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Rana in Tehelka

Have you read Rana’s article in Tehelka (link via Kitabkhana)? If not, you really should – its quite wonderful, and Im an even bigger fan of his now.
Theres just so much to identify with…Im sure he speaks for a whole lot of writers. He certainly speaks for me. About a lot of things Im very unhappy about.
What makes it even more interesting for me is that Rana is Foreign Published Literature, and hence completely A-list. For me, I had to face the alarming reality that a lot of my reviewers clearly knew nothing about fantasy at all, and even more alarmingly, werent interested – and were probably only doing a review because it was a Penguin book.
The profiles were truly scary as well. Jai (thats when I first met him) was the only one who had read the book and knew the genre, and it was such a huge relief talking to him. But mostly (and almost completely now, a year and a half down the line) it was about the publishing process – how did you do it? what advance did you get? who else is publishing you? what is the process of getting published? – and to know how i felt about that, read ranas article.
Still, I have to say that while it was disappointing that I couldnt really talk about work, the profiles were fun to do – shallow though it may sound, i thoroughly enjoyed sounding off about myself, though the primary source of enjoyment was that my ‘near and dear ones’ would enjoy seeing my face in the papers. And the experience was fabulous – i really hadnt pictured myself posing for pictures, ever. And while the conversations were never about literature (beyond, maybe, what are your favourite books?) it was all new and exciting. I was officially a C-list celeb for two months. It hurt that most of the people and papers i was talking to neither knew nor cared what i had written, though. Because after the two giggly phone calls per profile were done, it was spectacularly empty thinking that the interviews might easily have been because I had just started a designer condom store or something like that.
It might have been easier for me than it was for rana on some counts, though – in the sense that i had no particular expectations, and had been warned that this is what it would be like. So I more or less knew no one would know what fantasy was (its the same as Harry Potter, right). I also knew I wasnt A-list, and so should be genuinely grateful for whatever publicity I got. And the 3-4 genuinely good reviews I got sent me over the moon. Also, I was working as a journalist at the time with a magazine which was almost completely about ‘celeb’ interviews. So at the core of everything there was always a large degree of sympathy for junior features journalists and what they had to go through.
Still, I remember recent conversation with Delhi Times journalist at Namita Gokhale launch. Youve written a fantasy novel? Whats your number? Whats your name? Whats your book called? What is it about? Whats the story? Whats a fantasy novel? Oh, whats the difference between your book and Harry Potter? When is it coming out? Oh, its already come out, when? OK, whens your next book coming out? Whats it about? Whats your name again?
But Im not complaining, really. She wasnt a book journalist, and she was just there covering a book launch (which never has anything to do with the book, if newspaper reports are to be believed).
And there are some really good reviewers/critics in this country, who write reviews and pieces about authors which could have been in papers anywhere in the world, and know so much about books they make me feel completely illiterate. YOu know who you are, so I wont bother to link.
Im a part of the system now. And Im kind of used to it. I entered it voluntarily, after all. I know that the writing i do wont win awards, or big international advances, and i wont make the IWE A-list unless I write an L-book. But its all huge fun anyway.
Kind of lost track of what I was going to say there. Go read Ranas article again. Thats very well thought out.


About Samit Basu

Novelist. Best known for fantasy and science fiction work. Most recently, The City Inside (Tordotcom)/Chosen Spirits (Simon and Schuster)


15 thoughts on “Rana in Tehelka

  1. I mailed Rana after reading the thing. It was excellent. Really, really good and said so much that very badly needed to be said. I particularly liked that he didn’t talk only in abstract terms but gave solid examples – like the one about the expurgation of reviews by The Asian Age and other papers, so that the original meaning was lost. Very well researched and thought out. Credit to Tehelka too for giving him so much space.
    I’m not a writer but could relate completely to that part about pouring everything you have into a 400-page book and at the end of it all having to contend with inane questions by people who are interested not in the book but in putting you into a neat little box. That “affirming the Indianness” bit was dead-on too. When I went to interview Rana for a profile I was so grateful that I could just say, matter-of-factly, that the guy didn’t consider himself Indian, and leave it at that. That certainly wouldn’t have been possible if I had been writing for HT City or Delhi Times.

    Posted by Jabberwock | July 6, 2005, 12:02 pm
  2. methinks the problem with most of the reviews of your book was that the “critics” didnt get the element of satire in it. One wise – ass wrote : ” the opening chapter …. rabbit ….inspired by Tolkien ….”.

    By room-mate, a less polite fellow then me remarked that the critic probably woudnt recognize a parody if it came up and bit him on the ass .

    Posted by axe | July 6, 2005, 5:46 pm
  3. Bagchi – I wrote a long and passionate response to your comment, but then decided it wasnt worth fighting about, so am just deleting the argument.

    Posted by samit | July 7, 2005, 2:13 am
  4. High-handed, I call it.

    Posted by The Marauder's Map | July 7, 2005, 6:15 am
  5. my blog, i call it

    Posted by samit | July 7, 2005, 7:34 am
  6. well, you win my award for being a fun writer with a very fun blog.

    Posted by uma | July 7, 2005, 8:46 am
  7. Samit,
    I thought that his points about the state of book reviews in mainstream newspapers were spot on, but what interested me more was the latter section about pigeon-holing him into a sort of reassuringly familiar Indian identity.

    There’s such a warped perception of Indian engagement with the rest of the world, that everything needs to be recast in terms of how it relates to things Indian. It’s all so utterly delusional and parochial.

    Posted by thalassa_mikra | July 8, 2005, 6:18 pm
  8. This article came out some time ago. I seem to recall a link from Uncut.

    Poor Rana D. Nobody warned him not to talk to the Calcutta Times. I surmised earlier that they printed some other writer’s responses to their questionnaire.

    And these days, if I want to read good book or film reviews, I look for them online. Starting with Jai and Nilanjana.


    Posted by J. Alfred Prufrock | July 9, 2005, 4:01 am
  9. I work for Delhi Times and it really irritates me how everybody uses these two words `Delhi Times’ as the sigboard for a person’s dumbness quotient. So you met a reporter who was not familiar with your work (btw it is 3:00 am, the entire dept is still here and I just did a check on who it was), so the supplement is by and large crap, does that mean everyone working for it has to be, necessarily classified as being unaware and dumb? Surprise! Surprise! There are actually people working here capable of holding a halfway decent conversation, and may the heaven fall, do read books and listen to music apart from Britney Spears.

    Posted by scoutfinch | July 9, 2005, 9:51 pm
  10. signboard. which is not the correct word here.

    not familiar with my name. which is fine. im no celeb.
    3 am! cool! what are you guys up to?

    no comma between be and necessarily.

    im not calling anyone anything. im sure all of you are IQ factories. your paper is kind of sad though.

    call me lucky, but ive met several people who are capable of holding a fully decent conversation. maybe you guys should work in pairs.

    may the heavens fall. or may heaven fall.

    congratulations on your erudition. and cheer up. we’re not saying Delhi Times is the worst. We’re saying its the best at being bad.

    Posted by samit | July 10, 2005, 2:00 am
  11. oy, teleute, this is not a fight. its a harmless discussion about a harmless post on a harmless blog.

    For further reading on this issue, and to gain a broader perspective on my feelings on Delhi Times (which are surprisingly positive) Google and read Susan Sontag’s essay ‘Notes on Camp’

    Posted by samit | July 10, 2005, 8:01 am
  12. hmm, wil do.

    Posted by Teleute | July 10, 2005, 3:50 pm
  13. I agree with Samit. Delhi Times is excellent. The editor is a fine woman.

    Posted by Jabberwock | July 10, 2005, 5:48 pm
  14. I suppose nothing wrong with the people behind the scenes at Delhi Times, but then again why doesn’t the hard work and the passion show up in the image you present to the world, namely the Delhi Times. Isn’t it instantaneously obvious that you’re going to be gauged by your work and not your mission statement and or the amount of work you put in some article.
    I know more than enough of these people here in the desi film “scene” (which is what it really is, just a place for money loving media coolies to network) regardless of their passion. I’ve got passion. Why aren’t I making 5 million bucks a pop for every script I write like Shyamalan does? Everyone’s got the passion, but they don’t have the guts to quit their day jobs to work fulltime and demonstrate said passion. No big surprise that most NRI films have been unremarkable yet.

    Posted by anangbhai | July 11, 2005, 3:17 am
  15. And Samit, you missed the “Surprise! Surprise!” when you were post-proofing.

    Posted by Jabberwock | July 12, 2005, 5:28 am

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Copyright (c) Samit Basu. Images copyright respective holders.
July 2005


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