October/November 2012. Stay tuned.
I’ve only ever been to the Jaipur Literary Festival once. That was two years ago when my first book was just about to be launched. By some odd twist of fate the first retail copies of Dork went on sale at the little bookshop that runs at JLF each year. There was no larger purpose in scheduling it thus. I did not have a reading or signing or anything of that sort planned at JLF.
But I’d pestered the Penguin people for weeks and I suppose cracking open a box at Jaipur seemed ceremonial enough. The guys who ran the shop, the same guys who run the Full Circle outlet at Khan Market in New Delhi, promptly took a stack of fresh Dork copies and dumped them on the lowest rack of a bookshelf, next to Shoba De and Sidney Sheldon.
As the day progressed the stack receded farther and farther into the dark nether regions of the bookshelf while, in more prominent positions, books by Geoff Dyer and William Dalrymple literally vaporised by the stackfulls. Still I was most thrilled. Every few hours I’d pop in and check on status. And the Dork stack would cough and wheeze and splutter and shorten itself one comforting copy at a time.
Very quickly, however, I was engrossed in the festival itself. Sure, I spent hours agonising over what those early buyers thought of my book. Things were not helped by Samit Basu’s motivating quip one morning that he had started reading the book, but had fallen asleep after a few pages. (A terrible cameo awaits him in book three.)
Jitters apart, I was truly enjoying the festival. In many different ways.
Now when I went to Jaipur I had no idea who the organisers or founders of the event were. I knew Dalrymple was involved in some capacity. I had no idea what their ulterior motives were, what their political or ideological agenda were and whether they cared about other Indian languages. (I say ‘other’ because it is ludicrous to think English isn’t an Indian language.)
I also did not know what their criteria for inviting authors were. Was I jealous of some of the invitees? Of course. Did I want to be invited one day? Of course. I still do. The appreciation of your peers is highly valued in any profession, not least in a creative and particularly criticism-prone one like writing.
Also at no point was I thinking to myself “What does this festival achieve for the nation as a whole?”
When I was at Jaipur the only things playing on my mind were: Which are the good sessions? Which authors should I be listening to? As a young author coming to grips with this vocation, who should I talk to, what advice should I be asking for and what lessons did these fabulous writers have for me?
And my experience was absolutely fascinating. And very fulfilling. Lawrence Wright’s bag of tricks and tips for reporters I will never forget as long as my messenger bag includes an audio recorder. The session on travel writing was both amusing and informative.
A remarkable session on terrorism and the Middle East involving Wright and Steve Coll exposed me to nuance on a subject that is often analysed with staggering, stifling polarity. That session led me to buy and read several books.
I also met a few people at Jaipur who have remained friends and twitter-buddies since.
All in all, I had the time of my life.
I say all this because this year JLF has been the cynosure of attention for many reasons, most of them negative. There was that Rushdie imbroglio that overshadowed everything else. Then there were the readings of the Satanic Verses, the assassins, the quotable quotes, the outrage and, most distressing for me personally, the reams of punditry condemning the festival as pointless, irrelevant or a schmoozefest.
Most of that is perhaps true. But my point is: so what man?
Tell me this: what can possibly make a literary festival vital? At what point in a society’s evolution does a literary festival assume a position of critical importance? Which nation in the world can standup and say: “Look, we’ve solved all our critical problems. All our vital shortcomings have been alleviated. Now we start with our frivolous shortcomings. And top on that list is a thumping huge literary festival.”
I don’t think even one. Even Norway, with all that HDI and GDP, has to deal with insane gunmen and Indian parenting quirks.
In fact, when you think about it, literature and literary festivals are perhaps important precisely because they are not vital. They distance–some would even say elevate–us from the brutal and mundane that frustrate us in our daily lives. Why do you come home after work and see a rerun of Friends? Because you identify with the moral rectitude of Matt Le Blanc and Courtney Cox? Because you are 100% certain that the producers of the show don’t have some ulterior political motive in their scripts?
Who knows? More importantly, who cares?
Then why demand of literary festivals, organisers, participants or even audiences the morality, clarity of purpose, sanctity of intentions and social relevance that we demand of hardly anybody or anything else. And especially so of a privately organised literary event where the public is allowed to visit freely.
Can you spend the whole week schmoozing at Jaipur? Of course. Can you spend the whole week stalking celebrities or sucking up to the clique-ish publishing industry? Certainly. Can you spend the week in the midst of a few wonderful authors and artists enjoying discussions, debates and perspectives? Yes you can, even if the quality of sessions can be very uneven and often helmed by bizarre moderators. But hey, it is free and you can vote with your feet. Bad JLF this year? Don’t go next year.
Disagree with the mandates of the festival? Want to focus more on translated fiction, Marathi poetry or Malayalam travel writing? By all means organise your own festival. JLF does not have an exclusive national license on literary festivals.
If anything we need plenty more festivals all over the country. As any Chetan Bhagat event in a small town shows, there are readers everywhere in this country. And they love meeting and talking to authors. There are more languages, topics and issues than can be handled by a dozen large Indian festivals. But chances are that any such festival will be tinged by controversy. We are not a country famed for our ability to get along with each other. Or for our restraint when it comes to putting public figure on pedestals.
You are welcome to try to organise a literary festival that will condemn any kind of schmoozing, celebrity worship, low brow conversation, political partisanship, NRI fixations or ideological leanings. Feel free. But literary festivals can seldom be less polarising than literature itself.
However a lot of the analysis I see right now is saddening. It is akin to saying let us burn down cinema theatres because too many people watch crap movies.
No screens. No crap movies. No movies at all. Victory for good cinema?
p.s. No. I am not trying to get an invitation. Why would you think like that?
p.p.s. I am getting old.
Finally. After a delay of CWG proportions, I have just completed the first draft of Dork 2. It happened approximately 5 hours ago. For now I am calling it D2D1. The version you will see in ex-tree/Kindle/iPad/Xoom/modern-dance format will most probably be D2D3. Next the missus will scan the whole thing. Meanwhile I will clean out odds and ends like the author’s note, acknowledgements, and making character names and proper nouns consistent. The end result, D2D2, will then go to Penguin. Who will then send feedback. Which I will incorporate into D2D3. Which will go to press.
I know all this sounds terribly boring. But in reality it is spectacularly boring. But it must be done. Personally I am a believer in freestyle spelling. But many readers get very upset and send emails. Which I would like to avoid this time round. So more attention will be paid to grammar and niggling things like tense shifts. (D1 was full of horrendous tense shift things. Did you noticed it?)
D2 carries on a few months after D1 and takes place almost completely in London. This is not because I’ve been living here of late. It was always planned like that, with D3 happening back in India. But there is really very little London in it. (Unless lots of London will make you buy the book. In which case it is brimming with London.) But it was a pleasant coincidence to write of the same city you are typing in.
Our plan, ever since Penguin and I first discussed it in mid-2008, has been to tell Robin’s story in three books, with the ultimate aim being to make him CEO by Book 3. That plan is proceeding well. Otherwise significant changes have been made from my initial plan for the book. There was too much material in the CDs I found under the sink. So I had to cut and chop and shift things a bit. (Ahem.)
Anyway I won’t bore you with all those things right now. There is plenty of time for that. Also I need to leave some gossip for marketing no?
Instead let me share some data points that will, I hope, whet your appetite:
- D2D1 is currently 62770 words long. That will increase by another 2000 words by the time D2D3 is finished.
- That should translate to approximately 300 pages or so in print. But this is fully variable.
- Most of the book was written using Scrivener on a desktop and a laptop.
- A Dropbox account was used to sync the project between both machines.
- The whole things took around 5 months to write. But most of the writing happened in the last two weeks.
- Writing was usually done to background music by Earl Klugh, Fourplay, George Benson and this wonderful mix of Rainymood and The Fragrance of Dark Coffee. Anything with lyrics completely distracts me. So does anything that is too fast, too slow and too complicated. Smooth Jazz seems to be working of late.
- During the writing process I read the following: A history of the Popes, a biography of Paul Dirac, The Eye of the Red Tsar and, as I got closer to the deadline, Michael Palin’s Around The World in 80 Days. Reading humour books keep me cheerful. But I am paranoid about being too influenced by what I am reading. Palin’s travel non-fiction is most satisfying without leaking into Robin’s head. Now I am reading Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis.
- I write entirely in 14-point Georgia font. Have been doing so for 4 or 5 years now.
- In order to help me focus I removed a bunch of apps from my computers, and stayed off updating Twitter for two weeks. Whenever I wanted a break I played Stick Cricket on the iPhone.
- It will take at least 6 months from now till release date. Which means November-ish maybe? I hope so
- I am thinking of doing something online as a bonus track, if you will, for the book.
- The next project that is already beginning to ferment in the brain is a crime novel. (Yes, I know you are going to make Sreesanth-bowling jokes.) But no, seriously. A crime novel has been obsessing the mind for months. I have written just a little bit. Why not? You live only one life.
- Otherwise life carries on as usual. Mint, Cricinfo, Twitter and now a little Facebook.
- I intend to spend the next two weeks doing nothing but watch cricket, eat, cycle a little bit, read and blog/tweet/poke.
What else? Nothing much.
Enough about me. You tell me. What is up?
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.
If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook you’ve probably already received a link to the latest edition of the weekly Cubiclenama column I write for Mint.
But there is more value-add in this blog post. So don’t go.
When I first started writing the column, in December 2008, the idea was to poke a little fun at the workplace. Or, to paraphrase the column’s boilerplate, to look at the pleasures and perils of the workplace.
Since April the column has gone from being fortnightly to weekly, but my mandate hasn’t changed. I still need to file, every Thursday even though they really like it by Wednesday night, around 850 words of somewhat amusing prose.
Humour writing is exhausting. Especially so when my product, in this case Cubiclenama, appears on a page which has pretty high standards. For instance every Thursday the same space is occupied by the wonderful, curious and endlessly informed Salil Tripathi. How do you follow a top act like that?
The missus, whilst being a fanatical editor, quality checker and supporter of Dork and Cubiclenama, often says that I am too harsh on MBAs in general and management consultants in particular.
This, of course, is nonsense. And I have the PowerPoint slides to prove it.
But, to be honest, at least one veteran consultant has written to me about how much Dork has touched one of his/her raw nerves.
So imagine how much pain a spectacular new blog post on the the New Yorker’s website will inflict on them. Titled Christopher Nolan’s “Implementation”, blogger Gideon Lewis-Kraus mashes up management consulting and Inception to produce brilliance:
“If you fail,” says Watanabe, “you will stay in ‘limbo,’ which means spending the rest of your life developing dynamic solutions for leveraged market-driven global enterprise frameworks across downstream cross-platform industry. If you succeed, I will help you return to your former career as an independent boutique retailer of imported artisanal tapenade.”
Read the whole thing here: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/goingson/2010/07/christopher-nolan-implementation.html#ixzz0vXk3Ai46
Ayyo. Too much comedy.