.
I also wanted to add that I find the term post-colonial speculative fiction interesting but fundamentally off-putting. Why would I voluntarily call myself a post-colonial anything? It's likely to induce eye-gleams among academics and complete eye-glazes among civilians. What do you all say when people ask you what you do?
Indrapramit Das: Kind of agree with Samit here, in that I think that fiction of all genres should deal with humanity's problems (whether explicitly or by merely existing as art, bad or good, in itself a symptom and a salve for our most terrible tendencies as a species), not just speculative fiction. I don't think Indian spec-fic should have a specific mandate. The idea, to me, is to encourage good writers in India to produce good fiction, and to do so in areas where the Indian literary world has perhaps not tended to go, and in areas where the global literary world hasn't really expected India to go (Indian litfic, after all, has a very specific and narrow image, if a popular one). As for whether Indian speculative fiction is dealing with issues to do with gender, sexual, racial, and religious inequality, intolerance, etc. that were/are rampantly endemic in SF/F past and present, as well as in the world in general, I once again don't have a large enough sample or a clear enough picture of it yet to say.
Samit Basu: I'm very curious about something Shweta said earlier, though. About wanting to be read by POC readers everywhere and maybe Indian readers. I want to ask, do you in any way try and write for these readers? And if so, how, given that there isn't enough background material on what these readers like reading? Or is it essentially the same thing as writing what you'd like to read yourself, and imagine that other people similar to you in some ways like as well? And if so, how do you know the reason they like your work is their colour/ethnicity?
I'm asking because I've kind of abandoned these questions over the last decade but always interested in knowing how other writers approach it.
Shweta Narayan: It's not as clear-cut to me as writing what other people like reading, because yeah, I don't know. But. . . there are many ways in which (non-modified) speculative fiction makes me feel alienated, othered, exotified, tokenized. Sometimes it's the overall narrative, sometimes it's the little things (like food terms for skin colours, explanation of "exotic" things, etc).
I get very excited when I find a writer who doesn't make me feel that way, and from conversations I've had, I'm not alone.
So a question I ask myself, often, is—where do I fall on that? If I were reading this story as someone other than the author, would it make me feel pushed aside, or spoken to? As a Desi, as a person with disabilities, as a queer (though cis and het passing) person, as all these things together? It's not even a question of "would I or people I know like this story" as much as the much more. . . basic I guess . . . "would I or people I know feel othered by this story".
I just want readers like myself to have the option (based on their taste obviously!) of liking or not liking my stuff, without getting shoved aside by it.
Manjula Padmanabhan: Like Samit, I don't know about "should". I think a piece of writing becomes powerful to the extent that the author's intentions are sincere—i.e., not manipulative, not commercial. For instance, I think the reason that many commercially successful books or movies are attacked and reviled by critics is that they're successful at the cost (perhaps! This is not always true) of being insightful and honest in a thoughtful/literary sense.
But it's a punishing argument.
Many Indian authors have made a good living from being the exotic bird in the world's literary menagerie. And why not? By doing that, they have then created a space not just for themselves but for others, less commercially attuned, to follow. We are all told that Penguin India can only "afford" its literary authors because of non-literary front-runners such as Shobha Dé.
The struggle to find an ideal market is bound to be more difficult than, say, a North American author writing in English—for the very simple reason that "our" market is split by 17 (or more! I have not kept track) official languages and deep cultural/caste/communal/religious/gender divisions.
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay: I don't think art works that way (or should), although there might be some ideas that an author would like to convey from the fiction. To restrain fiction produced by Indian writers to issues related to India, real or imagined, would be a straitjacket that good authors would be uncomfortable with. Yes, art can teach one to think in new ways, and one can write about a setting one is familiar with (be it India or elsewhere), and it can be about issues the author wishes to talk about. But art is not a textbook. So no, I disagree that Indian writers need to write about India or any issues, which is why I am uncomfortable with the notion of 'Indian spec-fic' as well, because it seems to force writers to write a certain way, to suggest their "authenticity," "Indian-ness," and so forth. Any attempt to create a manifesto for the aims of Indian writers a la the Mundanes would be a disaster.
I also wanted to add that postcolonial SF simply does not work for me either.
Payal Dhar: Like I said earlier, we're all slaves of our social conditioning, much more so than we'd like to imagine. Remember how back in the 1960s and 70s, Gene Roddenberry couldn't envisage a 23rd century where women could be starship captains? This is despite the fact that he's seen as a sci-fi visionary by some. To his credit—though he did break through some social taboos of his time, a racially diverse crew, for example—he admitted his shortsightedness about that episode (The Turnabout Intruder) later on. It's a particular peeve of mine that fantasy and science fiction (I'm not very fond of the term speculative fiction myself, which a few others have been discussing, but I won't go into that now) shows remarkably little cultural diversity. Heteronormativity is still a massive blindspot. If we just think of how the world has changed (for the better or worse? Good question!) over the past few decades, it'd probably be safe to say that the future and fantasy worlds we write about are nothing more than insipid clones of our times at best.
And a PS: I'm another one of those whose eyes glaze over when I hear the term "postcolonial speculative fiction"!
Swapna Kishore: Ditto here. . .
Shweta Narayan: I'm rather taken aback that so many people here find the word postcolonial off-putting! To me it's exciting, it says that a story isn't going to be perpetuating the same old glorification of colonialism we find in so much speculative fiction, and it's going to be giving me something new.
Manjula Padmanabhan: Well. . . Calling it 'post' doesn't really remove the stain of colonialism. Just slightly loosens its grip. You're still allowing yourself to be defined by it, is my point.
Shweta Narayan: Yeah sorry I'm going to disagree with that 100%. I think we're defined by it a lot more if we pretend it never happened or just ignore its continued effect on our lives, than if we deliberately undermine it.
So I doubt we're going to find any agreement on this one.
Suchitra Mathur: Since I opened this can of worms that is now threatening to become the whale that swallowed all, let me at least put my own two paisa in again (and there's my 'Indianism' for everyone to see).
'Postcolonial' being a theoretically very controversial concept is a complete given, and that is coming out clearly in this conversation. So be it—we can agree to disagree on its meaning/value etc. But does that make it any less or more meaningful/valuable/viable as a 'defining' feature of a certain kind of spec-fic than 'Indian'?
And here I would like to veer off a little to articulate what I have learnt from the discussion so far. There appear to be at least three clearly marked positions from which the usefulness/viability of categories such as 'Indian spec-fic' are being evaluated—the writers, the marketplace, and the readers. Now when it comes to the third, we need to recognize that there are at least two distinct kinds—the 'lay' reader (for lack of a better word) and the literary critic variety (such as myself). The 'postcolonial' label was suggested very much from the perspective of the latter, as a more thought-provoking/useful label for a reader such as myself than 'Indian' which to me, at its 'best' simply identifies the ancestry of the author, and at its worst, perpetuates a given notion of 'culture'/nation-state that I find inimical to the very idea of speculative fiction. But let me now try to put it in perspective—from a writer's perspective, what would work better—'Indian spec-fic' or 'Cyber spec-fic' (if I may be permitted to coin this category)? The latter would be determined by content, and could very well govern the intention of a writer in choice of subject/narrative format etc., and be a useful tag for the reader as a kind of ballpark idea of what kind of fiction s/he is about to read, while invoking others in the same sub-category for a useful sort of comparative analysis.
It is here that I find that 'Indian' fails as a tag—it gives me no useful comparative handle, no really meaningful preview of what to expect (unless I want to be really stereotypical about 'Indian'), and little to speculate about. For me 'postcolonial' as a tag does provide a useful handle; it may well not be a useful tag for other readers, and it may have no significance for some writers, but it still offers to me (specifically me, a certain kind of reader) more possibilities than the tag 'Indian'.
I realize I've taken this discussion back to the first question, but since it was in response to that question that the 'postcolonial' tag had first come up, I needed to contextualize it accordingly. At the same time, I think it has great relevance for the fourth question since one reason I do appreciate what I call 'postcolonial science fiction' is because I see the discourse of colonialism as a blind spot in mainstream Anglo-American spec-fic, and so enjoy spec-fic that challenges this blind spot. That does not mean that I expect all writers to write in that mode (even all 'Indian' writers), but that yes, this is an area that I find excitingly worthwhile of exploration as a reader. And just to end on a note that will most probably fan fires again (hey I want to keep this discussion going), I have taught the work of five authors involved in this discussion as 'postcolonial science fiction' with much success (if student interest is anything to go by) in the classroom!
Samit Basu: Suchitra, if this is your typing speed I expect a finished trilogy of novels from you by the time this discussion is over!
Also, all of this is very interesting from an academic point of view, and I've had at least a couple of students do interviews for theses where they informed me I was post-colonial and post-modern and other posts also. So I certainly don't mind being called any of these things (any post is better than no post).
But as a writer, I don't call myself an Indian writer, or a fantasy/SF writer, or any other kind of writer. I guess I'm less interested in defining myself than I am in actually making books and comics and whatever else. Which means I would never consciously use the word post-colonial to define myself or my work: it's a word that's best used to describe other people's work, I think. You'll notice that in the discussion that preceded this, it was the writers who were fretting and fuming at being labeled po-co because it's a limiting word. I guess Indian is too. But being Indian is more of a fact than a prescription of what I can write about: when I go do book events in the West I don't mind being called an Indian writer. But I don't think I would appreciate being called a post-colonial writer at all.
And writers who are also academics should be warned that in situations when they're not surrounded by fellow academics, nothing clears the room faster than the word post-colonial. Well, except 'Bar's closed' I suppose.
Swapna Kishore: As Samit says, labels are restrictive.
I'm not an academic; I read for pleasure, and sometimes (if that happens alongside) for getting insights. I have no idea of what determines academic classification and I am sure there must be excellent reasons for the frameworks used, but as an individual and non-academic, the word post-colonialism makes me squirm.
I just don't view fiction in terms of an "aftermath of decolonization." Some specific literary books, yes, if that is a significant part of their theme. . . but not everything written by an Indian (or by someone from some other once-colonized country).
The way I see it is, just because a writer is somehow associated with a country that was historically once under a Mother Country surely does not mean all that writer's fiction is (or can be viewed as) reflective of the "aftermath of decolonization" and related dilemmas of whatever.
Shweta Narayan: "it was the writers who were fretting and fuming"—Umm, that's an interesting summary given that I'm a writer.
Samit Basu: Apologies. What I meant was everyone who objected was a writer, not that everyone who is a writer objected. I thought that was clear.
Question 5: Who are some of the Indian spec-fic authors—in English or an Indian regional language—we should be reading? What are some of the influences on your work?
Manjula Padmanabhan: Honestly, I haven't read enough of any other Indian SF authors to answer the first part of this question. If I had to answer it, then I would say that "Anil, Vandana, and Manjula are brilliant authors, who write within the genre and who also happen to be Indian".
Needless to say, I don't like "should" . . .
This certainly does not represent a carefully considered opinion (besides being brazenly self-referential), because I haven't gone around looking for other Indian SF authors. Zubaan's Breaking the Bow was a specialized collection of spec-fic from Indian authors and because my story was included in it, I did manage to read a few of the others. I liked the ones I read but didn't really love any of them. I don't know whether the problem is just that familiar one—of trying to scrape together a category out of sparse materials.
I think it's worth noting that whereas a number of Indian authors leaned towards "magic realism", following the lead set by Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, that does not make them SF/spec-fic writers.
I liked Arvind Mishra's discomfort with spec-fic as a term—I will continue to use it, but I agree with him that it feels artificial. Maybe this is a generation issue.
The second part of your question reminds me of the year-end lists in newsmagazines in which authors name their top-ten authors— I hope I am free of influence from favorite authors, but I can say which books and authors gave me the tools with which to think imaginatively.
First and forever was Lewis Carroll and both the Alice books. Then a whole army of children's book authors, including L. Frank Baum, Enid Blyton, and E. Nesbit. Then Edgar Rice Buroughs with the Tarzan and Mars novels and followed by Robert A Heinlein. Heinlein's Have Spacesuit—Will Travel is the first book I read that I consciously recognized as science fiction.
But as much as these authors tickled my mind, it was also the huge universe of comics and comic strips I read as a small child that pushed me forward into that world, alongside large-format comics like Tin Tin and TV shows like Lost in Space (which I heartily disliked even though I watched it with slavish devotion—I was delighted to realize years later that it was indeed a rip-off of the far superior Star Trek).
Shweta Narayan: Well I like Anil and Vandana's writing, and I particularly enjoyed Kuzhali Manickavel's story in the Breaking the Bow anthology; but I'm going to be ornery and suggest four poets, all of whom I've been honored to publish in Stone Telling. Meena Kandaswamy, Minal Hajratwala, Koel Mukherjee, and Ishita Basu Mallik.
As to whose work has influenced me, the list is too long. Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia E. Butler are long-standing influences; currently I think the writers I'm most influenced by—who I read, in admiration, going 'how did they do that' and 'oh you can do that!' are Nisi Shawl, Delia Sherman, Amal El-Mohtar, Rochita Roenen-Luiz, Kai Ashante Wilson, and Kate Elliott.
Payal Dhar: Since lately I've been lamenting in general on the lack of (contemporary) original fantasy for younger readers—stuff like The Enchanted Wood that I used to love as a kid, though I know that wasn't strictly "contemporary" either—I feel I must flag Roopa Pai as an author to read for her series of eight Taranauts books (most exciting if you're about 8 to 10 years old). Otherwise, I've really enjoyed Anil's work, Beast as well as his short fiction.
My biggest inspiration for writing fantasy was Robert Jordan, but if there was one author I'd loved to have been, it's Malorie Blackman. Otherwise, the favorites and the inspirations are too many to list.
Swapna Kishore: Tough question. There are just too many books I've loved and which have meant a lot to me.
Okay, so let me begin with some stories by Indians (or based in India) that felt like they opened possibilities of what fiction could be like. The Calcutta Chromosome. Satyajit Ray's stories. My chancing upon Samit's The Simoqin Prophecies years ago, and thinking, okay, so now such stories can be written in India. Vandana's collection, The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet. Ashok Banker's Ramayana series. And of course Ian McDonald's River of Gods. And other authors who explored a variety of settings—Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler are the first two names that pop up in my mind.
There's also a jumbled bag of favorite Hindi re-reads (written or translated)—Chatursen's Vaisahali ki Nagarvadhu, stories by Shivani, Nirmal Verma, Ashapurna Devi, and many others.
This is just a peep into stuff that awes, inspires, and intimidates me. I'm not even attempting to add in the children's fiction I keep re-reading.
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay: That's a great question! Since the ones writing in English have already been mentioned, I will recommend two who have written in Bangla: Premendra Mitra and Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. But I would be really interested in learning, from the rest at this roundtable, about writers writing in India in other languages.
Samit Basu: Anil, Vandana, Payal. Looking forward to Indra's first novel, I think he's very talented.
Arvind Mishra: I would like to recommend the writings of Jayant Narlikar; he wrote originally in Marathi but many of his novels are available in English, translated by himself. Notably, The Virus, The Comet, and Vaaman Did Not Return.
Indrapramit Das: First off, just adding a bit to the 'postcolonial' debate/discussion: speaking for myself, the reason I don't care for the term as a way to categorize all Indian nonrealist fiction, is because it wears an academic solemnity that doesn't necessarily encompass the breadth of fiction itself as a medium (or genre; again, terms are fluid and move about all the time).
As for English as a language in India: it wasn't a gift; it was a result of history in all its impartiality. English is my first language, despite Bengali being my 'native' language, and I see that as a consequence of it being one of the languages spoken in India, not because the British 'gave' it to us, any more than North Americans were 'given' English, or French-Canadians were 'given' French, or some of the Swiss were 'given' German, etc. Languages filter through cultures, they spread like viruses and mutate like them too, and they belong to all of humanity. English, of course, is also cobbled together from other languages, and is a different beast in different countries and times. Whether they are used with respect, of course, is another thing.
To the final question. Alas, referring back to my early answers, I don't have enough experience with speculative fiction written by Indians to answer the first part (even my copy of Breaking the Bow is with my parents in India, so I haven't actually read it!). I certainly hope that changes in the near future. Satyajit Ray, one of my favorite filmmakers and one of the finest purveyors of Indian storytelling (unfortunately not alive), wrote fabulist/speculative/supernatural fiction in Bengali, and I remember reading some incredibly creepy stories by him in high school Bengali classes, but my Bengali's so rusty now I'd have trouble reading anything longer than a paragraph, unfortunately (I was pretty bad at Bengali even back then, inexplicably, maybe my brain is incapable of handling more than one language with efficacy, just as it's incapable of handling math of any sort, especially under other human observation). I'd love for some translations to come out of his work, and of other good non-English-language SF/F writers in India, though I've absolutely no knowledge of that literary realm.
The second part of the question can result in endless rambling on my part, and is predictably difficult to narrow down, so I'll just throw out some random influences; Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed and Joe Haldeman's The Forever War were among the first novels to really get me excited about trying to write SF set in space, William Gibson's Neuromancer was among the first novels to get me excited about writing sci-fi in general, LOTR was among the first novels that inspired me to write epic fantasy (something I've not attempted to write since I was a teenager), Stephen King, Clive Barker, Shakespeare, and Roald Dahl were among the first writers who inspired me to write (and write horror, once I started with King novels). Ted Chiang is a writer whose short stories made me want to master that form to the extent that he does. Indian litfic played a big part in getting me interested in expanding my tastes in high school to encompass mimetic and magic realist fiction; Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. Comics were a tremendous inspiration: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell, Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan, Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix and Obelix, and 2000 AD's Judge Dredd were vital, as was DC/Vertigo's Hellblazer. Other writers that pop to mind: Sam Delany (I first read him in university, and his work absolutely fired up my imagination), Nalo Hopkinson, Joe Hill, Jeanette Winterson, Jeff Vandermeer, Kelly Link, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Samuel Selvon, Junot Diaz, Charles Portis, Virginia Woolf, the Romantics, Susanna Clarke, H.G. Wells oh god this is hopeless. There's too much. This whole paragraph is, one must understand, very reductive, rambling though it may be.
Of course, you'll notice that an undue number of the writers who inspired me are men, and straight, and white; a sad side effect of ages upon ages of skewed representation/acceptance of sex, gender, and race in 'global' culture. I hope, and I think, however achingly slowly, that is changing. Very, very slowly. Certainly the internet has forced the discussion out into the open in more ways, as it has also given a platform for all the most loathsome humans of the world to drown out reason with bilious clamor. I've faith, though.
I should also mention that movies, TV, music, and video games, and art in general all had equally important roles in continuously inspiring me to create art in turn while consuming it (and continue to do so). I will not start naming key examples from those mediums, lest I continue forever and ever. I will mention that TV shows The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood are among the most ridiculously and successfully ambitious novelistic narratives I've ever seen, and remain towering examples of the kind of massively affecting art that I can only aspire to. I can start listing a hundred movies and bands and musicians and games and whatnot, but this is all getting too painful, because everything I say only makes me think of everything else I've omitted.
Also, though I've not read anything that could be considered a repertoire of fiction by an Indian writer who identifies as somehow involved in writing 'speculative' fiction, I know Vandana has some beautiful, fascinating short fiction in online venues, and Samit's most recent novel Turbulence is just out in the US. I've not read Turbulence, but I have fond memories of reading his debut novel The Simoqin Prophecies when I was graduating high school (not to make you feel old, Samit), when it kickstarted some waking awareness of SF/F in the Indian literary world. I'm sure there are very many Indian writers writing speculative fiction (again, just using it as an overall term, not as an absolute) who are trying harder to attain more attention in both Indian and the international literary realm, as their litfic counterparts have tended to do. Maybe some of them are in this very group. I encountered one such Indian writer in the latest outgoing Clarion West class—Geetanjali Dighe, who also received the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Schoarship. Ambitious and bright. Keep an eye out for her.
I must also acknowledge the history and mythology of the world as being utterly brilliant stories. Essential.
Suchitra Mathur: What a lovely question—now I will have a whole new reading list!
As for my own recommendations, there are so many ways of approaching this that I really don't know where to begin. But here goes:
For me, it all started with Star Trek and then Asimov. Science phobic, it is these two that made me realise that I could still enjoy something that had 'science' in the title and introduced me to the world of 'science fiction'. And then much later I found Ursula Le Guin and Marge Piercy, to mention just two of my favorite feminist spec-fic writers, and a whole new world opened up which I'm still exploring and that has in many ways become my benchmark of 'good' spec-fic—speculative in an engaged fashion, deeply involved with the socio-political realities of the here and now. In Indian writers, I've found this in Manjula Padmanabhan—got addicted to Harvest (which I read once a year just for the joy of it), then discovered and reveled in the Suki comics, lapped up the short stories, and utterly fell in love with Unprincess. There's also Escape, which, along with Vandana Singh's Distances are two of my favourite feminist spec-fic works by Indian authors. I've just discovered Shweta Narayan through her poetry (Cave Smell is what got me hooked); I'm very much looking forward to reading more poetry and fiction by her—whatever I can lay my hands on through the internet! And if I may wander a little off the spec-fic road, then there's the work of Kalpana Swaminathan, especially Venus Crossing (short story collection), Bougainvillea House, and Ambrosia for Afters. She also writes along with Ishrat Syed under the pseudonym Kalpish Ratna—their novel The Quarantine Papers is a fascinating read.
Apart from feminist spec-fic, my other passion is adaptation—the more appropriative the better. And this is not just with respect to specific stories, but also to genre itself. So this is where I'd recommend Samit Basu's Simoqin trilogy as well as Payal Dhar's Shadow in Etermity series. Then there's Amish's Shiva trilogy, which I find one of the more interesting rewrites of Hindu mythology, a lot of which has been coming out in recent years. Breaking the Bow is also an excellent collection in this regard. And in different media, there is Amruta Patil's Adi Parva and Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues (a must see for anyone interested in re-visionings). For superhero revisionings, there is Samit Basu's Turbulence and the fun scholastic collection titled Superhero.
Then there's my personal obsession—spec-fic engaging with the discourse/institution of science itself, and here I would recommend Amitav Ghosh's The Calcutta Chromosome, Kunal Basu's The Racists, Tabish Khair's The Thing about Thugs, Rimi Chatterjee's Signal Red, Joseph Manu's Serious Men. Am desperate to read more in this vein, so would be thrilled if any of you could recommend more.
And finally, having by now gotten quite addicted to spec-fic of all kinds, there is this general buffet—any and all short stories by Anil Menon (bring out a collection, won't you, please!) as well as his The Beast with Nine Billion Feet, Pao (an anthology of comics), Scholastic's 7 Science Fiction Stories, Puffin's Shockwave and Other Cyber stories, and of course, Rushdie's Grimus.
I'm sure I'm forgetting many (hate my rapid loss of memory cells), but this I think covers all my favorites. These are exclusively works written in English that I have read, which is a very small sample of what is actually being written by Indian authors in English. And then there are Indian authors in more languages than I can count; I know great spec-fic has come out/continues to come out in many such languages (Bangla and Marathi immediately come to mind). I'm hoping some of the others may point out works/authors in these areas (thanks Bodhi for some of that).
Thanks again to all the others who have listed their recommendations—am looking for more too. Never can have a 'must read' list that is too long!