Dark, mysterious forces are at work in the alternate universe of Indian writing in English for young adults. These subversive forces drew me into uncharted territory when I flouted the diktats of sanity to work on a fantasy-adventure novel for youngsters. My approach was impractical from the start.
The story germinated some time in 2003. A scene, some images from our city’s streets enthralled me, compelling me to weave a story around them. The sane pragmatic writer would have played to market demands, rehashed fairy tales or mythology or written yet another moral story and got published super-quick. Nobody wanted to even glance at something different written by someone who hadn’t won the Booker, or graced Page 3 or even Page 28.
One local publisher made no bones of the fact that they didn’t care for newspaper hacks harbouring ambitions of serious writing.
Yet the story refused to die. It sought refuge among its own kind in the virtual world of cyberspace.
I encountered like-minded writers from far corners of the world in online workshops. For trustworthy evaluations to make my story the best it could be, I put up offers requesting exchange of critiques with writers from other countries. It was a wonderful way to grow and hone one’s writing skills. In return, I read and critiqued novels set in Israel (she is now published by Harper Collins, USA), the mystical world of Valhalla, the Ojai region of California and Muzzafarpur, Bihar. It took me years but it was worth it.
When my manuscript was ready, the cyber world came to my rescue again. I entered my book anonymously online in the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival Open Book Pitch in 2008. There, it won the nod of approval from Zubaan Books. After years of struggle, it was sheer joy to work with thorough professionals exuding rare personal warmth.
Who says all young people have short attention spans and don’t want to read?
The worldwide success of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, not to mention Eoin Colfer, Rick Riordan, Terry Pratchett or Suzanne Collins, proves beyond doubt that young people continue to enjoy well-written and engaging books.
Sometimes, young people lose their innate interest in reading because of adults. Often, well-meaning Indian parents can kill the joy of reading by imposing books that they hope will cram their kids’ heads with knowledge. Many Indian publishers and booksellers push only predictable tried and tested stuff at cheap and best rates because that’s what parents can relate to and buy.
Some high quality, imaginative fiction for children by Indian writers is being published today, and they are fit to take on the world.
If offered all options, young readers tend to make healthy reading choices. Yet sinister market forces continue to stock bestsellers and hackneyed fare prominently in Indian bookstore shelves, while new and original writing by Indian authors is hidden from public view like an embarrassing secret.
Bangalore-based Monideepa Sahu is the author of Riddle of the Seventh Stone published by Young Zubaan.