While looking for information on crime fiction in India, I came across this article published in May in Tehelka magazine.
These two sentences in particular caught my eye:
Hachette publishers say that while their international detective fiction titles sell 50,000 copies in a single edition, Indian counterparts sell a tenth of that in total.
As readers of this blog know, my book, Murder in Mumbai, was released as an ebook by Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries in July. I’m still hopeful that there’ll be an Indian edition — hopefully in paperback (Penguin, Are you listening?). But the numbers cited in this story suggest why Indian publishers may be reluctant to publish mystery novels set inside the country.
This isn’t true only of mysteries. Arvind Adiga’s excellent White Tiger only got traction in India once it won the Booker Prize.
I’m as guilty of this as any Indian reader. As a child, I read Enid Blyton, an English writer. As a teenager, I read Agatha Christie. As an adult, I read Scandinavian mysteries. Even my first introduction to a mystery set in India was written by an Indian — H.R.F. Keating’s highly enjoyably Inspector Ghote series (talk about a colonized mind).
It’s not as if there isn’t crime fiction published in India. The fact is, however, that much of it is published in regional languages. And unless, it’s one of the major languages — Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil (if I’m leaving out any, please forgive me, it’s not to suggest that all Indian languages aren’t important) — there’s little chance of it being translated into English.
This is how I read Satyajit Ray’s charming Feluda stories, and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi books. More recently, there have been translations of Tamil pulp novels by Blaft publishing, which is also behind the translation of the Urdu best-sellers Captain Hameed and Colonel Faridi (there are new , and I haven’t read them yet).
But as the Tehelka article notes there are new Indian writers setting mysteries in India. Here’s more from the article:
“Says Nandita Aggarwal, publishing director, Hachette India, ‘That the genre is becoming popular is not statistically gaugeable but one can sense a certain interest in the market. There are more authors writing. Last year, we published five books in the series as opposed to none before. It is not a paradigm shift. But the market is exploring the genre.’”
Hopefully, the “market” will be able to sustain more translations as well as more works in English.