What I write here is about books and authors of young 21st century India. No, not the elite literary kind, like Ashwin Sanghi, Amitav Ghosh, or Booker Prize winning Aravind Adiga and Kiran Desai. I am talking of the books which the true readers of literature (the ones that call themselves the “elite” readers) love to hate: books with titles that contain the word “love”, or titles with spicy and colloquial words like “Oh shit!” and “Ouch!” I’m talking of books written by 20-something authors, who have announced their presence in multitude to the world through Rs 100 novellas at bookstores, with filmy stories that appeal to the masses, and which bear a “bestseller” tag probably right since release. These authors were possibly inspired by the Chetan Bhagat fever. Why is it, that while the stories are trash for some, they are the sole testimony of being “readers” for others?
It appears, that more a sophisticated reader you are, the more fashionable it is to publicly loathe such books and authors. As Harsh Snehanshu—a young author from IIT Delhi, the author of Oops! I Fell In Love!, who I know well professionally—said once (screenshot), bloggers love to preach their hate against such authors only for traffic. There is an idea that most bloggers, being young writers as well, are probably envious of the success the young published authors like Bhagat and Datta get, and that is why they “love to hate”, instead of just “hate” their work.
There is this incredibly articulate work (one of the best-written and intellectually-worded articles I have read) by Siddhartha Mukherjee on NTMN: “Chetan Bhagat: A Ripped-Apart Author Review” (read). Although I find the article a work of hyperbole at places, I do not entirely disagree. Nor do I entirely agree. The article is at places a harshly insensitive criticism on Bhagat, yet it reflects smartly the sentiments of the “other” young India—the ones which do not like to read the authors in question.
The Case Against The Young Authors: (I will refer to such young authors as “Yet Another Author”, their books as “Yet Another Book”, and their haters as the “Elite”.)
1. Market Value versus Literary Value: The common thought is that the Yet Anothers write for the masses, not for literature. Their work has no value in literature. They just intend quick fame and money. They get a lot of fan following at an early age. In his article, Mukherjee uses Chetan Bhagat to describe their books as “printed business models”, rather than works of literature.
2. The Objectification of Girls: Sophisticated feminists believe as a stereotype that Yet Anothers often contain vulgar unnecessary accounts of erotica and anatomy, with only female characters as the principal object of description. Even the idea of love in such books is misleading and least like true love, as is shown by the title of this book itself: Of Course I Love You… Till I Find Someone Better. This is a sentiment with some basis. It is accepted that while a majority of young females fantasise of romantic love, the majority of young males spend most of their college life fantasising about girls, not romance, and sex, not love. This difference of gender is reflected in our novels.
3. Themes Which Suit Movies More Than Books: The stories of such books are often works that should rather have been movie storylines. Writing them in form of books is offensive to literature. The books are often described as “cheap” or “spicy”, and do not have anything of substance.
Let’s Weigh and Judge:
Let me make it clear that I have not read a Yet Another Book after the first three Chetan Bhagat books. I bought those three books for train journeys, since I consider them similar to spicy and engaging movies, meant as a pastime—not as part of my usual reading habits. I consider myself a sophisticated reader all right, but I do not “love to hate” the Yet Anothers. But, I do not like the idea of reading them, yes.
Having said this, I believe the Elite are all mistaken somewhere. Firstly, let’s talk of the storyline. Honestly, women have been objectified right through the history of literature, art, and in fact, the whole of civilisation—this is a social truth. I do not advocate objectification of the female gender, but certainly I believe that many classics of literature are as flawed as these books are, in this respect. However, it must be noted, that a classic is more likely to have been written in a much more mature and artistic manner, than what the new-India books writes about gender differences. While the best literature presents gender and sexuality because they are a social truth (and art is nothing but a translation of social truths into imagination), the Yet Anothers present such descriptions more because the authors want to make it interesting for the reader. And therein lies the difference between the two: the purpose, not the vulgarity per se.
Yes, these stories are nothing short of movies. Their synopses are enough to give one this idea. They are written to be read by an audience that does not read. Yes, they mean business at the cost of quality. They will entertain you as long as you read them. But consider the authors who wrote them. They are young human beings, and I believe they wrote the work with a great deal of hard work. To set down to write, even what the Elite would call a cheap novel, is not an easy task. It is not that they delivered bad quality content: they may not compare with the classic description of love as in Gone With the Wind or erotica as in Lolita (that is, if only love and women be the theme of these books as a rule), but they appeal to a large portion of young India! The ones who like to read them, actually connect with them, and that is just where an author should be called “good”! They are not good when you compare them with the classics of the times of To Kill A Mockingbird and David Copperfield, but these authors never even intended to be of that category! They had a story in mind, and they wrote it down; they got it published, and are today loved by thousands of the college-going India. Do they really care for your hate? They needn’t. They didn’t write for the Elite, maybe. They are not bad writers and their books aren’t bad: they CONNECT with people; if their literature doesn’t, their stories do. Their books are not good works of literature, but they are books all right, and have a tremendous readership. You always have the right to not read them.
The authors like Bhagat, Datta and Snehanshu are youth icons, having got for themselves fame and love for what they liked best: writing. Let’s find inspiration in them, if not their work. Let’s applaud them for their spirit. Try to do something out of the box while at college, or just after college, when the world expects you to do your job for your first employer seriously. And then one can realise what it takes.
Criticism is a static truth like change is. But “loving to hate” a person who is doing the respectable job of writing and storytelling, that of enthralling young audiences, that of following their dream, is probably not fair. Let us not read them or call them works of literature if we do not want to, but they are works of writing. The Elite should not defame works of expression in the manner they do; they may just ignore or hate, not “love to hate and ignore” as a rule. Because when you “love to hate” something, you end up being unable to ignore it! In addition, it is VERY possible, that we miss out on a good work of literature out of being judgemental about such books. Such authors might even mature gradually into classic-writers about two decades later! The point is, if one can express, they can always improve with time into the annals of sophistication.