Thursday, March 04, 2010

What does India read?

Has India really reached the nadir in terms of good reading? Going by this article, we actually have, and if we do not change the way our people read, pronto, there isn't much hope for the future of books. It is true that Chetan Bhagat has taken the markets over like no other Indian writer has been able to do in recent times, and it doesn't bode well for our literary traditions.

However, I do find this article a little exaggerated, because we enjoy all kinds of reading. It didn't go down very well with me, because we have varied tastes in reading, and the classics in India are definitely not dead. (And an article that mentions a certain "PJ Wodehouse" definitely raises eyebrows.)

'Mr. Singh's statement of their target audience being "single working woman who has money in her hands, the liberty to read, no responsibilities yet, no husband, children" reeks of sexism. I am a middle-class woman who would fit the bill perfectly, and so are many of my friends, but we do not necessarily depend on Mills & Boon for literary sustenance (and no, we're not literature students). Give us literature, imagery and brilliant writing any day, because we revel in the language and would rather exercise our brains than choose to entertain ourselves with potboilers of the Bollywood kind. I don't know if the reference to a particular sex is intentional, but I am interested in what middle-class Indian men choose to read- they're also a market, aren't they? We aren't desperate women trying to find succour and food for our imagination in saccharine, sappy love stories.'

(This is an extract from an email I have sent to the books editor of the Guardian. I am interested in how well researched this article is- have all these conclusions been drawn just from a visit to one book fair and interviews with the publishers who sell cheaper, more readable books?)


Rindo said...

What is more interesting is another Guardian article linked to the one you're talking about.

So women want a "royal, fit, rich and sexy bloke." And the researchers had to analyze 15,019 M&B/Harlequins to figure that out?!

Psychologists are dumber than we give them credit for. :D said...


First off it seemed to me that the article was taking as given the niche, "englightened" segment of english language readers - no one's denying that within numbers they did and do continue to exist in India.

Although I don't know about Mills and Boon, I don't see Chetan Bhagat as a bad thing at all - not only is he introducing new readers to english language writing, he's creating (or carrying the baton for) a genre of accessible indian english writing that -- if we give it time to develop -- will become something good.

Indian English movies started the same way fifteen years ago, with amateurish first steps (remember Nagesh Kukunoor's Rockford?!). What those first steps allowed for was a genre to take root, and its only from those first steps that we have Anurag Kashyap, Konkona Sen and so on able to bring out decent work today.


wanderingbrook said...

Rindo: I haven't read that article yet; curious to know why men are being kept out of all these 'surveys'. Women do think about a lot more than having an arm to hang on to.

Yes, they are, apparently.

Ashwin: Chetan Bhagat has undoubtedly brought a number of people closer to reading than they otherwise might have got, but unless he actually helps spawn off some healthier, more diversified writing, all the hype surrounding his books is unwarranted.

Anonymous said...


Ashwin has a point.

The likes of CB and the rest have actually brought English literature to the mainstream reading public. For better or worse, is something we shouldn't judge, until reading tastes have matured.

There is promise. And there is hope. :)

Anonymous said...

I too agree with ashwin.. Once people get interest in reading, they move on to read better stuff.. and the books like those written by C.B keep attracting people towards reading..

wanderingbrook said...

Outnumbered badly :). If CB does bring people towards reading more, and reading with discretion, amen to it!