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Making crime pay
Dibyajyoti Sarma | Saturday, 20 June 2015 AT 08:24 PM IST
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Suddenly, crime writing has become the ‘it’ genre in Indian writing in English. We explore the whys and hows.

Indian writing in English is no longer about those morbid family dramas, but murder and mayhem, blood and gore. Perhaps it all started with S Hussain Zaidi’s books on Mumbai gangsters (Black Friday). In the last four-five years, there has been an avalanche of crime writing in India. There are the bestselling authors like Ashwin Sanghi, Ravi Subramanian, Kalpana Swaminathan, Zac O’Yeah, Tarquin Hall, Mukul Deva, and Pune’s very own, Salil Desai. There are publishers like Westland, Fingerprint and Amaryllis. Early this year, there was even a crime writer’s festival in Delhi.

So what has caused this sudden wave? “Crime fiction has always had readers,” says Delhi-based international publishing consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose. “Indian writers are slowly coming into their own with this genre. So, there is a coming together of events that has made it possible for publishers to commission crime stories and have a ready market too,” she adds.

Author Jerry Pinto agrees. “I think this has to do with how many publishers are there and how much risk they are willing to take. I think the number of publishers is directly related to the large number of writers and books,” he argues.

Author Mahendra Jakhar, whose debut novel The Butcher of Benares is already a bestseller, believes India’s interest in crime fiction has to do with how young readers are exposed to Western crime writing. “Suddenly, the youth is exposed to diverse forms of media, and they are more than hungry for Indian stories that they can connect with,” he argues.

Author Salil Desai believes it is a part of the evolution of Indian publishing. Today, Indian publishers have to look beyond feel-good, romance and young IITian stories. “When young Indian readers started seeking out stories from different genres which they could relate to, stories that were not necessarily literary, but which spoke to them and thrilled them in the Indian context, the crime genre was a logical next step,” he says.

Bhattacharji Rose does not completely agree. “I am not sure if you can compare the two kinds of Indian writing in English. These are two very distinct genres and readership. The only points of similarity probably being that both rely heavily upon conversations to move the plot forward,” she says.
Media professional Sapna Sarfare, an avid reader of crime fiction, says the reason she is attracted to this genre is simple excitement. “The thrills, twists and turns are incomparable. Life usually is not filled with the same devilish craziness,” she says.

On Indian crime fiction, she feels we are still not digging into the serious crimes. “Abroad, crime fiction delves deeper into human psyche. For example, Ian Rankin’s Detective Rebus is a complex character you can connect to. We are still on the ‘whodunit’ formula. I think we have a scope to explore further,” she says.

So what does the future hold? Bhattacharji Rose has the last word. “Give this space some time to mature in India and you will notice a notable difference in the tenor of writing.”

“I don’t think of my writing in genres. Altaf Tyrewalla was editing Mumbai Noir and asked me if I would write a story for it and the first of the Murder in Mahim stories started there. The second was written for my friend Gauri Vij when she was editing Time Out. And then, Ravi Singh, my editor and publisher at Speaking Tiger suggested that I work on a book. To be a crime writer, it takes pretty much the same thing it takes to be any kind of writer: the desire to do a lot of hard work for very little financial reward.”  
 — Jerry Pinto

“Crime writing is both an art and a craft. So, first one needs to have an idea, a plot, and characters. Then comes the craft to structure and design it. The biggest challenge is that so much has already been written around the world that it is not easy to come up with something original.

— Mahendra Jakhar

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