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Prayaag Akbar: Writer of our dystopic time

  • Published at 06:11 pm November 4th, 2019
Prayaag Akbar

Akbar's fascinating novel Leila is so well received by readers and critics that it has been adapted into a Netflix web series

The literary tradition of dystopia is getting ever stronger. Rise of far-right ideologies has seen many writers shift their attention to this genre. One of the best dystopian books to emerge from South Asia in recent times is Leila. Written by Prayaag Akbar, Leila depicts an India where the idea of rising above religious and gender identities is a thing of the past.  

Story of Leila

Set in a near future, the gripping novel follows the life of Shalini whose eponymous daughter Leila is snatched away from her at an early age. The bereft mother’s journey—searching for her daughter for sixteen years—constitutes the kernel of the story around which a disturbingly dystopian world is created. Soon she sees her once-cosmopolitan city gradually turning into a sectored, high-walled town where tribalism takes precedence over communal harmony as the Council decides the fate of its citizens. Repeaters, a violent group of men, patrol the city and guard its walls and implement the Council’s vision to segregate people in a highly structured society the motto of which is “Purity for all”. The narrator’s microscopic world unfolds the dissolution of the former India into an “ordered society”, which is grimly patriarchal and spearheaded by the Council that teaches people “rules bigger than themselves,” so they can never challenge any institution or “things bigger than themselves” controlling their lives.

Netflix Adaptation

Akbar’s novel Leila is so well received by readers and critics that it has been adapted into a Netflix web series streaming since June 14, 2019, just two years after Margaret Atwood’s famous dystopia became a Hulu TV-series. Though Netflix’s Leila, co-directed by Canadian-Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, has borrowed themes, elements, characters from Akbar’s novel, its story goes to new directions as it also shows a different political structure in it. 

Awards

The book won the Crossword Jury Prize 2018 and the Tata Literature First Book Award 2017. For the book Prayaag Akbar was on the short list for The Hindu Literary Prize 2017.