Google Trends is a nifty and ergonomic tool, that offers graphical plotting of search data categorically. It enables various insights in response to search queries, filters, and comparators, as customized and set by the user. The dataset can be viewed by region and time, making it a valuable sociological analytical device.
I used the data analytics of Google Trends to gauge the average interest of Indians in various Reading and Literary pursuit-related search terms, using other forms of entertainment as controls to compare against. The data availability was 2004 onwards. The search trends were graphically compared.
The plots for the keywords related to poetry are presented afore. Note that “Poetry” is the exact keyword, genuine literary enthusiasts mostly search for, otherwise either searching a poem by its title or as “poems of <someone>”. It is rational and grammatically correct to search for someone’s poetry or someone’s poems than someone’s poem. The apparent marginal rise in searches for “poem”, might very well be the uninitiated desperately googling up a poem to last-minute embellish their speech or homework. Because searching “Poem”, a singular general descriptor does not make sense unless the title is used, it is safe to assume that the user is either ill-conversed with elementary grammar or is simply careless or lazy. The poem as a search term is usually allusive of an artificial, urgent, idiosyncratic or compulsive use. Of course, this is no generalization, but it serves as a useful, rational guideline. One can check this by checking the ‘Related Queries’ section of the trend for the search term poem, which strongly indicates that most such rising searches are for “bachchon ki poem” (Poem for Kids), and not the literary equivalent.
When the keywords “Poem”, “Story”, “Book”, “Song” and “Film” respectively, were pitted against one another, the comparison yielded a flattening that is characteristic of out-of-scale multiplots – The search term ‘Song’ overwhelmed other terms, with Film being the only one that could make a little prominence and clarify its nature.
Because no other term except perhaps Film could make its nature apparent and its presence felt, another graph was plotted, excluding the term Song.
Note how Poem, Story and Book exhibit a fair constancy or marginal decline, while the search term Film undergoes a sharp, consistent rise up to 2016, particularly steep in 2015 and early 2016.
After excluding Film from the previous plot, the graph underwent a scale readjustment, where the perturbations and graininess became more resolved and apparent. However, the irony lies in the fact that excluding Film from this plot didn’t curb its (implicit) influence.
Notice the golden spike in the plot for Book, around 2016? The zenith of the popularity of the word “Book” is actually caused by the anticipated release of teasers, trailers, and the movie The Jungle Book, as clearly corroborated by the exact coincidence.
This becomes more apparent in the ‘Past 5 years’ plot, where we observe 2 spikes – one smaller and the other significantly more pronounced in proximity. This owes to the fact that the flick was initially scheduled to release on October 2015, before being reset to Mid-2016.
The 2016 announcements of Reliance’s Jio telecom service and the Freedom 251 hype bubble also contributed to enhanced results from people querying to “book” the products. The major spike in Story is likely attributable to the announcement of MS Dhoni’s biopic entitled “MS Dhoni: The Untold Story”. Some of the minor spikes in the searches for Story correspond to the theatrical trailer and movie releases of various installments of the Indian erotic-thriller film series “Hate Story”.
For comparison, here are the plots for two other Asian nations: Israel and Iran respectively. Note the clear lack of mutual disparity between the 5 search terms.
The plots are fairly self-explanatory. Notice, how former Andhra Pradesh is the only state with Book as the dominant search term, while when Film is thrown into the fray, the search term Song is unanimously popular.
Note how the rather specific search term ‘Serial’ is able to overpower ‘Book’ in 3 states of India.
For a conclusive analysis, I input some very popular authors and works in Indian languages, that are widely-read, extensively translated and frequently quoted.
Thirukurral is classic Tamil text comprised by 1330 couplets, one of the oldest completely-existent works in the language. Note how the decline doesn’t simply pertain to the salient loss of interest in an archaic text but is consistent over a short term.
In terms of size, instructive nature and datedness Thirukurral can be considered the Indian equivalent of the Classic of Filial Piety Analects of Confucius or more liberally, Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics.
Panchtantra is an anthology of short tales and fables, that preach a moral each. It is the Indian counterpart to Aesop’s Fables or the Arabian Nights.
The Nobel Laureate Tagore is one of the most celebrated figures of modern India, was crucial to the patriotic movement, and single-handedly revolutionized Bengali literary traditions.
It would hardly be an overstatement to call Premchand the most popular writer in Hindi.
Mirzā Ghālib was a shayar, an Urdu poet with a characteristic style of poetry, of such finesse, esteem, and repute, that his surname became a metonymy for a romantic poet in general.
Spare the occasional spurt in late December 2017 (responsible for the towering spike), owing to a Google Doodle issue dedicated to him on his 220th birthday, interest in one of India’s greatest poets is plummeting, to say the least. Look how quickly the interest waned, a transient affair, in the vicinity of the doodle’s release.
It is a worrying sign that Indian youth is losing interest in literature and reading, and that the change is happening at such a short order of time.
It can be safe to assume that the blame largely falls on the digital revolution which has ushered in low attention spans, and screen confinements. Rhythms of life have changed such that they can no longer sustain activities like reading and interpretation.
The drastic change also might partly owe to the fact that cut-throat competition and job hustle and desperation have steeply grown, and correspond to rising corporate inclination and materialistic-orientation.
Research has shown reading to be instrumental in the development of critical cognitive functions, as well as sharpening of intellect, aptitude, and both fluid and crystalline intelligence, at any stage of life. Partaking in literary and artistic pursuits is also shown to decrease the likelihood and delay the onset of psychosocial and senile memory-related disorders and ailments.
India has performed consistently poorly in various measures of international benchmarking and indexing of educational quality and competency, and the education system has been criticized for disabling creativity with performance and job-landing pressure while stressing rote learning. Peer-pressure, crippling parental expectation, toxic competition, and social stigma still plague the vast majority of Indian education-pursuers.