There is a dearth of good quality fiction from Indian authors for young adults, who thrive on foreign books. Dr Ira Saxena shares why it is important to have books in Indian settings and how to allure the young adult readers. Catch them young has been a catch phrase in the last decade to promote reading from pre-school to the early teens, the golden age of reading, yielding an indigenous crop of beautifully illustrated, well-produced variety of reading delights in India. Yet, a vast segment of the reading populace is left to fend for itself through the abundance of foreign exports in book shops and libraries, defeating the lofty ideals of affording reading pleasure from their own panorama. The young readers seem to take a gigantic leap to graduate, all of a sudden, from simple home grown adventures to Harry Potter to Ludlum, Catherine Cook, Irving Wallace, Terry Pratchett and Jeffrey Archer exposing a wide chasm bare for the Indian writers to traverse on for supplying pleasurable reading material befitting their exigencies within their climate.

Books: all the more important for young growing minds

The young adult readers demand similar concern for reading substance in fiction as is due for beginner readers and thereafter. For the young adult readers stories offer solace; literature can show a way through conflict that enables the young minds to think and comprehend, ensuring an emotional release and coming to grips with their situation. They can’t be called children at their age but their ability to distinguish reality from pretence is beyond their grasp, impeding functional independence of adulthood.

They think they can choose their goals but lack of vision and uncertainties in making decision, triggers conflicts. The lack of experience puts them in a most vulnerable situation where they are prone to grave risks, where, in fact, books provide a curative touch and guides them through the upheavals in life.

The young adult reading interests seeking substance in stories proceed through juvenile adventures. A special stream of literature for these readers incorporates an honest presentation of the ground reality, their inter-personal problems versus intraindividual complications, their dilemmas and their strengths.

Realistic stories encroaching the territories of adult fiction enchants them - the psychological undercurrents behind the complex situations conflict with physical forces, peer pressures and clashes in value structures establishing the intrinsic plot details. The classics like Homecoming by Tagore, Sharat Chandra’s range of social dramas such as Anuradha, Shrikant, Devdas, Viraj Bahu, and Premchand’s Nirmala, Shatranj ke Khiladi, Kafan, Sadgati etc. drew images from the society striking at the consciousness of social surroundings and flesh and blood characters, impressing the modern youth as well.

Literature for young adults

Actually, while preparing a recommendatory booklist of Indian publications for senior classes I noticed a conspicuous scarcity of original modern literature for the target group, particularly in Hindi. The slot had to be filled by popular classics of the great luminaries of Hindi literature. There is a marked shortfall of new young adult literature in English as well, magnifying the fact that foreign imprints are presumably distant to Indian readership.

Although the maturation process follows the same milestones everywhere, the choice of relevant themes for the Indian reader varies tremendously according to the socio-cultural set-up. In the urban situation matters, such as severity of competition, joining expensive glamour events, exploitations and treating conflicts with norms thrust a need for tackling these issues. Then there are personal insecurities triggered by the current mobile culture demanding instant gratification, instant solutions and instant programing for the conscious modernist as against the prevailing insecurity and deprivation of the have-nots asserting for an equal stature. Such situational and individual difficulties are intensified further as one move from metros to small towns and rural areas exposing the youth to rampant adult political pressures in the lives of struggling youth, fundamentalist edicts and formidable terrorists’ designs. It is imperative for the urban youth to understand the grave problems of rural young adults and similarly, for the rural youth to integrate the glamour and style of city dwelling.

What is required?

Attractive novels, stories catering to this sensitive age group are in short supply particularly, those unfolding layers after layers of simmering clashes inside the mind, consciousness of societal norms, self-awareness and expectations. When centered on small towns and the rural belt similar assertions acquire greater intensity of exposure. There the complexities facing the modern youth are further complicated by importance to caste and community matters, infiltration of political power play, survival of the ordinary amidst local bullies and lack of modernization. A major segment of the population lives in small towns and villages. In current fiction, there is almost negligible mention of intensifying situational matters and range of interpersonal problems stretching to a sensational proportion outside the metro cities. Just as the enchantment of rock band glamour or climbing the success ladder by urban counterparts attract attention of the small town dweller; a sensitive revelation of struggles in the rural set-up in fiction would expressively acquaint a large population of youth in the cities.

Usually, real people and real conflicts, opulent emotional content feature the severity of predicaments of the young in realistic fiction. It is important to comprehend what goes on behind the circumstance of the individual, the psychological process of problem solving, and resulting emotional catharsis. The young people, in particular, facing discrimination in society, ethnic distance, cultural intolerance, and personal traumas derive a peaceful resolution in literature for young adults. The story becomes the catalyst for healing mental turbulence and emotional instability, enabling the reader to project their personal flaws on the main character in the story-line to find a way out of life-storms.

(Dr. Ira Saxena, a child psychologist, writer, and critic of children’s books, has been writing mostly realistic stories, novels, and non-fiction in Hindi and English for children of all ages. She has been elected to the Executive Committee of International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) and is the founding member and Secretary of Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children.)



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