Popular fiction in India is coming of age, and Jaishree Misra, for one, is glad.
The prolific writer was recently in the city for the launch of her sixth novel, ‘Secrets and Sins’, part of her ‘Secrets’ series with Harper Collins, and declared herself happy to be churning out zippy, easy-to-read commercial fiction.
“In the West, my books are positioned as ‘The Big Beach Reads’, you know, the kind that are sent right off to airport bookshops,” said Misra, who recently moved back to Delhi after living and working in London for years. “I’ve tried a lot of different styles, and I feel this is more my natural calling. I quite like the idea of having more readers – one of the perks of commercial fiction!”
With the current changes in the Indian popular fiction market, there couldn’t be a better time for a desi writer to be in the business.
“Earlier, the assumption was always that Indian popular fiction would have poor language, be printed on poor quality paper, and just be rather cheap and tawdry overall,” she said in conversation with Anuradha Ananth at the launch event in Landmark. “But now, publishers are waking up to the fact that they need the buoyancy of the popular fiction market, thanks in large part to Chetan Bhagat’s books selling in lakhs. We have more well-produced and well-written books overall.”
‘Secrets and Sins’, the second novel in a three-part series commissioned by Harper Collins, certainly fits the bill, with its glossy cover design and a plot that’s all romance, glamour and infidelity with a dash of Bollywood masala. It tells the story of Riva Walia, a British Indian award-winning writer, and Aman Khan, a Bollywood superstar, both with troubled marriages, who rekindle their college romance after they’re thrown together at the Cannes Film Festival (minus their respective spouses).
Her first couple of books, particularly her debut novel ‘Ancient Promises’, were rather different. “I was trying to be literary, but even then my agent in the U.K. felt that my writing could end up falling between the two categories,” said Misra. “Under the auspices of my current editors, I was shoved firmly into the commercial fiction category.”
And she feels no desire to change that categorisation. “One can tackle all sorts of themes in a light, easily accessible way – Marian Keyes, for instance, deals with domestic abuse in ‘This Charming Man’,” she said. “That’s the job of a good commercial fiction writer.”
In fact, she’s already completed a preliminary draft of the third and final book in the ‘Secrets’ series, about a young girl returning to find her birth mother. “It’s confusing to promote one book while writing the next – I get the character names mixed up sometimes!” she said, laughing.
But up next, she’d like to take a bit of a break. “I’m working on a big project on the outskirts of Delhi for people with disabilities,” said Misra, whose own daughter has severe learning disabilities. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for the last 15 years. And then, of course, I’ll return to writing.”