Raj Kamal Jha

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Photograph by Neeraj Priyadarshi

Raj Kamal Jha (born 1966) is Chief Editor of the daily newspaper The Indian Express and an internationally acclaimed author of five novels. He lives in Gurgaon.

Jha was born in Bhagalpur, Bihar, and was raised in Calcutta, West Bengal, where he went to school at St. Joseph's College.[1] He then attended the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, where he got his Bachelor of Technology with Honours in Mechanical Engineering. He was the editor of the campus magazine Alankar in his third (junior) and fourth (senior) years at IIT, where his first writing and editing skills got honed. After graduating from IIT in June 1988, he went to the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Southern California to pursue a Master's program in Print Journalism; he received his M.A. in 1990.[2] Raj Kamal Jha is married to IIT 1990 (Chemical Engineering) alumnus Sujata Bose. They have one son called Rain Jha.

Journalism, Honours[edit]

Since 1990, Jha has been working full-time in newsrooms.[3] He was an Assistant Editor (News) at The Statesman in Kolkata between 1992 and 1994, a Senior Associate Editor at India Today, New Delhi (1994–1996), and since 1996 has been with The Indian Express first as its Deputy Editor, then as Executive Editor, Managing Editor, Editor and now Chief Editor.[4] The newspaper, known for its high-quality investigative reporting and provocative opinion section, has won the Excellence in Journalism Award from the India chapter of the Vienna-based International Press Institute four times.[5][6]

As a member of the "International Consortium of Investigative Journalists", the newspaper, in April 2016, investigated The Panama Papers and revealed details of Indian names and companies related to offshore accounts in tax havens. Following the revelations, the Government set up a panel to probe each account.[7] For his "exemplary stewardship" of The Indian Express that saw a "focus on investigative journalism," Jha was named Journalist of the Year by the Mumbai Press Club at Redink Awards, 2017.[8] Besides taking investigative journalism to new areas like health and education, Jha has expanded and strengthened the newspaper's explanatory journalism backed by its network of national correspondents and specialist editors. The Indian Express's Editor (Investigations) Ritu Sarin won the fourth IPI award for the newspaper in 2018 for her investigative work including the Panama Papers.

The newspaper's fierce independence has earned it critics from both the Left and the Right—the Communists once called it The American Express—but both sides accept that it is non-partisan and, therefore, the media group readers can most trust. It was under the Congress regime that the newspaper's editor was sent to jail during The Emergency for standing up to press censorship. The Indian Express vs the Union of India[9] case is one of the seminal cases that define the contours of press freedom in India. The newspaper's opinion pages invite voices from across the political spectrum and its column, "Dear Editor, I Disagree," is a regular showcase of views that counter those in the newspaper's editorials.

Delivering the vote of thanks at the Ramnath Goenka Memorial Awards in 2016, Jha underlined that questioning those in power and holding them accountable, inviting their criticism, was the hallmark of good journalism, an obvious truth that often gets lost in the age of "likes and retweets."[10] The next year, Jha said that the only counter to fear in the newsroom was to get up and switch the lights on rather than find a safe blanket to hide under.[10]

In 2017, for his "outstanding contribution" to journalism and literature by telling stories about a changing India with "honesty, compassion and courage," Jha was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award by his alma mater Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, at its annual convocation.[11] Past recipients of this honour include Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Arvind Kejriwal and Harish Hande.


Jha's journalism informs and influences his fiction. His latest novel The City And The Sea[12], published by Penguin Hamish Hamilton in 2019, "cleaves open India's tragedy of violence against women with a powerful story about our complicity in the culture that supports it." Nobel Laureate, economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has called it a "gripping narrative of human predicament and surviving hope, yielding an extraordinary combination of philosophy and allegory. A book you have to read."

Taking off from the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the novel "builds a narrative around a life disrupted by such an incident by delving into the past of one of the perpetrators (the juvenile), and the victim’s impossible future (as a mother)."[13] Writing in The Indian Express, eminent Malayalam writer N S Madhavan said: The layers upon layers of Jha's novel dress the "collective wound" of a nation. [14]

His fourth novel She Will Build Him A City[15] was published by Bloomsbury in India, Australia, UK and US and by Actes Sud in French. Pankaj Mishra has called it the "best novel from and about India I have read in a long time." Writer Neel Mukherjee has said its "revelations about the New India are explosive."[16] Describing its writing as "gorgeous," Kirkus Reviews says it uses "magic to illuminate violence, poverty and loss" and shines light on the "ugly highs and lows of modern India.".[17] Writer and critic Alex Clark writes in The Guardian: "Everywhere, scale is out of whack: tiny dwellings are dwarfed by teetering towers; choked roads are closed by massing protesters and water cannons; spiralling sums of money are set against almost unfathomable deprivation. The sense throughout is of inescapable oppression. No wonder the characters – both human and animal – occasionally break the bonds of earth and fly across the sky in search of less constrained lives.".[18]

Jha's novels have been translated into more than a dozen European languages, including French, German, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, Spanish and Finnish. His short stories have appeared in French and German anthologies as well. His work has been featured in several international literary festivals, including Hay-on-Wye, Munich Writers' Festival, Berlin International Literature Festival, Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali, Frankfurt Book Fair, Jaipur Literature Festival, Melbourne Writers' Festival and the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. To mark 200 years of the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales in December 2012, Jha, with five German writers, including Uwe Timm and Ingo Schulze, was invited to "rewrite" a fairy tale at the Munich Literaturhaus.

Jha is represented by London-based literary agent David Godwin.[19]

Themes In Fiction[edit]

Called the "novelist of the newsroom," Jha's fiction, marked by its stark simplicity and ability to evoke emotion through attention to detail, is strongly grounded in contemporary themes around change in India, often taking off from newspaper pages. From domestic violence to the urban-rural divide, from inequality to intolerance, violence against women and those on the margins, Jha's books engage with disturbing subjects unusual in contemporary Indian fiction in English. His writing, simple as it appears, calls for a lot of reader participation which evokes sharp, divided reaction.

"Not everyone’s kind of tales, they are dense and surreal, contain dark, brooding, even repugnant elements," said OPEN (magazine).[20]

Reviewing "The City And The Sea," noted Malayalam writer K R Meera wrote: "It is the story of children within us, whose only defence against the unexplained horrors of the dark is darkness itself." Actor and activist Shabana Azmi said reading the book is "to dive into the darkness and spot a piercing ray of light." That as India stumbles its way into the 21st century, its "absolute priority has to be the safety of girls in public and private places and this will need courage and compassion." Taking off from a horrific rape in New Delhi, the novel sets out in search of a story that could have been, listening to voices that "can, perhaps, find utterance only in fiction."[21]

In his review, poet Sudeep Sen wrote that "The City and the Sea," is a book that "everyone should read in our dark times — both for the urgent story it contains and for its high literary value." [22]

John Fowles described The Blue Bedspread as the "Coming of age of the Indian novel." Wrote Alfred Hickling in The Guardian: "Readers are left to formulate their own theories and connections. But Jha's writing functions more through power of association than sequential narrative. His prose has the febrile, cold-sweat quality of the most vivid waking nightmares. He suspends his work in a realm of improbability, where it is possible to think the unthinkable...Perhaps the biggest taboo that Jha seeks to breach is the sacrosanct, hierarchical structure of the family.[23] " According to writer and musician Amit Chaudhuri, Jha's writing is more in the tradition of cinema than literature. Referring to the works of Tarkovsky, Luis Buñuel and Pedro Almodóvar, Chaudhuri says just like their films are "destined to be foreign even to those who speak the language they are made in," Jha's novel speaks a "foreign language."[24]

Fireproof is set against the backdrop of the 2002 Gujarat violence, the first attack on Muslims (In retaliation of attacks on Karsevaks in Godhra) after 9/11. The novel is a chilling tale of a father and his deformed son on a journey across a city where the ghosts of those killed have decided to seek justice.[25] Commenting on Fireproof, India Today said: "Here is a chronicle for the 21st century, then, a bildungsroman that tracks the education of the crime-infested soul, completed when the soul cries 'I am guilty.

Reviewing Jha's fourth novel, "She Will Build Him A City," The Saturday Paper, the Australian cultural weekly, called it "conceptually daring and important beyond entertainment." The importance of the novel, it wrote, is the fact that "if the Indian economy is a tiger on the verge of roaring, the world should hear the stories of the people who have fed it with their blood."[26]

Honours in Fiction[edit]

  • Winner, Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Eurasia), The Blue Bedspread, 2000 [27]
  • Finalist, John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, The Blue Bedspread, 2000
  • Finalist, Guardian First Book Award, The Blue Bedspread, 1999 [28]
  • Finalist, Hutch-Crossword Book Award, If You Are Afraid of Heights, 2003
  • Winner, Best Book (Fiction) published in 2006, Fireproof, CNN-IBN List
  • Finalist, DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, She Will Build Him A City, 2016 [29]
  • Longlist, JCB Prize for Literature, The City and The Sea, 2019 [30]
  • Finalist, DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, The City and the Sea, 2019 [31]
  • Winner, Tata Literature Live Book of The Year (Fiction), The City and the Sea, 2019 [32]

Other media[edit]

Japanese video artist and photographer Noritoshi Hirakawa created four video art installations taking scenes from Jha's three novels for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi in 2007 as part of a special exhibition of contemporary Japanese art called Vanishing Points.[33]


Jha was a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley where he taught a course on reporting on India.[34] He was also a fellow at the Yaddo Residency in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 2005. He was selected as Artist-in-Residence (Literature) in Berlin by the German Academic Exchange Service for 2012–2013 under the Berliner Künstlerprogramm,[35] offering grants to artists in the fields of visual arts, literature, music and film." Recent Berlin fellows include writer Kiran Nagarkar, artist N Harsha and Academy Award-winning filmmakers Asghar Farhadi and Sebastian Lelio.

Books, Anthologies[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ St. Joseph's College, Calcutta#Notable alumni,"St Joseph's College, notable alumni"
  2. ^ ""USC Alumni News"".
  3. ^ "Raj Kamal Jha-IIT Kharagpur", IIT Scholar
  4. ^ "Raj Kamal Jha-Chief Editor" The Indian Express
  5. ^ ""Freemedia report on IPI Award"". Archived from the original on 10 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Ritu Sarin wins International Press Institute's award for excellence in journalism". 7 February 2018.
  7. ^ "The Panama Papers, The Indian Express"
  8. ^ [https://thewire.in/143486/the-wire-vinod-dua-redink-lifetime-achievement-award/
  9. ^ "Indian Express Newspapers ... vs Union Of India & Ors. Etc. Etc on 6 December, 1984". indiankanoon.org.
  10. ^ a b "Newslaundry | Sabki Dhulai". Newslaundry.
  11. ^ {http://alumni.iitkgp.ac.in/content/iitkgp-confers-distinguished-alumnus-award-2017 "IIT Kharagpur Distinguished Alumnus Award 2017"]
  12. ^ "Buy The City and the Sea: A Novel Book Online at Low Prices in India | The City and the Sea: A Novel Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.in". www.amazon.in.
  13. ^ "Exclusive | Interview: Raj Kamal Jha on 'The City and the Sea'". The Wire.
  14. ^ "What Can't Be Said Is Written". 8 June 2019.
  15. ^ She Will Build Him A City
  16. ^ "She Will Build Him a City". Bloomsbury Publishing.
  17. ^ "SHE WILL BUILD HIM A CITY by Raj Kamal Jha | Kirkus Reviews" – via www.kirkusreviews.com.
  18. ^ Clark, Alex (7 March 2015). "She Will Build Him a City by Raj Kamal Jha review – alienation and upheaval" – via www.theguardian.com.
  19. ^ "David's Authors". DGA.
  20. ^ Rajni George (16 January 2015). "Novelist of the newsroom". OPEN.
  21. ^ "The City and the Sea". Penguin India.
  22. ^ Sen, Sudeep (10 May 2019). "In delectable foursome, craft marries sensibility". The Asian Age.
  23. ^ Alfred Hickling, "If You Are Afraid of Heights-Review", The Guardian, Aug 16, 2003
  24. ^ Amit Chaudhuri, "London Review of Books"
  25. ^ Antara Dev Sen, "The Father, the Son and the Night", The Indian Express, Dec 16, 2006
  26. ^ LS, Reviewer: (14 March 2015). "She Will Build Him a City". The Saturday Paper.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  27. ^ {{https://www.librarything.com/bookaward/Commonwealth+Writers%27+Prize}}
  28. ^ Template:Https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/07/guardian-first-book-award-all-the-winners
  29. ^ "DSC Prize 2016 announces a shortlist of 6 novels | The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature". dscprize.com.
  30. ^ Template:Https://www.thejcbprize.org/longlist2019/index/4ef7e1f9-26d5-47c2-8362-7670cc2f71a1
  31. ^ Template:Http://dscprize.com/2019/09/26/longlist-announced-for-the-dsc-prize-for-south-asian-literature-2019/
  32. ^ Template:Https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/writer-shanta-gokhale-honoured-with-lifetime-achievement-award-at-tata-literature-live/1664885
  33. ^ "The Points of Contact" Business Standard, Oct 27, 2007
  34. ^ "bs9749a | The India Reporting Project".
  35. ^ "Guests-Jha, Raj Kamal" Berliner Künstlerprogramm

External links[edit]