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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014

Belles in a jar: Chick Lit is evolving and how

Hindustan Times   June 14, 2014
First Published: 11:56 IST(14/6/2014) | Last Updated: 18:10 IST(15/6/2014)

Chick Lit is evolving. And there are many styles to choose from. So junk the debate over its literary worth and pick one up for its mood-lifting potential.

Remember the howls of outrage across the world when the cover of The Bell Jar got a makeover? Pop art and a woman applying make-up, gasp. ‘How dare they make Sylvia Plath’s descent into depression look like trashy chick lit?’ literary buffs fumed.

Calm down, people. Yes, Plath also wrote deep and meaningful poetry, and admittedly, flaky Bridget Jones is a far cry from Plath’s heroine. But this must be said: The first half of Plath’s semiautobiographical novel could well be chick lit: acerbic single working woman out in the big bad world, low life boyfriend, alcohol binges, making out, et cetera.

Watch: Anuja Chauhan on love, kisses and getting dumped

And how about Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and Emma? Right, the heroines didn’t hit the booze at balls and weren’t financially independent either. Even so, Pride & Prejudice was a good old rom com and Emma was more chick lit-ish, mainly because the heroine had an acid tongue.

That being said, not every chick lit author is part Plath or Austen – far from it. I recommend them as mood lifters on a scale ranging from karela to pepperoni pizzas. They’re also great as palate cleansers after you read books by dark and disturbing writers like Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan.

And can we please junk that ‘Is it depressing to be labelled a chick lit author’ debate? Chick lit authors should take a tip from their heroines and learn to be charmingly self-deprecating – shrug it off with a goofy grin. Also, not every book on relationships by a female author can be labelled chick lit. Yashodhara Lal’s latest novel Sorting Out Sid can’t logically be placed in the chick lit aisle only because it’s about a man. Okay, so the man does go to a tarot card reader (eww), but he’s still a man. I’m trembling as I type this, but I’m going to say it anyway: Anees Salim (reverentially categorised as potential-Booker-Prize-winning author by me – I loved Vanity Bagh) also wrote the diary of a single working woman (Tales from a Vending Machine) in his characteristic style: dark humour. Salim will probably unfriend me on Facebook for including him in an article on lowly chick lit if his irrepressible sense of humour doesn’t jump to my rescue, just as Plath fans are gunning for me, so I’m going to die friendless anyway, sigh.

Read: Standing chicklit on its head

Interestingly, India has made chick lit legitimate in a weird way. Line up all the books published and you will discover an exhaustive career guide. From A for Advertising to Z for Zoology. Let’s look at some of the professions covered: Bombay Duck is a Fish by Kanika Dhillon is on Bollywood, Parul Sharma’s Tuki’s Grand Salon Chase is on the beauty industry, Smita Jain’s first novel Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions was about the bizarre Ekta Kapoor world of soaps, Nistula Hebbar and Anuja Chauhan have given us insights into politics, I flipped through a book by Judge Swarana Kanta Sharma about a, well, judge too! Bottom line: don’t trash chick lit. You learn a lot about harsh working conditions.

There are so many styles to choose from too. There’s the Chetan Bhagat, ‘I’m feeling tensed’ style, which basically means, ‘Go to hell Grammar Nazis, I outsell you anyway!’ There are Hinglish writers who give us a dose of independent yet culturally conscious women doing their thing: ghagra-choli clad heroines dancing to Bollywood hits on karva chauth, waiting for the damn moon to rise before they can hit the veggie cocktail samosas and Dirty Martinis. Fortunately, there’s the good old Indian English writer too – I’ve noticed the beginnings of a new trend here. Parul Sharma and Kiran Manral are PG Wodehouse fans, which is why we catch glimpses of long-winded Wodehousian sentences every now and then. Refreshing in an ‘As pants the hart for cooling streams’ manner, but they need to put in a little more practise before we get a kickass desi version of Jill the Reckless.

There are chick lit plus authors as well, with sassy detectives who can run like cheetahs in 6-inch stilettoes. Smita Jain kicked it off in a spectacular manner and many other writers jumped into the fray. I enjoyed Kiran Manral’s The Reluctant Detective too. Okay, so her plot, like Jain’s, had as many leaks as the ‘Hole in the bucket Dear Liza’ song but it was still an enjoyable read and much better than her latest novel Once upon a Crush: pure chick lit with every single gosh darned cliché in place so it comes across as an unintentional parody. Madhumita Bhattacharyya shines because she had a well thought out plot and wonderful angst in her first novel, The Masala Murder. Angst is a turn on, which is why I’m looking forward to her second book, Dead in a Mumbai Minute.

But where are those damned vampires and dead old men giggly girls in the west are mooning over? Tah-dah, we have our very own fantasy romance writer in the Young Adult category now: Andaleeb Wajid. Her latest novel, No Time for Goodbyes, is on time travel. It’s part of a trilogy and I have it on good authority that the third book is the best of them all. Encouraging, because Wajid is an incredibly warm and witty writer.

- Rupa Gulab is an author and columnist


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