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The Stepchild Of Indian Literature: Hindi Pulp Fiction

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By Lata Jha: 

Ever had some time to kill at a railway station? A casual stroll down the stalls would give you plenty of reasons to sit back, relax and lose yourself. Hindi pulp fiction, that has rapidly been losing prominence and prestige in most of our circles, abounds in these rickety shops.

The rugged paper with poor publishing contains so much thrill that you wouldn’t help but be completely awed, musing why this shouldn’t be turned into a film. One also wonders why people don’t mention these when they talk about real literature. If English pulp fiction, be it Mills & Boon romances, Sidney Sheldon, Agatha Christie etc. can be described as ‘popular fiction’ it is a matter of concern that Hindi pulp is ostracized behind the tag of ‘cheap and trash’ and thus banished out of mainstream literature.

book stalls

One reason for this neglect can be diagnosed in the ways in which Hindi pulp is demarcated from real-literature as well as English pulp. It’s not cool to speak Hindi today, let alone read Hindi. For most, it’s a pain, for others, simply inconsequential. Also, the presentation, most of these appear in the pocket books format, episodic publishing in small-scale, local magazines etc. Apart from these, the mode of distribution is presumably the major factor behind Hindi pulp being termed ‘cheap’. In contrast to what are kept as hardcovers or soft-bind on library shelves, and sold for big bucks in specialized book stores, Hindi pulp, more often than not, finds itself in convenience stores and sold for a pittance at railway platforms, bus stands, footpaths etc.

But strangely, since we bargain on the same footpaths and railway platforms, for Isaac Asimov, J.K.Rowling, Paolo Coelho, Stephen King, or even home-grown Chetan Bhagat or Vikram Swaroop, thanks to piracy, it’s clear that the core issue lies elsewhere. It’s not about where you buy it, or how much you pay for it. It’s the increasing tendency to associate yourself only with a certain class, a certain mindset, and hence, a certain way of life.

Unless we anticipate radical changes, Hindi pulp fiction is destined to always remain the stepchild, orphaned, neglected and discriminated against. We couldn’t care less about the pavement outside as we walk into a Crossroad or an Oxford.

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  1. Aashna Iyer (@nomadicmidget)

    Are you talking about Hindi pulp fiction as in written in Hindi? Because if you are, then the audience that reads books in Devanagari is vastly different from the audience that reads books by Paulo Cohelo or whatever.
    Secondly, ‘pulp’ fiction has always been called that because it is not important enough to be published on proper paper. It is historically supposed to be trashy. There are anthologies of acclaimed Tamil Pulp Fiction that make no pretense about this, as well.
    And if you’re talking about Indian light fiction, then I’m sorry, anything that Durjoy Dutt churns out, written in bad language with curses trying to make things cooler and talking about misplaced ideas about sex is not worth buying.
    That aside, I like some lesser known Indian work, that don’t burden your head with unnecessary thinking, and these are light reading by Indian authors. They, surprisingly, have nothing to do with IIT or IIM or anything of that sort, imagine!
    How about we try to churn out better stuff so that we get acclaim for good, rather than try and make a case for the mediocre?

  2. nihalparashar

    I agree with you to a great extent. I assume you are talking about Hindi literature which for some unknown reason is termed as Pulp Fiction. For that matter fiction in any language must not be termed as pulp fiction. It simply suggests a superior person giving a biased opinion. For me Marx can be Pulp, or even Shakespere. Why a particular class of people dictate what is pulp and what is not. A personal opinion though.
    Strangely you did not talk about any Hindi pulp fiction writer. Ved Prakash Sharma is the most known of all. (See Aamir Khan reading his novel ‘Purani Biwi, Naya Pyaar’:
    He is amazing with crime novels. I am amazed why our younger generation doesnt talk about Ved Prakash who is far far better writer than Bhagat or Durujoy.
    The answer lies here: We have a colonial mindset. Trash in English is still better.
    But to understand that just because these writers are able to sell in urban india they are heartthrob of the nation would be wrong. Hindi “pulp” (for the point’s sake) writers have a loyal audience in other part of the country. Sadly the culture of these books are going away for various reasons. We, in general, do not have time to read any kind of literature. I am blessed I was able to read them as a child. Glad that I read Ved Prakash as well as Premchand and also Gulzar!

  3. Rajan

    Good article. The comments on it seem to be a bit misplaced though. For I have read books published on the finest of papers, with un-imaginable amount of trash. Plus, there are many people who read “Paulo Cohelo” (the correct spelling is Coelho) and ‘Devnagari’ literature both, though they may prefer the books in Hindi over those by Coelho.
    PS- Not a VPS fan, can’t stand it, but I do like reading Surender Mohan Pathak, Janpriya Lekhak Omprakash Sharma, and find their work far superior than those of Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi etc.

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