The View from Here: Books from India
Welcome to India, the next country in the View from Here series on literature from around the world. We’re going to be in the expert hands of Nishita, who blogs at Nishita’s Rants and Raves. She lives in the IT power house of Bangalore where she is a technical writer and the mother of a new baby nicknamed The Snubnose.
Let’s meet Nishita
I’ve been blogging off and on for the past seven years. My blog originated as a personal blog. I wanted my little place on the web to write about stuff I was dealing with. I was struggling with too much work pressure, taking care of a new baby and basically trying to keep it all together. The last thing I needed was a new blog, but I needed some creativity in my life, and a blog seemed fun, and it all started from there.
After some time, I realized I wasn’t comfortable voicing out too much personal stuff on the web; I was hardly blogging at all because I had a huge amount of written drafts, but nothing I actually wanted to publish. The only posts I ended up publishing were my bookish posts, and so I changed my blog focus to books, moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress and a book blog was born. I am not as prolific as other book bloggers. My reading rate is a book a week (if it is something light), so apart from books, I do blog about other non-book related stuff on my blog.
Currently, I am working on reading a lot of Man Booker prize books and classics, which I think take time to read and assimilate so I am quite happy focusing on what I read rather than how much I read.
At work, I am a writer – a technical writer but writer nevertheless. Technical writing is not creative writing at all. You stick to a particular style and format, and there is very little room for creativity – except in certain areas like multimedia and graphics. Nevertheless, I enjoy my work as the technology space I work in keeps me interested.
Q. What kinds of books are the most popular right now in India?
India has had a huge spurt in publishing. More new authors are getting published here as compared to even 5-6 years ago. There are a few books that are very popular in India I reviewed The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi earlier on my blog. He is like an Indian Dan Brown and is immensely popular. Another series of books (which I haven’t read) is The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi. These books have become bestsellers here and I’ve heard they are even being made into a Bollywood movie.
Q. Tell us about some of the themes and traditions of literature in India
Mythology-related books are very popular in India. The books that I mentioned above are all closely tied to ancient Indian myths. These books tend to do very well.
Of late, a lot of Indian chick-lit and historical romances are popular in the Indian market. Stuff like Rajput princes falling in love with dancing maidens, that type of thing. Most of them are just fluff, but there are a few gems like The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan who I think is the Sophie Kinsella of India. She’s awesome.
The Indian detective novel is also slowly coming into its own. There are a few talented writers out there. One is Kiswar Desai. I reviewed one of her books The Sea of Innocence here .
Earlier Indian writing was a lot more grim dealing with issues like poverty, crime etc. Books went through a rigorous screening process and only a few but quality books were published. But the new breed of writers is choosing to look beyond that and come up with something more generic and light-hearted. It’s also comparatively easier to get published. Is this a good thing? I honestly don’t know. It seems to be a global trend though, and so I can’t say it is specific to India only.
Q. What books do you remember having to study in school that could be considered classics of Indian literature?
We studied the Ramayana and Mahabharatha in school. These are epics and we studied them in an abridged form in Hindi our national language. I am not sure if there are good translations around, but I highly recommend The Mahabharatha especially. It’s one of the most powerful stories out there, and although humongous has a lot to offer.
I was also introduced to a lot of English literature in school. Our schools would teach some short chapters from classic English literature, and then we were encouraged to read the whole book. I was introduced to some great writers through my school English teachers – Asimov (I devoured the Robot series afterwards), I still remember Maggie Tulliver’s infamous hair chopping episode from The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.
A classic but still very readable Indian author is R.K.Narayan – a couple of his stories were included in our English textbooks. His books reflect an older India which is sadly not around anymore. I would recommend Swami and Friends highly – stories about a group of school boys in British India. Do you know Graham Greene loved these stories so much, he helped get them published? I didn’t know until I found this article on Wikipedia.
I remember that there wasn’t anything very controversial though. Most of the stories were very safe without raising any awkward questions. Not a good thing I know, but that was how it was. The college literature program laid heavy emphasis on Thomas Hardy. Although I didn’t study literature, I would sit in on the classes where they talked about Tess of the D’urbervilles. I think a whole semester was devoted to this book. Some Indian books were also covered. I remember Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya, and also The Good Earth by Pearl S.Buck.
Q. There’s a rich heritage of literature in your country with some authors who’ve made it big on the world stage -people like Amitav Ghosh, Aravind Adiga, Arundhati Roy. Are they just as big in India as they are in other parts of the world?
Amitav Ghosh is huge in India. Even if not many people have read his books, he has very strong name recognition. I think many people were angry with Aravind Adiga’s portrayal of India in The White Tiger. There were a lot of unhappy editorials in newspapers about how he portrayed India in a bad light. I don’t agree though. I thought it was a honest book showing a side of India that we like to pretend doesn’t exist.
Arundhati Roy is involved in a lot of social activism. While her book (The God of Small Things) is highly regarded, she is more in the news for the stance she takes on various current events. And most people’s opinion of her seems to come from whether they agree with her ideas or not.
Q. Although geographically close to Asia, there are deep roots which connect India to Europe (through the period of colonisation). How does this position in the middle of different cultures affect your authors?
India has very strong ties to English authors – not as much now as before. But writers like Ruskin Bond, P.G.Wodehouse, Enid Blyton, and Agatha Christie are very popular here. Even Rudyard Kipling who many criticize as being colonialist is well-regarded in India among the older generation.
When I visited America I was quite surprised to see that a lot of people hadn’t even heard of them, but lord, I grew up with Blyton. I loved her world. Adults here love Wodehouse and Christie. Some of them even love Barbara Cartland. 🙂
Indian writers used to be heavily influenced by the British style. We learn and therefore write in British English. However, of late, this influence is waning and more and more Indian writers are looking locally for inspiration, incorporating the local lingo and mannerisms in their story.
Q. Kobo has just announced it wants to break into the Indian market with its e-reader. How do you think this will work – are readers ready for this or will they want to stick to paper ?
The Kindle is doing pretty well in India. The e-reader market in India is still a niche market. Why? Because the book reading market in India is still only a small percentage of the Indian population. So I am not very sure how well two competing e-readers will perform. I think there will be a lot of competition and may be some clever placement for both to do well. I don’t see the Kobe overtaking Kindle in any way. The Kindle is too well-entrenched and well-known.