What the Nation Wants to Read: Life of a Writer in Fawning Times

I saw a book shamelessly being self-promoted by an author on Twitter. It was a memoir of a ruling chief minister, written in the style of an ode, with a garishly bright orange cover.

It did not shock me as much. I have seen about a dozen of these in the past few years.

My first encounter with what I term ‘literature of fawn’ was at a bhelpuri shop, where the vendor had unwittingly wrapped the spicy concoction in the shiny, new pages of a hardcore encomium. These books, which like the movies in recent lore, tend to eulogise, ahem, certain personas of stature in the country today, have now overtaken my favourite railway book-stalls.

Wedged between the taut, sensual pages of a Surendra Mohan Pathak thriller, and the favourites of Wheeler bookstore – the Coelho novels – you can find these sturdy books on flattery. Somewhere in the pile, you can also find Twinkle Khanna driving an auto, tickling the funny bones.

What is the easiest way to show your ideological alignment these days (other than getting a tattoo)? Of course, it involves dipping your pen in the rivers of fawn and writing a biography of the current lot of leaders.

You can also join Twitter. It is said to sharpen your wit, as you learn to express yourself in the new vernacular of trolling. These books now join the hallowed halls of popular literature, reigned over by its lord supreme, Chetan Bhagat. The authors of these books are no different from ‘Beliebers’ or fan-girls of One Direction, in a sense, that no matter what happens, they will not listen to reason, or in the case of the former, better music.

The writers say at the very outset, that their intention is to not be political, forgetting that the political is personal and the personal is always political. This is a deep statement that they might not understand, but I am willing to take that risk.

The book that I had come across had been published by the Indian counterpart of the very publication which gave us Gryffindor and Quidditch and the dark love story of Voldemort and Bellatrix. In case you still haven’t understood what I am referring to, suffice it to say these books are ‘biographies’ of chief ministers and the prime minister of the current ruling party.

As if the numerous films on them weren’t enough, people need these life stories in print as well.

Also read: ‘Always Remember Context, and Never Disregard Intent’: Should We Read More Empathetically?

These books have now replaced bedtime stories, branding their saffron mark in children’s comics.

What inspires me as a writer is the acute depth displayed by the writers of such ‘great literature.’ The adjectives used in these books would put a sixth-grader to shame and often, grammar finds itself a desolate mistress. The story is given to you in the same manner as a Salman Khan film, just an insipid narration that focuses on how one man can do everything.

Literature in India took a backseat anyway when Bhagat and his cronies arrived on the scene, freshly dripping engineer steam and IIT-IIM stamps.

Suddenly, literature was all about PR, marketing and snazzy videos that summarise the plot for you in case the only book you ever read was Sindbad the Sailor. However, these new books, which fall under the ambit of ‘literature of fawn’ have elevated literature entirely. The writers, whose writing credits include 140 word preaches on Twitter, consider themselves to be the next Marquezs.

They have a ‘fan’ base even before the release of their books – an army of trolls at their disposal which now concludes that this is how literature should be. Heretic writers like me, who often snuggle into bed with Wodehouse’s World of Blandings, find themselves at a loss of occupation.

What can one write when reading tastes have changed so much?

After a lot of contemplation, some introspection and almost an existential crisis, I finally have some ideas. However, I find myself confused between writing such memoirs and pulp Indian romance. Pulp romance is what I term ‘literature of yawn.’

Pulp Indian romance often features an insanely good-looking Indian guy and a ‘cutesy’ Indian girl, who keeps falling all the time, thus charming the pants off of the aforesaid guy. The guy, who is a ‘bad boy’ with a heart of gold finds this girl irresistible because essentially, she is a klutz and he can be protective and save her from splitting her shins. They fall in love and get married and live happily ever after, just like in real life.

Chetan Bhagat is another territory altogether, and novice writers like me daren’t wade such waters. Bhagat’s potboilers feature drama, romance, mystery and girlfriends sawed into ‘half’ by full male egos. Who am I to even venture into these shifting sands inhabited by the man and the myth that is Chetan Bhagat! I thought I could write romance however, I just didn’t believe the concept because no fuckbois have fallen in love with me while watching me eat chaat and tripping all over myself, a la the sensuous heroines of said tales.

That leaves me with the blood-curdling option of writing such memoirs and biographies and inserting myself into the ideology of the ruling party.

So, for the time being, I am brushing up on the life stories of these leaders, working up my adjectives.

The current range includes ‘nice,’ ‘simple,’ and ‘humble.’ I am also familiarising myself with the Himalayan terrain, which is where such leaders of holy virtue have spent years soul-searching. I spent a few minutes searching my soul and boy, was it dark, so, hats off to them.

You might just find me in a cave in the mountains or at a gaushala, honing my craft, writing the next best-selling biography. And as you wade through its pages, the scent of cow piss lingering on in a warm embrace, do not tear them off to eat bhelpuri in it. Just remember that reading is what maketh a man.

The writer is a graduate in English literature from Miranda House. 

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty