This chapter provides an overview of the post-millennial context of writing, publishing and reading Indian genre fiction in English within India. It details the economic and political changes that have led to increased consumerism in the leisure markets which have in turn grown and developed the book publishing industry. Issues of marketing and distribution through both domestic and global publishing houses are unpicked as well as the habits of book consumerism within India. The chapter then moves on to consider the labels of genre fiction as ‘commercial fiction’ and as ‘popular fiction’, investigating how the proliferation of this body of writing challenges notions of ‘literary’ Indian fiction and, moreover, how Indian fiction in English has not historically been of the ‘commercial’ type. During this discussion, the idea that India is a postcolonial literature-producing nation is challenged, suggesting that such notions are of an erstwhile India and that a lack of insight on the part of the Western academy as to India’s domestic fiction production is responsible for this blinkered position.
The chapter demonstrates that the hugely successful genre of ‘mythology-inspired’ fiction, as it is referred to within India, is one such example of the Western academy disregarding certain domestic fiction production. The discussion closes by considering how the mythology-inspired genre fiction of the last ten years poses important questions of reception given the very specific frames of reference and aesthetics it invokes. Despite the cultural specificity of this body of writing, this chapter concludes by suggesting that a degree of universal experience exists through the narrative plots of this writing and thus the chapter reviews some of the debate around narrative and story as part of the human condition.
1.1 Reading and Publishing in Post-Millennial India
Changes to Indian society have taken place on many levels since liberalisation of the economy was initiated in the 1990s. Physical changes to urban centres, the installation of metro systems and the construction of malls and housing blocks are some of the more noticeable changes to Indian society but equally so, changes to media reporting, mobile phone and Internet provision have also impacted society and its knowledge-generating industries,
most markedly since the mid-2000s (see The Caravan: A Journal of Politics and Culture
, ‘The Media Issue’, December 2015). Television and satellite, often central to the urban, middle-class home, have not only changed family life but have also impacted and shaped notions of youth culture within India. Echoes of New India have been seen in Bollywood production, whether through the masala films of Salman Khan or the film adaptations of popular novels by Chetan Bhagat, namely the film Kai Po Che!
(2013) based on Bhagat’s novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life
and 2 States
(2014), based on the novel of the same name. The rise of shopping malls and consumption of ‘leisure’ consumables have similarly changed how a family might spend time together and also how young people interact during their free time.
The outcomes of the decisions to open up the Indian economy were felt most intensely in the late 1990s into the 2000s. The early post-liberalisation period revealed a more economically minded India, an India which concentrated on its domestic market, on consumption more than investment, on the service industry and on high-tech manufacturing. The liberalisation was driven through by Manmohan Singh as finance Minister, radically changing the Indian economy through the deregulation of markets, lowering of taxes and allowance of greater foreign investment. The effects of these then fundamental reforms were not fully experienced until the early 2000s and, significantly, 2007, when India experienced its highest post-liberalisation growth rate. Manmohan Singh, who served a decade as prime minister from 2004, following five years as finance minister, was known as the architect of ‘Manmohanomics’. In 2014, this economic tagline morphed into ‘Modinomics’ as Narendra Modi stood for prime minister in the 2014 elections with the promise of bringing the economic (and governance) successes seen in Gujarat (where he had been chief minster) to a national scale. Winning a landslide victory in the 2014 prime ministerial election, Narendra Modi became the 15th prime minister of India and in so doing, brought about yet more change. In many ways, Mr Modi is regarded as a prime minister for a 21st-century India, not least because of his savvy media presence and website,1
through which you can ‘interact with PM’ [sic
], write to him and share thoughts and ideas. The inevitability of such a contemporary prime minister follows the significant changes Indian society has known in the past twenty years, particularly regarding the evolution of the Indian middle-class identity. As the middle class has grown in size, a revised definition of this demographic has been necessary, of which Radhakrishnan (2011) writes:
This ‘new’ middle class is most often described as compromising those who are employed in high-end service sector jobs. What appears to be ‘new’ about this class, however, is not its composition. Most of those who make up what has been dubbed as India’s ‘new’ middle class had parents who were part of the ‘old’ one. (42)
The middle class that Radhakrishnan speaks of here is also composite of a generation of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) graduates who have contributed to New India’s economic and social growth. Interestingly, many of the authors of post-millennial genre fiction in English are IIT or IIM graduates and such authors include: Amish Tripathi, author of the hugely successful ‘Shiva Trilogy’, whose work is discussed here in Chapter 3
; Chetan Bhagat, a graduate from IIM Ahmedabad whose ‘Inspi-Lit’ (see Dhar, 2013) has sold widely and has been adapted into several successful Bollywood films (mentioned earlier); and Christopher C. Doyle, author of The Mahabharata Secret
(2013) and The Mahabharata Quest
(2014), also discussed here (in Chapter 4
), is a graduate from IIM Calcutta. These young professionals, alongside a growing middle class of entrepreneurs and other professional workers, are, for a large part, both the readers and the authors of post-millennial Indian fiction in English.
Literary activity post millennium within India has been shaped by the successful Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which takes place annually in Jaipur, Rajasthan. It was started in 2006 by Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple with the vision to showcase both South Asian authors as well as writers from around the world – of the South Asian diaspora and otherwise. The festival has impacted the formation of the South Asian canon of fiction, particularly English-language works, although literary works in various Indian languages appear at the festival too. Commercial fiction alongside literary fiction authors have appeared at Jaipur, notably Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi for our discussions here. Ashwin Sanghi also appeared at the sister JLF at the Southbank in London in May 2015 as part of the annual ‘Alchemy’ festival, a point of interest for the question of reception that Chapters 2
concentrate on. In 2015, the JLF appeared in Boulder, Colorado, in the United States. The JLF is the biggest literary festival in India in terms of speakers and audience numbers, however, many literary festivals now take place across the country and most of these have been inaugurated during the post-millennial years – IANS (2015) puts the number of literary festivals in India at around 90. Examples of these ‘new’ festivals include: Pune International Literary Festival which started in 2013, Hyderabad Literary Festival which began in 2010, Kochi International Book Festival from 2000 and Bangalore Literature Festival which started in 2012.
In a bid to engage the publishing sector, the JLF launched the ‘Jaipur BookMark’ (JBM) in 2014, and according to its website:
JBM is held parallel to JLF and provides a platform for publishers, literary agents, authors, translation agencies and writers to meet, talk business deals, listen to speakers from across the world and perhaps even sign the occasional contract.2
The publishing scene in India has also been affected by the economic changes and development, most notably post millennium. Narayanan (2012) writes
of the new de/reterritorialization of publishing houses and cites Penguin as one such example. She writes:
No longer identified as just a UK-based company, the publisher is regarded as a ‘worldwide’ corporation since its locations are spread across the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and China. This polycentric configuration has made it possible for books, like other commercial products, to be produced, designed, translated, and marketed across the world. (107)
Other such publishing companies with an office in India include HarperCollins India and Hachette India, but as Narayana warns, ‘if the global visuality of Indian writers is a significant consequence of de/reterritorialized corporations, its most adverse effect is the hegemony of these corporations as the prime global producers of Indian writing’ (2012: 107). In late 2013, Penguin merged with Random House and now trades as Penguin Random House India. In a complementary move of sorts, the independent presses of India have also flourished under this post-millennial sky. Notable examples are seen in Westland Ltd, one of the biggest independent and domestically orientated publishers, Zubaan and Rupa (although Zubaan’s trade list is distributed by Penguin Random House), as well as in a renaissance of sorts for Jaico Books of Mumbai, established in 1946, and a newly established company called Leadstart Publishing, also based in Mumbai. In short, independent presses are proving successful in their own right in post-millennial India. Noteworthy for the interests of this book, the novels discussed in Chapters 3
are chiefly published by Westland Ltd, Zubaan, Jaico and Leadstart Publishing. This correlation of independent or domestically orientated publishing houses and mythology-inspired genre fiction is not an arbitrary one, as the following chapters will demonstrate. The cultural specificity and frames of reference of these novels demand a particular publishing and marketing understanding, even if the ‘global visuality of Indian writers’ that Narayanan writes of is somewhat relegated in that very process. In a recently published collection of short stories titled Great Stories From Modern India
by the New Delhi-based publisher Om Books International, the editor writes:
Science, modernity coupled with a consumer culture, the fathomless limits ushered in by the Internet revolution, have opened up fresh vistas with the result that contemporary literature around the globe seems to be deeply impacting the very character of today’s literary output.
(Kohli, 2015: 13)
India is no exception in experiencing these ‘fresh vistas’ that Kohli speaks about here. The post-millennial publishing scene of Indian fiction in English has proved explosive, with significant areas of growth in ‘commercial fiction’,
notably in chick lit, crime writing and young, urban India-centred narratives. Publishing trends (and thus reading trends) have shifted significantly with an increase in commercial or ‘popular’ Indian fiction being published domestically in the last fifteen years. From within this publishing boom, a curious phenomenon continues to unfold between Indian authors (based in India), Indian publishers and global publishing houses with regional or India-based offices. As an example, HarperCollins India is a branch of HarperCollins Publishers LLC, one of the largest English-language publishing houses globally, with its headquarters in New York City. Outside of the United States, HarperCollins has publishing groups in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and India. It is evident that India, although boasting a strong English-language publishing market, is the only country out of these six which is not regarded as a ‘Western’ nation. Domestic Indian fiction, published under the HarperCollins name, has often been published with this proviso: ‘For Sale in the Indian Subcontinent Only’, usually printed on the back cover of the novel. The same (or similar phrasings) can also be found with Penguin India (now Penguin Random House) and Hachette India – both publishers whose headquarters are located outside of India. Examples of novels carrying such a ‘restricted sales’ clause include several of Anuja Chauhan’s chick-lit/rom-com novels (HarperCollins India), Hachette India’s Sita’s Curse
(2014) and Eraly’s Night of the Dark Tress
(2006), published by Penguin, which carries the following statement on its back cover: ‘For Sale in the Indian Subcontinent and Singapore only.’3
Interestingly, such geographical sales restrictions do not apply with Indian publishers such as Westland Ltd, Jaico and Leadstart Publishing and no such sales conditions are found on the book covers. As stated earlier, it is these very publishing companies – Westland Ltd, Jaico and Leadstart Publishing – which have produced most of the mythology-inspired fiction post millennium. It is particularly striking that the independent domestic Indian presses are publishing mythology-inspired fiction, which, as it is examined in this book, produces cultural-specific and very ‘Indian’ stories. Despite the novels’ domestic foci, the publishing houses of Westland Ltd, Jaico and Leadstart Publishing impose no restrictions on how this fiction may travel and thus, with no sales restrictions, the fiction has a chance to find new global audiences over the books published by the (global) corporations of HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and the like. This kind of unevenness within literary worlds suggests Casanova (2007) but as the following quote details, the unevenness usually favours the bigger, global companies:
Autonomy is nonetheless a fundamental aspect of world literary space. The most independent territories of the literary world are able to state their own law, to lay down the specific standards and principles applied by their internal hierarchies, and to evaluate works and pronounce judgments without regard for political and national divisions.
(Casanova, 2007: 86)
She continues to outline that ‘… the structural internationalism of the most literary countries strengthens and guarantees their independence. Autonomy in the world of letters is always relative’ (86). And yet this position seems at odds with the wider global situation that Cooppan (2004: 10) describes: ‘The constitutive flows of goods, persons, capital, ideas, information, and technologies have shrunk our contemporary world, rendering geographic borders less distinct and placing cultures in deeper contact with one another’. And it is indeed through these global flows that the smaller, domestic Indian presses are able to make their books available to an audience outside of India; an irony of sorts when we consider how some of the novels published by the global companies through the Indian offices are restricted in their circulation, as they are ‘For Sale in the Indian Subcontinent Only’. On the one hand, it is challenging to realise that even with the economic rise of India and the world’s ‘constitutive flows’, India’s domestic fiction market remains somewhat unknown to the Western academy and, moreover, to a large section of a Western audience. Indeed, a Western audience may not have heard of Amish Tripathi, Anuja Chauhan or Ashwin Sanghi, despite these authors’ impressive sales figures within India. On the other hand, living in India and being ‘English reading’, it is hard not to have come across them, if not read them. Burke (2014: online) writes how a ‘new wave of homegrown [sic
] writers are climbing the country’s bestseller lists, challenging the dominance of international heavyweights such as Dan Brown, John Grisham and Tom Clancy …’ As India’s ‘popular’ canon of fiction in English continues to grow at pace, it seems that the Western academy’s limited interest in its production and proliferation is both manifest and outmoded. We are left wondering what the relationship between the Western academy and popular domestic Indian fiction in English really is and why there seems to be a chasm of (mis)knowledge around this particular body of writing. As this chapter has already highlighted, the domestic Indian market and matters of ‘restric...