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.