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Kishore Singh: Rushing to be Rushdie

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Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Publishers these days are a happy lot, and it isn't because there's a boom in the reading public, but because there's a boom in the writing public. Almost everyone I know "" and thanks to my wife I know a lot of people, even though I can't always match faces with names, and vice versa "" is either writing a book, or has written a book, or is considering writing a book.
"How are you doing?" I'll ask a friend "" a fairly routine question, and the politest way I know to begin a conversation. "Lousy," he'll reply; "I've bumped off Vinod, but now I don't know how to dispose off his body." Seeing the alarm on my face, his wife leans across comfortingly, "It's that book he's writing," she pats my arm, "he's suffering with all his characters." "These authors..." tch-tchs my wife in commiseration. "Author nothing!" retorts my friend's wife, "I've got a couple of manuscripts ready myself, but I'm not making my life or anyone else's life miserable."
Almost the first things friends, or acquaintances, and often perfect strangers, will ask is whether I know a publisher, or even two or three. "Well..." I hedge, but unless I've said a forthright "no", it's likely to mean a good deal of trouble. Manuscripts (unsolicited, I assure you) will arrive at the doorstep, pile up on the study table, clog the mailbox. Wannabe bestselling authors will want to drown me in conversations about plots; hysterical writers will try and hurry me into reading their hackneyed scripts.
From Mumbai and from Kolkata they'll arrive without appointment wanting to know if there's any danger of their intellectual copyright being violated or "" worse! "" pinched. How do they know I won't steal their stories and sell them under my name? "You don't have to leave your manuscript with me," I suggest in relief "You won't read my book?" they ask, no longer worried whether I'm a thief or not. "Not that I don't want to," I say weakly, "but with all my work, and these other, er, manuscripts, it might take a little time..." "It's okay," the unpublished author, recommended by a former colleague in Mumbai or a college dropout from Shillong, will nod understandingly, "you can always read my book tomorrow!"
They're everywhere "" in the neighbourhood, at every party, even in the office "" ready to waylay you over how much you've actually read. "Chapter 16, line 11," they'll sigh, "now that's what I call a brilliant masterstroke, right?" Trouble is, I haven't got to chapter 16, or even chapters 6 and 1, or even past the synopsis, and frankly can't remember the title of the manuscript which, I'm fervently hoping, I haven't misplaced because, sometime soon, the disgusted author will want it back.
They will get published eventually, but not in any way Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth might approve. For there's something called vanity publishing that's keeping a large number of (largely unknown) publishers in the pink of health. From dreaming of bestsellers to tailing commissioning editors to agreeing to pay up handsomely to see their efforts in print could be a fraught journey for most, but writers are made of sterner stuff. "Just wait till it gets a good review," they'll tell you, hope undiminished; "so, er, do you know any good reviewers?"
No, I say firmly, I don't know any reviewers, and no, I don't write reviews either. And lately, I've begun to say I don't know any publishers, editors or publicists either. It hasn't stopped people from sending in manuscripts yet. But, finally, I think I've thought of a way to extract my own revenge. I think I'll write my own bestseller.

First Published: Sat, February 11 2006. 00:00 IST
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