The Puzzle of the Indian Bestseller

Bestseller

Have you recently walked into any bookstore in India and found yourself gobsmacked by the sheer number of ‘bestsellers’ on the racks? The next time you find yourself in the ‘Indian Fiction’ section of your local book shop, conduct this little experiment. Pull out books at random and keep a score of bestsellers versus non-bestsellers. When I did it, on twenty draws, I got fourteen of the former and six of the latter.

Now such an incident can barely pass without one’s curiosity being piqued. So I fanned out five of these books in my hand to see if I recognized the publisher or the author or the title. (I’m no veteran, but I’ve been in publishing long enough to know the weighty names.) I didn’t. Not even one.

Here are a couple. Have you ever heard of A Dilli Mumbai Love Story by Abhimanyu Jha? Or of You were my crush, until you said you love me by Orvana Ghai and Durjoy Datta? Both titles claim to be bestsellers on their covers, and in the case of ‘Crush’, it has apparently sold more than 100,000 copies. In a market where most publishers break even on 2000 copies and make a profit on 3000, that’s an impressive number indeed.

So what gives? If the book has truly sold a hundred thousand copies, where are all the readers who like it? Where is the fanfare? Why aren’t its authors literary superstars? Why is the book not a classic, and why isn’t it being made into a movie? Why aren’t foreign agents fighting over publication and translation rights? Why do the authors of these books still have to be introduced? Surely if you have sold 100,000 copies, you’re already a household name?

Well, not quite. First of all, tracking down book sales is a notoriously difficult job, especially in India. It’s quite simple for an author to arrange for friends and relatives of his in different cities to buy up copies – one or two at a time – from stores. Rumour has it that there are agencies that offer this ‘service’. You sign up, they send shoppers to buy copies of your book from physical and online retailers, and at the end you pay for it all. The retailers love your title because it’s selling, your publisher’s happy because the retailers are ordering, and you become more liked because you ‘delivered’. Everyone’s happy.

The other way to achieve volume sales is to fight on price. Most of the ‘bestsellers’ you see on the market today cost under a hundred rupees. Turning out an edited, good-quality book for that price is impossible at current printing and distributing rates. So how much of a margin do these publishers get on each sale? How much do their authors receive as royalty? These are all hidden questions. On the surface we see that it has sold so many copies in so many months. Once again everyone’s happy.

You could say that Indian mainstream publishing is now divided into two distinct streams. In stream one are publishers who pay their authors advances, give them editors and designers, arrange launches, take care of sales and distribution etc. These guys aim to sell 2000 copies a year on average per title per year. In this stream there is much jubilation if a book crosses 5000 copies, and reaching 10,000 copies deserves a full-blown banquet.

In stream two are publishers who pay no advances, do little to no editing, compromise on paper quality and design, and price their books so low that margins are near zero, if not negative. These guys sell – if their claims are to be believed – upwards of 10,000 copies of each title. They have to, one imagines, to stay afloat. Their authors see little recognition in the mainstream, and they seldom get paid.

On social media and the internet, though, they’re rockstars. All their titles on e-retailing websites get hundreds of ratings and rave reviews. Once again, though, it’s important to note that ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ these days don’t have to be real. There are firms that will deliver thousands of likes to your Facebook page for a few hundred rupees. Comments and followers are also available similarly, on demand.

As an author who has always been associated with publishers in Stream One, it would be too easy for me to knock the other side down. But I’ve come to accept it as part of the business. After all, the field is big enough to accommodate both streams, and as long as there isn’t rampant illegal activity, who am I to point fingers at a free market? Each author must make his own choices, just as each publisher must. All I can venture are opinions and observations.

But what this foray into publishing has taught me is to be wary of the ‘bestseller’ tag on books. There was once a time when I used to be impressed about golden star labels on books, but now I just smile and move on. I am thoroughly contented, for now, to be a non-bestseller.

Image Courtesy: Indie Publishing Success

Comments

  1. 100,000 copies huh, and of books which I haven’t even remotely heard of before 🙂 No wonder the quality of books being published and put on bookshelves (both online and offline) has drastically declined of late. Anybody who is anybody thinks he can start typing out a love story, get it published and sell it in large numbers as well, and that is the sad seedy part of today’s situation, I guess.

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  2. As someone who has worked in publishing for over 15 years, I know how this happens. Thankfully, I deal with a mature audience and a much more intellectual crowd of authors. It is the inexperienced and immature authors (many a times young and eager to get famous) themselves who force the publishers to agree into such false marketing gimmicks. What they do not understand is, it is the content which speaks about an author and not the number of copies sold. I can bet that none of the leading publishers will ever use such false marketing tactics. I burst into laughter seeing that 100,000 copies blast on Durjoy Datta’s book. But a few seconds later I had tears in my eyes when I saw The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini sitting quietly on either side of Durjoy at Om Book Shop at Ambience Mall, Gurgaon .

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  3. I wonder if I triggered the origin of this topic.
    It was a good discussion the other day:)

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    • You sure did, Ashwin 🙂

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      • Dear Sharath,

        I am Abhimanyu Jha, the writer of one of the 1st book you mentioned and denigrated in your post: ‘A Dilli-Mumbai Love Story’.

        I have another book published only on Kindle, a collection of short stories, which begins with a short-story about Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto and ends with a folk tale on ‘How The Himalayan Birch Became White In Color’.

        I invite you to review it and let me know after reading the book whether I still need to ‘buy’ likes and comments 🙂 Will you?

        By the way, just as an aside, I have a 900 page long unpublished novel, essentially a novel within a novel that was written as criticism of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch philosophy. I am pretty sure the story quality is at par with the best of Indian writing, but who in India will take risk with a book as long as War & Peace and which criticizes a philosophy most people wouldn’t have even heard about?
        Interestingly, the book, despite being a completely Indian story, went to the final MSS stage (post query, post synposis and sample chapters) with Blair Partnership, the literary agents of J K Rowling, but couldn’t cross even the 1st hurdle in our own country. Explain that, will you?

        I suggest you get to know a little the people you trash before you trash them. I haven’t met Durjoy Datta, but like Chetan Bhagat, he has a huge fan following among high-school and college students from Tier 2 cities in India. (I know this because I am also an edupreneur, have co-founded a technology company that works in learning/recruitment space, and have worked with more than a hundred colleges from Tier 2 cities). Equally popular is another guy called Ravinder Singh among that group.
        And yes, that group is much much larger than the reading population which reads literary works, so selling 100000 copies is not a big deal.

        As far as I am concerned, my book has sold just over 20k copies, and my publisher has happily paid me royalties for that as per our agreement: 5% of the list price. As far as why my book became popular, it’s very simple: I read someone who is Hollywood’s most famous guru of screenwriting (the man guest appears in an Academy award winning movie scripted by Charlie Kaufmann called Adaptation; look him up), and he plainly said the most successful stories are like Titanic – with mixed endings. And so I deliberately crafted an ending that was like Titanic (remember Jack Dawson sacrificing himself for Rose) and was successfully able to make hundreds of people cry who then would have told thousands about the book. That simple 🙂

        Anyway, I am not bothered that you don’t like simple love stories. Your choice. As for me, my taste in books varies from reading Kant’s philosophy to Fifty Shades of Gray, in music from listening to Beethoven’s Ninth to vulgar Bhojpuri songs, in movies from watching Bergman’s intellectual ‘Seventh Seal’ to the mindless ‘No Entry’… you get the picture. I enjoy everything, from the most profound to the most banal, from the most beautiful to the very vulgar, and am proud of my eclecticism.

        And that’s how I write too. From a primer on the ‘Influence of Kant’s philosophy on Einstein’ to plain M&B type romance, from mythology dealing with environmental issues to a plain vanilla murder mystery. Everything is a part of this life and the universe, and I intend to enjoy and create art as eclectically.

        I suggest you read a book called ‘The Glass Bead Game’, the final book by the German Nobel Prize Winner Herman Hesse (who also wrote Siddhartha & Steppenwolf btw) to understand what I am talking about. It will help you realize why you may be in great error with this post of yours 🙂

        I will give you a short background why you should. In 1931, (I suppose, I am not sure), Hesse wrote Siddhartha, a very philosophical, highly intellectual book on someone like Buddha. You may have read it; it’s considered a classic. Then in 1932, Hesse’s wife left him. He became depressed and suicidal after that, In 1934 (I think), he wrote Steppenwolf which is also considered a classic and was one of the Bibles of the Flower Power movement of the seventies, and which is a book about balancing, not rejecting our animal, vulgar, sexual nature with our more refined, intellectual tastes.

        Finally, in 1936 or 37, Hesse wrote his masterpiece ‘The Glass Bead Game’ for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. If you read it, interestingly, it’s almost a 180 degree turn from the conclusions of the intellectual, philosophical Siddhartha. After his wife left him, with his final novel, Hesse turned his back on his intellectual, philosophical past to celebrate life as it is.

        I hope you got what I meant 🙂

        The reason I wrote this long comment is that please don’t denigrate what you don’t understand. Making insinuations against people who have done you no harm just so that you could assuage your angry author’s ego is – I am sure you would know – morally wrong.

        I will end this long reply with lines from the famous Urdu poet Sahir: Sansar se bhaage phirte ho, bhagwaan ko tum kya paoge; apman racheta ka hoga, rachna ko agar thukraoge 🙂

        N’est-ce pas my fellow author?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Abhimanyu,

        I’m glad you found this post, and I’m glad you wrote a comment here. First of all, I must tell you that I picked yours and Durjoy’s books as part of a ‘random’ sample out of Flipkart. I didn’t, of course, mean anything personal.

        Also, I didn’t thrash either you or Durjoy. I was merely pointing out that publishing in India today has taken two remarkably different paths. Just because I’m on one doesn’t mean those on the other are wrong or ‘inferior’. As you say, the market is big enough to accommodate all of us, and I’m sure we will find something or the other in people around us to be envious about no matter what we achieve.

        So no envy here, and no ego either 🙂

        But you wouldn’t deny the main point of the post, that this phenomenon of the ‘Indian bestseller’ is puzzling. On one hand there are books that sell 5000 copies a year and get called ‘bestsellers’. On the other there are books that sell 500,000 copies a year and are also called bestsellers. In the stores today, I struggle to find a book which does NOT say ‘bestseller’ on the cover.

        You know what they say: when everyone’s a bestseller, no one is.

        And also the curious case of being known. If all these books are really bestsellers, how come many readers don’t know of their authors? How come their ‘standing’ in the industry is not as high as is should be? How come they have to introduce themselves as bestselling authors, whereas the ‘others’ – those who sell 5000 copies a year – are known?

        I ask these questions not out of anger or out of ego, but out of genuine curiosity. And yes, as for suggestions that questionable practices are afoot, especially on the social media front, I’m sure you will agree with me that it is possible to buy likes and comments for almost nothing at all. And I’m sure you will agree – as a fellow author – that it is possible with a fairly small monetary investment to manipulate bookstores in our country and create false demand.

        If it’s possible, at least a few people out there are doing it. I’m enough of a realist to know that. You may not be, but I never insinuated that you are.

        I ask these questions and make these comments not as an author, but as a concerned reader. In my interactions with readers I’ve come across many that have asked the same question: ‘How come so many books claim to be bestsellers? Are they really?’ And all I could – and can – do is shrug and say, ‘Who knows?’

        Would you like to do a guest post on this blog and attempt to answer the questions I raised in this post? I’m sure readers of this blog will appreciate it if you can take out the time.

        Thanks for your comment. It’s an issue I’m sure both of us feel deeply about. No offence 🙂

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  4. rkrishnasanka says:

    Dear Mr. Jha,

    I started out with Enid Blyton when I was seven years old and throughout my life I’ve always had a book to read and a story that I’ve loved the most. So when someone comes up with a plot line that goes like “Anirudh Hirani is an economics graduate from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and Aparajita Pinto is an IIT graduate from Goa. Like a typical Delhi boy, he is rich and rides a Ducati, while she hails from a middle class family and belongs to a different religion.” I automatically consider it to be trash. In fact I wouldn’t even flip through the pages because I would most likely finish the book before my opinion of the book would be formed (I mean how long does a hundred page book take ?). In fact I’m pretty sure that most avid readers would have the same thought process. So when a book like this becomes a best-seller. People like start wondering what kind of a fool would label the book a best seller, and what kind of a idiot would buy book like this. (Apparently I keep forgetting that our country is filled with idiots)

    ‘Herman Hesse’ regardless of how his opinions might have changed throughout his lifespan, would have produced literature which would have been at the same intellectual level (please don’t compare your eclecticism to his). Even though I am someone who grew up in a ‘tier 2′ city, I do read philosophical works (I’m stuck with Rousseau and other political philosophers for now) but I would probably never go near your future works’ which are either discourses or plot lines with a philosophical implication. And its only because your other books would have set up such a precedent.

    As someone striving hard to write a novella I know how hard it is to get a story together and I wish you all the best for your future works. Its unfortunate that your book’s name came up at random in the post. But throughout the post you don’t seem to be getting to the actual issue of whether authors are capable of pushing books through artificial means. Agreed you don’t have to resort to such banal means because of an abundance of high-school and college students in tier 2 cities (who for some reason, happen to go to book stores and buy these books off the shelf, ‘very uncharacteristic of them if you ask me’). But can / do other authors resort to such means ?

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    • My 2nd and final post to this logic. Do ponder upon the following a bit 🙂

      Here is a list of some of the works that can be trashed in 1 line:
      1. Boy and girl from warring families fall in love, are separated, and commit suicide – trash – Romeo & Juliet
      2. Girl dresses up as boy to win her love – trash – As you Like It
      3. Highly sexed woman has numerous affairs leading to her downfall – trash – Madam Bovary
      4. Rich guy, poor girl have misunderstandings – trash – Pride & Prejudice
      5. Change genders – Rich girl, poor guy have misunderstandings – trash – Persuasion
      6. Change economic status and make them equal, shall we? – Poor guy, poor girl have
      misunderstandings – trash – Mansfield Park
      7. Change economic status again! – Rich guy, rich girl have misunderstandings – trash – Emma
      8. A clever guy experiments if he can get away with killing people and can’t because of his own conscience – trash – Crime & Punishment
      9. Poor guy tries to pose as rich guy to win former girlfriend who is now rich and married, but no amount of understanding helps – trash – The Great Gatsby
      10. Rich guy turns poor girl away mistakenly and turns to bottle leading to self-destruction – trash – Devdas
      11. Rich guy, poor girl have some more misunderstandings – trash – Parineeta
      12. Rich girl, poor guy keep on having misunderstandings – trash – Datta
      13. Now let’s make both of them women, shall we? – Rich girl, poor girl have misunderstandings – trash – Bindur Chhele
      14. It get’s worse! – Rich guy, rich girl have such a misunderstanding that the guy kills the girl! – trash – Othello

      Here, I have trashed 14 classics of literature for you since my birthday happens to fall on a 14th :-). Shall I go on?

      I understood the ‘point’ of the post very well. Just because I ‘understand’ something doesn’t mean I ‘agree’ with it. I understand ‘prejudice’ thoroughly; I don’t accept it at all. The original post, like yours, I felt was prejudiced because it talked about two different things: ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ clash going on on the publishing industry especially after the recent democratization that has happened mainly due to technological advances vs false social media advertising happening in a huge number of industries (not only publishing).

      Truly, the phenomena you mentioned exists, but NOT only either in the publishing industry or just in the so called lowbrow segment of it. It exists across all industries and all segments of publishing, both highbrow and lowbrow. And I got the feeling from the article that it was more a grievance outpouring on why ‘lowbrow’ books were succeeding as opposed to ‘highbrow’ books than why false social media advertising was happening.

      And that’s the reason I mentioned Hesse – whatever the difference in our quality of writing (and electicism), we both understand that the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow is spurious at best and malicious at worst. At the end of Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf’, the protagonist is condemned to listen to Mozart for eternity – that’s his punishment for the crime of trying to make a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow. Please take a moment to wonder why.

      One is extremely welcome to write about the phenomena of false advertising in publishing industry – AFTER due diligence and research. If you want to do investigative journalism, please do so – all of us, the publishing industry as a whole, would benefit.

      What you are NOT welcome to do is advance malicious rumors against people who may have nothing to do with your grievances. IF YOU ARE A WRITER, you would know that to be acknowledged as a good writer by our readers is a dream that we passionately pursue. By advancing such rumors against me & Durjoy and others, you are hurting that dream just because we and our readers are different from you and enjoy different things than you.

      With my 1st book, I have written for a different target segment than you aim to write for. Yes, there are different types of people in this world – just an hour’s analysis of the number of genres in this world would tell you the diversity of what people read in this world. From Dostoevsky to Christian romance, from Bertrand Russel & Ezra Pound to BDSM erotica, from Kant’s philosophy to Manga comics. Are you trying to claim that the millions of readers across the world that made Fifty Shades of Gray such a resounding success, so much so that it lead to the creation of a genre all by itself called ‘Mommy Porn’, were all a sleigh of hand conjured by E.L.James or her publishers? That you don’t want to acknowledge the existence of such people in the world who are different from you speaks more about you than about them.

      All I am saying is, just because people are different from and read differently from you doesn’t make them necessarily evil or non-existent. Please remember that.

      Ciao

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      • Hi Sharath,
        I didn’t see your reply to me before posting my latest reply to Mr. Krishna… Apologies 🙂

        I think I spotted three different concerns intermingled in your post. Two of them are I feel valid, one of them is not.
        The two which are valid are
        1. Rigged social media advertising that is a phenomenon across all industries, not only publishing
        2. Declining quality of books because of the transition in the publishing industry, mainly due to technological changes (existing gatekeeping structures are disappearing while new ones have not yet come to take their place, but I think it’s a transitional phase)

        The third which I felt was there (I may be wrong, but considering Mr. Krishna’s reply to me, I do think a number of people carry such arrogance) and which I feel is not valid is
        3. An arbitrary spurious distinction between highbrow or lowbrow books based purely on subject-matter and target segment chosen and purpose of the book. Agatha Christie, Nicholas Sparks, J K Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Frederic Forsyth, Robert Heinlein, Joseph Conrad & Borges are all pretty good writers in their own domains, yet I assure you people who only read Marilynne Robinson or Michael Ondaatje for the beauty of their writing would be unable to swallow Christie’s ‘Murder In The Stiles’ unless they had the common sense to adapt their reading mindset and know that a straight-forward murder mystery doesn’t care much (or in most of Christie’s case , at all) for exquisite metaphors or deep existential concerns. Read some of Christie’s short stories if you want to experience beautiful writing and existential angst in a mystery story by the way, she doesn’t disappoint

        Rigged Social Media advertising is something that I guess we will have to live with. In fact, as is well documented in a Goodreads fiasco, people use it not only to help themselves but hurt others even due to petty ego clashes. But then again, such a thing has happened from a long time. Even famous authors like Poe, Jack London & William Faulkner were accused of review rigging. At an institutional level, the cozy arrangements between publishing houses, media and established authors is also well-known. I can list twenty of those underhand practices down here, but I don’t want to jeopardize my writing career even before it has properly begun 🙂

        Where, Indian best-sellers are concerned, trust me, most of them are 🙂 It takes to sell just about 6-7k copies to be declared a bestseller. If you price your book at a reasonable price, target young readers properly of which exist a sizeable number (a lot many of them buy online these days including the age group of 22-28 who are reading a lot more due to many factors including disposable money and our social structures that push young people, especially women to spend more time indoors than outdoors despite urban fragmentation), and write a plot-driven, fast-paced book, you have a good chance to produce a bestseller. It’s funny that some rise in Indian book-reading is perhaps thanks to our regressive social practices, but then life is funny!

        One curious phenomenon I’ll tell you is the rise of ‘autobiographical books’. Some of the young people reading books mistake a 1st person narration for autobiography, and are thrilled to read books that seem autobiographical. In fact, I have received no less than some two hundred emails and messages from people asking me if Dilli-Mumbai was autobiographical.

        Tell you what I found a bit sad in this – again something that’s a result of our regressive and repressive social practices. Many of our young generation don’t experience sex, romance, and other thrills of life directly, so these books become a vicarious medium for them to experience it second-hand. When the books are written in 1st person and seem autobiographical, I think the vicarious experience is most because the reader can then imagine himself or herself in the protagonist’s shoes.

        As far as guest posting on social media advertising is concerned, I don’t have enough information on what’s really going on regarding rigged social media numbers. Obviously it happens – I am sure you, like me, would have got such offers in your FB inbox – and happens across the world, but I don’t know who does it and how much etc etc.

        We have other common interests like mythology, philosophy and good writing, so we can definitely associate there 🙂
        I also have a website. I invite you to check it out 🙂
        To begin with, you will discover something amazing about a fellow writer whom you must have heard of: Edgar Allan Poe. He beat Einstein to something… http://www.abhimanyujha.com/abhimanyu-s-work/articles-poems-short-stories/92-edgar-allan-poe-the-writer-and-non-scientist-who-beat-einstein-to-the-theory-of-relativity-somewhat

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      • Hi Abhimanyu,

        I’m glad that we’ve finally come to a point where we can (hopefully) respect each other and even be friends. I have absolutely no problem with ‘low brow’ writers: in fact, my literary idols are Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov and P.G. Wodehouse. Of those, only Wodehouse is considered ‘high brow’, only just.

        If my post came across as looking down upon ‘low brow’ literature, I apologize. Who am I to decide what is low brow an what is high brow? It’s a free market. Let the market decide.

        What does concern me is the loophole that exists today in publishing whereby you can not only rig social media advertising (which is industry-free, as you say) but also buy your own books and create – as they say – ‘artificial demand’. That, to me, is unacceptable because it interferes with the free market.

        But then there is malpractice everywhere, so we have to live with it. We live with much worse 🙂 However, that doesn’t stop me from being concerned: not just as an author but also as a reader.

        I do understand that price point and targeting plays a big role in many of the ‘bestsellers’ we see on the Indian market today. As someone who is looking very closely at self-publishing and e-books as an alternative revenue stream, I understand that part of the business well enough. Probably the easiest way to achieve volume sales is to fight at a lower price point. That is what paperbacks and e-books have been doing for decades now.

        I will check out your website. If we’re not yet Facebook friends, I think we should be 🙂

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      • Thanks for taking the time to weigh in with your thoughts on the matter, Abhimanyu. Appreciate it. I will repeat that I have nothing personal against you or Durjoy. The points raised in the post are specific to the Indian bestseller phenomenon, and some curious patterns that I – and other readers – have noticed.

        Of course it’s a free market, and of course people are free to write and read whatever they want.

        Thanks again for leaving your point of view here.

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  5. Hi Sharath,
    We should definitely be friends, on FB and elsewhere 🙂

    As far as the phenomenon of rigging is concerned, I wouldn’t know what to do, except write better books and do more agressive, white-hat marketing 🙂
    If I was Narendra Modi I would have known what to do, but I am not 😛
    Actually, the best thing I can do is invite you and other people who can write well to write about stuff that interests the Indian population that is young in age, but large and growing and reads simple books.
    Why?

    One, you can write about things that matter to you by putting it in a story that matters to them.
    For example, in Dilli-Mumbai Love Story, the main guy Aniruddha is a Ducati-rider, but why do I also need to make him good at economics? Because I wanted to write about financial crisis, and only an economist could really understand financial crisis or quote from HBR about the difference between physics and finance 🙂
    If you read in entirety, the book is not only a love-story but also talks about religious divide, 2008 financial crisis and ultimately how religious faith comes about. And essentially it’s also about the pitfall of being too arrogant and sure about oneself. These are some of the things of concern to me and I wrote about them through a simple love-story.

    Two, if you can get this generation read about things that matter to you and yet read at the same time, remember… they are going to be parents soon. A reading set of parents are much more likely to inculcate a reading habit in their kids! And the next generation will slowly grow up to be more mature in their reading habits than its parents. We don’t need to worry about that; it will happen automatically.

    Which is why I get angry when someone criticizes CB or the recent phenomena of books targeted at college-going students. It’s a passing phase, but as an educationist I know it has done more for education than ten thousand academicians put together. Just yesterday I got a mail from an English teacher who teaches students eighth grade upwards and who told me how she had got her students starting to read by passing on to them what she thinks are the best books come out of this campus romance phenomena.

    What is important that in the books they read, the present generation has at least a passing familiarity with the larger issues that matter to the nation. While I agree with you that many of the writers writing for this generation are not doing that job, WE can and should so that.

    For example, my latest book MarryAGhost is a series that talks about the dangers of extremism and global warming through a ghost romance/mystery. If I simply write a non-fiction about global warming and dangers of being careless about the environment, how many – especially in the young generation who are going to be leaders of tomorrow – are going to read that? I think very few. But if I can make them care about it through a heart-tugging story (I hope to), they are going to think about global-warming that much more.

    I think as authors having the power and opportunity to influence the younger generation, we should do that.

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    • Agree with all of what you say. More people reading is good for everyone concerned. No doubt about that. But equally, I don’t think that argument is a valid one, because it’s like saying: People who watch Karan Johar today will watch Shyam Benegal tomorrow. What happens in reality is that Karan Johar’s watchers remain with Karan Johar, and will move on to other filmmakers like Karan Johar. People who value the likes of Shyam Benegal will watch Shyam Benegal. They don’t need Karan Johar as a stepping stone.

      So similarly, I don’t think readers who read Chetan Bhagat and Durjoy Datta will move on to Dickens one day. They will continue to read Bhagat and Datta, and the kind of authors that follow in their footsteps. But then this is my opinion, and your guess is as good as mine.

      One other thing I would say is that people should have the freedom to say they dislike a certain popular artist. I find that whenever someone says that they dislike Chetan Bhagat, the Bhagat brigade gets into overdrive and gets angry at the dissenter, calling him/her jealous, snooty and other such things. Bhagat himself began this narrative, that either you’re ‘with me or against me’, that his critics have colonial hangover, that they’re jealous of his popularity etc.

      I’m not jealous of Chetan Bhagat. I don’t have a colonial hangover. I am not snooty. I just dislike his books. I dislike the superficiality of his plots, the looseness of his writing, the thinness of his characters, and the banality of his ‘messages’. I don’t dislike the genre in which he writes. I dislike his writing. Even if he writes science fiction tomorrow (my favourite genre), I will dislike it as much – if not more. I should be able to say this without fearing an angry backlash from Bhagat fans.

      The same thing goes with me. Anyone out there has a right to call my writing anything they wish. As creative artists who willingly put their work in front of public eyes, we must accept both praise and criticism with equanimity. That is one thing I’ve found wanting in Bhagat over the years. He has been receptive to praise, but he’s always reacted to criticism with disdain and arrogance.

      But this is not about Bhagat. I agree with most of what you said regarding power and opportunity.

      Like

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