Monday, April 16, 2012

The Invention of Bad Literature

Almost seven years ago, around the same time that I was giving IIT-JEE for the second time in the hope of clearing it, I came across a book review about a new author, an IITian, who had written about his experiences in a slim volume called '5 Point Someone : What Not to Do at IIT'. Now I don't know whether the three lettered acronym in the name was added deliberately as a marketing tool or the author had other intentions, what I do know is that loads and loads of people bought the book thinking that a) It would help them prepare for IITJEE in someway or b) It would help them prepare for Life at an IIT (or as Chetan Bhagat would say, OneLife@TheIIT). One of my friends from the coaching institute I was in had fallen for this, and he had lamented while giving me his copy of the book 'Yaar it has everything in it except for how to crack the ruddy exam!'

I went through the book, and I liked it. The characters were well etched out, it had a simple yet effective story, although it used literary license in floating over entire 6-8 months period of time, it was quite enjoyable. And when I went to BHU, I recommended the book heavily, only to get a common feedback, 'Dude, there's an entire chapter with SEX in it'

Pictured : Book With SEX in it
'But then...have you never...oh, never mind!'

To his credit, Chetan Bhagat introduced the concept of Fiction to a huge market base who had read it till now only because it was a compulsory subject in school, scores of students who had till then read only IIT JEE Preparation books for 2 to 4 years of their lives. And he tapped this market quite successfully. First of all he set a price of Rs 95/-, which made this highly price elastic base purchase a book that cost less than a multiplex movie ticket ("What! Rs 400/- for a 250 Page book! Achcha ye kitaab padhne se CAT mein madad milegei? Nahi Pakka Bata!)

An year later I awaited the publishing of Bhagat's next novel, stylized as ON@TCC. And, it sucked.

Jab Phone ki Ghanti Bajti hai to Kehte hain Hello!
Although my bone to pick is not entirely with Bhagat Babu, I mean he did kick open a door that lead to a million other hacks thinking that they too can write. No wait, yes Bhagat is directly responsible! He wrote a story about 3 College friends surviving four years in a tough environment, and he made a lot of people sit up and say 'Hey, if he can do that, I can do it too! I too have been to an IIT/NIT/PEC/BITS/DCE...'

And so post 2005, we have a slew of books lined up in Crosswords and Landmarks under a section called 'New Indian Fiction' by writers who crap out a book a month by writing about some mundane chapter of their lives or fantasizing about what could have been (etc). There is this particular author who likes having Really Really Long Names for his books. Sample this

'Of course I love you, until I find someone better...'

'Now that you are rich...let us fall in love'

'She broke up I didn't, I just kissed someone else'

'You were my crush, until I found someone better'

The above are not lines from the books, those are actual names, as if each book is competing with the previous one over who has the longest...

And what amazes me even more is that most of these books are 'co-authored' by someone else too. I mean, I did not know that it took two to write a bad book!

Then there is a writer who wrote his first book as a Roman a Clef and did not even bother changing the name of the protagonist. His second book was this

The Title had NOTHING Whatsover to do with the book
On a bet I picked up a book called 'Rock and Roll Journey' or something like it and read the back-page summary, the first line of which I produce here unchanged 'All his efforts to WHO the girl he loved failed', I mean, come on! At least do a rudimentary proof reading of the material! I am no grammar nazi, but I do not like to see a spelling mistake. I flipped a few pages to see at least two of them covered with song lyrics, and not original song lyrics, they were songs by Nirvana. It was like the writer was shouting, Yes Yes, I am cool, I sing Nirvana.'

Most of these writers follow the Dare To Think Beyond... model of the great Arindam Chaudhari, and do not target only hapless hopeful IITians, the books are marketed as an FMS book or a MDI book. I read a particular book written by an FMS student at the home of a friend of mine who was preparing for FMS, it was called 'If God Went to a B-School, Would love follow him there?' It was another case of the title of the book having nothing at all to do with the story line.

Recently a friend of mine sent some of his material to a publisher who replied 'You should try and write Selling stuff you know, I want to see the cash registers ringing, write about college life!' What adds to the nightmare is that when the friend and I visited a famous comic book house during the World Book Fair at Pragati maidan, and when we talked about submitting ideas for comics, we were advised 'Write a 200 or 250 page book, make it like what Chetan Bhagat writes, and I guarantee you we will publish it, you know he makes 2 to 3 crores a month! Won't you like that?'

Personally, I feel that a book about College life should be more of Rag Darbari and Catch 22 for it to capture the madness of 4 years (2 Years in case of a B-School), and not a factory produced product. I am waiting for someone to write about their college life, and please, NOT make it cliched.


Amrit Verma said...

made a point but, why is it titled OST?

Vaibhav said...

er....OST is the name of the blog, not of this post. And I guess you know what OST is :)

rahul said...

well written! nice read! :)

VaRtIkA said...

exactly...! u wrote what many of us feel....

B. Kamna Will...... said...

people used to ask me , why am not into chetan bhagat's work?.... never knew what to say... now i know .. :D ... good one ... loved it

Samresh said...

More or less echoes my feelings without being too harsh on Chetan Bhagat. Poor soul, we must at least give him credit for introducing millions to fiction. Not saying that what he has been doing since then is forgivable. Nice post....:)

sahil said...

good one pablo ...well written(as always)

sahil said...

good one pablo..well written(as always )

scar said...

nice man!! it made me laugh...mainly cos i've read the book with the title...err...i didnt cheat kissed someome...u made your feelings pretty clear!