PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

As our 10th Anniversary celebrations have come to a conclusion we are now back to our regularly scheduled blog programming so to speak. First up we are pleased to welcome Richa Jha  as our new  Global Voices Guest Blogger. Richa will be joining us here on the blog  for three consecutive Wednesdays (today, Nov 28th and Dec. 5th) and has written a wonderful piece for us:

Reader-less Books ~ by Richa Jha

Part 1 of 3.

Roll of Honour, a recent novel by Amandeep Sandhu is a gripping, haunting, disturbing page-turner. In many ways, it is also India’s first boldly written brutally honest crossover fiction. Set against the prominent backdrop of the Sikh militancy in the 1980s, it is a gritty account of a troubled adolescence and split loyalties at a military boarding school. A couple of years ago, I read Siddharth Sarma’s The Grasshopper’s Run in five straight hours, transfixed, glued to the pages. It’s an outstanding read (little surprise that it was picked up by Bloomsbury for international publication), with all the elements of good YA read: it’s fast paced, there’s friendship, deceit, loyalties, war, trauma, revenge, retribution. The depth and detailing – geographical, political and emotional (like in Roll of Honour) – is of an exceptionally high order. Books like these get noticed and talked about in India, for sure; they get rave reviews. And they win awards.

But the copies don’t sell; not the way they should, not to the readers they ought to. The young adults don’t go looking for these titles. So, what’s up with the reading habits of teenagers in India?

The good news: Indian urban children are reading for pleasure, and reading more than ever before. There are dedicated book festivals for children’s books, schools hold their own book weeks with the primary intent of getting kids to develop a lifelong affair with reading, the libraries at schools look well stocked where reading is encouraged as part of the school curriculum even outside those designated book weeks, and parents don’t mind spending on books. Head to any large bookstore in a metro, and you’ll find children’s books and teen fiction occupying a substantial (and impressive) shelf space. Families walk in, browse at leisure over coffee and brownies in the store café and walk out with big shopping bags. So far so good.

And now, we look inside those shopping bags for the bad news. If you’re lucky, you may find a book by an Indian author among a bunch of Gerenimo Stiltons, Wimpy Kids, Percy Jacksons or the Twilights. If this is your day like it’s never been before, you’ll hear that the Indian book is meant for personal consumption, and not as a birthday gift for a friend. Third time lucky? The child grabbed the copy himself and not upon his parents’ insistence.

That, in a nutshell, is what happens with most of our own books. So, our kids are devouring books, but the bulk of it is pretty much the reigning fads from the West. Much as I would love to be proved wrong, I’ll be surprised if we find our teenagers buying and reading a brilliant book like Roll of Honour. Out of choice. {to be continued on Nov. 28th}

 

 Richa Jha is a writer and editor and, like many of us, nurtures an intense love for picture books. In her words:

I love picture books, and want the world to fall in love with them as well. My blog  Snuggle With Picture Books is a natural extension of this madness. The Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of Indian picture books beginning to fill up the shelves in bookshops. It’s about time we had a dedicated platform to it. The idea behind the website is to try and feature every picture book (in English) out there in the Indian market. Usually, only a few titles end up getting talked about everywhere, be it because of their true merit, or some very good promotion, or some well-known names associated with them. There are many other deserving titles that get left out in the visibility-race. This website views every single book out there as being deserving of being ‘seen’ and celebrated.