I am starting a new series on Indian chick lit authors/books that I love. It was something I thought of doing during my PhD but basically didn’t have the time. Honestly, I don’t know if my love of Indian chick lit has waned or not. Definitely, some authors will stay with me but maybe I overdosed on the genre during my PhD or the books themselves have petered out and become repetitive. Nevertheless, since I am a minefield of information on this topic, I might as well share my hard-won gyan.
How do I define chick lit?
Having read almost all scholarly work written on chick lit up to 2017, I found the most satisfactory definition in an ABC news article by Heather Cabot: “The books feature everyday women in their 20s and 30s navigating their generation’s challenges of balancing demanding careers with personal relationships.”
Thus, chick lit has a few defining features:
- The protagonist is an ordinary woman in her 20s or 30s. Some books feature a group of friends as protagonists.
- The subject matter of the book primarily concerns this woman’s pursuit of: a) romance b) career. Both have to represented here, though the focus may be on one or the other
- A light-hearted tone. This is an addition to Cabot’s description and differentiates chick lit from romance novels, such as the Harlequin or the 80s bonkbuster (think Jackie Collins)
Classic (Western) chick lit
The book that launched the genre was Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, that I basically consider my gospel. There may have been books with the same sort of story before that (e.g. Mariane Keyes’s novels) but Bridget Jones became a popular culture phenomenon. The genre’s sensibility – stories on the lives and times of single women in the city – soon spread across the pond and to television and film. Along with Bridget Jones’s Diary, the holy trinity of chick lit comprises Ally McBeal and the Sex and the City television series. The SATC TV series was predated by a novel of the same name by Candace Bushnell, but it was really the TV series that became the pop culture phenomenon and that inspired in turn popular writing, including Indian chick lit.
How do I define Indian in Indian chick lit?
My PhD thesis covers women of Indian nationality living in India. While the first “Indian” chick lit books were published in the West (e.g. Nisha Minhas’s Chapati and Chips), I believe the concerns in the books written by NRI women and women in India are slightly different. Both have the pressure to get married, but the NRI books stress cultural conflict (coming to India during the groom search process and having a culture shock of sorts) while the novels published in India from 2006 onwards describe more broadly living as single women and building a career in India as well as the romantic shenanigans. The interest in my PhD became how economic liberalisation generated a new type of young Indian woman who is presented in these novels. However, in this series, I will also cover some NRI chick lit books.
The heydey of Indian chick lit
In my thesis, I propose that the golden era of Indian chick lit was from around 2006 to 2015. This was the time when Indian publishes woke up to the potential of locally produced commercial fiction – the period before this was described by one publisher as “before Chetan” – and foreign capital via mergers with the big foreign publishing houses began to flow into India so there was money to invest in these upstarts. Indian chick lit was one of the first- if not the first – Indian commerical writing genre to be succesful.
Indian chick lit – sub-genres
Initially, Indian chick lit novels were somewhat imitative of the Western formula – particularly Sex and the City. However, writers such as Anuja Chauhan have developed a unique writing style and forged something new.
Like the Western novels, Indian chick lit as it matured could be split into sub-genres: career lit (e.g. Nirupama Subramanian’s Keep the Change), mommy lit, divorcee lit and inevitably lad lit (the likes of Durjoy Dutta and Ravinder Singh that seem to have eclipsed the writing by female authors). A number of writers who cut their teeth in chick lit have moved on – Swati Kaushal has an excellent detective series, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan did a lovely couple of young adult novels and now is on to a mythological series.
Why do I insist on calling it chick lit?
Yes, chick lit sounds disposable. Yes, authors don’t like it. However, it is now the accepted term, and given the droves of fanpages using the term, it has been reclaimed, or at least readers who love the genre have stopped caring that others find it trivial. The Guardian uses the term in its coverage of the genre; it’s a keyword in academia. And frankly, I like how it sounds – writing that’s fun and about women.
What do I plan to do with this series?
I don’t intend this to be an academic discussion, though I might include some insights from my PhD. I don’t intend to do book reviews either. I just intend to share – as I usually do on this blog – what I like/dislike/generally think about books in the genre.