Books Indian writers are finding new ways to spook their readers out

Indian writing in English has comes to its own with practitioners in every genre from romance and fantasy to erotica and horror. Athul Demarco’s AN.AL The Origins, Hamraz Ahsan’s Kabuko The Djinn and Sriramana Muliya’s collection of short stories Frankly Spooking are among the newest horror books flying off the shelves in India.

Why do people like to be scared out of their wits? Shubir Rishi, senior assistant editor with Rediff.com, whose favourite horror novels include Stephen King’s books says: “I am a voracious reader and I read everything that interests me. I think the reason people read horror stories is the fascination for the unknown.”

Psychologist, Shruthi Ahluwalia says: “One can liken fascination for horror stories to enjoying amusement park rides or indulging in extreme sports. As human beings, when a threat presents itself to us, our body reacts to it with either a fight or flight response. In this case, there are a whole bunch of people who won’t flee from what might be threatening but would rather fight the fear by indulging in the activity.”

People are often sceptical about picking up a horror novel by an Indian author for fear that it might not be as scary. Sriramana thinks you cannot really blame them. “Horror stories in the Indian context are filled with clichés and stereotypes, and we need to go beyond them. For me personally, I'd like to bust that myth by bringing in certain elements of novelty to the basic premise itself. For example, in Frankly Spooking , there are stories where the spooks come from a pair of earphones, a teddy bear and even a tattoo! My understanding is that if horror is about scaring someone, we might as well find novel ways of doing it. And that's why most of my stories are set in an urban, contemporary setting where one would least expect anything spooky to happen, at least in the conventional way.” Arnab Ray, author of The Mine , a psychological horror novel, feels: “The general rule of thumb for IWE (Indian writing in English) is that romances are really the only thing that sells sure-shot. In general, people want to read about things that are familiar and comforting and a half-decent horror is usually neither of those. Even on the horror front, people prefer motifs of ‘love’. Think of the Vikram Bhatt school of films — love stories that feature some aatma or purani haveli .”

Given that the country is gradually taking to horror writing, one wonders how spooked out Indian writers and readers are willing to get. Muliya finds that “horror is primarily a youth genre. Elders look at the paranormal/supernatural with a different set of eyes, but yes, Indian readers and writers and slowly pushing the cart. It's moving.”

With the breed of horror writers growing as also the generation that feeds on this writing, Sankalp Khandelwal, Associate Commissioning Editor, Fingerprint, says: “Horror has never been big in Indian publishing and most attempts in this genre have been made in the form of short-story collections. Full-length Gothic novels in English by Indian authors are rare to come across and those from foreign writers enjoy only a niche market.”

However, he adds: “The future of horror storytelling seems to be hopeful in India, as in recent years, the market has become receptive to fresh voices in unusual genres.”

It sure looks like it is only a matter of time before we bid adieu to zombies, witches on brooms. People’s thirst for bloodcurdling plots and mysteries is on the rise and Indian authors are going all out to quench their readers’ thirst!

NEETI SARKAR

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