Discussion on what works and what doesn’t in crime writing, and new books are what you can hope to find at the Crime Writers Festival in New Delhi. And chat up your favourite novelist too. And that makes us wonder, are people in India reading enough crime novels? Author Jerry Pinto (remember Em and The Big Hoom?) tells it as it is. “Readers, bless their little hearts, vote with their wallets. They don’t like you, you don’t get bought, you don’t get your next novel out. At least, that’s how I think the world of crime fiction works.”
It makes sense for sure for while there is a fabulous repository of crime writing in regional languages, English fiction in India seems to veer more towards other genres. Writer Zac O’Yeah, creator of the detective Hari Majestic, puts it in perspective: “There’s a lot of great pulp fiction in various Indian languages — especially Hindi, Bengali and Tamil has had some fabulous thriller writers. For some reason, writers in English have been a bit snobbish about venturing into that territory so far.” However he adds that there has been great thriller writing in English. “Shyam Dave in the 1970s wrote the Docket series about a desi James Bond type of character, and then Ashok Banker (The Iron Bra), and Shashi Warrier (Night of the Krait) wrote wonderful thrillers in the 1990s. Now, today, publishers have been waking up to the potential of local detective fiction.” O’Yeah is going to be part of a panel discussion on humorous crime fiction.
Mita Kapur of Siyahi, co-producer of the festival, says there’s a lot of potential for crime writing in India, “Crime writing is one of the genres in India that is seeing a fillip. Publishers are building up their crime lists in the English language, and it’s just not detective fiction that is seeing an incline; it’s also white collar crime, cyber crime, political crime, to name a few.” Mumbai-based author Amit Khan, known for his Hindi crime pulp fiction, says regional writers will now have to look at getting their works translated. “I have written more than a 100 novels, and yes, the younger generations are reading more in English, but the quality of your content comes first,” he adds.
However, Pinto thinks a little differently. He adds, “I think modern crime writing is struggling with an identity crisis. Everyone wants to be writing literary novels with an element of crime. No harm in that but it often annoys me to be treated to an exegesis of police politics or a deep investigation into the alcoholism of the detective when I want to get on with the story. And this is the problem: the literary novel has wandered away from the plot; the detective novel must always be aware of the plot.”
The festival, directed by Namita Gokhale, and Lady Kishwar Desai, will feature speakers including Alessandra Bertini Malgarini, Anurag Kashyap, Avirook Sen, Clara Peñalver, Ravi Subramanian, and Véronique Ovaldé, etc.
January 15-17. At Oxford Bookstore, Connaught