I think I should write a book. No, not the kind that I have already gotten published. That’s a book on brands and branding, and it’s like a jazz record. For those of who don’t know, there’s a little joke that explains this. The question goes “What’s the difference between a jazz musician and a pizza?” The answer: the pizza feeds a family of four. My published book is like the jazz musician – great for the ego, and wonderful for the self-actualisation bit out of Maslow, but no good in feeding family, creating nest egg for retirement and other such functional, albeit mundane, purposes. As one approaches one’s mid-fifties, thoughts about what the future will bring come upon us from time to time, particularly at 7 in the morning, when the rest of the family is asleep, and the writer is debating whether this is the right time to put on Blind Faith loud or should he be just get on with this piece.
Hardly a day passes without the papers writing about some callow youth picking up advance royalties for books yet unwritten, and the royalty cheques are large. They all seem to be in excess of US $ 250,000, each and every one of them, and when you multiply that by 45 or so to reach INR figures, the numbers are really staggering. I was never very good in maths, so the large numbers of zeros that follow the first couple of digits is scarifying. But, I feel jealous of the young men and women who are being paid such gigantic sums of monies to write books. And the question that haunts me is “Why not me?”
So, the die is cast, the decision taken. I shall write a novel – that’s the stuff that makes the real money, in spite of the success of the management gurus. The real moolah is in fiction. And it’s global moolah too – you may have it published in India, and then in NY, London, and before you know it, it’s in the Booker list or being nominated for some other prize. And then readers in NY, London and other points West are buying the book faster than hot cakes before Christmas.
This never happens with management books written by an Indian. In order to be in the big league among management gurus, it pays to be an American or a Brit, or a Japanese. If you are an Indian, you have to be part of some big time US University set up. Full stop.
The question of what to write I shall keep totally to myself. When the novel is unveiled to the wondering world, I expect that there should be universal joy and celebration; otherwise, I will go on TV and quote freely from the Bible, particularly that bit about pearls and the Gadarene swine. The dilemma is this: should I write a blockbuster, with lots of sex and violence, which will get turned into a Hollywood hit? Or should I target the prestige prizes, like the Whitbread or the Booker, and still sell millions, and get invited to the right parties, and become a talking head, but forget the ambition of getting my book into the movies? One has to choose, you know. I don’t know of any book that has made it to one of the big prizes, and also made it to Hollywood. Ok, there may be a few, but so few that they don’t matter.
The big problem is this: in my experience as a reader, books that win prizes are unreadable. Indeed, in a few cases, they are unwritable. If any one doubts this statement, let him or her wade through Salman Rushdie’s tomes or the efforts by V S Naipaul (always excepting “A house for Mr Biswas”). Excruciatingly painful they are. Every writer has to read his or her own stuff at some points in time, before and after sending it to the publisher. Most of us would cringe at the muck – masquerading as deathless prose – which Rushdie and Naipaul have written. I would refuse to write such rubbish. OK, for an extremely large fee, I would even write George W Bush and Tony Blair’s speeches, but it’s unlikely that the White House or 10 Downing Street suits are going to read my blog.
All things considered, I think I will say sayonara to the big prizes, and stay with the blockbuster. Now to get to work. I do have some ideas going through my head, and I should not be surprised if a few months from now, out will pop a 300 page gorilla making massive waves at the cash counters of bookstores.
You will surely excuse me while I go chase some big time rupees, which will be followed by dollars and euros. See you soon.
(first posted on sulekha.com on Oct 24 2006)