Sunil K Poolani
Fame comes in multifarious ways: business, showbiz, philanthropy, politics, activism, crime, notoriety… you name it. With most ways, money eventually follows and you buy space to remain in the limelight. But is that enough? Not so, if some current trends are anything to go by.
An interesting and rewarding avenue has now been thrown open to failed authors and hacks in the till-now serpentine and serendipitous corridors of chaos and confusion — over how to make big bucks speedily. Many nouveau riche heroes of recent success stories want to immortalise their lives, good or bad, in book format. But there is a snag. How do you do it if you can’t write a line in English to save your life? Get a ghost writer.
There have been ghost writers in the last decades (mainly assigned by corporate houses; sorry, no names), but it was only in the last five-to-ten years that the aspirant ‘writers’ wanted to pen ‘their’ works using outside help. There are three types of ‘writers’ here, though.
One, biographies, written by somebody who possesses some kind of knowledge about the subject’s life and the work s/he is related to. Two, as-told-to pieces, where the real writer only has to have a perfunctory understanding of what s/he is writing about (so the credit goes something like this: ‘George W Bush with Jack the Ripper’). And three, where the writer is the ghost writer of the purest form (no one would ever come to know that who really wrote the book as there is an agreement signed between the subject and the real author).
Last heard in Mumbai: a failed actor and a realty tycoon have planned to write “their own” autobiographies. And, voila, a bahu of a big business empire, too, is writing a novel, and has paid a ghost writer a great deal of money to do the honours.
So, cheer up. The grass is greener here, you failed writers.
They may be second-hand, but definitely not second-best. We’re talking books here. Mumbai’s obsession with old and rare books is now at its peak. I have come across the most amazing collection of books on Mumbai’s pavements, and the prices are unbelievably reasonable. For instance, I’ve managed to lay my hands on the first prints of H G Wells’ works, which I don’t think I could find anywhere else in the world. Here I found not only reprints, but also first editions, for just Rs 125 each. It’s amazing.
The demand for second-hand and rare books went up by around 50 per cent in the last one decade. Sample some of the gems that have changed hands, courtesy the intelligent raddiwalas: 1) Complete bound issues of National Geographic and Playboy magazines from the date of their inception — Rs 50 for a 12-volume set; 2) the first prints of James Joyce’s unabridged and uncensored Ulysses — Rs 50 each; 3) an early 19th century biography of Chhatrapati Shivaji by an unknown Marathi author — Rs 200; 4) an original copy of Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch — a mere Rs 5.
Incredibly cheap, one would say, but these books find their way into the international markets, including major auction houses in London, the city of book-lovers, where sometimes a single title could fetch the occasional buyer-seller a fortune. And the books that find their way outside are not just rare books published in India (in languages as varied as Pali, Sanskrit, Mythili and Chentamil), but books published from practically every nook and cranny of the world.
The roads in and around Flora Fountain are the biggest delight of second-hand book buffs — though the sellers were banned from hawking a couple of years ago, they have just come back, mercy. In a stretch of about two kilometres — on which educated, Shakespeare-quoting street vendors have hawked books for the past 20-30 years — around 200,000 books are up for grabs. Every day. About 80 per cent of them are used books. All types are available here: fiction, non-fiction, technical, non-technical, you name it, you grab it.
Now, it is not just individual collectors who are throwing their hat into the ring. Big corporate houses and hotels are also stacking up old and rare books — of course, in good condition, and preferably gold-rimmed — in their showcases. The money at stake here is definitely higher.
Predictably, several of these collectors’ items are found in bad condition — due, in the main, to poor handling (even in bookstores) and weather conditions — so, they require professional retouching, which itself is a business on the rise, but that is another story, and will save for another day.
— Deccan Chronicle / The Asian Age