Bestselling author Chetan Bhagat, who has had his fair share of criticism by readers and writers of literary novels, says that there is a lot of "elitism" in Indian literary circles. He asserted that "there are no benchmarks in India" and that he doesn't have to prove his credentials to anybody.
"When I began writing, the entire (publishing) industry was focussed on literary kind of books, books that are seen by literature experts as having a certain elitist language. Those were the kinds of books being published, and were being written to win awards like the Booker Prize. I think homegrown Indian literature has now come into its own as there are ample of books by Indian writers," Bhagat told IANS in an interview, recalling his tryst with the literary world which began with the publication of "Five Point Someone" in 2004.
His upcoming book "The Girl in Room 105" will be released in October and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.
"There is a lot of elitism in India. The elites like to look down upon the mere locals, it's like a colonial kind of hangover that is particularly there in literature. So when it comes to books, the 'Khan Market books' are all good and everything else is trash. While they are great, I am not saying they are not, but if I am aspiring to be a pan-India writer, then I must make sure that a reader in Guwahati also understands and relates to my work. They are looking for stories and content that they can relate to," he elaborated.
Bhagat said he attempts to connect with all readers by including little nuggets of contemporary day-to-day life in his stories.
"For example: Today whole lot of things happen on Instagram and Whatsapp. My new book has a lot of that, this wasn't there in my previous books. Even in 'Revolution 2020', the characters were still using Google chat but the world has moved on and that is what I try to do in my books; write what the readers can relate to," he quipped.
But his fallout with New Delhi based Rupa publications, which had published all his books so far, sent signals that "Three Mistakes of My Life" writer's readership was on a decline.
Bhagat refuted the charge saying that he has had "an expansion in readership". He said that the coming of online bookstores has had a big effect as well.
"It has increased the distribution in tier 2 and tier 3 towns. There were times when my readers used to write to me that they would go to the railway station to buy my books," the 44-year-old said.
"There are no bookstores that sell novels and general reading books in smaller towns and so I think the e-commerce websites has been the game changer. Having said this, the expansion of online stores has also led to the closing down of many physical bookstores and with the growing spread of internet, people are more and more drawn towards video content than actually reading. Still I am confident that there is ample space for reading. You can have lifts and escalators but there will be always be stairs."
He maintained that the writers who have become popular have written stories that common people can connect to.
"If a certain elite section looks down upon my books, it speaks for their own insecurity. People who really have credibility, even if they are elite, like my books. Amitabh Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor and even late Leila Seth praised my books. Bill Gates has read my books. I write in a simple way, I add humour, I write about relationships that are similar to relationships that people are having today and I introduce some national issues in it.
"I don't have to prove my credentials. There was a time when people would always remind me what trolls were telling about me. It used to bother me but I am over it now. If somebody has done well, and has been consistent, then you cannot always dismiss that by insulting him. You can't take away my achievement," Bhagat asserted.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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