India’s English Reading Culture – Present Day Scenario

With all the media and literature enthusiasts being distraught about the Delhi University English Department’s proposal for inclusion of Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone under Popular Fiction paper, let’s talk about the present scenario in the Indian English reading culture.

The era of Indian English Literature is quite recent – the first book to mark the beginning was Sake Dean Mahomet’s Travels of Dean Mahomet, published in 1793. From then onwards, the Indian literary world has seen a plethora of Indian writers contributing to English Literature. Be it Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore, in the 1800s or R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand in the 1900s or Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Chetan Bhagat in the recent times.

In the past centuries, literature and books used to be taken very seriously. Mostly the elites and highly educated Indians would indulge in reading, and the books too would be on mature issues and themes such as human relations, society, patriotism and politics to name a few. Those books required an acute analysis and understanding of their subject.

Gradually, though, literature evolved in forms and lighter themes started seeping into the mainstream Literature and gained popularity among the elite as well as the common public, especially the youth. All these works turned out to be evergreen. Even today, stories like The Postmaster by Rabindranath Tagore are taught in schools and we still enjoy Rusty stories by Ruskin Bond and the Malgudi stories by R.K. Narayan. Though these stories were not as complex as once Literature required them to be, the writing styles of each of the modern authors would be very different from the other, providing a wide range of variety and options to their readers. The readers would get to choose from a variety of themes, genres and the like.

And then began the Modern Pop Fiction era.

As we progressed further, there came a sudden period of reading slump among the Indian populace. But much to the relief of reading enthusiasts, they were soon revived by the fresh, simple and popular fiction writings of Chetan Bhagat, an IITan-turned-banker-turned-novelist.  The general populace, especially the youth, connected to his stories instantly, since the story circumnavigates around common themes of college life, sweet love interests and family drama.

Bhagat’s success has inspired many young writers to step forward and explore using similar themes such as college fun, student life,  college romance, “filmy” dialogues, drama, etc. Though, in spite of having revived the reading culture in India again, these works are now beginning to be seen as extremely similar and predictable. Still, the youth prefers to read these books because of their reliability.

This is one scenario, mainly among the students. The other parallel scenario of the latest Indian Pop Literature, which includes both the youth and the older age-groups, is the Mythology (also known as Mythopoeia.)

Mythopoeia has been discussed in one of our older posts: 5 Literary Genres/Sub-Genres You’ve Never Heard Of

In spite of having numerous versions of the 2 most popular Hindu mythology – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, authors like Amish Tripathi, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Devdutt Pattanaik and so on, are again writing on these storylines, but with interesting twists using their own unique writing styles.

These mythology books are critically acclaimed as they are works with substance and they do deserve the praises they have received. Their fans look forward to reading their new releases each and every time they announce their upcoming books. But there are those who also believe that these are stories they are already acquainted with, that there are so many folklores in every nook and corner of the world which the Indian readers are not aware of, so why not explore those?

But with an increasing number of people taking up reading more seriously, many questions are being raised today such as why authors are limiting themselves to only Romance and Mythology? And why are they not exploring new genres and trying out different styles and techniques in writing?

We are of the belief that if a person has the art of storytelling then whatever story he or she weaves will be loved and appreciated by the audiences and readers. There are innumerable genres in the literary world that can be explored like Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Mystery, Drama, Comedy, Tragedy, Satire and Horror to name a few. Even after all these options which are endless, one does not have to stick to a particular genre, he/she could mix and try two or more genres and discover something unique. For instance, Novoneel Chakroborty wrote his Stranger trilogy in the Romantic Thriller genre. and the series became popular among the young readers.

Our own author Heena Rathore Pardeshi has made her debut with a psychological thriller and we are proud to see her book Deceived being highly appreciated by the Advanced Readers.

We think that an author shouldn’t stick to a particular genre just because it is safe and has been tried and tested, but should challenge one’s powers of storytelling by taking risks and exploring different options. An author should be brave enough to tackle all the obstacles without thinking of things such as sales and marketing schemes, only concentrating on the ultimate goal to sharpen the sword of their talent to perfection.

Image Credits: Goodreads