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Literature in transition

BIDISHA MAHANTA
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TREND Reading habits gain pace but are classics being shown the door by the young reader?

Childhood memories of Enid Blyton’s adventure tales are intrinsically linked to faithful dogs, warm sunny picnics in the cold English countryside and a lingering sense of contentment. No one could deny the magical weave of Blyton’s simple prose that held us spellbound.

As childhood fantasia drew to an end, so did the reading habits of many and the contentment that literature bestowed was lost in time. Classics were time consuming and fast paced lifestyles left little time to young Indian men and women.

The release of Five Point Someone in 2004 turned the tables as well as a few heads. The instant connect that Chetan Bhagat’s books displayed for the common Indian youth grappling with their own unique set of problems propelled his status to that of a youth icon and his book, to a bestseller.

Suddenly, young India put a rest to their videogames and social websites. Reading was fashionable again.

The market of voracious young readers was quickly identified and what followed was nothing short of a publishers delight! While Rupa basked in Chetan’s glory, numerous other publishing houses sprung up vying to fill the void in the market. Arup Bose, of Srishti Publishers and Distributors, says about the sudden burgeoning interest,

“No one understands the youth of today better than they, the youth, themselves. So to tickle the reading interest of a young Indian was to present before him an offering of his own tale, narrated in his language.”

Stressing on the marketing and pricing of such books, Arup says, “The pricing is done keeping in mind affordability of an average Indian reader ensuring that it does not burn a hole in the pocket”.

A casual stroll around Connaught Place reveals the demand for books written by young people on their love lives, corporate bruises and the rigorous IIT routine. Most booksellers in Connaught Place show off their Durjoy Dattas and Ravinder Singhs and other such ‘bestsellers’. Rakesh, a bookseller in Connaught Place, reveals, “Not a single day passes without sale of a few books by Srishti Publishers. All the ‘madams’ love these books.”

Has this resulted in a decline of demand for niche literature or classics? Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan Books, agrees that it is especially difficult to find an audience among the youth. But niche literature has its own takers and she does not rule out the possibilities of “literary crossovers”. However, she adds, “The increase in reading books, low-brow or not, is the key thing. The fact that the youth take interest is encouraging. They might even start taking active interest in classics”.

The fact that Dickensian prose was considered as ‘industrial fiction’ during its time is a reminder that while these books bend the rules of grammar and usage, they may also be a chronicle of the times we live in. Amish Tripathi, author of the Shiva trilogy , is of the opinion that English, being a flexible language, will undergo changes with geographical variations. “Whether a book is good or not should not be judged on its language. It should be judged on the thoughts and philosophies the book conveys,” opines Amish.

A clear divide can be chalked out from the responses gathered from young people when asked about their opinion on such books. While these books are adored by a large section of teenagers to young working professionals, the rest steer clear, preferring dissociation from this new breed of writers. Whether this intellectual snobbery is justified or not, cannot be gauged at this point of time.

All said and done, let the habit of reading prosper!

BIDISHA MAHANTA

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