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Chennai Book Fair

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After a visit to the Chennai Book Fair this week, I have to but come to the conclusion that there are no more readers. Most of them have become authors.

On the day I went, it was not writers outnumbered the lay visitors by a comfortable ratio of 2:1. At one stall — I am not making this up — there were five authors talking animatedly amongst themselves with not even a single book-buyer anywhere in sight. Of course, this might have been also due to the fact that the Tamil literary world is in such a state that when writers meet these days, it is advisable to have the phone number of riot police on quick dial.

But we will not discuss Tamil literary world today, as this is a family publication not used to liberal use of profanities. Instead, since everyone seem to be in a hurry to become an author, we will take up some of the dos and don’ts in book-writing.

Of course, you may ask what credibility I have to offer advice on something in which I have no experience so far. Good question. But none of you pose such a query when Union Minister Narayanaswamy is speaking on nuclear energy. So there.

So before you get down to the task of writing a book, you must acquaint yourself with these non-negotiable rules:

Never write for the sake of money: Ask the intellectuals, they will tell you that writing is an art, an evocative exercise, a creative pursuit, an inventive quest, a cerebral challenge of grappling with words and conveying ideas and emotions and creating for the reader a rich and rewarding world. And, as usual, the intellectuals are beating around the bush and not coming right out and telling you the simple truth, which is: There is no money to be had in writing books.

The last writer to actually make money was Leo Tolstoy and he had to sell his kidney for that. In general, if your motive is monetary, investment banking or outright robbery is the route to take. (Some times, it is difficult to tell them apart).

Language is key: We will take any two authors of best-selling novels in English in the world today and analyse their style. OK, the random names to come out of the lot are: Haruki Murakami and Orhan Pamuk.

Though their sensibility and approach to writing is vastly different, if you delve deeply you will find that the two are bound by one unique quality that has made them so attractive to the English readers across the world: They don’t write in English at all. On the other hand, original writers in English, again to take two random examples, Chetan Bhagat and Shoba De, are constantly mocked at and their books derided by even those who cannot read English at all.

Yes, you are right: The English literary world follows a similar rule to the one that the Tamil film industry does where the leading ladies cannot speak a sentence in Tamil to save their silicon implants. The last heroine to speak proper Tamil was K B Sundrambal.

So if I were you and hoping to make it big as an author of English books, my obvious effort would be to learn, say, Yiddish and write in it.

Be realistic: Whatever you write, fiction (expense accounts, for example) or non-fiction, never lose touch of reality.  Again we will deal with this with the well-known example of William Shakespeare did. What did he do? He wrote about kings, lovelorn knights and other mad caps without realising that one day that the world will move towards democracy. So today, outside of English literature classes, only a sum total of seven people read him. In the English literature class, it is far worse — nobody reads him. In general if you want to kill a writer’s career, make his works part of the academic stream.

Books are not for fame: Whom do you know more about, Kim Kardarshian or Sveriges Riksbank? Kim Kardashian’s CV will be too big even for a tweet. For, it would read: ‘I pose for photos’. In other words, she is a socialite, and her only achievement, as far as I can gather, is getting pregnant recently. Yet, she is all over our newspapers and news channels almost all the time. Now we will get to Sveriges Riksbank. Does it ring a bell? Nope? I will concede that it’s a tough one, Okay, I will give you a hint: Nobel Prize for Literature, 2012. Yes, you are right Sverigies Risksbank is indeed the financial institution that is associated with the Nobel Prize. As far as who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2102, you have to google and figure it out. Nobody outside of the family of whoever won that prize can recall his name today.

The larger and the pertinent point is if you are looking for fame, book-writing must not be your choice. You must pursue something else: Like trying to get Kim Kardarshian pregnant.

So, essentially, you choose to write a book because you have nothing better to do in life.

That, of course, means I have a good chance of ending up as a book author one day. In which case, you have a good chance of meeting me. Where?

At the Chennai Book Fair, of course.