A mural in Ayodhya depicting the ancient epic Ramayana. In India and in the West, fantasy, myths and conspiracies are often the terrain of the right or of market capitalism. In his novel, Siddhartha Deb liberates fantasy from the realm of right-wing forces, creating a radical new aesthetic that takes on the weird and apocalyptic realities of the Subcontinent today. Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire
A mural in Ayodhya depicting the ancient epic Ramayana. In India and in the West, fantasy, myths and conspiracies are often the terrain of the right or of market capitalism. In his novel, Siddhartha Deb liberates fantasy from the realm of right-wing forces, creating a radical new aesthetic that takes on the weird and apocalyptic realities of the Subcontinent today. Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Southasia Review of Books podcast #05: Siddhartha Deb on India’s macabre new realities

A conversation with Siddhartha Deb on recording the histories of India’s present and the dystopian futures of climate crisis and authoritarianism in his fiction and nonfiction

Welcome to the Southasia Review of Books Podcast from Himal Southasian, where we speak to celebrated authors and emerging literary voices from across Southasia. In this episode, Shwetha Srikanthan, assistant editor at Himal Southasian, speaks to Siddhartha Deb about his recent novel The Light at the End of the World, and his latest collection of essays, Twilight Prisoners: The Rise of the Hindu Right and the Fall of India.

The Light at the End of the World, Siddhartha Deb’s first novel in fifteen years, reinvents Southasian fiction for our time. 

The novel, beginning and ending in a dystopian future of authoritarianism and climate disaster, blurs the lines between realism and speculative fiction. It captures the puzzle of contradictions that is modern India today, and traces it back to the many moments of apocalypse in the Subcontinent’s history. At its core, the story is also about how certain tragedies and certain kinds of violence are repeated. 

Over the past decade and a half, India has pivoted from a seeming success story, revealing itself to be a stranger-than-fiction dystopia. In his recently published collection of essays, Twilight Prisoners, Siddhartha paints a damning picture of these darkest of turns in India’s recent past. It is a powerful exploration of the rise of Hindu Nationalism and its impact on dissenting voices and marginalised communities. And most importantly, it’s a timely reminder that those who resisted and are resisting – India’s twilight prisoners if you will – are not forgotten. As long as there is resistance and remembrance, there is still hope. 

Born in Shillong, in northeastern India, Siddhartha Deb lives in Harlem, New York. His fiction and nonfiction have been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, and been awarded the Pen Open prize. His journalism and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, the New Republic, Dissent, The Baffler, n+1, and The Caravan.

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