Children these days, particularly teenagers, choose Western authors over their Indian contemporaries. What are the reasons for this choice when the literary world in this day and age is abundant with quality Indian English literature. NT KURIOCITY probes into the matter
Maria Fernandes | NT KURIOCITY
Indian teenagers, reluctant to read Indian authors, are actually hooked to titles from the West which include chick-lit, teen sorcerer Harry Potter, and of course the Twilight series, besides Hunger Games, Divergent and many others. “I was around 14 years when I read Twilight and since it was based on fantasy and fulfilled my adolescent hormonal needs, I found it very interesting,” says 19-year-old Aavni Prabhu laughing. “Also there was a major hype about it at the time, so I started reading it and found it was a real page-turner.” “When the first Harry Potter book came out, I was about 12-years-old and being a voracious reader, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. So finally when I did, I actually devoured every word. It was like my fantasy world coming alive! Escaping from the real world that had rules and responsibilities to the world of wizards and witches where you could do almost anything, it was truly magical,” adds 29-year-old, Sheldon Pereira.
Dysfunctional personalities and teen anguish has worked in the past as well, when characters like Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, captured the imagination and hearts of millions worldwide. “I have read Catcher in the Rye but I think it is not very relevant to teenagers of today. It does deal with teenage rebellion and finding one’s identity but it is now passé,” says 24-year-old Jeremy Dias.
So what are the themes that attract teenagers? “When it comes to books you can’t generalise. What I would digest easily may be a problem for someone else,” says 22-year-old, Luanna Fernandes whose love for reading has made her list of favourite authors long and varied. “Sadly though at present with the constraints of time, I hardly can read as much as before but if it is a good author it doesn’t matter if he/she is Western or Indian.” “I grew up with Famous Five and Hardy Boys but now read Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon and others in that category,” says 24-year-old Kartik Prabhu. Nathan a standard nine student has sampled many classics like Huckelberry Finn and Sherlock Holmes and has moved on to Dan Brown. 12-year-old Bhavana prefers vampire stories and says: “I like the suspense and the way the story unfolds. It is fascinating and exciting.” She says her favourite novels are Twilight, Vampire Academy and House of Night. Indian authors somehow have escaped the radar of most teenagers.
19-year-old Linessa Linson says it was her personal taste that made Sherlock Holmes, Nick Sparks and Erich Segal her favourite authors. “I liked crime and thrillers so naturally without making a conscious decision, I picked the above authors. Today I like Dan Brown, Paulo Coelho and the like. I have also read Chetan Bhagat and Robin Sharma. I prefer reading authors who are I can trust, who will write books that are good.” “I suppose it is the schools that we were in that led us to read western authors than Indian ones,” says a Colva resident, Cynthia Fernandes. She continues, “At that time there were hardly any Indian authors so most of the books were by western authors. Besides Rabindranath Tagore, I can’t seem to remember any other well-known Indian authors.” Many agree and are of the opinion that if they had the kind of choice that children have now they definitely would have read Indian writers. Classics like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mocking Bird and the like were what school libraries mostly stocked and what teachers encouraged their pupils to read. “Our school librarian was particular about what books we read so when she found we had chosen something unsuitable, she would ask us to take something else. Crime and drama was the genre that attracted me the most and I fell in love with Agatha Christie novels and even today I can re-read her books without getting bored. Her style of writing and the suspense she creates is simply incredible. I also read Satyajit Ray’s Feluda on recommendation and it was okay,” says housewife and parent, Preeti Mhambrey. “Not just school librarians but even parents are more attracted to western writers than Indian writers,” says 24-year-old Sandeep Doifode, “I started reading much later when I was in college and my first Indian author was Chetan Bhagat and I enjoyed the book.”
Indian writers have tried to cater to the teen mindset too but haven’t been met with the same success. “In my opinion it is the popularity of western writers that makes a reader pick up their books,” says 22-year-old Alisha Sousa, “I don’t recall any Indian authors who created the hype that JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer did. I started reading Indian authors only when I was in college as part of my syllabus and believe me there are some really good ones, my favourites being Arundhati Roy and Amitav Ghosh.”
“In my time Salman Rushdie was the only author of Indian origin who was known internationally,” says Vaishali Fernandes, a mother of two. “Today of course the scene is very different with so many new names being added every year.” The landscape is definitely changing and Indian authors are gaining momentum. Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Seth, Kiran Desai and many others have created a niche for themselves not just locally but at the international level as well. Their literature is riveting with an Indian twist. “When I was in school the oldie goldies were RK Narayan and Ruskin Bond for children but today there are a handful of authors of children’s books who are doing a tremendous job like Roopa Pai, Natasha Sharma, Poilie Sengupta, Anushka Ravishankar, Mohit Parikh, etc. The choice today is much wider and more diverse,” says parent and bibliophile, Rupal Kaur.
So what should Indian authors be aiming at when writing plots for teens? “I believe the plots should address issues that concern us. A good plot and good writing works very well for all ages,” says 18-year-old Virendra Shah. Another teenager, Rahul likes fantasy and recommends Indian authors should write books based on it. “Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are topics that many teenagers are fascinated by as they allow them to explore worlds and issues that are otherwise taboo,” says school teacher, Jyoti Karande. Overall a good children’s book is characterised by it richness in terms of characters, plot and writing style.
Before we catch up with the West in terms of popularity of our authors and books, we do have a long way to go. “We love to ape the West and if something is a hit there, we all run to read it,” says Farheen Khan, “As a parent I think we should encourage our children to read more Indian authors. It may initially be difficult but small steps in that direction will be the beginning.”
Books from the West also enjoy benefits of marketing, often accompanied by film tie-ups. “In my opinion our Indian authors are as good as those in the West, they just need to be promoted on a larger and better scale and that definitely would make a huge difference,” says Sameer Pai.
It will take some time for young adults of today to reach beyond Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight and do some experimenting on their own but with the current trend the future appears promising.