Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Reading Keep off the Grass

Yesterday, I walked to the Landmark to read a book. A particular book.
The author was a fellow-alumnus but that didn’t mean anything. Irritated by one his media gimmicks, I had attacked this author in this blog some time ago on the basis of just a blurb on the book and still felt guilty about it. Besides, the hyper-publicity the media machinery had built around the book and the decent reviews he got from most casual readers had done its work. I read a couple of interviews and the guy seemed decent and down-to-earth; he talked about soul-bending experiences and restlessness and being inspired by my favourite Indian writer.
So I went and read.

Why do you write a book about it when you’re not even serious about it? The two hours I spent bent over the book, while great works beckoned me all around, was like trying to listen to a man talking without thinking what he’s talking about. in both the act of prattling and this book, what is talked about is not important – but the – Look I’m talking – is.
I won’t even judge the book on its literary merits – like Chetan Bhagat the author is on the defensive even before you get to pick his book. I myself am a philistine as far as theory of literature goes, but I do believe good reading is not only about style, it’s about substance. It’s about honesty.
This book is a fundamentally dishonest effort.
The book starts with the protagonist, who’s just lived the Indian wet dream of having screwed a blonde and left her begging for more, launching into a path of self-discovery when she asks him when he plans to go back to India, Pak, Bangladesh or wherever he is from. And so the hero does: after a painful (for both the reader and the protagonist) conversation with a father who seems to be cut and pasted from Harold and Kumar.
The purpose of the blonde is to get screwed – there is nothing more about her other than a reference to her job and her liking for investment bankers – and the purpose of the father is to be a caricature of a first-generation immigrant Indian father. They are not deliberate caricatures of the Simpsonian/MAD irreverence and stereotype-questioning liberalist modes; they are caricatures because the author never really bothers to fill the colors to the desultory lines he’s sketched around them.
In my alma mater, the author meets a Kargil-ka-sipahi (nothing less my folks) and a cool dude (two pages follow describing the inherent genius of his IIT pedigree: a page and a half more than the pages that the author gives to any other character.)
Regarding the confused identity of the ABCD protagonist, it comes across as convincing as Shabbir Khan doing a Rafi.

There were two phrases that I caught straight from English August (I just completed another of my annual perusal of the work a month ago) – and the descriptions of the India the protagonist sees is heavily borrowed from the book too. This I am not averse to actually since EA is the sort of book that inspires a new vocabulary to define the Indian everyday experience. Only the effect most of the times was seeing an adaptation of your favourite movie scene in a Mukesh Bhatt directed/ Bharat Shah produced movie.
Sadly, there are a couple of places where the author does score. But it’s only because all of us do have some eloquent wisdom in us.
Not all of us are literary giants – not all of us are the Gabriel Garcias with fantastic tales to tell. I have read Shashi Tharoor a lot despite the fact that I think he’s not the foremost of the writers writing on India. But it’s his honesty of effort that makes me want to listen to him.

I questioned my judgement: as someone once told me, it might be just plain jealousy. I went back to Google – determined to find an echo to my own feelings about the book. Ultimately, I found a short review where the writer describes the effort in the words “As if the author was just writing to finish the book and wanted just see himself in print.“
I read about a book a couple of weeks. That means 25-30 books a year. In the 20 years ahead that probably remain with me, I will read another 500-600 books: such a woefully short number. Do writers like these understand the value of the space that they have squatted on and destroyed?
Two questions:
1. Why write a book when your heart is not even into it
2. Why publish this (this for the publishing house) desultory effort
I have a lot more to write on this theme which I will write shortly. I will go and finish the book in the evening today.


TradeExpress said...

itne gusse mein kyon rehte ho bhai?

but thats precisely why i love your blog. an indignation which lets loose spontaneous eloquence and wit. btw im a 1 book every three years person.

ramya sriram said...

i feel this way every time i read a bad book.. yeargh wat a waste of time..but i also marvel at the amt of time ppl wouldve had to write such bad books :P

english august has been on my to-read list for long..

Bland Spice said...


He he. What really pisses me off that these guys do not actually need to write the book -- they neither need the money nor is there any book in them screaming to get out.

@ramya actually the kind of book it is, you don't need a lot of time to write it. and please! read English August immediately.

Kholu said...

haha gullu i feel ur pain about the time wasted...tried breezing thru a book called "Joker in the Pack" felt like i was grading an essay written by a 5th grader...gave up i guess 20 pages into the book...but i think i can provide you answers to the 2 questions with my limited wisdom

1. Why ppl write these books - its a cultural thing where a person who becomes successful in a certain field is suddenly exalted to being a know all personality. Just take a look at the talk shows that Bark(h)a Dutta et all organize, i mean we have double digit IQ film personalities brain storming on complex issues like terrorism to education. Lalu's Harvard like managerial skills (which he did not have when he was wreaking Bihar) are another example. In a similar phenomena ppl from IIT's and IIM's, after going thru long periods of ego massages start considering themselves to be master story tellers. In this sycophantic network, where everyone is sucking up to everyone, people reach a state of delusion where they cannot differentiate between skills they possess and skills they "believe" they possess.

2. Publishers worry about the bottom and top line. There is market for these books, as you would know, they want to tap into it. The life at IIT's and IIM's are like the wet dreams of the people who don't get into these institutions.

Nothing Spectacular said...

20 years left??
thoda kam nahi hai yeh? 40-50 to rahoge!!