Thursday, March 24, 2005

Tejpal's Tehelka

Mr. Tarun Tejpal, the famous editor of Tehelka weekly, recently hogged the limelight for an altogether different reason.

The journalist, who shook the Indian political and military establishment a few years ago with an expose, coolly penned his novel, The Alchemy of Desire, while fighting the establishment's crackdown.

According to media reports, the novel sold out on the day it was released. No wonder as Tarun writes very well and his reputation is unsullied. Critics are already appreciating "the voice" he has used in the narrative.

Tarun's mentor, Sir V S Naipaul, has liked the first part of the book. That is, I guess, good enough a recommendation for Tarun.

I think every English-educated Indian, whether he did or did not study at Oxbridge, is writing a novel or two these days, apart from doing his day job as a diplomat or a journalist.

Arundhati Ray's success has had huge impact on the Indians of all ages. Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi was 17 when he witnessed the phenomenal success of Roy. He was inspired. The result is his debut novel, The Last Song of Dusk. Only God knows, out of 1 billion Indians, how many more she has infected with the virus of seeking publishing success.

To make things clear, let me admit, I was not inspired by Roy. I had decided to become a writer in the pre-Roy India, if may say so. At that time, the only Indian writers I knew were Narayan, Rao, Sehgal, Naipaul, Rushdie and others.

At the rate the Indians are writing novels, the day is not far when it will be de rigueur for every educated Indian to have penned a novel--sort of a rite of passage of being an educated Indian.

Remember the line, "Scratch an Indian and you will find a novelist." (It is like the line from Dr. Zhivago: "Scratch a Russian and you will find a farmer.")

Do you know who said it?

None other than our honourable Tarun Tejpal.

Did I hear you say, look, who's talking?


Susan Abraham said...

Hi Zafar,
I do feel encouraged by this entry but perhaps it's no help that I myself am Indian. I stay inspired by Roy in the sense that "she has shown us in that extraordinary miraculous way, that the impossible can turn possible." I guess publishing success is viewed differently by each writer. I think for me to personally, to enjoy such a limelight would mean to be read by as wide an audience as I could have the opportunity to possibly challenge the entire universe with. This in my thoughts or to regale them with my stories. And that I could have no fear in penning down experimental ideas knowing that I will be read. Or that success would simply bring out the best of my abilities to flourish as a writer, a woman, a friend, a lover, etc. It is self-identity for me at its most complete. Better than my manuscript staying locked in a drawer somewhere for that "right time" that may never come.
Also, I would mean being published internationally. It's pointless being published in Malaysia unless I want my book marooned on one island or maybe 2 at the most: Robinson Crusoe style. That's because the majority of Malaysians don't read any fiction and anyway not enough to appreciate reading that today, sadly, we lack an almost total market for fiction. So I would be looking for a bigger, wider, audience. And that would mean thinking "international." just like it was for "The Last Song of Dusk."
Before Roy and after Roy? I am inspired by the opportunities offered to writers all over the world today. I live for the present with all the breathless excitement it holds for my future and also carrying from hindsight, a wisdom from a marred cum blissful past. I guess I am post-Roy with all I've said above but also very much pre-Roy with the way I've looked for the last 6 years, with writers' eyes from a consistent and intense world travel. Then I've very much done the Naipaul thing - sitting in cafes, adventuring about different parts of Africa for long periods and getting to the heart of its people people and also travelling into the outbacks of the Middle-East and even the South Pacific... So today, I carry a little bit of both eras in my heart, to shape me into the writer I'll someday become.
Thank you for such an insightful article. Your thoughts from your blogs have helped me search myself everytime, and each time I like what I see. You are a clever writer, Zafar, to be able to do this.
Warmest wishes, and you must tell me how you view your very own publishing success someday. Cheers!

Zafar Anjum said...

Susan, I appreciate your comment. Am off to Oman for a week for a conference (presenting a paper there).

Will respond to your comment when I come back.


she said...

post-roy has been the opening up of opportunities. but also the writing of books by all and sundry, which isn't really all that great.
but that's a debate that can go on and on.
have you read 'the alchemy of desire'? it's a truly, truly magical book. it really is. the writing and the story grip you. it's worth a space on your shelf.

Zafar Anjum said...

Hi Asya,

Welcome! Thanks for your comments. Yet to read Tejpal's book. Want to read it though.

she said...

thanks, zafar.
gee, i've gushed about the book. one word of caution - it gets a bit dull right in the middle. that sounds much less unbiased!

Zafar Anjum said...

Asya, you say Tarun's book is a little bit dull in the middle. I can well understand it. Writers often care about the beginning and the end, fill up the guts, the middle, with a lot of shit. They think what matters in the start and the finish. A good book is consistently good throughout. Arundhati Raoy's GOST was good throughout. It was unputdownable.

Never mind. Tarun is getting rave reviews and that's good for him. It is a big achievement for him.

Zafar Anjum said...

Susan, thanks for sharing your vision of publishing sucess with me. Post-globalisaton, I know that it easier to get published and get noticed for us. I think, for Indians, Roy ushered us into that era. For the first time, an Indian writer who never studied in Oxford or Cambridge, had achieved a stupendous publishing success.

This publishing success has inspired hundreds of poeple in India alone. The slush pile in the offices of publishers in India is increasing by tonnes everyday.

I am not saying that writers like you will not succeed. Most definitely. You are a dedicated writer and you will succeed.

What I am talking about is that lot of people in India are taking a shot at writing, and are wasting their energies. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about it.

I am not saying that it is a problem. It is a phenomenon. It is happening right now!

I agree with you Susan. Publishing success is still defined by having a good agent and a good deal with a publisher. Anything else is nothing but a waste of time. I liked it when someone said, "There is nothing like a mildly successful novelist."

As a novelist, you are hugely successful or you are not. That is it!

I don't know about myself. Only time will tell.

she said...

You're right about everyone in India taking a shot at writing. There are just so many mediocre (and some terrible) books being churned out. Hope the phase passes!

And yes, I suppose Tejpal lost the
grip in the middle of the book. It sort of meanders and the urge to skip entire pages altogether is overwhelming.

But his reviews have been encouraging and well, in the face of this 'we can all write' phenomenon, he is a blessing.