How to write an Indian Novel


Ah.. no, I don’t pretend to be about to write something that has even an iota of the brilliance of the RK Narayan essay of the same name, which got accepted by Punch for six guineas.

So I am appalled by the quality of fiction, more importantly Indian fiction that one gets to see in bookstores these days.

Actually, let’s go into a bit of a zoom-out…. I hate the newer bookstores of Bangalore. The ones that give you a basket to shop for books. (Blossoms, however, is excluded from the list…. but then it isn’t a ‘newer’ bookstore, is it) These places are stacked wall-to-wall with multiple copies of the same pulp-fic pop-lit trashy writing that I would maybe read but never in a million years buy.

Add to this mix nouveau riche folks who don’t have a discerning taste in reading, but buy books all the same from these bookstores, which don’t even have friendly proprietors to guide people around and give discerning recommendations on what to read… and what do you get?

Chetan Bhagat. Tushar Raheja. Arundathi Roy. And maybe Arvind Adiga, but I’ll refrain from passing judgements till I’ve read the book.

These are people who’ve probably read ONLY bad Indian writing, and said to themselves, “Heck, I can do better!”, and proceeded to write bestsellers which line the bookstores which young Indians read…. vicious circle there.

So when I read these book blurbs, I say to myself, “Heck, I can do better than that!”. Then realization dawns that I probably do not have the patience to write anything other than 1000-word blogposts about absolutely nothing. And fiction.. haha. I can’t spin yarns for nuts.

But hey, I can probably use some factory methods to write a novel? There are some time-tested rules on that. It all depends on what I want.

Two very obvious paths come to mind. The first one is the Chetan Bhagat way, which has been illustrated quite succinctly here. But then, I don’t want all that that comes with a Chetan Bhagat reputation, especially not fanmail like this, this and this. After reading these comments on Logik’s post on Mr. Bhagat, I began to sincerely, fervently hope those comments were from someone pulling a fast one on Logik, and not actual fan comments by fans who thought a scathing review of Mr. Bhagat was actually Mr. Bhagat’s blog!

So the other path would be to go the Arundathi Roy way.

I’ll first have to get a frickin’ crazy amount as an advance from Penguin or Rupa, or Bloomsbury if the Gods smile down on me. The publicity wave that follows that will be enough to keep me away from writing for months. In due course of the wave, there will be atleast one mediaperson who compares me with the other Tam-Brahm writergirl Kaavya Viswanathan. Of course, it’ll be hard to fit together her origins from Chennai, Glasgow, Timbuktu, and godaloneknowswhereelse with my Bangalore, Bangalore, Bangalore and Bangalore origins, but I’m sure ToI-Let paper will find some way to prove Kaavya’s Bangalore connection, or connect me to Glasgow and Harvard. After all, these people are the ones who researched Sabrina Setlur’s Bangalore origins!

And when I finally do get to writing the book, life is going to begin to be hell. Coz, most of these celebrated writers have had lives that are profoundly Left-leaning, at the crossroads of tradition, hated their origins, questioned everything around them…. unlike my right-of-center upbringing and conformist behaviour.

And my life has been a series of uninteresting events. I thank the stars above for my having all my loved ones intact, and for trauma being just another word in the dictionary, unlike many best-selling authors. But I’ve never witnessed history unfold, atleast I haven’t witnessed anything that has been proven yet to be an event that will be in history textooks. I went to a normal school that didn’t believe in building the character of its students by subjecting them to traumatic experiences, and pre-university was even more normal. NITK was a life-changing experience, but hardly anything happened there that is Booker-material… I didn’t lead a band of protestors to the Chief Warden’s door demanding for better food in the messes or anything. And I stayed put when riots broke out on the highway. I didn’t research ways to beat the Hayflick limit, I didn’t break into the Pakistani Arms database. Neither did I wrestle terrorists on the beach, nor did I meet the extremely poverty-stricken who made me hate myself for being born into the bourgeoise.

I might of course write a seemingly-humorous novel about very little, but sprinkled generously with Kannadiga and Tam-Brahm in-jokes, endless Bangalore reminisces, what it means to be a South Bangalorean… or put that all in a schoolgirl story, like my friend Poojitha Prasad did. But alas, I’ve been too hardened by life, and I’m pretty sure any such attempt on my part will reek of sermonizing on everything from following rules (or not) and feminism. Either ways, it won’t go further than my cousins in their early teens who are probably the only folks in their age group (my target audience) I know who’d choose to read a book in their spare time.

So, well, I’ll probably have to write a book that angers the Who’s Who of Bangalore. Bangalore, for the local flavor. And to ensure there’s a readymade audience of Bangaloreans and expat Bangaloreans who’d be roused by curiosity enough to read the book.

Ramachandra Guha, surely. And since all the Bongs think he’s one of them, I’m sure I’ll catch their eye too. There’s no point berating UR Ananthamurthy; everyone does, these days. It’ll be a heart-wrencher to bash Anil Kumble as he was a crush of mine once upon a time, but the deed will have to be done to raise some cricket-lover eyebrows. I might say a few things about Vishnuvardhan, but I’ll keep away from even mentioning Dr. Rajkumar lest the LeT and HuJI sleeper cells in Bangalore use that as an excuse to arrange some rioting.

Girish Karnad and Arjun Sajnani would probably get a dose, and maybe I should go on to assert that the plays at Ranga Shankara is the antithesis of all that that Shankar Nag stood for. Maybe I shouldn’t spare Mr. Garudachar of Garuda Mall fame… the amit_123 and isha_123 population of Bangalore might probably want to know more about their weekend hangout spots.

And to pay some tribute to my being in the software field, I’ll need to target Infy and Wipro and say they are really bleeding the city… now if that doesn’t raise hackles, I don’t know what else will. My community will possibly disown me, given the large number of folks who started their careers there…. brilliant, I’d be the enfant terrible of the Indian writing scene.

And I don’t think my publishers can ask for anything better.

The media would probably make me out to be some sort of a Killer Queen (yes, I still am a fan of Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon and Farokh Bulsara)…. my publishers would have to pay royalty (and I make bad puns, yes).

Guess it would start off as a pathbreaking novel that “breaks” the “myth” of the whole world being Bangalored. A relatively insignificant work. And then comes to the notice of the Booker committee… who possiby haven’t gotten over their Raj hangover and expect any work from India to be Macaulayan in its view of the country to be certified as good, in their opinion.

And maybe I should wear a black hat along with my red tussar saree (a la Ms. Roy in In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones) when I go to accept the award and tell the committee they have blood on their hands. And maybe I should also say my saree is red – red with the blood of the millions of nameless toilers who pick out silkworm cocoons from scalding hot water to spin silk… possibly get out all my frustrations about Silk Board, and the traffic jams around it.

And back on home turf, I should probably spend the rest of my life protesting anything even remotely connected to Bangalore – the dancing ban, the 11:30 deadline, launch of new radio stations, construction of a new flyover, a new software park getting constructed, Def Leppard calling off its concert, Aerosmith coming, U2 coming (which I’ll probably use as an excuse to catch the concert live for free), Metallica coming, Maiden thinking of coming again, Russel Peters, S. Ve Shekhar conducting his plays, Y.Gee Mahendran doing the same, and PSBB opening another chain of schools in the city…

And what’ll I do for a living? Well… my first book will possibly be a cash cow.

But then, I’d probably face the prospect of piracy eating into my earnings.

So, well, I’ll upload the book on a googlepage, for free download. And maybe I’ll gather enough to publicize a Download Day for my book…. calling it a celebration of freedom from copyrights and the like… and ask folks to download the book, pass the link on…. and maybe also get Al Gore to back me on making the world a greener place by promoting ebooks… just think of all the trees that would have had to be cut to fulfill the demand for my book!

And I’ll live the rest of my life off Ad-Sense earnings.

And maybe the satisfaction of controlling and shaping atleast a part of public opinion via free stuff, a la New Life’s free proselytization material…. I can’t do that with hard copies; I don’t have moneybags from Latin America funding me.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
This entry was posted in Attempts at Humour, Bangalore, Controversies, politics, Reading, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to How to write an Indian Novel

  1. karthik says:

    Brilliantly incursive! I’m assuming it was written in an SoC.

    A few queries, though:

    “but sprinkled generously with Kannadiga and Tam-Brahm in-jokes, endless Bangalore reminisces, what it means to be a South Bangalorean…”
    Is being a South Bangalorean different enough from being just a Bangalorean to merit explicit mention?

    Also, what stereotype is amit_123 supposed to be? I’m curious, seeing as it has its own tag now. (You might want to take a look at ‘prostelytize’.)

  2. wanderlust says:

    SoC? Summer of Code?
    I’m sorry, but I’m not too good with TLAs
    >>Is being a South Bangalorean different enough from being just a Bangalorean to merit explicit mention?
    Well, Basavanagudi, Jayanagar and suththa-muththa always felt so different from Malleshwaram and Indiranagar. So.Ba. schools were also sort of networked… any news would always, always find its way from Oxford to Paul’s to Kumarans to Mirambika to Aurobindo. Venky Tuitions, Gopu Tuitions, 4th block, Gandhi Bazaar, DVG Road… other areas seem like a whole different world.
    As for amit_123, you might want to consult this glossary: http://krishashok.wordpress.com/glossary/
    isha_123 is the female counterpart of amit_123. introduced by me and friends from NITK.

    and im sure you can forgive the occasional typo I commit, when my fingers are flying over the keyboard.

  3. karthik says:

    Stream of Consciousness writing
    Sorry about the oversight. I don’t usually get acronyms either, even in context.

    South Bangalore: Small world network, eh?

    (And the typo only stood out because of the jerk it caused in an otherwise very smooth read. Will refrain.)

  4. Logik says:

    Roy, Adiga et al, portray their hatred for the establishment, the populist government, the conventional mainstream thought etc, and have hence found themselves in the good books of the elite. I am not against roy or adiga’s booker/literary achievements.
    Its just that Roy has become a default supporter of so many causes ( some even considered anti-national, which wins lots of secularish points ) now,
    that I feel she has trivialized her purpose in the Indian society.
    ( She’ll probably figure in the ads if you search for Indian human rights activists )
    Here is a lady, who in the name of freedom of speech, said something like, “Terrorism is the privatization of war”, and that ” Fundamentalists are breaking the monopoly of terrorism that existed with the State, in the form of war”.
    It was cold satire, agreed. But in it,also lurked a justification for the heinous activities. Which, in the hands of a fundamentalist, or a Congressman, can become a vicious quote to make them feel adequate about their policies.

  5. wanderlust says:

    @karthik:
    link not working. anyway, I wiki’d it, and actually… a lot of my posts would come under that. most blogposts would, i suppose.
    and south bangalore seems to illustrate six degrees of separation, yes.
    @logik:
    i just wish her style had more substance in it. it’s becoming increasingly harder/downright impossible to give any weight to anything she says. even bashing her is clichéd these days.
    all those secessionist statements made so nonchalantly just reiterate that she doesn’t think before she speaks. who would want to take her opinions seriously? apart from, of course, people still drunk on God of Small Things.

  6. Karthik Ram says:

    if u weren’t so serious, it could have been funny

  7. wanderlust says:

    karthik ram,
    you said it! i was trying to figure out what didn’t quite feel right with this piece… you placed your finger right on it.

  8. the Monk says:

    Hehe, excellent post, although I don’t agree with you entirely on Arundhati Roy. For all her bluster, I think she did ok with The God of Small Things (and Big Advances). I’ve told you this before, I think: I’ve lived in Kerala, and much of what she’s written about the people and the culture thereof rings true with me. She does rant and poke her nose into things she doesn’t know much about way too often, though.

    Once again, good one, and I think your being serious was what actually did make it funny.

  9. wanderlust says:

    roy may be authentic, but her prose gets to me. she strikes me as a depth-free crone.

  10. dushy says:

    South Bangalore doesn’t see as high a degree of seperation as North Bangalore.

    Is that Garudachar of the Garuda Mall fame true or was it just another nameforsake thing?

    And Vikram Seth is really good.I have actually read the Opel Mehta by that Kaavya female.Not bad.

  11. wanderlust says:

    Yes…Uday Garudachar is the MD of Garuda Mall. There really exists a person of that name.
    Vikram Seth… I liked his An Equal Music, and the few poems of his I’ve read – The Eagle and the Beetle, and The Frog and the Nightingale.
    I should probably buy Golden Gate sometime soon… it’s verse from cover to cover! Including acknowledgements, preface, dedications, everything!
    Standalone, Opal Mehta seems good. But if you’ve read all the books she’s plagiarized from, you’ll see that her work is total plagiarism and little else. She could have added so much more value. And if you read chick-lit from Meg Cabot or Lauren Weisberger or even Sweet Valley and Shopaholic, Kaavya seems like their poverty-stricken cousin.

  12. harish says:

    Brilliant post! Simply brilliant.
    I liked it maybe because, I too had a right-of-centre upbringing(and hence can be labeled ‘communal’), I too don’t consider Narayan Murthy as the saviour of Bangalore(and hence can be labeled anti-modern, anti-development or even anti-India), I too have immense disgust towards pretentious people like Ramachandra Guha.

  13. Capital, capital! Excellent post!

  14. wanderlust says:

    @harish:
    ola fellow-fascist, seig heil.
    @empress:
    thankyou!

  15. wow! an art to write about nothing! this is better than my context contrast! let me know i am waiting to call you funda metal ist when you upload your would be novel! 🙂 Good one.

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