This Independence Day, Neeti Sarkar taps the pulse of the revolution in Indian writing in English, which has moved away from angst-ridden musings to unapologetic commercial fiction
For a generation that has thrived on Ruskin Bond’s The Adventures of Toto and The Blue Umbrella, and has devoured R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days, when Chetan Bhagat and his literary compatriots came into the limelight, there was much ado about something.
This Independence Day, we catch the pulse of the liberalisation of Indian literature in English which has moved from the literary angst-ridden fiction of the Diaspora to genre and commercial fiction – chick lit, thrillers, historical novels, fantasy, graphic novels, among others genres, have witnessed quite the uprising.
Advaita Kala, who made a splash with the sprightly chick-lit Almost Single and developed the story for Anjaana Anjaani and Kahaani, says: “There has been a shift from post-colonial to post-liberalisation.”
“This is reflected in the content of narratives, be it film or fiction. More than being comfortable in our skins, what I see is an exploration of what it means to be Indian in the context of our times and our position in the world.
“With changing social and sexual mores, there is an attempt at redefinition. Fiction is in many instances reflective of modern day preoccupations and lifestyles.”
Regarding the incorporation of Indian elements into her work, Advaita says: “With Almost Single, I felt a need to bring the single woman to the centre of the narrative. I felt that times were changing and this was an interesting moment in ‘her story’. More women have never been in the workforce as today, single women are on the rise, women in general are more financially independent and there is a cultural shift. Fiction, and in particular humour, was perhaps the gentlest way of chronicling this shift.”
The first ever Indian Mills & Boon author, Milan Vohra says: “Many women, generations really, have grown up reading Mills & Boon. The very idea of leaving your own small imprint and being part of something so epic gave me quite a buzz. I’ve loved every bit of being the first to bring our unique Indianness, the way we think and feel, our boundary lines into something as widely loved as Mills & Boon.” Vohra doffs her hat to authors like Advaita Kala and Anuja Chauhan, who she says “are absolutely delightful to read. The books are all the more interesting for their wacky use of language and accents and zany takes on Indian situations.”
However, she adds: “There’s also way too much seriously substandard stuff that miraculously seems to be finding publishers. I’ve felt hugely let down on more than one occasion at being lured by books that promise to be quick witty reads (alas) purely because they've been packaged well and priced smartly.”
Entrepreneur Varun Agarwal’s How I Braved Anu Aunty And Co-founded A Million Dollar Company makes for an easy read because of the various typical Indian backdrops. Ask him what it is about stories revolving around our cities, movie stars, sabzi wala, history and myths that captivate readers, and he replies “In India, if you walk into the streets for a day, you come back with a story for a book. Everyone here has a story to tell. And since everyone can connect with these stories it automatically becomes captivating.”
About this growing trend of new Indian writers staying close to their roots, literature graduate and former English teacher Maria Duckworth says: “It's a new chapter for Indian writing as publishing houses are willing to print novice writers. On the flipside though, I have found most writers are taking a casual approach towards the written word. Sentences get shorter without adhering to the grammatical rules, and end abruptly. But if there’s a sea change then who are we to swim against the tide? We are poised to surge forward, so let’s ride the wave.”
Mark Twain said, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition.”
It comes as no surprise that Indian writers are unapologetic of their Indianness and are engaging their audience with their writing.