Books For Young Adults In India

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FOR TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS

Books For Young Adults In India

By : Nilima Sinha  /  Nov 2011

Not very long ago, while searching for Indian books for classes 11 and 12 we found just a few books that could be considered  suitable for the older age group. Now, suddenly, there is a spate of books for young adults in the market. Intrigued and delighted to see the change, my colleagues and I set about reading as many as we could, with the idea of selecting a good title for the Author Category of the IBBY Honor List, 2011.

As mentioned in an earlier article in The Book Review, Indian authors for children have at last emerged on the Indian scene, just as writers of adult fiction had done several years ago. The books were mainly picture books and read-aloud books for younger kids and fiction for the eight to twelve year age group. There were mystery-adventure, short story collections and fantasy galore for the latter group.

It is a pleasant surprise to find that now the missing category of young adults, too, is being catered to, publishers having realized that it was necessary to fill the gap.

Older readers may remember, as teenagers we were exposed to all that adults read. There was no fine distinction to separate the two categories. Whether it was Indian literature, with books by Premchand, Sharatchandra Chattopadhya, Tagore, Ashapurna Devi and others with their focus on social issues, or literature from the West, such as Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, A Tale Of Two Cities and that perennial favourite of all teenagers, Gone With the Wind, they were loved by both adults and adolescents. As a fourteen year old, I remember swooning over Rhett Butler and Mr. Darcy, and reading the above two classics so many times that long passages became engraved in my memory.

Nowadays, of course, with adult fiction acquiring much greater depth and complexity, and containing explicit sexual details and descriptions, there is definitely a need for books for adolescents not mature enough to deal with adult issues.  The teenager is a child poised on the threshold, not yet an adult, but no longer a kid, either. She is prepared to deal with serious issues, is curious about and interested in the other sex and mature enough to read about broader social, national and international subjects. At the same time, she clings to the delight, innocence and joy of being a child.

A separate category for the coming-of-age, developmental needs of the in-between age group is definitely needed today. It is this difficult group, roughly between 13 and 20 years of age, that the young adult literature is aimed at.

At the same time, though, it must not be forgotten that avid readers will read what they will. Many are bound to bypass their special category status to make a beeline for adult fiction! And if they are ready for it, why stop them? 

The young adults’ concerns include larger issues such as the environment, peace versus conflict, gender, growing sexuality, peer pressure, poverty, social matters and other subjects of general interest. They seek answers for the many disturbing occurrences like death, separation and loss, emotional shocks and hurts, traumas and disasters, not only in their own personal lives but also in the larger world around them. Books can play an important role by helping adolescents deal with their concerns by providing inspiration through role models and guiding them through difficult periods in their lives through suitable stories and novels.

On reading the books, we found there were two distinct types of reading material available. While some books were centered on modern, sophisticated, elite children from metropolitan cities and public schools, there were others that were set in the hinterland of our vast country.

Books in the first category were light, fast moving and easy to read. They dealt with the problems faced by teenagers in cities, where there is a much more liberal attitude towards life. Boys and girls mingle freely, go out together, rock and sway to music and have understanding elders. Their world consists of face book chats and twitter, dating, parties, shopping, movies and popcorn. Their problems, even their language, are different.  The issues their books deal with are those of any teenager anywhere in the world. Some novels are even set abroad, in the US or UK, where the characters must face problems based on their different cultures and Indian backgrounds.

Books in the above category include The Confessions Of a List Maniac by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, The Summer Of Cool by Suchitra Krishnamurty, Yesterday by Swapna Dutta, Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee, Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim and Summer Job by Maya Chandreshekhar, to name just a few.

Certainly these titles will find a good market in bookshops in metropolitan cities. Readers there are bound to relate to the modern themes and will have pockets big enough to buy these books.

Books in the other category, set in the hinterland as mentioned earlier, are more rooted in the Indian soil. Non-elite readers from small towns and rural areas, who constitute India’s majority population, will find such novels closer to real life, set as they are in cultures they are familiar with and based on characters they can identify with.

There are some remarkable books in this category that merit attention from all young readers. They bring out the flavour, colour and richness of culture of the various regions of our diverse and beautiful country, through exciting novels about local characters. The issues they deal with are wide ranging, bringing depth to the novel and motivating the reader to pause and think.  This is not to say that these books are too serious or dull for the modern reader. The exotic settings and the real life issues and characters make them as exciting for the city reader as for the other. Many, indeed, can be categorized as adventure, historical, growing up, school, sport, or stories of courage in the face of adversity. They are well written, gripping and catch the readers’ attention. They will definitely be enjoyed by every type of reader.

Deepak Dalal’s set of thrilling adventure stories based on exotic locations such as the Andamans, the lush Sahyadris, the Himalayas and Ladakh are good examples of such books. The Snow Leopard Adventure is just one of a series of his adventure novels.

Surekha Panandiker’s Bridge At Borim is another title in the adventure genre.

 The Grasshopper’s Run is a serious novel dealing with the theme of revenge. Set in an area one reads little about, the North East, in the period of the Second World War, it is an unusual and very different story, written by Siddhartha Sharma. It won the Vodafone Crossword Children’s Literature as well as the Sahitya Akademi Baal Sahitya Puraskar for Best Children’s book in the English language. 

Another outstanding book is Faces In the Water by Ranjit Lal about a young boy who is shocked to discover that the girls born in his family had been killed as soon as they were born. This may sound grim and depressing but it has been dealt with in such an interesting way that it turns into a totally absorbing and enjoyable tale.  We had no hesitation in choosing this book for the IBBY Honour List. The book has also won the Sahitya Adademi Award for Best Children’s Book. Ranjit Lal’s other books are Battle For No.19 and Birds From My Window. The latter belongs to the non-fiction category but the author’s pen turns the birds into almost human characters, making the book a delightful read.

Nita Berry’s beautiful, colourful book, Delhi: City Of Rainbow Dreams, is an exciting journey through time, encompassing events, personalities and places. It is another title to embellish the non-fiction category.

Fantasy has also been included in the YA category, with books like Samit Basu’s Terror On the Titanic, A Morning Star Agency Adventure and Payal Dhar’s Shadow In Eternity. Anil Menon’s The Beast With a Billion Feet is science-fiction.

Now Or Never by Ramendra Kumar represents the sports category. Historical works are represented by Deepa Agarwal’s book on the Rani of Jhansi, Subhadra Sengupta’s on Jodha Bai and Devika Rangachari’s on Harsh Vardhana. A collection of stories set in different periods of our struggle for freedom, entitled Together We Marched is another book in the genre of historical fiction, written by Nilima Sinha, Ira Saxena and Surekha Panandiker.

Several novels are based specially on the problems of the girl child, like Deepa Agarwal’s Not Just Girls, and Favourite Stories For Girls, with stories from different authors, published by Puffin. Rupa Gulab’s Chip Of the Old Blockhead is another title which girls may like.

Real life problems are dealt with sensitively by Paro Anand in her two books No Guns At My Son’s Funeral and Weed. The Road To Peace and A Clear Blue Sky are both collections of moving short stories on the theme of peace and harmony as opposed to enmity and conflict, written by different authors.

Samarpananand’s Tiya, based on the journey of a parrot, succeeds in subtly conveying spiritual messages bound to guide the adolescent through the adult world he is about to enter.

Manorama Jafa’s I Am Sona provides information on HIV and teenage sexuality, a subject authors may shy away from.

School and detective stories find their place in YA literature. They include the Juneli Series by Swapna Dutta and the Foxy Four Series by Subhadra Sen Gupta.  

The important issue of environment is the subject of Ira Saxena’s The Curse Of Grass, where a girl from the Bishnoi community helps save the trees near her village.

To conclude, almost every genre is represented in Young Adults’ literature by Indian authors. Besides the titles mentioned above there may be others not taken note of for which I would like to apologize.

It is certainly heartening to note that publishers have come forward to fill this vital gap. However, it was felt that authors and publishers are still groping to find the right mixture that will click with Indian readers. There is so much disparity in our country between reading levels, education, class, taste, regions and cultures that many more titles are required to fulfill the needs of the vast readership.

It must be noted that there are plenty of books available for the elite child who may not really depend on Indian literature, for markets in big cities are flooded with books from the West. This category of reader is totally addicted to such books and will not be weaned away from his favourite series. He is not going to give up his Percy Jackson, Princess Diaries, Harry Potter and other popular titles just because Indian authors have also emerged in the field.

The obvious felt need is for more books addressed to readers belonging to what may be termed ‘real’ India. There are countless small towns and villages where English is being taught. Thousands of young adults are totally deprived of any kind of reading material, whether in English or in Indian languages.

Why not make reading material available in the markets of the country’s hinterland, where there is complete lack of books? Publishers must make an effort to sell in our smaller towns where there are no bookshops at all, though people do have the buying power.

Authors too must write books, in Indian languages as well as in English, relevant to readers from smaller towns, with characters they can identify with and about issues related to their own problems.  There are countless burning issues to disturb the adolescent in socially backward, non-progressive families, and none to guide or motivate him. Biographies that inspire, sport and adventure, even folk and humour, stories to deal with social conflict and struggle, will surely benefit our young adult population.

Through good marketing or through libraries we do need to reach out to the Young Adult in small town and rural India. That is, if entire generations of our youth are not to be lost to darkness and ignorance, deprived of the joy of reading.

Nilima Sinha is a writer of children’s books.