The bubble of campus-based literature

A bubble has been brewing in the Indian literary scene since the success of Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone.

Published: 15th September 2010 12:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 05:25 PM   |  A+A-

The world is still recovering from the impact of the real-estate bubble that burst in 2008. Since then, we’ve been hearing a lot about how it started, developed and finally climaxed so terribly. We have dissected it to the bare bones and declared that at the bottom was pure, unadulterated greed. The idea of packaging and selling mortgages like mineral water was born in the head of a brilliant B-School graduate somewhere and many others jumped onto the bandwagon, their noses quivering at the scent of potential greenbacks. After all, who doesn’t want money?

A similar bubble has been brewing in the Indian literary scene since the 2004 success of Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone. At the time of release, it was a different voice in the crowd, standing apart through Bhagat’s use of simple English unadorned by vivid imagery or long descriptions, peppered with the language of the youth and Hindi phrases that gave it a realistic touch.

Also, the novelty of the novel appealed to the readers — it gave them a sneak-peek into life at an institute of which India is proud, letting readers know that IITians just cannot be stereotyped. Bhagat thus enjoyed all the benefits of the first mover.

Since then, a number of young authors from premier institutes have cropped up, churning out campus-based novels in the same style. The themes of these novels are also eerily similar. In a nutshell, they are Bollywood masala movies in paperback form. Some of these second-movers have also tasted commercial, if not critical, success — like Abhijit Bhaduri’s Mediocre, but Arrogant and Karan Bajaj’s Keep off the Grass, encouraging others to follow.

The latest in line is IIMA alumnus Sidin Vadukut’s supposedly comic take on the world of consulting — a trilogy named Dork — the adventures of Robin Einstein Varghese. Needless to say, it is a hybrid of many of its successful predecessors. One good thing about the first book in the trilogy is that there is no one heroine with whom the hero lives happily ever after. But then of course, Vadukut may be saving the fairy tale for the next two parts of the trilogy.

One good thing about campus literature is that it has managed to make India read. Written in a simple, narrative style with dialogues in Hinglish, reading these novels is not a mentally taxing job. These books are also strategically priced to be light on not just your mind, but also your purse. Would Bhagat’s books be as popular if they were priced any higher? I am sure even Bhagat wouldn’t want to know the answer.

India’s youth is on a reading spree — they are screaming for campus novels. So, why not give them some? Why should only a few shoot to fame? In the end, it’s all about business — it’s what you are taught in B-Schools anyway. Identify what the customer wants, make it and sell it to him at a price he can afford — all 4 Ps of marketing covered!

But one day in the near future, Young India will wake up and spurn the very pages they so eagerly lapped up. In blogs and forums, they will condemn the usage of Hinglish in literature. Critics will spring up like wild mushrooms and scoff at the deplorably mundane themes. The scores of campus novels written so far will disappear from the sidewalks and street corners. Nobody will even admit that once upon a time, they had read (and enjoyed) such novels. I suspect we are riding the crest of the wave now.

Let’s just wait and see when this bubble bursts.

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