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An Attempt to Define the New Classifications of Indian English Literature
chillibreeze writer — Sukanya Samy
India is the land of the Upanishads, Vedas and Kamasutra. When seen from a very broad perspective, all these were written in our very own language – Sanskrit. For centuries, Sanskrit was the language that united us. It evolved into other languages, which created divides but with the British, English became a common link; especially now where most Indians are applauded for their knowledge of the language. Writing in English though, has been a very recent phenomenon, taking centre stage in the last few decades with success depending either on sales of the books or connect with the audience.
There are also two categories of Indian writers that I have termed as:
In this article I would like to explore and compare the two categories – their writing styles, success factors and limitations.
The Rushdie type:
Who are these writers? Salman Rushdie in the forefront, Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, V.S.Naipaul, Kiran Desai, Vikram Seth, Khushwant Singh, Rohinton Mistry, Amitava Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor and Aravind Adiga. Considering I pass all the G.K. quizzes that I participate in, I am sure I haven’t missed many names. A bit of research shows that most of them have lived a large part of their impressionable age outside of India. Also, though Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Aravind Adiga have been recipients of the Booker prize, they are typecast as their subjects mostly include gender inequality, marital difficulties, poverty and corruption in India and lack of experimentation on other subjects. How many of them have NOT shown Indians as underdogs? So have the Indian writers forgotten about creating an interesting plot, wielded well with a new theme altogether?
The answer lies in understanding the sentiments of the global audience as well. Somewhere in the last decade, India and China have drawn people globally to know more about them. The image of India being a land of elephants and snake charmers is fading and a stronger image of a country of over 1 billion people with complex issues like casteism, poverty, corruption and illiteracy is taking centre stage. Most people around the world, including all of us, occasionally, wonder how we are functioning with so many intertwined issues. And this mystery is what people want to read about. India is an underdog, will perhaps be for many more decades, but an underdog that has potential to overcome any obstacle.
The success of these writers has had a corrupting influence on Indian writing in English and this has made British and American publishers pick novels that will sell in their markets. According to an article published in the New York Times, written by Manu Joseph, Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger received mediocre reviews in India and the characterization and portrayal of Indian cities was considered naïve and inaccurate. But the book went on to become the Booker prize winner. This is where my point of most of these writers spending impressionable years in US and Europe gets validated – they can tell Indian stories in a way that entices foreigners, irrespective of the fact that they might showcase an inaccurate and unreal picture of India.
The success of these books/authors depends primarily on the ‘connect’ that they make with worldwide audience – to give them an enriching experience of knowing more about India and provoke them to think. Sales and recognition follow.
The Bhagat type:
Why did I name this type as the Bhagat type? Probably because Chetan Bhagat was the one who was a pioneer in this style of writing. He broke the monotony of the Rushdie types and connected with Indians in the language they speak and others followed. He has created this category in India.
They are populist writers whose books are bestsellers – Chetan Bhagat, Advaita Kala, Karan Bajaj etc – who have attained success because they treat their stories exactly how masses in India want them to be treated. The current scenario is that though a lot of Indians understand and speak English, it is Indian English that they are comfortable with – simple words, ‘Hinglish’ sprinkled in most books with education, romance and modern culture as backdrops and this is what is given to them.
What Defines a Bestseller:
These numbers are a far cry from millions of copies being sold on the NY Times bestsellers’ list, which is one of the best-known lists. Only Chetan Bhagat has managed to break the million copies record. What then is keeping these authors from writing on new themes, for a wider audience and more enriching language? It’s an established model, which is easy to replicate that deters the writers from exploring new territories. Getting a book published is no great pain today and the goal is myopic – to attain instant success in the shortest time possible. The success factors for these books is primarily sales. It wouldn’t matter if the book had a lasting impression on the audience.
As one can see, there is clearly a large market for both the types of books – it’s a ‘different strokes for different folks’ scenario. In conclusion, it wouldn’t be fair to argue that the Rushdie type is better than the Bhagat type or vice-versa as their writing styles and successes are meant for two very different audiences. But one thing that readers of both the types can definitely demand for is experimentation in themes – adventure, crime, science, despair, war, love and more. As Irving Wallace once said “Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure” and what better way to do it than taking readers to a magical place that they have not experienced before.
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Chillibreeze's disclaimer: This is a contributed article and was published on Chillibreeze in May, 2012. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of Chillibreeze as a company. Chillibreeze has a strict anti-plagiarism policy. Please contact us to report any copyright issues related to this article. The relevance of the facts and figures cited (if any) could change after a period of time.
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