Chetan Bhagat, Shoba De and Kosubat

As a writer who deals with words day in and day out and as a man who is constantly swirling in literary waters, you can very well imagine what would have caught my keen artistic eye at the Chennai Book fair this week: Yes, the kosubats, which were sold right near the entrance by an importunate salesman, made a fine impression on me.

Now, the evocatively-coined kosubat may be the tennis racquet-shaped contrived contrivance to conveniently flat-bat to death mosquitoes buzzing around.  But as an art aficionado I cannot overstate the importance of kosubat, as it can be used to perform handy literary tasks, like landing it bang on Shobha De’s head, which as any keen reader will tell you can be the most appropriate and responsible response to her latest book.

I can also understand the reactions in the family of the person who went home with the kosubat from the book fair. Man: Look what I have bought from the book exhibition?  Wife: Duh! Do you have to tell me? More stuff to cram the shelves and strew around the house.  Man: No, look at this (unveiling the kosubat). Wife: (Breaking into a broad smile): Oh! Good. Never knew that they sold practical and useful stuff at the book fair.

In a typical household, the compulsive book-buyer enjoys even less respect than the Prime Minister in the UPA coalition for a good reason.  The book-buyer, whether he or she reads the books or not, is forever carrying out the prime literary job of complaining about the fall in the reading habits among the ‘present’ generation.  They have been moaning on and on ever since the day the first book was published.

The other set to perennially crib on the reading habits of the ‘present’ generation is the anxious middle-age parents. My father, between swapping channels on the television, always took the time to responsibly bleat the fact that the youths of my generation never bothered to read much. My granddad too, I suppose, taking a breather from listening to MLV or MKT, must have drummed home a similar message. Now I, while waiting for the Youtube video to buffer, never forget to tell my daughter in no uncertain terms that her age-types don’t devote enough time for reading.  One day, my daughter, too, I hope, will carry forward this great family literary tradition of complaining.

Coming back to the book fair, but it was heartening to see droves and droves of the young set pore over the very many brilliant books on offer, and then generally ignoring them, settle for Chetan Bhagat.  Now, there may be many among you who feel what Chetan Bhagat writes is utter balderdash. But I wouldn’t use such an extreme word, especially since I don’t have a clue about what balderdash means.

Chetan Bhagat, and to a large extent Shobha De before him, have helped to develop a grand literary tradition whereby it’s now possible to involve absolute trash as part of the literary tradition. Now, if only we manage to carry forward this promising legacy, we can soon surely reach the exalted stage of slotting the telephone directory under the section: Masterpiece. ‘And this year’s Booker Prize goes to, no prizes for guessing, the BSNL’.

Anyway, the one type of book that was very popular in my days, but one that I don’t get to see much these days is: The James Hadley Chase series. Yes, those gritty, albeit pulpy, crime entertainers which understood the biggest artistic truth that the way to an impressionable youth’s mind is through the book cover that features women in assumed seductive poses.

But I am also happy to report that there seems to be one constant favourite among the youths across generations: Ayn Rand. There is only one rule with regard to Rand’s works: From age 16 to 21, you must think that she is the best writer ever, the one who has fathomed all the human sensibilities and beyond.  After 21, you begin to debunk her as a purveyor of pretentious chaff.  You can take these positions without even reading her once.  For instance, I have.

Again returning to the Chennai Book Fair, I cannot help focus on the books in my mother tongue, Tamil, which now seems to have a throbbing publishing scene with writers, after years of disparate acrimony, are now caught in united acrimony. The moment a writer comes up with an idea or theme, the rest of the writers, in a rare show of seamless unanimity, pounce on him or her and shred apart whatever has been written.  But even in such a vibrant, I mean vitiated atmosphere, somebody like Charu Nivedhitha stands out.  These days he has to just wake up and say ‘Good morning’, and an avalanche of controversy duly follows.  Yes, Charu Nivedhitha is the Dolly Bindra of Tamil writing.

For those wondering, how to identify a Tamil book from another language offering, well the simple rule of the thumb is to look at the font and avoid it and take a gander at the cover where you will unmistakably find the author’s mug, skewed at 45-degrees, gazing at the northwest corner of the ceiling. Tamil books without this statutory photo of the authors in statutory angle are not Tamil books.

The other major literary trend is to quickly make available all the stuff that is doing the rounds on the internet. Before you can say wikileaks and complete the download, a Tamil book is probably out on Assange.  This is a clever strategy, especially in a milieu where the complaint is that people are not reading any more, why wrack the brains to think anything new.  When I say this I know I may be sowing the seeds for another controversy. But mind you when it comes to fierce literary debates, I know where to get the biggest weapon in the arsenal.

A brand new kosubat, that is.