Saturday, August 30, 2008

Middle Sex Mannerisms

Sunil K Poolani

Can’t help it; howsoever one tries to do otherwise. Sorry. It might sound anti-feministic (whatever that means), but the truth is women are on the rise in publishing, writing and, what else, wearing the pant not just in the house but in the office, too.

Hate me (I can hear that ever-flaming protests). But, then, I am not against the ones who put their souls where their soles are in. I mean, who have done their respective and painstaking legwork and have done remarkable work; they are, nevertheless, dismissed for not being, ahem, chick.

Chick, one said? Understatement. Well, then comes, chick-lit. And there is no dearth of that nefarious clan; even this ever-cribbing publisher has published one or two of that ilk. But, one gets penitent, like a puppy that has swallowed her master’s socks.

Last things first. There has been this hype about a book called You Are There, by a twenty-something called Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, for almost a year, on several offline and online avenues. Then, hype sells. More, when there is PR. And this hype got delivered last week, in print. I held the book in my hands, saw the content and tried to read the style of writing and, what to say, I had to sympathise: for her naivety, for her lack of maturity. She has guts, nonetheless: she was quoted in an interview that she thinks she is a great writer.

She should be. Write well she does, in bits and pieces, but her debut book, which has no direction to claim one, reeks of self-confidence sans depth. It lacks of a trajectory her peers had left behind for her, including her supposed-heroine, Jane Austen. Austen took time to write; she is today dubbed a chick-lit litterateur by cultural tsarinas is another story. Austen had substance, and what Ms Madhavan lacks is class; but our chicks find publishers who are convinced there are suckers who would lap all these scoop up without even raising an eyebrow. Ahem.

Do not blame these young aspirants. A publisher puts his money where his, well, whatever is. What if it is bad sex writing (“flutter in panties”)? What amuses me is why do these same publishers give a step-motherly (see, I am not anti-feminist) treatment to their own authors who not just write well but do path-breaking literature, fiction or non-fiction. (I am talking as an ordinary reader; I too do the same mistake; kill me.)

Two recent books come to my mind. A Journey Interrupted by the spirited but unassuming Farzana Versey is the first. Versey struggles to keep her sanity in a land (Pakistan) that could have been hers, if her peers might have decided to settle when the subcontinent was divided by the Brits after they used and abused all what was worth of us. Her writing is dense at times, but the fluidity and versatility are amazing at times when she is at her compassionate best when Pakistanis tease of her ‘dual’ identity — I could have killed them if I were Versey.

The crime of Versey is that she lives a ‘double’ life. She is a pariah in Pakistan; “what are you doing in India?” She is a pariah in India, too; “what are you doing in India?” Needs guts — to have sanity. And to write good English. To explore the travesties of a manmade tamasha. And, in the end, bringing out an outstanding travelogue that just does not explore barren lands, but bruised minds.

The second is 3, Zakia Mansion by the talented Gouri Dange. Hers is a story about one Shaheen, who has to go through tumultuous tribulations. The style of the narrative is marvellous, the prose poignant, vivifying vividly the protagonist’s trials, oscillating between the past and the present. It is about desires and disappointments, the vicariousness and vicissitudes. Moving. Read it.

By the way, I read in a magazine the other day that women head most of the big publishing houses in India today. So, hello, women should not complain that they are under-represented. But which women are represented? The ones that have a life of a melting ice-cream, mind you. And not the ones who leave a sour taste in the mouth. But the latter make you realise what reality is, and they will stand the test of time.

I should not have brought this up, but, again, I could not resist this; pardon me. Just realised that Ms Madhavan is the daughter of N S Madhavan, one of the most phenomenal fiction writers who changed the course of Malayalam literature, and someone I admire till today.

Grow up, chicks, mature up, before mamas have to hatch their eggs again. Life is not short.


My experiments with distributors’ truth continue. The other day, one mercifully told me: “Instead of publishing all these books, why can’t you supply us with notebooks?” Notebooks? “Yes, with an attractive cover; and, yes, you can add one quotable quote in every page, since you wanted to be literary…”

I salute that soul.

-- The Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle


Anonymous said...

You can be pretty hard-hitting. Nevertheless thank you for separating wheat from chaff and suggesting some good reads.

priti aisola

d SINNER!!! said...

a good read...

I agree and I disagree...

Thanx for mentioning those books!

Anonymous said...

Your postscripts rock. Lucky you, getting to experience it all.
abha iyengar

Anonymous said...

Hi Sunil,
Saw your article in the Asian Age reviewing the chick lit genre. Couldn't agree with you more on the 'You are Here' book. Has Penguin lost it? I would've expected such an aberration from a lesser publishing house, but I guess we're all getting sucked into mediocre writing thanks to the paycheck.
-- Anjali Raghbeer (

Anonymous said...

Hi. After a while. I've been reading your column in AA on Sundays. A bit late because out here in the sticks AA is not a popular and easily available paper. Anyway the last column of yours dated 31 Aug interested me. It was a bit incoherent in the beginning especially when you were describing You Are Here. Were you by any chance mimicking the author's style? If so, well done. I haven't read it and now for sure I won't. I saw the book in the bookshops here (surprising in this village) but there's just too much trashy chicklit around. And why should women get special treatment in the lit world. Writing doesn't require physical strength, nor does publishing and editing though you never know for those last two. All the best
-- Nita Banerji (

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with what you have said in your column. Nowadays writing has become a fad like fashion and if you have written a book you become really talked about.And as you say it also works the other way where celebrities get published left right and centre just because of what they are. In a way this has become a big stumbling block for new writers who write for the love of writing. I am an advertising professional who after a fairly long stint as a copywriter have now taken to writing for children. I am also a teacher and have found that children simply adore the verse and stories that I write for them. But unfortunately whatever I have sent to a lot of publishers and I have deliberately veered away from mainline publishers and focused on niche publishers who I thought encourage new writers especially for children. But I have been deeply disappointed. Not just because My work has not been accepted but because there is such an apathy towards any new writer even if they are good. I was wondering if I could send across some of the verse that I have written to you that is if you do publish for children.
Hoping to hear from you at least
-- Lakshmi Shankar (