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The first line I ever wrote on this blog was this:
There are no good books, there are no bad books. There are just books you love to bits, and books you leave behind when you are moving house, hoping the new owners will have the heart to put them out of their misery.
This is something I truly believe. Some books work brilliantly for you, some make you wonder if they were written by or for humans. But just because you don’t like or enjoy a book, I don’t think you can label it bad. What seems awful to me and you may be perfect for people who have different standards and criteria for judging books.
But lately, I’ve been reading so many ridiculously juvenile books by new Indian writers writing in English that I’m starting to wonder if it’s a trend. I just finished The Legend of Amrapali by Anurag Anand yesterday. This novel was released with so much hype and fanfare that I quite naturally expected it to be something at least passably good. While it tells an interesting story, the narration is two-dimensional, flat, and totally devoid of any layers or depth. To top that, the writing is so goddamn BAD, the words so wrongly used, that I kept wondering if the writer knew any English at all, or whether he was using a dictionary to translate his thoughts. What makes these people think they can spend a total of ten or twelve hours stringing together random badly constructed sentences without a single thought behind a single word and then dupe me into paying them money to read it? WHY do they think they’ll get away with it?
Sorry, I stayed up last night trying to finish the book, and am still sort of mad at it. But it’s not just this book. I read a review by easyondaeyes of a book called ‘Oh Shit, Not Again’, apparently about a guy who is in a perpetual state of arousal whenever he is in the company of women. The reviewer was not impressed, in fact it wouldn’t be wrong to say she was pretty disgusted.
The phenomena started, I think, after Chetan Bhagat achieved a huge amount of success with his first book, Five Point Someone. While the book was amusing and not really badly written, it gave Indian writers an illusion that they could put the typical Indian film scenario of boy-meets-girl-faces-hardship-finally-wins in an urban setting, and they would have a best seller book, no hard work required. Books like “Anything For You Ma’am” and “Not my Cup of Coffee” still hold pride of place in bookshops, holding strong their foundation of mediocre and lazy writing. These books are written only with the thought of what the public will devour, so much so that Vikas Swaroop changed the name of his asinine novel Q&A to Slumdog Millionaire after the movie based on it hit Oscar gold.
In such an environment, writers like Arvind Adiga, marginally better but in my opinion more product of the same mindless public-feeding mills, reap harvest at the Bookers. But where are the Salman Rushdies of our generation? Where are the Arundhati Roys, the Amitav Ghoshes, the R.K. Narayans, the Anita Desais? We need all sorts of writers to have a healthy biosphere of literature in any culture, but the IWE (Indians Writing in English) category seems to be heavily laden with cheap publicity seekers today rather than serious writers. Even non-Indian readers are wondering aloud in their blogs why there is such a ridiculous number of filmy stories coming from the country, mostly about educated village girls pining for their NRI grooms.
Many of you will probably not be on the same page as me on this; believe me, I would love to be proved wrong! If you have read an Indian book in English published in the last few years that you loved a lot, please let me know, I’ll be indebted. I’ve been hearing a lot about the Immortals of Meluha series, but haven’t really dared to try it yet, mostly because of my sad experience with new Indian books. Have you read it? Is it truly the amazing example of fantasy-meets-mythology that it’s being made out to be? Please leave your recommendations!
-Amritorupa “Digging for Pearls” Kanjilal