As I finish reading another novel I find my thoughts drifting from one scene to another of the story. I find it hard to bid adieu to the characters with whom I gasped in horror, smiled coyly at subtle flirting and grieved in pain. As I was putting back the book in my shelf I caught a glance of my old books and there settled Chetan Bhagat’s Revolution 2020 with its lost legacy. It looked so timid next to Mario Puzo, Jane Austen and Maxim Gorky that it somewhat made me feel sorry for the condition of present Indian authors in comparison to their international counterparts. I thought that this perception was highly subjective but as I proportioned my view with more and more peers it turned into somewhat objective. So in the pursuit of the same I decide to figure out the reasons for the low popularity of Indian Authors among Indians. Mind me when I use the words ‘Indian authors’ and not ‘Indian literature’.
We’ve all heard stories of Tagore and Panchtantra in our childhood and cherished the same but they soon got eclipsed by the clichéd rhymes and poems the moment we stepped in the 1st grade of schools. So maybe it is from the very inception of our schooling that we are pushed in to the direction of western literature which takes the ultimate form of preference as we grow up.
Let’s go back in time and start from Ramayana and Mahabharata. These epics have been the founding stones of Indian literature. Of course plethora of sentiments is glued to these texts and we as Indians we find it hard to appreciate them through the lens of ‘just a piece of literature’. Here we can also mention the point of intolerance amongst people when it comes to analyzing religious texts as literary texts. I remember a while ago in my English class we were having some discussion over Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and within a few minutes the discussion turned into a heated debate when it came to scrutinizing the Holy Book as a ‘Book’. Same is the scenario with the current Indian population which refuses to appreciate the distinction between analyzing and criticizing. This land of Sita and Draupadi takes its culture seriously (and selectively) when it comes to obscenity. The list of authors who have faced legal charges for writing so called obscene and insulting literature is endless. The reason there is not much havoc regarding censorship in literature is because it is silent. The government subtly snubs anything which it finds obscene. Books which openly glorify the Indian Literature are published without any opposition but writings which indicates even a little bit of analytical thought needs to go through the ‘Agni Pareeksha’ of censorship. Apparently this is the reason that the current authors are scared to write about anything which is significant and can cause some kind of revolution in the mind of the readers.
The India Book Market Report released by Nielsen at Frankfurt Book Fair last year valued the overall market in India, including book imports, at $261 billion in 2013-14. This positions India among the largest English language book markets in the world. India remains one of the few major markets said to be still experiencing growth in both print and digital publishing and home to over 19,000 publishers with around 90,000 titles published annually. It is also said to be the third largest market for English books consumption after the US and UK markets. Jeffrey Archer is the most successful foreign author in India. He now launches his books in India before anywhere else and his book-signing tours are big crowd-pullers. He puts his success down to the nature of his protagonists.
“The Indian race is an aspiring race, and my books so often are about someone coming from nowhere and achieving something, which is what every Indian believes will happen to them – and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Being a student of law as well as of literature it becomes really hard for me to take a diplomatic stand when it comes to vouch for Indian and foreign authors. I don’t feel any kind of guilt nor am I trying to challenge any patriotic feelings when I say that I prefer foreign authors over Indian authors. For the past 4 semester in my University (Panjab University, in case you’re wondering), I as student of English honors have been studying western literature only. We did study R.K. Narayan once and that too challenged the Indian mentality and thought process. So basically it all gets imbibed in us and when we try to compare it with Indian novels it all becomes quite sad and depressing. “Like Jane Austen> Chetan Bhagat. Why did I even compare?” was the reply of, 3rd semester student of my department.
After talking to my peers and seniors here is what can be deduced as reasons for the renowned liking of foreign authors.
Firstly, foreign books have settings of story in foreign lands and names which is kind of refreshing for readers and invites them in to pursue the story. “I being an Indian don’t like reading Indian names in books like Anita said this Rahul said that. Lol”, says my batch-mate.
Secondly, most of the readers complain that Indian authors lack perspective, in fiction all they can write about is love and umm… love only. “Because Indian authors can’t strike a balance. Either they are like Chetan Bhagat who writes Bollywood masala shit or they are like (author of God of Small Things) which sometimes goes beyond you. No one is good at the art of capturing basically”, says a 5th semester student from my Department.
Thirdly, it is felt that Indian authors try too hard to sound good. In the desperate attempt of making their diction sound fancy they end up losing the point they are trying to put across.
At last, the most important point; the point of subjectivity and perspective. After reading three or four Indian authors and the same number of foreign authors we are so stern and definite in our opinion that it leaves no room for appreciation of Indian authors. Youth tends to strike a sudden connection with liberal thoughts and actions of the characters of foreign authors. They find their sweet escape by relating to a protagonist who is living in a society which is open minded, unlike Indian stories where most of the times the setting is conservative and suffocating. “I can’t imagine an Indian writing something like Angels and Demons”, says a 3rd year MBBS student.
It would be wholly unfair to end the article on a negative note. We still have a huge audience which craves for books by Indian authors. There is a reason that authors like Ravinder Singh, Nikita Sharma, and Chetan Bhagat have Best sellers in India. “I am now trying to keep my language a little simpler than before. As it is in the world of commercial fiction, you have editors breathing down your neck saying: ‘Don’t use big words. I would rebel against that in the past but now I understand. I’d rather not lose these people who are buying books in hundreds of thousands.” says Jaishree Misra is an Indian-born novelist who lived in Britain for more than 20 years, where her first novel Ancient Promises was published. She has now switched to writing commercial fiction and moved back to live in Delhi. The current authors try to connect with the masses and hence they write about stories and instances with which a common person can relate to. You can read any book by Amish Tripathi without the aid of any dictionary and without much brain storming which is preferred by people who read for leisure.
We also in no way can ignore the huge legacy of the likes of Tagore and Sarojni Naidu who have made big names internationally. But celebrating a few names would be like celebrating those two Olympic medals (don’t get me wrong. Am still very proud of it). So maybe all that we need now is authors to become bolder with their writing and for people to become more liberal with their thoughts. Writers need to step out of their comfort zone and do away with the people pleasing stories. The youth demands intense writing, it craves for emotions which are beyond that of joy and pain. So it is high time for writers to shine or else India will only have its literature to show for and not the writers.
Edited by Mrinaal Datt
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