Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to earn writing a bad name. Almost single-handedly.

"Every book is a failure." (George Orwell)

"Even bad books are books, and therefore sacred." (Gunther Grass, The Tin Drum)

"A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public with his pants down." (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

"There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts." (Charles Dickens)

This piece – a case study of sorts I guess – is about an intrepid person. She started her working life as an advertising model and soon graduated to writing copy in her mentor’s ad agency. Not much later, he launched the bitchiest Hindi cinema-related magazine with our heroine at the helm as the editor. There she acquired the skills and insight and sharpened her claws. All this would help her become the No.1 Page 3 journalist later on. In the meantime, she survived a bad marriage and saved herself in time from getting hitched to a not-so-well-placed firang. Then came the biggest coup of her life. She married a highly successful and affluent businessman who would always keep her in the style to which she had become accustomed. Her career as a journalist too thrived. The only thing lacking was that, along the way, she never learned to write well. But she made up for it by her formula of “stealth and secrecy” and “dirty” writing. Then David Davidar, a Penguin India publisher, happened to her. This story about him, likely apocryphal, sums up what he thinks of her. Once, it seems, he heard the staff there guffawing her manuscript. Cease and desist, he admonished, her books pay your salaries. http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20080512&fname=Booksa&sid=1. Short of opening a Division called Pornguin India just for her, Penguin India rightly treats her as the only star they have in their stables judging solely by the sales of her sloppily written but racy novels and assorted non-fiction. After writing several novels laced with a surfeit of sex most of the titles of which start with the letter S, she decided to turn respectable and got down to writing a book of letters to her children, a marriage manual, an autobiography and so on until finally David “inspired” her to write about resurgent India, the way she tells it. That’s when I suspect the trouble started. Noticing suddenly that she was about the same age as India, she may have got a bad case of what is commonly known as delusions of grandeur. Else, can you imagine a shrewd operator like her going into the wildly narcissistic “Mein Hoon 60+ Mother India, yaney ki asli Bharatmata in a frilly pink taffeta dress” mode? And, insouciantly spouting stuff like “I am India”? And, then, after a bad review from a top-of-the-line national Indian magazine, going into a ballistic frenzy with: “The particular review … is a personal attack on me. The person who wrote it is a wife-beater; a freeloader; a frustrated has-been and a menace to society. There are other ratings that have already put the book on the best-seller list. So do I really care about that interview (sic!)”? http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/May112008/books2008051067312.asp. By the way, at http://shopping.sify.com/shopping/book_detail.php?prodid=15650603&cid=2, her India book is categorised as “Fiction”. It’s not a figment of my imagination. Check it out. But say what you may, our intrepid heroine’s books including this one seem to sell well against all odds – bad reviews, for one – like Bollywood movies. The reason for it, according to Prof Makarand Paranjape of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), http://makarand.com/acad/CulturalWorld-SystemandIndianEnglishLiterature.htm is that “if you can't write well at all”, make people want to “own” you. “The book is the next best thing; in any case, it is a symbol of her. She markets herself, not her writing." That probably explains why she is on the cover of Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable (please read the Charles Dickens quote at the beginning). And, if the critics are to be believed, that is the best part of the new book. But please don’t forget that, notwithstanding her detractors, her Socialite Evenings, Starry Nights, Sultry Days and Second Thoughts are “course material in the University of London. Her work features extensively in Comparative Literature courses at Universities abroad and within India.” http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/29/asia/india-panel.php. Does all this remind you a bit of The Perils of Pauline?