Indian F(r)iction Part 2 - I Can Haz Bubblegum!

It is a considerable #WIN on many fronts that Indians have taken to reading in droves, again.  As I have said in Part 1, (Suggest you go through it, if you havent) a large chunk of the thanks for this has to go to Chetan Bhagat and the other pop-culture type novelists. There is no denying that a large chunk of readers today would not even think of reading books, much less buy them, before he came out with his novels. Reading is cool again.

The problem, however, is that as far as content and writing is concerned, some of these books are just epitomes of mediocrity. Many lack flow or any such structure, are verbose, overtly descriptive, sugary, melodramatic and so over-the-top that sometimes you wonder if you are reading about Shah Rukh Khan acting!

No Bubblegum here. Win!

I had used a term: 'Bubblegum Fiction' in the previous post. I coined this word on the lines of 'Bubblegum Pop' which was/is a genre of music prevalent from the 1960s and 70s, which according to Wikipedia: "..pop music contrived and marketed to appeal to pre-teens and teenagers, is produced in an assembly-line process, driven by producers, often using faceless singers and has an upbeat sound. The songs typically have singalong choruses, seemingly childlike themes and a contrived innocence, occasionally combined with an undercurrent of sexual double entendre." (Sounds Familiar?)  WordIQ classifies The Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and other Boybands, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue etc as Bubblegum artistes. (I would add Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus).

Indian Literature.

Going by the above definition, I would say that the reason for these books (and authors) being so popular is the same reason for Justin Bieber being popular. Both are easy to digest, appeals to a younger crowd, lacks substance, thrives on marketing and so on. Pubescent girls and Radio Indigo RJs would do anything for Justin Bieber while most of the rest of the world would want to shove a wad of rags soaked in Diesel down his throat. Same goes for Bubblegum Fiction and its authors, right? Considering all these similarities, we will be forced to conclude that this new wave of writing now prevalent is to literature what Justin Bieber is to music! :o

Please take a minute, let that sink in :)

Hope you have recovered. As said in Part 1, most of these books are based on two broad themes:

1. IIT/IIM guys having a whale of a time drinking, scoring, smoking up, being ‘cool’ by not studying, being general losers but getting the girl in the end.

2. Douchebags (mostly women) wallowing in luxury eating, shopping, partying, drinking, smoking up, cursing their jobs and bosses, but pretending to paint a woeful picture of their totally 'drab and miserable' lives at the same time.

Common to both themes: Love, managing multiple partners, having sex, going through breakups and so on. You totally have to be a loser and an underdog as well.

Why are there so many 'IIX-Y experience' novels? My take: As soon as CB became a hit, other IIT/M people suddenly saw the light of the day and realized that their institutes are not just about nerds and quizzes alone, but about cool crazy people who smoke Weed and drink Vodka on rooftops, get girls and dont give a damn about grades! Can you imagine, we got into IIX-Y and were having the times of our lives as well? The world needs to know of our awesomeness! (And dont forget the brand value) Everyone has a college story to tell. But these IIX-Y books are starting to look like Rajnikanth jokes.

However, this IIX-Y genre is mostly readable. That is not the case with the other sub-genre, which is far worse. Let us call it the 'Page 3 Genre.'

To put it straight, this is Shobha De-ish elitist stuff: Fake, wannabe, pretentious, disconnected from everything which is the real world we live in. (Real Fiction?) People in these books dont do anything other than eat and get drunk in swanky eateries, fall in and out of relationships, shop in exclusive stores, hang out in malls and fight over snob coffee in ridiculously overpriced chain coffee shops trying their best to have a 'hard time in life'. Ain't it cool? Maybe, but it is painfully unreadable. Authors know their target market here too: The 'Young India' again. That same rich and middle class demographic.

Finally, Why people want to read Bubblegum Fiction:

  • Simple, fresh, easy to read, connects with the target audience, they can relate to it.
  • Aspiration - We like to see/read what we could have been, not what we actually are in life.
  • Underdog - We love the miserable loser getting the girl/emerging victorious in the end.
  • Masala, Drama - Every damn thing in India is looked at as if it is Bollywood.
  • Many people secretly wish they had a chance to be high-life-living snobs.
  • Nobody gives a F about readability and stuff. Remember, "Everyone cool is reading it"!

The authors are not the only ones to blame for this, for they are catering to a demand that exists in the market. If that is reason for worry, there certainly is a big problem when almost all fiction that comes out in the market or from certain authors is only Bubblegum. Why blame CB alone? The other lesser known ones are equally bad. For instance, this book where the guy, from IIT Delhi, falls for his sister's friend (who is from Chennai nonetheless) and travels the length of the country trying to meet her, jeopardizing his career and so on. Again, sounds familiar?

I cannot and will not argue that people should not read Bubblegum. I read it too. but sometimes skip entire chapters. If you love it and go 'muuuaaaahh' about it, go ahead, but please stay out of my path. What worries me more is that there is an entire generation which is growing up reading and idolizing these authors, who cant even take criticism, as 'National Leaders'!

Terrifying. Horrifying.

Top image courtesy: http://benjamuna.wordpress.com/

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  • A whole bookshelf in my local bookstore is devoted to books (and mostly love stories based in) on IIT or IIM – I wonder if its just that every kid wants to get in to those institutes or because these are Bhagat knock-offs.

    BTW, this line:

    “To put it straight, this is Shobha De-ish elitist stuff: Fake, wannabe, pretentious, disconnected from everything which is the real world we live in.”

    Absolutely perfect description. :)

  • Wow!!! I appreciate the fact that you have taken so much trouble to write about this new trend in India and loved the phrase “Bubblegum fiction”.

    You are true to say that many Indian authors have popped up in India just because of the success of Chetan Bhagat books. And I should say that I have read all four of them…But then it took me some time to realise that many Indians are following the path of CB. So I don’t read fiction written by Indian Authors unless it has got good reviews from reliable sources. ( that means I read only a few books)

    To my disappointment, I have been watching my room mates plying through so called Bubblegum fiction since they think that Sherlock Holmes or A J Cronin books are hard to understand.

  • I really love the way you have written your article. These books are ‘epitomes of mediocrity’ I too read them but after a limit these IIMs stories are a drag! They are a time pass read and do not provide any perspective into serious issues. Its sad that ppl my age won’t read better Indian authors like Mistry, Desai, Rushdie, Lahiri, Khushwant SIngh, Manto, Narayan but they can digest this trash!!!!!

  • This was a good piece of writing.. I’m not much in to reading huge books, but blogs! Haven’t read any of his (CB) books, But did watch 3 Idiots. After reading this article I got a clear picture. Most of the authors in India resembles Bollywood script writers making commercial movies!

  • I would say its about 150 % true. But you are missing a point. Even
    though there isn’t any need for people to think CB novels as litreture
    marvels I think they are good starters for kids to enjoy reading.
    Starters may think your article is utter nonsense but once they read
    more fictions they’l surely get the idea.Apart from that I can only see
    this article from a true literature lover. If someone bashes megadeth
    for justin beiber that’l surely break my heart.:D Do write more.Cheers.

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