India has always been an excellent subject for authors while writing as a subject or as a market. Ask Paulo Coelho, who was surprised enough to tweet ‘Thank you India’ after his name was quoted on the back of an auto-rickshaw in Kerala. Coelho is among the authors whose books never run out with hawkers at traffic intersections in most Indian cities. Many authors take a somewhat lenient stance on book piracy when they see their works freely available in India, often seen as a sign of popularity.
Interestingly, Jeffery Archer, whose popularity matches Coelho, prefers to release his books first in India to beat the bootleggers. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong then to conclude that India is a great place for literature and authors. Be that as it may, surprisingly enough, when an editor of a leading publishing house asked young readers to list their favourite authors on social media, 90 per cent of them did not name a single Indian author.
A little over a decade ago, the emergence of new English writing from the subcontinent consisted of two broad groups of Indian and Pakistani writers. The latter became the toast of the literary world with Kamila Shamsie, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Mohsin Hamid hailed as new global voices. At the same time, the former, represented by Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi and Anju Chauhan, to name a few, was labelled anything but literary worthy.
Ironically, many Pakistani writers were first published in India and enjoyed access to one of the biggest markets in the world. But India-based publishing houses rarely reciprocated the same enthusiasm in pushing Indian authors beyond domestic territory. This author sold nearly a thousand copies of his Rajesh Khanna biography, Dark Star, in Pakistan, even after being told that Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lankan markets don’t seem to welcome Indian authors.
While India continues to be a perpetual ‘flavour of the month’ for authors, the state of original English writing in India is in limbo. For the last decade, the success of fantasy and mythology genres beyond the traditional book readership (films, OTT, et al) has opened up new revenue vistas for the publishing industry, which has made the genre the focus of attention.
Strangely, modern English writing in India has become a prisoner of different stages of the past, and contemporary fiction rarely looks at the world around as it once did. Now, with Salman Rushdie thinking it ‘might be time to come back to India’ after spending a decade writing western-based novels, the exotica genre is all set to get a fresh shot in the arm. In the meantime, there is always a new Hinglish novel from the rest of the Indian subcontinent on the anvil.
Film historian and bestselling author