Bridget Jones dons a sari as Indian women discover 'chick-lit'

Independent, career-driven, female singletons are the driving force behind a new publishing phenomenon
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The Independent Online

You will still find the dense tomes on Indian history, the illustrated travel books and detailed cultural guides. But in bookshops across India, space on the shelves is increasingly being set aside for a newly discovered market: educated, middle-class young women who want to read books written by educated, middle-class young women. Chick-lit has arrived in India.

The Bridget-Jones-plus-a-sari phenomenon has been slowly building for the last couple of years. But publishers believe this year the trend was cemented by the publication of a novel that has already gone into four print runs and sold 10,000 copies - a considerable number in the English-language fiction market.

Almost Single, the debut by Advaita Kala, is set in a five star hotel and details the daily twists and turmoil of the life of the protagonist who works there, a young, independent woman making her way in a world still beset by traditional values. To Western readers long exposed to the delights of Bridget Jones' Diary or Sex in the City, such themes may seem seriously pass. But in India, a much more conservative society, it has a freshness that is luring new readers.

In cities such as Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, young women are living independent, professional lives and often deciding to delay getting married or have children in order to pursue their careers. Part of the grist of the new chick-lit novels focuses on the characters' efforts to balance their new independence with the traditional pressures of parents and societys values.

"It reflects the social change," said VK Karthika of HarperCollins India, which published Almost Single. "Some women are living lives different to those of their parents. But it has also encouraged the idea of a womans mother as her friend. You would never have talked to your mother about your boyfriend a few years ago. It has become more free and easy."

Next year will see the publication of another chick-lit book, based on a Sex in the City- style blog written anonymously - at least until two months ago - by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, a journalist. On her Compulsive Confessor blog, Ms Madhavan, whose book will be published by Penguin, notes of herself: "Okay, here goes: twenty-something, single, female, writer, with large groups of friends and who goes out for drinks pretty regularly. That's my life and that's what I write about. Okay? Okay."

Ms Kala, author of Almost Single, recognises that the vast majority of Indian women - rural, uneducated and impoverished - live lives that are utterly unlike the cosmopolitan adventures of which she writes. "I am keenly aware that my book represents a sliver of Indian society, but it is a growing sliver," she told one interviewer.

Indeed, other woman writers believe the niche is expanding. Namita Devidayal writes a Yummy Mummy column for the Mumbai Mirror, which details the highs and lows of juggling motherhood, a career and family pressure. One recent column listed the different types of friends women had, including "the Frenemy... someone whom you like, but who has the distinct habit of periodically stabbing you in the back with a sharp knife".

Ms Devidayal said that 10 or 20 years ago motherhood was seen simply as a domestic task. But the growing economy and consumer culture had seen women become increasingly aspirational. "Everyone wants to look good and be part of the global MTV party," she said. "The whole look and feel of everything has changed."

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