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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Info Post
(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 7th August, 2010)

The horrific truth that there is a book in each of us struck me at a reading-and-launch in the city, whose audience didn’t comprise the celebrated breed of ‘voracious readers’ so much as the dreaded genum of ‘aspiring writers’.

Against her better judgment, the publisher decided to humour the organisers and join the author and moderator on the dais. When the floor was thrown open to questions, the first few went:

“Madam, do you read all the manuscripts you get?”

“Sir, what technique you are following to write book? Myself, writing humorous short stories.”

“Madam, how do you select the books, and how do you promote them?”

“Sir, do you think you are a better writer because you are published than someone who writes for joy and is unpublished?”

After ten roundabout questions, of which the only one pertaining to the book was asked by a gentleman who is notorious for his presence at free events, his unkempt looks, and his penchant to microanalyse off-the-cuff remarks, the author turned to the publisher and asked: “So, how does one go about getting published?”

She gaped at him, and he added, “I’m sure they all want to know.”

A sigh of “yes” fluttered through the room, and the publisher, after a panicked look at the hundred eager eyes boring into hers, said, hoarsely, “uh…when I read this book…what struck me was…one particular incident. Maybe you want to read out this part?”

Over tea-and-snacks after the book launch, the prospective authors mentally wrote their magnum opuses.

“See, in my seventy-two years of life, I have seen so much,” one gentleman said to me, “I am masticating…” – I confess the word left me shaken as I tried to recall what it meant, and succeeded, with some relief, in remembering that it has no sexual connotations – “…masticating over the idea of writing about the events in my life and some pearls of wisdom for the younger generation like yourself.”

“Excellent idea,” said a lady, whose grand chignon, artistic strand of flowers and fifty-paise-coin-sized bindi declared her principles stood at the confluence of socialite-ism and avant garde, “I myself am going to write about a woman who is trapped in a marriage…an arranged marriage, and she realises suddenly, after twenty years, that she is nothing more than a wife and mother. Who is she? She needs to know herself. She walks out of her home. Then she meets a younger man. Through him, she discovers new dimensions to love, sex and life.”

Leaving the old man to masticate his pearls of wisdom as his interlocutor dreamily related the rest of what she considered her hitherto-unheard-of plot, I wandered over to the coffee counter, wishing a stronger brew were available.

“I think fiction is overrated,” a blonde man in a dhoti was saying to the author, “in India, we should look at spirituality. Maybe backpack through the country and scribble down these little things, which carry so much meaning.”

Just then, rather symbolically, a familiar sound made everyone jump. A woman sheepishly exhibited a piece of her sari that had caught in her chair, anxious to prove the noise was not quite what they had thought.

“You understand Tamil, right?” an NRI whom I’d met twice before asked, as I stuffed my mouth with bread to stop laughing, “well, I’m thinking of writing a book on the folklore of Tamil Nadu. You think we could do a tour of these villages, and get a book out of it? You could translate the tales of the bards.”

“And what will you do?” I coughed.

“What do you mean?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.

The mystery of what happens to these writers and their books after they force a hapless publisher to yield to their demands was solved when I visited Om Book Shop in Delhi.

"Madam," a man sitting on a reading stool boomed, and brushed away my apologies for stamping on his foot, "I am the author of a self-help book which you will find useful. Here it is. I can autograph it for you if you want."


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