Nikita Lalwani’s first novel, “Gifted,” won the Desmond Elliott Prize for New Fiction. Her new book, “The Village” (Random House, $26), is about a filmmaker who travels to India to make a documentary about an open-air prison. Here’s how it begins:
The security men are watching Ray. They regard her with a perfect indifference. There are three of them, of varying heights, their belted khaki safari suits finished cleanly with the bright gloss of winter sunlight. They loiter at the entry gate, two of them standing arm in arm, dwarfed by the high peepal trees behind them, the branches against the sky. The earth around them is pale and heavy, the color of gram flour, interrupted rarely by weeds. They do not seem self-conscious. The third guard sits on the knee-high wall that forms the boundary of the hamlet, right against the road that connects the local farms to the main town. He is older than the other two. His hair seems paint-stained, the white unnaturally thick over the gray brush beneath. The badge on his cap glints in the sun. Ray can see the light flash as he turns, even at this distance. His posture is correct; a long neck lends him significance as he twitches abruptly to take in his surroundings, alert and urgent.
She sets about unpacking the equipment on the veranda, looking up and back at the three of them every minute or so, a reflex that she is unable to control. They are the people who met her upon arrival, just one hour ago, but they seem so different from the vantage point of the hut. She looks to see if they are still staring, hoping that they might now be bored of it. She remains in dialogue with them like this, brief flickers of acknowledgment, collisions of sight that are barely noticeable, until she can do it no longer. She takes the kit back inside the hut.