Indian popular literature is strange. It has a rich tradition of writers and poets that were universally acclaimed and the country’s tryst with words for entertainment, reform and revolution have been spectacular in the past. This is also the country whose most popular current entries in fiction are various tiring variations of cliched romances. These are filled with trite dialogue and one dimensional over the top characters.
Let us try and understand the reasons why the current crop of Indian books are both substandard and stagnating the growth of literature.
While Indian collective conscious has managed to place enormous importance on education, very less of this respect has trickled down to the act of reading. While everyone wanted their children to be well educated, very few wanted their children to be well read. This has led to a generation of youth who are all educated but are not well read.
Indian youth have only recently re-discovered reading, thankfully to the likes of Chetan Bhagat and Durjoy Datta to give credit where it is due. These authors still act as the gateway drug to reading to a lot of young Indians.
But while this is a good thing, it emphasises the fact that majority of readers are only beginners and the current popularity of certain kind of books reflects the same. Most readers are simply not yet ready for other kinds of fiction and since book sales work on social proof, the only books that are popular are usually those which pander to these readers.
Writers ultimately want their work to be read and appreciated. Most writers start writing purely for the pleasure of writing, an urge to express and their love for the language. But along the way, lack of proper readership and the outrageous popularity of certain genres and certain kinds of stories make them rethink their approach to their writing and their stories.
Most of them try to mimic what is popular and what reaches to readers the most. This becomes a vicious cycle where mediocrity breeds more mediocrity. Readers read only mediocre stuff because that is what is being produced. Creators create mediocre stuff because that is what is being consumed. All of this brings us to our next reason
Writers and publishers don’t just need readers. They also need money. Most writers who are trying to make a career out of writing still need to pay their bills. For every project they take up to satisfy their creative urges, they are forced to produce numerous pieces of unsatisfying and substandard drivel just because they ‘sell’ more and bring in more revenue.
When the market celebrates mindless fiction, that’s what we will inevitably get . And there is hope that the market would one day change but it is not changing soon enough. Readers are not giving the right attention and the right money to the right creators.
The writers are not risking enough to create bold new works that will rattle the market. All of us are equally responsible for this current state. In a country where the most successful authors are good marketers and good salesmen rather than good writers, the stagnation of literature is expected where instead of our stories, only the marketing techniques keep getting better and more complex .
Thankfully there are now readers coming together to celebrate good fiction. Also a new emerging breed of writers are pushing the envelope of contemporary popular Indian fiction. Here’s to wishing that hopefully this article will one day be irrelevant.
The author of the article, Naveen Durgaraju is a writer who is trying in his own way to change the current fiction landscape with his bold new post apocalyptic trilogy set in India. The first book in the trilogy (Sinners : The Dawn of Kalki) is now out for order.