Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Age English Fiction By Indian Authors : A Commentary.

I am a reader, an avid reader. I read all genres of fiction (Except M&B and vampires. Twilight was an exception partly owing to its novelty of theme. The only other vampire I know is Count Dracula. He might have been a handsome bloke but is definitely not cut to be a boyfriend.Defintely not mine.)I read English fiction by English authors, foreign authors and translations from foreign languages to English. I read Malayalam books. Well, I grew up reading novels in Malayala Manorma much to the chagrin of my Amma and Ammoomma. (That was at an age I should’ve been reading Balarama or Chandamama.) Bengali translations into Malayalam are my favorites. Apart from communism and fish we Malayali’s share with the Bengali’s a love for literary works par excellence. I devoured Sunil Gangopadhyay’s and Asha Purna Devi’s with a passion reserved for T.Padmanabhan and Madhavi Kutty. Translations from Indian languages to Malayalam have always been a favorite with me. It was my way of knowing my country of diversity. I read through them to understand the different cultures to see the differences, to feel the invisible thread that binds us into one in spite of these differences. Whilst hoping that the beauty of the words in these pages have not been lost by translation and regretting my inability to read the books in the they were written in ;I thank DC books from the bottom of my heart for publishing these translations.
There! I have established my right as a reader to comment on books.

I totally agree that every book that is published on the face of earth is not forced upon me. I can use my deliberation to choose the book off the shelf. The scenario is very similar to that of producers who dish out an apology for a movie with a take it or leave it attitude. This we call the sad state of Indian cinema, once renowned for its world class productions and profound story lines.
The new age English fiction by young Indian authors genre is in a similar state.I am not sorry to say what I am going to say. As a reader I have some expectations from a book. Honestly most of the books that come out in this genre have zero literary value, contain cheap, under the belt, double entendre jokes and is almost always based on the author’s shattered pathetic life. Portrayed over a protagonist caught between his dreams and dreams of his family, it may also involve a romantic interest that goes for a toss somewhere in the middle of the book. And it is not until the last chapter of the book that it dawns on our poor protagonist that he/she was not the one and that sometimes one must choose to rebel for one’s life. It would’ve saved us the book if the protagonist had some sense right in the beginning.

I am being harsh, necessarily so. I have read a few promising authors and I am 
proud of them.I have been fortunate to discover some new authors of immense potential. After all I was not going to call the above mentioned rubbish genre as the future of Indian literature.I would’ve wept tears of blood if someone dared to do that. When I am browsing a book store for Indian fiction I expect books are at par with the works of Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth and others. The excerpts from their books have been part of school curriculum in India. It has become a sample of good writing for a child who steps in to the world of English language. That is an honor a new age writer should strive to achieve.   

There is essentially a difference between a journal and a published book. This is something our publishers have seems to have problems in identifying. But then somewhere it all boils down to likes on FB, re-tweets on twitter and a whole lot of marketing gimmicks. All this to sell the first 1000 copies.

I am not expecting a book to be of Nobel Prize winning standards. Just remember this; we all have made mistakes in life. We all have had relationships in life that went tragic. We have all done things we are not proud of. If all of us decide to publish books about all the above said, would you as a reader want to read it?
I am not a published author. I write simple blog posts that may or may not be interesting. So I might not understand the pains of writing a book and getting it published. Now that you are taking all the pain, please make sure that your book does not fall into the category which would sell only its first 1000 copies and never see a reprint. If you are not bothered, glow in your “five-weeks-of-fame” and risk being tagged as trash in public. And remember your books are not works of literature or fiction but a category which is might be labelled as new-age trash.

Before someone tells me that it matters only to be published and everything else is a conspiracy let me share another real life example.
Every Onam the stalwarts of magazine world in Malayalam publishes a two volume digests called Onapatippu. The pages are filled with short stories, poems, interviews, essays and commentaries. It is a literary feast more fulfilling than the Onam sadya. This was so until the late 90’s.In the 2000’s these digests were devoid of stories. I was thoroughly disappointed. The whole season of Onam suddenly felt a little less fun. Onam was always about new dress, feast and the Onapathippu filled with stories! Acha, Amma and me would reminiscence the golden days of Onapathippu.

Bereaved Acha would say,” Oru otta katha polum ilya! Kashtam!”
Not even a single story! Sad!

All of us felt the pinch of the lack of short stories in Malayalam. We read and re-read the old masters. When I think about it now, I realize it was not the drought of stories that prevented the publishers from printing stories. It was the drought of good stories. I am glad that in the meantime the publishers had not decided to torture the readers with sub-standard stories. It must have occurred to them that it is not the number of books that you publish that matters. What matters is the quality of the content. That definitely is food for thought for publishing houses that publish without discretion.
I am proud of the Malayalam publishing industry for their staunch conservative views on publishing. Publish ones worth reading in print. The rest goes where it is deserves to stay-Trash!

P: S: This year during Onam season midst of all hospital stays, sorrow and pain ,Amma remembered to tell me about the Onapathippu.

Nee kanedetha ee kollathe Mathrubhoomi onapathippu.Assalayitundu!”
You should see this year’s Mathrubhoomi magazine’s Onapathippu.It is brilliant!

It indeed is.Called “Kathayude Katha” or “The story of the story”,it contains stories published as part of the weekly from 50’s till date.I includes an interview with the author of the story on the premises of the story.And the authors tell us how the story came to be,when it was written and what made them write that story. Some based on people they have met, incidents they had heard about or some simply from their fertile imagination. It gives us the glimpse of their lives at that time and in many a case an overview of the state of things in general in that era.Needless to say a copy rests on my bedside table!