Category Archives: Writing

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The Hatred for Chetan Bhagat in India

I’ll admit I have hated Chetan Bhagat ever since he chose to become the voice of the generation.

I have lambasted him on my blog a number of times (back in the days when I would wake up in the morning, smoke a joint and shoot off blogs). I hated his annoying, all-knowing attitude, his IIT-IIM White-Lightning face, and his knack of reducing the complex problems of the nation into simplistic solutions reminiscent of Govinda-Kader Khan movies.

And yet, my hatred for him is his annoying public persona, his elevation to some sort of public intellectual on the basis of his novels. Over the years however, I have softened towards the man.

Primarily because in the years since, I have been a struggling author myself. Every year for the last three years, I do acid in the month of January and plan out the book for that year. I spend the next 11 months toiling and wrestling and struggling with that book. I then send it out to publishers in December and get rejected – year after year, every year.

So I get the pain. I don’t condone Chetan Bhagat’s public persona and opinions, but the utter hatred for the man has baffled me.

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I have noticed two distinct traits in how we Indians consume art.

1. Overdose: If something works, there are a hundred clones of that genre. Take for example all those authors who wrote books called ‘I had a love story’, ‘You had a love story’, ‘We all had a love story’, Modi had a love story’, ‘Can love happen  twice/thrice/746 times’.

We take a winning formula and churn it out till we are up to it in our necks. That is the

reason why Shah Rukh Khan still plays a lovelorn romantic hero. It is the reason why our singers spend their entire lifetime singing a particular kind of songs. It’s the reason that as a nation (with all our diversity and languages), the only kind of music we have is film music.

2. The phenomenon of ‘too massy’: If something becomes too popular (meaning it seeps past the urban minority and reaches out to Tier-II, III and rural areas), it is considered crass and distasteful. This happened to Govinda’s movies, Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma, and Reliance Jio.

In a nation that suffers from a crippling inequality of wealth, anything that is consumed by the masses is automatically assumed to be cheap and crass. The same happened to Chetan Bhagat and his books too. Till about 2008, he was being hailed as a game-changer, someone who finally spoke the language of the masses, about issues that a newer India could relate to. But as soon as he become a nation-wide phenomenon, he was deemed too ‘low-market’. 

Most people I meet actually don’t hate him for his opinions, but for his writing.

These are mostly urban, elite, youngsters who were brought up on Hemingway and Prost, and grew up to echo the opinions of everybody else around them. 

I don’t even know where to begin with this argument. Writing, like any other art form, is highly subjective. There’s no real saying about what’s good or bad. Some of the greatest literary epics – from Grapes of Wrath to Moby Dick to A Catcher in the Rye were panned by critics and readers.

This is even shocking in a nation like India where knowledge of English Literature is a direct reflection of the social capital that you enjoy. Your taste in books is ‘better’ because of your upbringing – your parents, school, the company you keep. It does not make you wiser, or more tasteful, it just makes you a privileged fucking snob who chooses to piss over other’s tastes

About 10% of India’s population speak English. Out of those, these people are about 5% – the ones with access to books and literature. And yet, the sheer snobbery when it comes to Bhagat and his books is appalling.

To mock the themes of his books, the idiotic stereotyping is one thing. But to say that the English/grammar in his book ‘sucks’ – I’m sorry – makes you an elite prick.

 

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Chetan Bhagat might not be a literary force de majeur, but he has encouraged millions of Indians to pick up a book and read for pleasure. Before Bhagat, a book by an Indian author cost above 350 rupees, and a small jar of Amrutanjan Pain Relief Balm.

As someone who mails publishing houses every year with a manuscript idea, I have a fair idea about the industry – a gigantic incestuous family that churns out shit year after year. This is hardly a new phenomenon and legendary Indian writers have had a problem with this hackneyed Indian publishing industry that is reeling from a 70 year colonial hangover. Manto had his own share of problems, as did RK Narayan – who self-published his books after years of frustration.

Indian publishing houses put the ‘prof’ in ‘unprofessional’. There are no prompt responses, no acknowledgment of acceptance. You are supposed to shoot in a mail and wait in the darkness for months at end. Try getting a phone number and pinging/calling (something that would be considered alright in any other industry) is looked down upon.

And in spite of all this attitude, the kind of books that are published are not worth wiping your shit with. And Chetan Bhagat cracked this market.

Hate him as much as you want, but young India is reading his books. They don’t give two shits about Vikram Seth and his unsuitable balls, or Arundhati Roy cribbing about the state, its mechanisations and the colour of aliens’ underwears.

First generation Indian English speakers are free of the colonial burden of Indian literature and are picking up Chetan Bhagat’s books. His works are accessible, relatable and palatable.

 

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Which is why I smiled when my Tinder date complained about Chetan Bhagat books. She went on about how she thought he was ‘disgusting’, and wished that Indians would read Neil Gaiman and Murakami instead. Sure thing, Little Princess. I quickly asked for the cheque and looked for the exit.

I assume she thought she was being remarkably different – a cut above the rest. While all she was, was an intellectual five point someone!

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Suggested Reading:

Forbes’ Article on Chetan Bhagat and his impact on Indian Literature 

 

My own blog where I discuss how Chetan Bhagat’s solutions are reminiscent of David Dhawan-Govinda movies.

New York Times article titled ‘How English Ruined Indian Literature’ – a different perspective on the same issue. (which I thought was rubbish, but I’m trying to be unbiased here! 😀 )

 

NaNoWriMo Day 2 Updates: Best Music to Listen to while Writing

I am taking part in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. An event where thousands of aspiring writers sit down to write the first drafts of their novel in a span of 30 days.

I have been attempting it for the last three years, but failing spectacularly (Imagine Manoj Prabhakar in a World Cup semi-final). I found that it was because I was ill prepared, and had no idea where my plot was going to take me. This year, I spent a few weeks in October getting my plot ready, diving my story into chapters, and developing the sub-plots in my head.

This seems to be working wonders, as I don’t have to sit down to think about what to write. I have a brief idea of what happens, so it’s only a case of how to write it. It reduces the burden on me to come up with an interesting story; all I need to do is focus on maintaining the flow.

If you’re an aspiring writer, I urge you to follow my Facebook page, where I shall be putting up regular tips, updates and follow-ups of my struggle with trying to finish my first draft in a month. If you’re not a writer, kindly bear with my posts this coming month. They will mostly be scrambled rants about the vagaries of trying to write. If you do not connect to the rants, I am sorry.

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#NaNoWriMo DAY 2

It’s the second day of NaNoWriMo, and the challenge really, was to sustain the josh of the first day. First days are beautiful and sunny and inspirational and all things Rocky Balboa. But it’s the day after that’s an acid test.

Assuming the average first draft of a book is 50,000 words, the average word count per day in NaNoWriMo is 1666 words per day. At first, the number seems daunting. But scratch a little deeper, and you’ll find it isn’t as unsurmountable as it seems.

On days when I’m well and truly stuck, I like to divide my day’s writing into paragraphs. Assuming every paragraph is about 200 words on average, I have to write about 8 – 9 paragraphs. Doesn’t sound so difficult, does it?

And if you further break it down, a paragraph usually deals with a single idea – a description, an action, a memory, or a set of dialogues. Which means that I have to trudge my way through 8 or 9 key ideas. And THAT, sounds extremely doable!

And so I sat down to write for the second day.

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But before I get down to the mundane events of the day, let me answer a question I’ve been asked related to writing.

WHAT SORT OF MUSIC TO LISTEN TO WHILE WRITING?

Most writers wouldn’t recommend listening to any music at all. However, most writers do not possess the focus of a coked-up squirrel, like I do. Which is why I need a distraction to end all distractions.

Also, in the world we live in, it has become harder to focus, tougher to push away our distractions. A ping from a friend, a forward from a relative, a buzz from an actor on Twitter – we are a ping away from distraction crumbling down like Kuki Sharda. (Dear God! I beg your forgiveness).

However, listening to music while writing is a tricky matter. Unlike running, or working out, or cooking – you can’t have music that pushes you forward. It cannot be music that makes you feel pumped up. It has to have a calming effect.

At the same time, it cannot be AR Rahman’s greatest instrumental playlist either. Great and evocative as they are, Rahman’s tracks bring with them a memory tucked away in the back of your head. They carry with them recollections and reminders and thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are distractions when you’re sitting down to write.

The song cannot have lyrics too, as the words of the song will mess with the words you’re trying to write. So that eliminates most music forms popular in our times. The music shouldn’t evoke strong emotions, its work must merely be to calm you down. To get your monkey mind to transform into a saint.

I tried a number of options – white noise, sound of trains and sounds of rains. And yet, none of them seemed to work. I tried elevator music – Brian Emo’s Music for Airports and Thursday Afternoon. They’re both fantastic albums, but they’re too elevator-y. Too bland, they invoke no inspiration, they inspire no provocation. Instead of egging me to write, I felt that the music made me feel like a crack addict who was tied to the metal bed in a psychiatric hospital.

It was after much searching through the underbelly of the Internet that I found my answer – classical music. Western symphony music has no lyrics, moves from emotions in a smooth manner, and makes everything seem grand.

Don’t believe me? Play Rossini’s overture to The Thieving Magpie the next time you’re taking a dump. Tell me if you don’t feel like it’s the greatest dump taken in the history of human civilization. I found a fantastic radio station – KDFC – run by the University of Southern California. They have playlists, request shows and mostly classical music that helps me to calm down, focus and type. I often find my fingers keeping tempo with the music, speeding up towards the end of the performances, and slowing down when the next one begins. I’d highly recommend listening to western classical music.

Before you accuse me of being an anti-national, here’s why Indian classical music didn’t work for me. I have listened to a lot of Indian classical music. The instruments evoke memories in me, and I cannot be completely detached to Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain and Shivkumar Sharma. These beautiful gentlemen were a part of my growing years, and I needed something that was neutral and unemotional for me.

However, I would also highly recommend Hariprasad Chaurasia’s albums Morning to Midnight – Morning to Dusk, Pure Joy, and (for completely biased reasons), Hriday.

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Day 2 Updates:

I got back from my office at 9.45. Our cook had cooked meal-maker curry in the day, and had merely added daal to the menu. This prompted me to have a Masala Dosa in the office (a huge shoutout to the wonderful cooks who make the dosa in the Microsoft campus).

I reached home to find that the geyser (which was installed in the heyday of Bahadur Shah Zafar) had been repaired, and I took a shower. I rolled a joint, and sat down to jot down what I’d be writing today.

At 12, I began writing, going smooth till I’d hit 890 words. I found myself stuck with a particular question (What sort of food would students in the Mahabharat era eat?). I had a quick discussion with my friend, and the harmless question stretched on for an hour and a half.

By the end of the discussion, we had charted out the daily schedule for the Kaurava princes at Dronacharya’s ashram. We knew what they would do on regular days, and on holidays and festive occasions.

We had also created a menu for students in the Dwaapar Yuga, and what they’d be given to eat on holidays. By the end of the discussion, we saw that the time was 3.30. I wished my friend goodnight and sat down to write myself to sleep, managing a healthy 1682 words for the day.

Lessons learnt on Day 2:

  1. If you’re stuck with descriptions, carry an exam pad and sketch out the places, doodle out the exact details, and then proceed to explain them one after the other.
  1. If you’re finding it difficult to focus, classical music is a great option to resort to.

So, on the third day of November, I stand at 3315 words, and well into the second chapter of my fourth book.

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If you’re an aspiring writer, I implore you to take part in NaNoWriMo. There are wonderful fora across the Internet where authors sit and discuss, debate, and bitch about the world. All through this month, I shall be posting unsolicited advice, tips, and updates about my struggles to finish my book in a month.

If you’re not an aspiring writer…I envy your life!  🙂