As some of you may know, thanks to that zonking huge cover in the right sidebar there, in January this year my debut novel was published by Penguin Books India. And--touch wood, kiss wood, dry hump wood--it has been doing respectably since then. A reprint has happened. Some good reviews have come. And overall we are reasonably pleased. Yes, there was the matter of the Booker shortlist. But I am over that now.
However this is not to say that life has been all milk and honey and single malts and paal payasam. Not at all. Writing a book itself is fraught with insecurities and doubts and fear of failure. Like any pursuit, I am sure, that is vulnerable to public criticism.
Yet I naively assumed that once the writing process was over, the book published, and the reviews dealt with, the emotional turmoil of it all would be over. I would be free of the book, and vice versa, and life would go on.
Ha ha ha. And I as I say this I am walking down a flight of stairs clapping my hands slowly in a sinister fashion.
Ha ha ha.
I was a fool.
I was entirely unprepared for the petty politics, mini passive aggressions and tiny stabbings in the back that, I now understand, all small-time authors have to deal with.
Writers of greater success and wider critical acclaim don't have to worry about such things. If you go and try being sly or clever with Rushdie, Naipaul or Seth, I am sure they'll tear you a new one. (And you could then auction this new one on ebay later for the celebrity premium.)
But small-time writerdom, the vast, soft underbelly of the publishing business, are not spared a single thing. There is no escaping the sly observations, snide remarks and judgmental subtext.
Dear god. The judgmental subtext. That is the worst shit. That play of words where it seems like condescension on the surface but, deep inside, is actually snobbish dismissal. When this happens at Khan Market, and it mostly happens at Khan Market, you want to reach for a shawarma knife and slap them across the face with it.
So if you are a budding author or an ambitious writer, you need to be prepared for the minefield of subtle insult that awaits. In order to help you I herewith list the top 10 passive aggressive things people have told me over the past few months. I hope this will assist in your literary pursuits.
Top 10 ways to be passive aggressive with small-time authors
1. "Hi Sidin. Congratulations. I read your book last week!" *Turns around and walks away*
Interpretation: "Ok listen, I saw your book at Bahri Sons and bought it. Ok so you wrote a book. What do you want me to do? Rip my clothes off and do it with you here in front of Cocoberry? Fat-free chance of that happening! I could have easily written a better book. Whatever. I am not even going to lie to you about it. But in the off-chance you become famous I will come back and leech on your fame and fortune. Till then you are pond-scum to me."
2. "Wow. Nice. Indian fiction is just so vibrant now no?"
Interpretation: "Bastard. You think you are Rohinton Mistry?? Fool. Stupid book. Just because people buy it doesn't mean you are some intellectual. Any shit gets published these days. When I say vibrant I mean it in the way that Padma Lakshmi eats Cockroach 65 in Taiwan and says 'Interesting'. In reality, she wants to throw up. So do I. If you win an award, I will slash my wrists."
3. "Reprint? Too much boss! A lot of alumni must have bought it..."
Interpretation: "You are worthless without your MBA. If it wasn't for that diploma from Ahmedabad you'd just be a bottom-feeding loser. And now you and your brotherhood of suit-wearing group-wankers perpetuate your greatness. You disgust me. If I had not graduated from the elite Chengalpet Institute of Tantric Dentistry, annual batch size: 23, my book too would have become super hit. Also can you tell my son how to deal with the Data Interpretation part of CAT?"
4. "Someone just told me about the reprint! Whatay! I've been seeing it bookshops everywhere. There are 15 copies at Oxford... super distribution..."
Interpretation: "Cut the crap dude. No one is buying your Dork. When you say reprint, you mean they are reprinting the stupid plot with a new one? Ha ha! Comedy! I am waiting for it to reach Big Bazaar. Unless you can give me a free copy..."
5. "DOOOD! Saw you on NDTV last night. Superb. That's the benefit of getting people like Penguin on board."
Interpretation: "Yeah right. Someone at NDTV just *noticed* your book. Pfft. Sure. And the Chengalpet Institute of Tantric Dentistry is a real college. Screw you man. It's all marketing and bribing and sexual favours. I know how all this works. Ok, I just came back from visiting an important client. I need to take a shower and disinfect myself."
6. Book journalists: "Arrey, hold on yaar. I haven't finished reading it yet. Just been really busy. But I like what I see so far."
Interpretation: "Ok see this is the problem: I don't want to say anything till some of the other reviewers say something. I like it and all. But what if Jai Arjun Singh says it sucks? Then I don't want to be seen as having an individual opinion of my own. Remember what happened few years ago when I said that one particular book was average, and then it won the Booker? Therefore I am now as insecure as the Gilgit-Baltistan region. So please wait."
7. "Really really liked it. Good work. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been. Penguin must have really run you up the wall with editing requests no?"
Interpretation: "Ha ha ha ha ha. You wrote this book on your own? Ha ha ha ha ha. You fraud."
8. "It was very interesting to see Dork on the bestseller list. Great. It is not my genre, to be honest, but I am really happy for you.
Interpretation: "Have you seen my collection of books? I read Proust man. Proust. And Kafka. Also Saul Bellow. And Paul Auster and Le Clezio. Do you even know what post-modern means? Plebeian asshole. Be gone! Oh, I am so sorry. Plebeian means commoner. A peasant. Just 300 pages, and you call this a book."
9. "Bought it weeks ago. I have to rush now. Let me email you what I think."
Interpretation: "Honestly speaking I think it is really nice. But admitting that in front of other people would ruin my high-literary positioning. I have a reputation here and also at the Habitat Center. Admitting to like Ulysses? Maybe. Dork? Poda patti."
10. "Oh you wrote that book? I got a free copy at that reading at Lodhi. My husband really likes it!"
Interpretation: "Look, my husband is a classless beer-drinking brute. I am the creative one in the family. I attend book readings and debates and do shit for the United Nations. He liked your stuff. But I really married him for his house on Amrita Sher Gill Marg.
Me? Read your nonsense? Dude... I once gave Aravind Adiga a bouquet of flowers in Jaipur. So shut it slave, and bring me some white wine and a cocktail samosa."
Ackowledgements: Cartoon from the NakedPastor. Thanks dude.