Many young new Indian authors are writing fiction in colloquial English — and their books are flying off the bookshelves, reports Varuna Verma
It took Tushar Raheja three months to write his first novel. The bulk of the book was written during the college summer vacations. “I wrote the rest during weekends and by bunking classes and getting my friends to give proxy attendance,” confesses the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, graduate. Raheja’s debut novel — Anything For You Ma’am: the love story of an IITian — was released in June this year.
Raheja admits that he is not typical author material. “I have never been a writer. I find it difficult to form flowing sentences. I don’t have a disciplined approach to writing,” says the 22-year-old author. But Raheja claims to be a wizard at storytelling. And he possesses a sense of humour and a crazy, always-up-to-something group of friends. “I decided to write a book on my life and friends,” he says.
Raheja’s book has been flying off the shelves. The 5,000 copies of the book’s first print were sold out in one month. The novel is now in its third print. “We get huge orders every day,” confirms J.K. Bose, managing director of the Delhi-based Srishti Publishers and Distributors, publishers of Raheja’s novel.
Ever since investment banker Chetan Bhagat pulled off two best sellers (One Night@The Call Center being one of them), many young Indians are discovering the writer in them. “A new genre of colloquially-written fiction is being explored in India. It is taking the mass market by storm,” says Kapish Mehra, head of the Delhi-based Rupa & Co. publishers.
It’s also clearly the age of on-the-fly writing. What were once essential (a big idea, literary prowess, time and a dedicated writing space) have become redundant. India’s new authors write on the move and about nothing in particular.
Star Sports anchor-turn- ed-author Gautam Bhimani wrote his debut book Reverse Sweep — about the lighter side of cricket — on airplanes, ships and Shatabdi trains. Bhimani was running against a deadline. “The Indian cricket team was going to be in Delhi in June this year and I wanted them to release the book,” he says. He wrote the bulk of the book in two months.
Ira Trivedi was even quicker. The 21-year-old model wrote her first novel What would you do to save the world in less than a month. “I have written for academic journals. Writing a novel was no different,” says the Columbia Business School student.
The typical setting for India’s new-age fiction is the college campus. And all elements of college life — hostel humour, bad food, nicknames — are woven into the story. “Readers write to me saying they can completely relate to my book,” says Abhijit Bhaduri, whose book Mediocre But Arrogant — is set in a B-school campus. Bhaduri is clear that he is no Dickens in the making. “My book is written in class notes style. I write like I speak,” he says.
Readers, for one, are not complaining. Bhaduri claims his debut novel sold 40,000 copies in one year — which qualifies the book to be a bestseller. He is already working on the second part of a planned trilogy. “In part two, my protagonist works in the corporate sector,” says Bhaduri, human resource director at Pepsico.
Debutant English authors in India have never had it so good. In money terms, the English book reading market in India is pegged at Rs 6,000 crore. “India has the fastest growing English-reading market in the world. It’s growing by a tenth every year,” says Srishti Publisher’s Bose. In the last two years, two international publishing houses — Picador and Random House — set up shop in India. “India’s growing English-speaking population is making the country a lucrative business destination for publishers,” says Bose. Also, reading is slowly getting back in fashion in India. “Five-star bookstores like Oxford, Crosswords and Landmark have made book buying a style statement. It has added a spin to the market for English books,” he adds.
Moreover, the growth in the general reading category is coming mostly from younger readers — people who are suddenly discovering that there are books on the shelves that reflect their lives, attitudes and angst. “The market is driven by young readers. And they want to read books that they can relate to,” says Basant Pandey, director, India Log Publications.
Publishers have been quick to pick up the cue. Pandey says India Log is always on the lookout for light-read books — literary benchmarks no bar. “Everyone wants to know about student life in an IIT or IIM campus. We keep an eye out for such manuscripts,” says Pandey.
In September this year, Shrishti Publishers will release a novel called Three makes a crowd on hostel life at Dehradun’s Rashtriya Indian Military College. “It’s a story of three friends and their escapades at IMA. It’s targeted at the college-going reader and is very simply written,” says author Kaushik Sirkar.
The strategy of publishing books by the young for the young is paying off. India Log Publishing — which opened shop in 2000 — has seen business grow by 25 per cent annually in the last two years. Shrishti Publishers claims to be growing by 30 per cent per annum. “The rules of book publishing have been redefined. We sell books at low costs and make money on volumes,” says Bose.
Low pricing and out-of-the-box marketing is the new game plan. Rupa sold Bhagat’s One Night@The Call Center for Rs 95 and advertised extensively on television channels like MTV. This had never been done for a book before. Despite mildly favourable reviews, 3.5 lakh copies of Bhagat’s book have sold so far. “Bhagat has earned close to Rs 1 crore from his books,” says Rupa Publisher’s Mehra.
Another big change in Indian writing is that it is no longer dependent on approval by the West. “The new authors talk exclusively to an Indian audience. In fact, a Western audience would not be able to comprehend the slang and similes used in their books,” says Bose.