Had that rarest of experiences today, a book reading/discussion that was actually enjoyable - as compared to the usual incestuous, self-congratulatory, littered-with-literati, look-at-us-we’re-the-Few-Who-Read affairs (yes, yes, I know I have three fingers firmly pointed back at myself, but I’ll still rant self-righteously). The occasion was a relatively modest one, nary a fancy toothpick in sight, and the centre of attention was Jaideep Varma (who I mentioned here, in another context) and his book Local, about an advertising executive who deals with the madness of life and travel in Mumbai by spending his nights in the local trains.
As the careful reader might have gathered by now, I’m not a fan of book readings. They usually bore the living daylights out of me; through long and painful experience, I’ve learnt that I lack the fine sensibilities required to appreciate an author’s eloquence in bringing his characters to life for an audience. So this pleasantly informal little event (held in an area that couldn’t have been more than 10 ft by 8 ft) was a nice surprise. Very spontaneous, nothing that resembled a rehearsed speech. One of the things Jaideep got right was to read out six or seven short, punchy excerpts from his book, rather than a single l-o-o-n-n-g, eye-glazing, soul-deadening passage. I have a low attention span and this sort of thing works for me; at a reading a few months ago, where Salman Rushdie read out a complete short story he’d written, I failed to register anything beyond the first few sentences. (And just so as not to confuse issues, yes I still am a Rushdie fan.)
But enough about all my flaws. I haven’t read Local yet so this isn’t a plug, but I found the premise interesting based on those few passages I heard. (Blogger Nikhil Pahwa, who I met at the event and who has spent much time traveling on Mumbai’s trains, knew a lot more about the book’s subject matter than I did.) Will get around to it soon.
Oh by the way the debate that followed the reading was interesting too, though it focused mainly on topics that are far too complex for a short discussion: the fact that there isn’t enough good writing on contemporary life being published in India, and who is to blame for this –writers, publishers or readers? Or – shudder – the media? (In my insider capacity, I had touched on that aspect with Jaideep before the event began - don’t get me started on some of the A-class morons masquerading as book page editors, and the bizarre notions they have about what is relevant and what isn’t.) Also, the economics of book production, marketing and publication. The spurious distinctions made between pulp and literary fiction. And other things I don’t remember now. Lots of nice banter between Jaideep, the IndiaLog editors and Vijay Nambisan, who was guest of honour. All very cosy and everyone agreed to disagree, which is the best thing to do at book discussions, as in life.