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Writing Table, Bandra, Mumbai – Anil Senior ON SELF HELP

Posted in the spring of 2019.

Why are the majority of urban Indian readers obsessed with self help books?

Yesterday I was at the Mumbai airport. I had to kill time so I wandered into its brightly lit book store. I saw rows of shelves crammed top to bottom with meta self help titles. There were the usual suspects : something (ghastly) called The Secret, everything by Paulo Coelho, passive-aggressive mentoring by a smiling Sadhguru. Okay, so this stuff sells. It appears to be the only thing that sells, because there was almost no (Indian) literary fiction, very little good (or at least decently written) genre fiction, and hardly any critical or insightful non-fiction. Or maybe there was, but it would have been likely obscured by the prominent display of The Secret, Paulo Coelho, rockstar Sadhguru. There was also, just like I’ve seen every time, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – this ironically aimed at the type of consumer who definitely, desperately craves to own a Ferrari or anything that comes close to it.

It’s sad. It’s weird. The older independent book shops and quirky pavement book stalls I once knew to be all across India have almost all shut down. By the looks of these newer chain ‘book stores’, less and less of the reading population – of any age, language or interest group – seems to be reading for pleasure, for the quality of prose, or for the trip to another world that good, sharp writing can take you on.

Reading (and not just at airports) has become primarily about personal aspiration and self help – also known as self medication, quick-fix therapy, tips on how to improve yourself and banal instructions for attaining ‘enlightenment’ and inner peace.

Contemporary collective self esteem must be at its all-time lowest. And for what it’s worth, self help books are nothing but the ultimate trips in self gaslighting.

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