Sidney Sheldon died earlier this week after a well lived life of 90 years. I am not an expert on his literary works nor his life but I can say that his work had an endearing influence in the early-life of most English-speaking Indians of my generation. And that almost-life-changing contribution is the introduction to pulp-fiction and American Pop Culture.
Along with Harold Robbins, he was the author reading whose books marked an Indian teenager’s entry into adulthood. These were books that your elder siblings would keep from you for their adult content. But really, even besides the erotic graphic mentions of “facts of life”, these pulp fiction works were also a teenager’s first introductions to real human emotions – love, hate, envy, greed, anger, revenge and ofcourse, lust. His work provided a sudden and a pleasurable evolution from Hardy Boys’ and Nancy Drew’s sterile world, where crime and violence did exist but not real men, and never real (or pleasantly unreal) women.
Sidney (and Harold) also offered a peep into (what-seemed-then) the Real America of the upper class. We do know better now, but in those days of only Doordarshan and an occasional Oscar-winning movie, the perspective offered by his novels into the American way of life was like an authoritative documentary to the multitude of information starved, pre-internet, pre-Discovery teenagers. The depth of this insight resounded with me recently when a friend on a call from India spoke knowledgably about the different American Time Zones since he had read about them in a Sheldon novel, years ago.
I don’t know if, in the years to come, Sidney will be as widely read in India as more teenagers spend their time on Xboxes and Youtube ; and they surely don’t need him to graduate into adulthood from whatever they read-and-do in pre-teens these days. What we do surely know that for many of us, he will remain the first and foremost name in pulp fiction. Also, our view of the American life would always be tethered or compared against the wonderful picture of freedom, civil liberties, entrepreneurship, greed and lust that Sidney painted.
(As an aside, though on a similar note, I do think that Harold Robbins is perhaps the best recorder of popular history of the Great Depression and the resurgence of capitalism that followed.)