In Other Words

India’s Literary Wake-Up Call

It's a country in the midst of an industrial revolution. Yet, according to popular author and editor Shobhaa De, when it comes to literature, India remains stuck in the past.

FOREIGN POLICY: What are people in India reading these days?

Shobhaa De: India is a huge country, with over 36 recognized languages. People are increasingly turning toward regional literature. Self-help books dominate, especially those in the management category. The Secret is doing very well, too. [So are books like] the Chicken Soup series. Other than that, biographies and Bollywood books are selling brilliantly.

FP: What topics or themes would you like to see Indian authors write more about?

SD: I look for originality and spunk. I would like to hear contemporary female voices talking about changed realities. We need writers willing to take risks. I am bored with the scene at present. I want to be shocked and stunned. There are far too many politically correct writers indulging in "safe" books. India is undergoing such dramatic and swift social change. But where are the books that reflect this moment? India needs a wake-up call.

FP: Are there any topics that Indian authors are discouraged from writing about?

SD: No! The only limits are the ones we set for ourselves. There is absolute freedom of expression. We are not bound by any laws to avoid certain subjects — religion, politics, sex. Despite this luxury, writers refuse to take chances. There is far too much self-consciousness, leading to a bland approach, when writers ought to be sticking their necks out and shaking up society.

FP: Who are the current bestselling authors, and what are popular themes?

SD: Manil Suri’s latest book, Age of Shiva, has received great reviews. Our ex-president Abdul Kalam’s new book is eagerly awaited. The publishing scene is certainly very vibrant, but no writer so far has come up with "the" book of the decade that marks a breakthrough in the way that [Salman Rushdie’s] Midnight’s Children did.

FP: So, who is India’s next Salman Rushdie?

SD: One can never predict the arrival of a genius. A Rushdie happens once in a century. I don’t see anyone of that caliber on the current scene. Writers have become far too complacent and smug. They are more concerned about huge advances and less about content.

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