Thoughts on publishing, self-publishing and books in general

The big mystery - where is crime genre in India?

July 8, 2010 4 Comments Other Matters

My romance with crime fiction started way back during my childhood. Thanks to Enid Blyton. Holidays, especially summer holidays meant trekking to the nearest library. The library close to my home in Malleswaram, Bengalooru, was actually a hole in the wall. It was a 10 feet by 15 feet window-less shop. Books were piled and strewn around in an organized way. The man who ran the shop had a constant sleepy expression. There was no way one could stroll around the shop and pick up a book they wanted. We had to stand near the entrance of the shop and tell him the book title. And he would find the book within a jiffy. How he did it …I have no clue. And so, it would be some Famous Five or Secret Seven for me, a James Hadley Chase for my Dad, a Sharat Chandra for my Grandmom, a Jane Austen for my mom and a Tintin for my sister. The books would be retrieved from dark, secret corners, dusted against his trousers and handed over. As far as I remember, there was no return date stamped. My dad would give ten rupees once in a month or once in two months, depending on the number of visits.

From Famous Five, my friends and I slowly graduated to Agatha Christie. Then came the wave of American teen detective fiction – Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. By then, someone had stealthily smuggled their dad’s copy of Forsyth’s Day of The Jackal. The book made rounds – and there were hushed reviews. Why were we wasting time reading ‘crap’ like Nancy Drew? More dads had their book shelves raided. There was someone called Robert Ludlum. Someone called Sidney Sheldon. Someone called Robin Cook. They all wrote ‘mind-blowing’ thrillers.

Decades later, as life has pecked away at much of our creativity thanks to mind-numbing corporate culture, my friends and I somehow managed to retain this single-most passion for crime thrillers. (The latest doing the rounds is of course Stieg Larsson.)

But time and again, I have been puzzled to find that for a country that laps up crime fiction, we don’t have a single internationally successfully author in the crime genre. Another strange fact, crime fiction is very much alive and kicking in regional languages. It is only now that English translations of these are furiously underway (ref: http://www.mid-day.com/specials/2010/may/020510-crime-fiction-agatha-christie-novels-tv-shows.htm). In fact, the leader in crime genre in Asia is Japan apparently! I found this interesting insight from an article in the Guardian. The only Indian author who got a mention is Vikram Chandra for Sacred Games. Check out http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/aug/27/top10s.asian.crime

I can only guess the reasons behind this fact –
1) Thanks to the Booker success (Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga), more and more authors like to follow their footsteps and write similar literature.

2) Thanks to the success of Chetan Bhagat (and I am talking about Five Point Someone), we have a sudden flurry of activity from the ‘intellectual’ class. Management grads, investment bankers, IT consultants are all pounding away on the keyboard writing slim volumes on relationships in modern India.

3) Perhaps the lack of a sophisticated and glamorous law enforcement infrastructure – like the FBI and Scotland Yard in India is another factor. In most of the international crime thrillers the crime detection is as interesting as the crime itself. Authors like Patricia Cornwell have literally built up the CSI legend in USA with her detailed forensic analysis interwoven in her stories. Not that is impossible in an Indian setting. But it would require a detailed, ground-up research into the working of our police force. Going by the books that are getting published as we speak, it looks like no author has the time, or the inclination to put in such effort.

4) Perhaps there are good manuscripts, but they are rejected – the publishers rather put money in a proven genre than try out a new one
All said and done, the Indian publishing scene shows a lot of promise – at least on the author’s front. We have a whole generation of well-travelled, well-read authors, who are unafraid to pen their thoughts. On the other hand, I don’t see the publishing end keeping up with this talent pool. There is no innovation, no creativity to encourage new genres or market good authors internationally. I guess that’s the reason why more and more Indian authors who write on offbeat subjects go through the self-publishing route, or seek out agents abroad.

If you have written a crime thriller, I would really love to hear about your experience with agents/publishers in India!

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4 Comments → “The big mystery – where is crime genre in India?”

  1. Moonbeam 3 years ago   Reply

    @Karthik – yes…it is rather sad, and yes, your last paragraph is true.

    Have you read any of Shashi Warrier's novels? I have heard good stuff about his writing. But if he is really good, then it is unfortunate that he does not get enough publicity.

    I believe there are only two options if one writes crime fiction as an Indian author – self publish and hope for the best, or find a videshi agent, and publish abroad.

  2. Karthik 3 years ago   Reply

    Excellent article. I agree totally.
    Most of the novels that are coming out these days are thrash. I committed many sins by reading a few. Above Average, Trust me, If God was a banker, to name a few. Absolute crap. And Mr. Bhagat comes at the top. Never knew about a genre called Thrash genre until I read these.

    About the third point; though there are no glamorous law enforcement agencies, there will always be something interesting in whatever we have. Recently one of my friends, whose father and most of his cousins are in Indian Army, was telling some interesting and shocking tales, tales that happen behind the headlines of newspapers, tales for which there are no official records, tales that are hidden from the ordinary citizens. So it's all about how good the writer is at digging. Just need patience and resources to do the research. Unfortunately we are not lucky enough to have authors like Frederick Forsyth. That's what he does, right? His novels are all about what might have happened behind those headlines. An ordinary citizen might not be knowing how SAS or MI5 or MI6 works, but he digs those facts up and presents them in his novels. And boy, how does he do it!

    Here, the only research our so-called authors do is on how to screw somebody in the backseat of a car, how to screw your Dean's daughter in his own house, how to screw your best friend's sister on the terrace when her family is celebrating Diwali downstairs. Long live Chetan Bhagat and the likes! And long live who publish them and encourage them!

  3. Moonbeam 4 years ago   Reply

    Feluda is evergreen! So is Sharadindu Bhandopadyay's Byomkesh Bakshi :)

    Check out this blog by Ashok Banker – he is quite acidic on the 'crime genre' :)
    http://ashokbanker.com/2010/05/16/indian-crime-writing-doesnt-exist-as-a-genre-only-as-a-poor-pastiche-parody-of-western-tropes-and-devices/

  4. Anu 4 years ago   Reply

    Very interesting! the first part read like an extract out of my own childhood! progressing from one mystery novel to another….. but still coming back to the same books again and again…. and the lack of indian mysteries is indeed surprising… but interestingly, i came across Satyajit Ray's Feluda books and found that I really enjoyed them! and the best part is that they are written specially for children, so they can easily replace even Enid Blyton for Indian kids….

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