PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 3 of 3

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

It’s been our privilege to have Indian writer, editor and blogger Richa Jha as our guest blogger for the past two weeks. Today we present the final part in her three part series:

Reader-less Books: Reading Habits of Indian Children ~ by Richa Jha

If  you haven’t read the previous entries, you can get caught up by reading  Part 1 here  and Part 2 here. In today’s post Richa addresses some of the reasons on why Indian youth may not be reading books written by Indian authors.

We can’t see them

Our books get lost in the sea of international books on the bookshelves at the stores, especially when there are tens of series vying for attention. A single spine in the middle of it is no show. Some of the bookstores do have dedicated shelves or sections for Indian authors, but the traffic is thin there. Children’s books continue to figure low on most publishing houses’ agenda. The lack of the necessary promotional push for these books from their side affects their visibility. So does the media’s cool shrug at most of these books. The bookstores aren’t too enthusiastic either to back the Indian authors as they don’t see them moving off the shelf much. This chicken-egg situation only compounds the general feeling of apathy that the Indian authors sense towards their work, in general, from all sides.

Let’s blame it on our parents!

My generation of parents grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton and Edward Stratemeyer (creator of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew), and for most, that fodder lies frozen in time. An essential rites of passage, we expect to see our children reading these. Most parents shy away from even exploring the Indian-Author shelves at bookstores.

At the same time, we do have a new (but small) breed of parents who are keen to introduce their children to the growing world of Indian YA fiction. But while the parents take care to buy these books, most children are reluctant to explore them. Buying, therefore, isn’t always enough. A possible way to get our kids interested in them would be to explore the book together. I remember sitting with my son a couple of years ago and reading aloud a relatively unknown gem by Ranjit Lal, The Red Jaguar on the Mountain. By the end of the first chapter, he was hooked and came back later to say, ‘The book is so cool!’

Things can only get better from here. Last month, India’s first zombie fiction for young adults, Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar hit the shelves (the second one by him is due for a release soon). Payal Dhar’s There’s a Ghost in My PC, Oops the Mighty Gurgle by RamG Vallath and The Deadly Royal Recipe by Ranjit Lal – all for middle schoolers slated for release soon – promise to be a hell of an adventure-and-fun packed reads. There’s visible promotion around them and the publishers and the authors seem to be having fun talking about their books. Don’t stop me from turning up that bubbly voice inside me that’s humming now-these-are-what-our-children-will-go-grab. Out of choice. Ahem! Amen.

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.

PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 2 of 3

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Reader-less Books: Reading Habits of Indian Children ~ by Richa Jha

Part 2 of 3. (Read Part 1 here.)

There can be no one reason for the disinterest or the disconnect. But in most cases, it’s a combination of some of these factors below:

Are these stories for us?

We have consistently failed to write what our teenagers want to read. There is a commendable cultural, historical, socio-political and emotional depth in the kind and range of issues being tackled in the Indian YA books (terrorism, war, riots, child abuse, female infanticide). But unless having lived through these experiences, they are unlikely to grab a young adult’s attention. Where are the real here-and-now YA concerns of first love, sexual awakening, the tempting world of drugs and alcohol, pressures to perform or self discovery? Or, the gripping fantasy tales of good versus evil, written in blood as the adolescent battles the demons within and around? We are yet to create a genuinely pan-India super hero. Samit Basu’s Turbulence is the closest we can get to in this genre. India has just four or five good fantasy writers, and just as many who can write a light entertaining breezer. It’s about time our YA writing started loosening up.

Do we know them?

Reading is a natural progression from one stage to another. A first or second grader is hungry for books. The middle schoolers and young adults of today grew up with very few Indian titles available to them when they were younger, other than the more involved renditions of illustrated mythological tales and folk lore. That’s where the Enid Blyton books and the series like Bailey School Kids, Horrid Henry and Magic Tree House slipped in (and continue to slip in) to fill this natural gap. Before we know it, Geronimo has invaded the book shelves, and soon, there is a deluge of Potter and Wimpy Kid in the house. In the smaller towns, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew almost exclusively continue to hold sway over young minds. Try putting an Indian YA fiction in the teenager’s hand at this stage; you must be kidding if you expected success!

We like one, we want all:

A corollary to the previous point is the lack of series in India. A few do come to mind, like Payal Dhar’s A Shadow in Eternity Trilogy and Subhadra Sengupta’s Adventures of Foxy Four for young adults, or G S Dutt’s Adventures of Nikki for middle schoolers and Roopa Pai’s Taranauts for kids little younger than them. But these are few and far between. A good enough start, yes, but certainly not enough to feed the hunger of a book-devouring generation.

I’ll look like a dork if I read that Indian book while my friends read other cool books:

Did I hear someone say peer pressure? {to be continued on Dec. 5th}

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.

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.