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(From top) Swati Kaushal’s Piece of Cake captured the hearts of many young readers; Rupa Gulab with her debut novel Girl Alone; Advaita Kala’s Almost Single sold 15,000 copies in 10 months

Model Amanpreet Wahi says it keeps her going through the day. In between hectic shoots, she slips back into a corner and picks up her latest chick lit novel with its feisty female protagonist, who she identifies with completely.

“Chick lit books are rejuvenating and addictive and make you feel good about yourself because you can relate to the protagonist who goes through hardships, but in the end finds her Mr Right,” says Wahi. And she isn’t the only one who loves her racy chick lit. It’s becoming a hot favourite with young women who identify with the between-the-pages heroines in their pursuit of life and love.

“Indian publishing too is beginning to see stories built around feisty young Indian women and unmistakable Indian situations. This is set to be a growing trend and Indian chick lit is likely to become a big part of mass market publishing in India,” says Hemali Sodhi, general manager marketing and corporate communications, Penguin Books India.

What is chick lit? The genre obviously gets its name from the word ‘chick’ and ‘lit’ for literature. It’s usually a piece of writing for women. And it usually deals with issues related to love, relationships, family, matrimony, career, bitchy bosses and a struggle to strike a perfect balance between all of these — all from the woman’s point of view, of course. So a growing breed of Indian authors like Advaita Kala, Rupa Gulab, Anuja Chauhan and Rajashree have penned their own chick lit novels.

There are also authors like Swati Kaushal and Kavita Daswani who are settled abroad (in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, respectively) and have been able to capture the hearts of women readers with their books Piece of Cake and Salaam, Paris, respectively.

(From top) Rajashree’s Trust Me was an instant bestseller; Kavita Daswani’s Salaam, Paris is about an ambitious Indian woman trying to make it big in the Western fashion world; Anuja Chauhan’s first book The Zoya Factor will hit the stands this July

Most of the top Indian publishing houses have jumped into the chick lit game. HarperCollins, Penguin and Rupa & Co have chick lit writers in their fold and are looking for more. Says Kala: “Indian chick lit is an emerging genre, though classifying a book as a chick lit is a marketing decision.” By the end of this year, Rupa & Co is planning to launch three chick lit novels. Two will be by first time authors Ruma Bansal (One Afternoon) and Tishaa Khosla (tentatively titled Pink or Black).

A new star in the game is HarperCollins author Advaita Kala whose debut novel Almost Single has already sold 15,000 copies in 10 months and has gone in for a fifth reprint — a bestseller by Indian standards. It’s also being published in the US by Bantam Dell. Other novels are also moving well. Penguin’s Piece of Cake has sold 7,500 copies and about 3,500 copies of Girl Alone have moved off the shelves.

What makes chick lit work? Says Kala: “The stories take a lot from common female experience. What’s more, these stories migrate easily, which means the reader can connect with a woman living in any other part of the world,” says Kala.

Gulab reckons that apart from cultural issues, there’s not much of a difference in experiences around the world.

So what are the ingredients of a chick lit novel? Mumbai-based author of Girl Alone, Rupa Gulab says: “In a chick lit novel a woman is usually single, financially independent with a self-deprecating sense of humour looking for love (and whining and moaning in the process).”

Novelist and filmmaker Rajashree confesses undergoing a Bridget Jones like weight-loss phase and then concluding it was pointless. Interestingly enough, her book, Trust Me (published by Rupa), is based on the real life story of a friend who could not trust men after a heart-break but ultimately found her trustworthy Mr Right. Her book was an instant hit and sold over 50,000 copies.

Anuja Chauhan, whose first chick lit novel, The Zoya Factor (published by HarperCollins) will hit the stands this July, feels a chick lit book should be written in a funny vein while at the same time have a ‘confiding’ tone. While the underlying humour sets chick lit apart, the element of romance in the stories should be just that — romantic but not gross. “This may come with a certain amount of tampon-talk!” she adds.

Perhaps not surprisingly, compared to Western chick lit, Indian stories don’t have that much candid sexual detail. The authors reckon this is because of the cultural background. “I do think that there is a degree of self-censorship when an Indian author tries to write a modern tale. I know I’m certainly guilty of it. I could never include anything even moderately X-rated in one of my books, although I certainly appreciate the validity of those scenes in other books,” says Daswani whose book Salaam, Paris talks about an ambitious woman breaking free from her Indian heritage and embracing the fashion world of the West.

Says Sodhi: “With changing lifestyles and the creation of a new, young readership in India, there is a growing interest in stories built around smart young woman protagonists and their everyday adventures.” The flood continues and more authors are jumping on to the chick lit bandwagon. Among others, Penguin is bringing out Swati Kaushal’s next book A Girl Like Me and Marrying Anita by Anita Jain.

After her successful stint with Almost Single, Kala is now all set to pen another book for HarperCollins which is going to take off where the first book ended.

And if you thought that chick lit is the stuff for girls, perhaps not so. Says Kapish Mehra, publisher, Rupa & Co: “There are a number of men who are intrigued by chick lit. Some authors too are of the opinion that men should read chick lit because it’s a way to know what women think and want.”

Author Chauhan feels chick lit is for anybody who’s looking for a laugh and is a sucker for romance. Says Chauhan: “It’s for anybody who loved watching Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) and the Twenty20 World Cup win.” In other words, almost anyone.  

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