book bazaar

The three genres that topped 2014: the gap between pulp and literary fiction just got wider

You may not find your favourite books of the year mentioned in this article.

Which works of Indian writing did India buy to read in 2014? We looked at the bestselling lists put out by the leading e-commerce sites to extract the trends. These, then, are the baskets of books that we identified as the favourites of the year.

Runaway Romances
Surprising no one, the story of Madhav and Ria, aka Half Girlfriend, was the runaway bestseller on all charts. That every new book by Bhagat will be a huge hit is axiomatic by now. What is interesting is how he maps his market and writes just what his chosen target audience wants ‒ in this case, a journey through St Stephen’s College, Delhi and the streets of New York, with a detour through basketball, the men’s hostel, and the swank precincts of Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road. This is fantasy in the guise of everyday events, dream-fulfilment rather than what might be, and it continues to work with people who read very little besides Bhagat’s books.

While the rising tide of Bhagat’s bestsellers don’t life many boats, the ones that do benefit are other simplistic narratives tapping the ubiquitous vein of love, longing and some lust among young people. No complexities here - only pre-plotted developments moving to a pre-ordained climax, involving one-dimensional youngsters whose romantic trajectories are a surrogate for readers’ own, often faltering course of love.

So we had, inter alia, When Only Love Remains by Durjoy Datta; Your Dreams Are Mine Now: She Showed him What Love Was, by Ravinder Singh; and Sorry, You're Not My Type by Sudeep Nagarkar. All of them set in college campuses or in the world of showbiz, with the complexities of reality reduced to raw and overflowing emotion, devoid of either social or psychological underpinnings.

Thriller Takeaways
It’s easy to imagine a large bunch of city dwellers past the first flush of romance but still looking for ways to escape the relentless pursuit of the daily grind. For them there were the stories of an edgy existence, surfing that unreal territory between crime, greed and passion that never quite goes out of fashion in popular fiction, even if real life has never really resembled it.

Combining all the contemporary stereotypes of drugs, virtual games, real and electronic money, markets, fetishism, gender-bending masquerading as the dark side of the soul, Ashwin Sanghi ‒ with the internationally branded help of James Patterson ‒ and Ravi Subramanian, the sultan of the sinister in current Indian writing, wrote their way into people’s bookshelves (though, come to think of it, are thrillers read more than once?).

Sanghi’s Private India, part of the international Private series, was an improbable tale of detection against the backdrop of terrorism, with a string of murders following a pattern setting up a chain if suspense leading to the identity of the murder, with some soft underworld connections and even romance thrown in.

As for Subramanian’s God Is A Gamer, its exhaustive research into Bitcoin ‒ the virtual currency that had nerds twisting their knickers in a frenzy ‒ a meeting between the heads of Visa and MasterCard and the introduction of Wikileaks turned it into an embodiment of the well-informed geek’s Facebook feed, told in the form of fiction. It was a page-turner despite its heavy dose of information - or perhaps because of that very reason.

Mythological Mysteries
Yes yes, book-buyers are still keen to have their traditional myths packaged into racy tales, and the more they can combine historical characters and different epochs of time, the better. Hence the success of The Mahabharata Quest : The Alexander Secret by Christopher C Doyle, where King Alexander, the Mahabharata, terrorism and a spot of archaeology all come together for a huge - and riveting - historical-modern caper and chase. And yes, there’s all that “science” too.

At the other end of the mythology as fiction scale was Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don't Tell You by Debdutt Pattanaik, where queer identity was explored. At first glance, this might seem an unlikely candidate for a popularly accepted book, but it showed the way to a discerning readership hungry for an authentic telling of the myths that emerged from the collective consciousness of the past.

Of course, that’s not all that people bought and read. But the big picture is sharp. And the clear and present danger to the market prospects of the “literary book” is palpable. Now you know where publishers have to look to keep their cash registers ringing.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.