Category Archives: Writing

Why is Ashwin Sanghi known less and Chetan Bhagat is known more?

Ashwin SanghiBy chance I came across a reference to a book titled The Sialkot Saga written by Ashwin Sanghi. Now I don’t remember what prompted me to log into my Amazon account and purchase the Kindle book. I want to read how Indian writers are writing these days and maybe that’s why I purchased the book.

I don’t mean to sound elitist or condescending, I have never read a single book of Chetan Bhagat. Not that I never tried. I purchased a couple of books. I tried reading a few pages but couldn’t go on. Maybe the choice was incorrect.

I completely read the Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi in one go. The Sialkot Saga seems to be a thicker book (it’s difficult to tell on the Kindle reader) but I’ve completed 53% of it. For the past three hours I was sitting in the balcony (it’s way past midnight and a pleasant monsoon wind is blowing) reading the book, engrossed in the plot. I was chased inside by a rowdy gang of mosquitos.

So I was just wondering, why I am able to read Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi but not Chetan Bhagat? After all movies have been made out of his multiple books. His books sell more. He is read more. And people seem to like what he writes, or at least that’s what his fame tells.

But whenever I tried, I couldn’t go beyond a few pages. It was like, what the heck am I reading? Why am I doing this to myself? There is no soul in his writing. It’s like watching Katrina Kaif acting; no matter how drop-dead stunning she looks you can make out the terrain of acting is barren. It’s wrong comparison, at least for some time your visual senses are stimulated when you watch her.

It’s not that Ashwin Sanghi, in terms of using the language, is a Salman Rushdie or even an Amitava Ghosh; no, with every sentence and phrase you can make out that he is uncomfortable writing in English. But what comes through is his hard work, his passion, and his love for what he is writing about. He has a story to tell, and he is telling it as passionately as he can. The passion comes through so strongly that you readily overlook his childish tendency to show off his English writing skills by randomly using phrases just because he knows them.

So why is a writer like Ashwin Sanghi less known than Chaten Bhagat despite being a better writer? Marketing? Positioning? First-comer advantage? Connections? Or simply vicissitude?

On a positive note, I read that Ashwin Sanghi has sold more than a million books. I remember reading a few years ago that an Indian author became a best seller even if one of his books could sell 10,000 copies. One million books is a lot. Looking forward to completing The Sialkot Saga and writing its review.

Which author made the most money in 2016?

authors who made the most money in 2016Which author made the most money in 2016? The name is James Patterson and before reading this report, I didn’t even know about him. And do you have any idea how much he made in 2016? According to Forbes, he made a cool $95 million. Talk about the starving writer.

Beyond a point money is irrelevant but what impressed me was the number of books he is able to churn out. On an average he writes 11 books every year. He seems to be a one-man book-writing factory.

While James Patterson gets to be the author who made the most money in 2016, there is a big gap between the top earning author and the one who comes after him – Jeff Kinney with $19.5 million. Surprisingly, JK Rowling and Stephen King come at third and fifth. John Grisham earns more than Stephen King which is quite surprising but more surprising is that Danielle Steele makes as much money as Stephen King.

Here are the top 10 authors who made the most money in 2016, according to Forbes:

  1. James Patterson  $95 million
  2. Jeff Kinney $19.5 million
  3. JK Rowling $19 million
  4. John Grisham $18 millionn
  5. Stephen King $15 million
  6. Danielle Steel $15 million
  7. Nora Roberts $15 million
  8. EL James $14 million
  9. Veronica Roth $10 million
  10. John Green $10 million

Surprisingly, again, George RR Martin makes quite less compared to the top authors who made the most money in 2016 considering the fact that The Game of Thrones is a rage.

The author who made the most money in 2016, James Patterson – I didn’t even know he existed. Tells me how little I have read or how biased or selective my reading has been so far.

 

Are digital books changing the way authors write?

Digital Books

A very balanced take on the way digital books are shaping the way books are read and written, in this article. For more than three years now I have been reading digital books and I read paper books only when digital books are unavailable (which rarely is the case these days). Initially I used to read e-books (even when I purchased them from Amazon in Kindle format) on my Samsung tab that was quite outdated. Seeing how much I read my wife motivated me to purchase the Kindle reader.

I read digital books more for the convenience and less for the supposedly positive impact that they have on the environment. The article above talks about how youngsters these days use the same device to read books as well is interact on social media and social networking websites and also use the same device for playing video games, music and movies. This sort of, takes away the exclusivity book reading demands. Book reading is supposed to create a totally different world, segregated from your surroundings. Is this possible with digital books with so much distraction going around? And how does it impact the way writers write, in order to capture as much attention as possible?

Any word in an ebook can invoke its own dictionary definition, simply by selecting it. If a passage in an ebook strikes you as cogent, beautiful or profound you can bet – once you’ve switched the highlight-sharing function on – hundreds of other people have already highlighted it. It’s a short hop from realising that to paying special attention to the highlighted bits – not out of laziness but as a wise learning strategy.

Where I see the problem is that books can be read in almost all the devices. Once you have purchased the Kindle book, for example, you can read it on a tablet, on an iPad, on a phone, on a computer and on a laptop and basically every device that has an operating system and the ability to connect to the Internet. In terms of sales, it must have been profitable for the publishers (as I mentioned above, I had started purchasing Kindle books much before I actually purchased the Kindle reader). But, books should be read on a device that only makes you read books. There should be no distraction. In fact I’m sure, this is how gadgets like Kindle reader were born – to create a digital space where only books are the consumption. There is no social networking. There are no phone calls. There is no instant messaging. There is no notification area. There are no message bubbles. Just pages and pages of the book you’re reading.

Every medium changes the way literature is written and read. This has been going on since the time immemorial. Even before digital books, the way people wrote and read was constantly changing. Just see the way writers like Dickens and Dostoevsky wrote and the way contemporary writers write. Writing styles change. Reading patterns change. This is an ongoing process. Instead of resisting it, we should embrace it, both as writers and as readers.

Having said that, I would insist that there must be separate devices for reading books, just for reading books.

Why mythology sells in India

This blog post seems to have been written in a hurry, but it raises a very interesting question: why are Indians so obsessed with its mythological stories and why these stories are being told and retold in various forms?

First, I don’t think Indians are obsessed with mythology; many Indians are obsessed with religion and this somehow gets interconnected with the mythological stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata and second, to be frank, these stories are awesome. You can derive hundreds of stories, without even changing them, from just Ramayana and Mahabharata, leave alone other tales.

Regarding why they are being rewritten, I agree that originality lacks in the current milieu, and this is not just applicable to rewriting mythological literature. Classic Bollywood songs are remixed on a routine basis and even if they try to be original, they’re mostly mimicking sufi and folk music.

This lack of effort and originality has also permeated writing. It’s easier to tell a tale that already exists and people can relate to.

Mythological stories that have been a part of our culture have this strange effect: even if you listen to them or read them again and again, somehow you never find them boring. This may also be because mythological stories are rarely enjoyed in isolation. Millions of people, you’re consciously or unconsciously aware, have read these stories or one or another form of them. So there is an invisible connection with a large mass when you are reading these stories. You feel a part of a group, a part of a cult. Add a new writing style, some contextual twists and there you have got it, practically a new piece to sell to your readers.

Besides, very few countries have such a rich tapestry of mythological stories that don’t just deliver religious messages, but also teach you morality and human values, and are replete with heroism that everybody can relate to. For example, in Mahabharata it is sometimes very difficult to decide who is a hero and who is a villain; every sort of conflict you can find in its various plots. The line that divides good and evil is constantly being blurred. Ramayana, comparatively, has clear definitions of right and wrong, but on every occasion it teaches you how to take difficult decisions even when you don’t want to take them.

There is also an underlying effort to reconnect with one’s roots in India. The Indian culture is being attacked from the outside and from within and the younger generation, clueless about how to react, tries to cling to these stories as a defence mechanism.

Disability in literature, mythology, folklore and films

Captain Hook

Have you read Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham? The central character of the novel is a young man with a club foot. If you haven’t read this book do read it not just because it has a character that has a disability and has something “different”, it is a story that tells you how failure and success, sadness and happiness and intelligence and stupidity go hand-in-hand and despite that, we move on. The disability of Philip Carey affects every part of his life and it doesn’t allow him to live his life the way he would have liked to live, but that is not the central theme of the story. These are the problems that he has, but aside from these problems, the major problems that he faces are quintessentially related to the volatile human nature that is extremely unpredictable. He can be mean and judgemental just as people can be mean and judgemental to him. His disability doesn’t necessarily make him sensitive and if he is sensitive compared to his friends and colleagues, it is because that’s the way he is and it has got nothing to do with the way he walks. The greatest thing about this novel is that Philip doesn’t have to prove anything because he has a disability. He just tries to live his life the way he wants to live irrespective of the fact whether he succeeds or not.

These thoughts were triggered while I was reading this blog post that was published on the occasion of the Blogging against Disablism Day. I never knew that the word “disablism” existed, but it has a nice sound.

The author rightly says that people with disabilities are often depicted as vile, scheming and demented characters in various works of fiction:

There are far too many books out there that portray characters with disabilities and chronic illnesses in ways that are deeply destructive and have a seriously negative impact on the understanding of disability in general. However (and this is a big however), most of these books are clearly written by authors who have not considered their portrayal at all, and who clearly fail to respect experiences that are different to their own. These are the authors who fail to realise that disabled people are also, actually, people. These are the authors who consistently portray disabled characters as, for example, useless and/or monstrous. But these aren’t exactly difficult tropes to avoid if you treat disability as a genuine character trait, part of the full colour of your character’s depiction, rather than an easy symbol or device for your plot.

This problem arises from the fact that disability is not mainstream. You don’t see disabled people roaming around in the streets, catching public transport, getting into arguments with other people on the street, fighting elections, watching movies, doing shopping at a grocery store, visiting prostitutes, getting married, becoming successful professionals, going on dates, going to office and doing all sorts of things that people are seen doing matter-of-factly. Coming across a person with disability is always a special occasion.

Whereas situation in the comparatively developed countries might be improving and you may come across persons with disabilities more often than not, in less developed countries like India, they’re mostly seen when they are struggling with basic necessities. A visually impaired person is totally at the mercy of someone who can see especially at public places like roads, stations, stairwells and markets. A person with physical disability is often seen being helped with climbing stairs or walking across the road or something like that. Worse, you see disabled persons begging. You never see a disabled person simply going on with his or her life without having to bother about getting some sort of help. This is the problem with the environment, the infrastructure. We haven’t reached a state when public places, offices and institutions are made in such a manner that they can be universally used rather than just by people who fit in a conventional box of able-bodiedness. Once this happens, we will see persons with disabilities depicted just the way they are in literature, hypothetically.

Another problem is that we take visual cues as behavioural patterns. We have a very strict definition of what is pretty and what is not, what is beautiful and what is not and how good people look and how bad people look. For example, in most of the TV ads you will never see an intelligent person taking intelligent decisions despite being on the heavier side. He or she is always shown fumbling, unsure, doing stupid things. And then there is this slim, fit-looking, preferably taller person who has a very confident expression about him or her and takes the right decision at the right time and solves a problem that a person on the heavier side does not seem to be able to solve. It’s not just shape, even the colour matters. A darker person is shown to be under confident and not doing much in life. And then he or she suddenly uses a face cream that makes him or her fair and lo and behold! The world is nothing but a plethora of successes and happy moments.

This stereotyping is also extended to ages, social backgrounds and professions. Younger students are always making fools of their teachers and professors. In mobile phone ads, people in their 40s and 50s are often shown fumbling with their gadgets while their teen kids are shown totally cool about the latest features in their mobile phones.

Recently I saw an awareness ad in which a person from a socially disadvantaged background is shown to be gawking at a good-looking girl in a public transport vehicle. A college going well-off-looking yuppie sort of a youngster notices that and comes stands between the girl and the gawking guy. The stereotypes would have totally gone topsy-turvy had they shown a well-off guy gawking at the girl and the dark looking person from a socially disadvantaged background feeling offended and coming between the girl and the guy.

So I think more than disability, it’s the perception that is at work. You want to show a bad person or an ill-mannered person in the visual form and because you’re not very sure of your writing abilities, you use disabilities like a crooked eye, or a stuttering way of talking or walking with a limp.

As I have mentioned above, to a normal (read able-bodied) person disability is quite alien. It’s like for the directors of art movies, especially in India, depicting poverty used to be an exotic activity. That is why people like Satyajit Ray would make voyeuristic movies about how poor people live, how they dress up, how they eat and procreate. Then these movies were shown to foreign audiences because they had never seen such glaring poverty and the behavioural attributes attached to it. That is why when there is a disabled person in a movie, the highlight is his or her disability, and not what sort of life he or she lives.

Even in Indian mythology and folklore, disability is used to exaggerate villainous as well as saintly characters, or they are used symbolically. In Mahabharata, you have a limping uncle (Shakuni mama) who is the most scheming person in the entire plot. Then you have the visually impaired Dhritrashra who can see nothing and he is totally indecisive as well as impotent. Ashtavakra (having 8 physical deformities) in Ramayana had to prove his worth by showing exceptional intelligence. The jealous and evil uncle of Heer, Kaido, also had a limp and walked with a stick, but his character is a bit complex because his evil and jealousy originate from the raw deal that he gets from the society for having a disability.

Anything that is not ordinary becomes a stereotype, and I think in most of the stories, disability, whether depicted in good light or bad light, is used as a stereotype rather than making a statement. So when a writer writes about a villain who has a limp, he or she is not trying to say that people with limps are bad, he or she usually just wants to express it stereotypically. I’m not saying this is right, but this is how stereotypes are used.

Will this change once disability becomes mainstream? I don’t think so. Things will surely improve, but do you really think people who create stereotyped characters using race, color, regional accent and body shapes will be open-minded enough to depict persons with disabilities in a non-stereotypical manner?