Nuanced noir: As Indian readers devour crime fiction, desi writers are producing great stories
There's an increasing appetite for crime writing in India and the upcoming Noir Literature Festival in Delhi is looking to tap into it
“I keep seeing mentions in the press about Hari being titled 'Namma Hero', just like the Bengaluru metro system is 'Namma Metro' — something that I never expected when I wrote the first book about him. So Hari Majestic is having a far funnier time than I am having. I just work hard to keep up with his escapades from book to book,” jokes Zac O’ Yeah, creator of Hari Majestic, an everyman crime-solver who operates from the shady streets of Bengaluru’s Majestic area.
Jokes apart, his statement points out an increasing appetite for crime writing in India, a development I have noticed ever since I have been involved in the Noir Literature Festival (previously known as the Crime Writers Festival). The festival is rolling out its third edition on 27 January 2017 and we have discovered that the reading public is devouring the genre.
Hari is a symbol of the coming-of-age of Indian crime fiction in English which is finally beginning to break free of colonial trappings and finding inspiration in desi elements. We see traces of this maturation in the writing of writers like Anita Nair, Arjun Raj Gaind, Vish Dhamija, who are adding to the repertoire of this genre progressively.
The high-point of the crime fiction scene right now is undoubtedly the reprisal of Ashwin Sanghi’s collaboration with James Patterson in Private Delhi, due to be released in the coming week. The first book by the duo, Private India, was a smashing hit and certainly put Indian writing on the global crime fiction map.
The effects of demonetisation have been far-reaching, leaving none untouched. As economists analyse the market repercussions, and diplomats the international relations aspects, we literary agents anticipate a flood of submissions in white-collar crime in the coming months! On a more serious note, crime writing has always reflected the patterns of violence in the society. A society that has witnessed the gruesome violence that Monica Ghurde was subjected to will have to examine its conscience to find answers for it. One of the avenues that have always aided such self-reflection is literature, and I am sure crime writing of the coming year will focus on these disturbing issues. True crime and gender based crime need a boost in terms of not just numbers of books but also well-researched and substantially written ones.
Since the holidays are all about making lists, and we have been more naughty than nice this year, I have a wishlist for what I’m looking forward to reading in the genre in 2017. I will put it in here in a hope to get writers and publishers inspired and get to read what I want!
I feel that the market is ready to receive socio-political narratives, because I feel that if there ever was a need to look at the darker alleys of our civilisation, it is now. Penguin Random House India has come out with a translation of Vibhuti Narain Rai’s 1988 novella Shahar Mein Curfew, which translates his experiences as a police officer into a fictionalised account of the life of the urban poor in Allahabad. We need more of such real prose which will make us squirm and take action instead of clucking at casual talk around such topics as we sit in our comfortable drawing rooms and coffee shops. It is only this discomfort that can be channelled into rectifying a broken situation.
Puja Changoiwala’s Front Page Murders is the journalist’s attempt at getting inside the mind of the serial killer Vijay Palande, who along with accomplice Simrin Sood planned and executed two high-profile murders. Puja has successfully analysed the killer’s mind and instincts, mapping the story till the arrest and confession. I, for one, am hungry for more such journalistic accounts.
Thank God we’ve not had desi versions of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, but we need more psychological thrillers.
The year that will be...
Mukul Deva, author of bestsellers including The Dust Will Never Settle, and the pioneer of the military-thriller genre in India, gave me a peek into what’s in store from his writing desk and it’s got me at the edge of my seat already. “I am now starting my next thriller, which is tentatively titled The Girl From Gothenburg. Based mostly in Europe, this is the story of a family pulled into terrorism due to the father being a fanatic believer of ISIS ideology and the new caliphate. The book will not only showcase the horrors of this menace, but also how it impacts each and every person in the family.”
There is more good news for crime fiction lovers, with Zac confirming that more of Hari Majestic is in the pipeline too. “I just finished writing the third book about Hari Majestic, my antihero detective who is becoming increasingly popular judging from how popular he is increasingly becoming. It will be called Tropical Detective and is out sometime in 2017. A Kolkata-based artist, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, has also been working on an adaptation of Hari Majestic into a graphic novel format — one story will be published early in 2017 in a cartoon anthology, and meanwhile one award-winning Kannada film director, Mansore, is developing a big screen version of the first book in the series, Mr Majestic, which will be shot during 2017 in Bengaluru on the same locations as described in the book. They've booked a really good star to play Hari. And the director has promised me that there will be at least four song and dance numbers in the film. Also, one Mr Majestic short story was selected for publication in a Bengaluru humor anthology,” Zac says.
Vish Dhamija, the master of the legal crime and courtroom drama, is writing up a storm too, with Harper Collins Publishers India bringing out two of his legal thrillers, The Mogul and Unlawful Justice, in the coming year.
The festival seeks to inspire more writing in the genre of crime because as much as it is omnipresent in modern life, it is only grudgingly acknowledged in the literature of the land. Negative elements do not disappear if they are dusted under the carpet; only understanding their inner workings and discussing ways to combat them will halt their stride. We aim to provide a platform to those who have taken the first step towards ripping the band-aid off and allowing the wound to heal, and hope to stimulate more debate on this problematic subject.
The writer is the founder and CEO of Siyahi, India’s leading literary consultancy. She also conceptualises and produces literary festivals and events.
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