Saturday, July 16, 2011

Life In A Metro: Cool Writer

The business of writing has changed – everyone wants to become a published author

The other day, a childhood friend of mine, who is now a senior uniformed officer, called me up. He began by making polite enquiries and went on to ask my opinion about the future of the DMK. Since he called at 10 in the morning, when catching up with old friends would be the last thing on the mind of an office-goer, I knew he would soon come to the point. Sure enough he did.

“By the way, do you have Ruskin Bond’s phone number?”

“Whose?” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.

“Arre yaar, apna Ruskin Bond! The writer!”

“But I don’t have his number!”

“Why not? You are also a writer, na? Don’t writers have other writers’ numbers?”

(In late 2009 I wrote a travel book; therefore the ‘writer’ tag.)

“But why do you want his number?” I asked him.

It turned out that his boss’ teenaged daughter had written some short stories, and the boss was keen that Ruskin Bond should take a look at them. When the boss brought up the subject during a meeting, my friend volunteered to get Mr. Bond’s number from a friend – that’s me. He obviously wanted to please his boss – nothing wrong with that – but he had clearly overestimated my status as a ‘writer.’

It is one thing to have written a solitary book – as countless people have – quite another to have earned a reputation as a writer.

After he hung up – I promised him I would try my best – it suddenly struck me that this was perhaps the fifth or sixth call I had got in a span of two months on behalf of aspiring writers. And in all cases, the aspiring writer in question happened to be a teenaged girl, and the caller a highly concerned parent.

One worried mother, who had been turned down by established publishing houses, confessed to me that the number of stories written by her daughter was not adequate enough to add up to the size of a book. But she had a solution for the shortcoming. “I can put in some of the poems she has written. She has written some beautiful poems. If we still fall short, I can put in some of my paintings. I have done some beautiful paintings,” she told me. “But how do I find a publisher?”

Had I known the answer, I would have been a rich man today, sitting with my laptop in a villa in Goa or Kasauli, after having sold half-a-dozen ideas (most of which would’ve come to me while I was shaving) to a publisher for a huge advance. But the business of getting published remains mysterious – no one quite knows what works for the publisher and what doesn’t.

Jack Kerouac’s On The Road failed to find a publisher for six years before it changed the way people wrote. James Joyce's Dubliners got rejected 22 times before it got published. The first two novels written by Graham Greene got rejected by each publisher he sent them to, and it was his third novel that officially became his first book. And without Greene’s helping hand, what would have happened to our own R.K. Narayan, despite all the lucid prose and eye for detail?

But publishing is one field that has never concerned the lay Indian, who is usually too bogged down by other demands of life to spare money for books. Even today not many would have heard of R.K. Narayan, leave alone Raja Rao and Mulk Raj Anand – they formed the triumvirate that pioneered Indian Writing in English. Writers like them lived in a small island, hoping to be connected to the mainland.

Shobhaa De changed the game. She not only got people interested in her books but also in the business of writing books: “If she can, why can’t we?” Subsequently, Arundhati Roy enlightened India about the existence of the Booker Prize (and the prize money it entailed). But it was Chetan Bhagat who brought about a revolution – he brought down writing from the pedestal of exclusivity and took it to the masses, and in the process stoked a million literary ambitions.

Today, the writer is no longer a faceless entity. The successful ones now get the attention that once only movie stars and cricketers did. It is, therefore, not surprising that parents are suddenly spotting the ‘writer’ in their children and frantically knocking at the doors of publishers. Ruskin Bond, alas, did not have that luxury: he had to struggle to find a publisher. That reminds me, does anyone have his number?

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, July 16, 2011.


Anonymous said...

chetan bhagat got rejected 11 times.his writing-ordinary and with no real literary talent.
this ordinariness connected him to the masses.His easy english helped him all the more.
but fastidious publishers are too literary.Rushdie and Roy's political slant can't provide Common man a bellyful of emotion or humor.They're no literary critics with specks perched on the nosetips,nodding sagely.
writers like chetan pen a potboiler,get nation's pulse,and dismiss the crits.they never win a booker,but rake in moolah.
decide what your book would be.

Sepiamniac said...

Hahahaha:) It reminds me of one incident that took place in Delhi, when I was working for a educational newspaper. A mother swaggered into the office holding her 9-year-old son by his arm. She promptly went to the editor and demanded that she wrote about him, as he had just written a book on hacking.
What surprised me was this kid could barely speak English and his mother insisted that her son had written the book of 500 pages.

Some tenacity people have, I tell you :)

Anonymous said...

Annonymous at 8.14! You rock. Although am no fan of rushdie or roy, rather an unknown addiga authored a better read, chetan also remains just that moolah raker. Thanks to his mass attack english. I guess am waiting for a writer like Bish to rock us all! Just do it.

Anonymous said...

oh.Bond's number:

Desi Babu said...

Well written Ghosh Babu! Very nice to read.

I really got a crack out of the part about getting Mr. Ruskin Bond's phone number? Even if he had it, I kept wondering what your friend's boss would do with it?

And, considering that Mr. Bond still uses a typewriter, I would be very surprised if he has a mobile phone. Somehow, to me, an old writer taking a solitary walk through the pines in Landour, does not seem to be the person, who would pick up his mobile phone and say "Hello! Yes, that's me. The name is Bond, Ruskin Bond."

No martinis here...shaken or stirred.

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

Desi Babu, thanks. Ruskin Bond does not use even a typewriter. He still writes longhand.

Anonymous said...

I am in love with desi babu now. Number please or the original picture? Anyone.

Value Education said...

Great ... Yes 10 in the morning they sound excatly the same as ur words picturise ...but some do even better...will have a few more plesantries before coming to the point !!!