Sunday, July 06, 2008

Cry, Beloved Books

By Sunil K Poolani

Go to the roots

While releasing some of my recent titles and trying to convince the distributors to take up the copies for putting them up on the bookshelves, they told me bluntly: “Pal, we wanted to tell you this earlier; since you are an old friend we did not want to disappoint you, then. But, now, to tell you the truth, the kind of books you publish, well, there are not many takers, thank you. Why do you publish fiction? And poetry! You should be out of your mind to do that in today’s climate.”

And what should I publish? Pat came the reply: dictionaries, ‘how to learn alphabets’, colouring books for kids, cookery books, or if you I am rich enough, publish coffee table books by celebrity cooks, tinsel stars, businessmen…

I was about the rest the case and disappear into thin air, but they reassured me: “Ok, fiction is fine if there is sex, stunt or drama in it. Something scintillating, you know. Can you do that?”

I am still thinking.

End of hype and hoopla?

The market feedback tells me that the much-hyped books by Shobhaa De and Chetan Bhagat are not doing well as the publishers thought they would be. Of course, they are bestsellers by any standards in this dog-eat-dog world of publishing, but it seems their respective publishers overestimated their brand value. The result? Unsold copies in the repository.

I don’t know how true these findings are, but the feeling I get from readers — which include laymen who pretend to be reading — that they too are fed up of ploughing through these exercises in vague. Does that mean the mindset of the ‘thinking’ and ‘reading’ Indian readers in English is changing? For good? Time will tell. But, at least for now, the publishers are not complaining, as they are laughing all the way to their respective banks. Ditto, the ever-green ‘people’s’ authors.

Rise of regionalism

Reports from the real connoisseurs of good literature and writing suggest that if the English-reading pretentious clienteles’ range and depth are receding, that is not the case with regional languages. Good works published in languages like Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali are on the rise. This, at a time when no one in a local train in Mumbai will risk reading a regional language newspaper. Why? Inferiority complex. What if they do not understand the difference between Becket and a bucket.

Indian fiction soaring

Just savoured a good book by an unassuming Indian writer: Saikat Majumdar’s Silverfish. The title of the book could not have been more apt. Like silverfish that nibbles away precious printed words, leaving a whitish trail, Calcutta, the city of neither joy nor love, gnaws the already-pathetic and morose lives of two protagonists, separated by two centuries.

Silverfish is melancholic testimony of a debauched land (in this case Bengal) inundated and infested not just by age-old religious stupidities (as in a parallel plot that vivifies the life of Kamal) but also of a skewed polity in the name of a redundant ideology called communism (as in the other narrative in which the ‘hero’ is Milan Sen).

Give it a try; you will never get disappointed.


The damage management books have done to today’s yuppies is showing. An acquaintance-marketing executive told me recently: “As C K Prahalad said, what we need is a paradigm shift.” I am sure Prahalad would not have said something stupid like this. But I am still wondering what that sentence means. If you have an idea please enlighten me.

— Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Sunil

Charmayne and David DSouza have been telling me to get in touch with you. Finally what prompted me to write is your funny crack about 'paradigm shift' in the Asian Age column.
If i had Re 1 for every time that I have heard that phrase, I would be rather wealthy.

I'm a writer and book editor. Penguin has just published my novel, 3 Zakia Mansion. I'm still figuring out how the publishing world works, though I've been an editor on over a hundred books (non-fiction mainly). By 'how it works' I mean I sit here wondering how much a writer has to do after the publishing of her book - ranging from shameless self-promotion to snobby recluse stuff... Not figured what path to take. The solution is obvious: a paradigm shift is needed.
Have many people asked you this - why the name Frog Books?
bye now