Serendipity and After/13

a novel about publishing of a novel

“This really gets on my nerves,” Dr Basu said, “ I’ve decided to do something about it. I must get her books published anyway. After all, she’s my beloved wife.”

“I appreciate this attitude.”

“I’ve drawn up a scheme for that,” he said, “Now I need your opinion as to whether I’m doing it right.”

I found myself staring in his face.

“You know I’ve an important political leader among my patients. He has tremendous respect for my diagnosis and treatment. Though he never ever offers me any fees for my service, he helps me out a lot. So the other day when I went to his house for a check-up, I mentioned it to him. It’s no problem, he told me, just select the publisher. He would go with us and tell the publisher to do the needful.”

“Simplistic! It’s hard to buy it.”

“ The leader says the publisher has to suffer the consequences in case he doesn’t comply. You know the leader is way too powerful, and a poster boy of our chief minister. He could be pretty mean and ruthless. Do you think it’s possible to get published this way?”

“Hmm..you want to know if clout has any role in getting published. Right?”

“Yes, you get it right.” He leaned towards me expectantly.

“Of course it has a role,” I said to him. “Do you know how R K Narayan got published. Just when he was thinking of throwing his MS in water of The Thames, Graham Greene came to his rescue. Greene loved his writing, so he took him to his publisher and asked him to publish Narayan’s novel. But the publisher, having read his novel, was unimpressed and refused to publish it. Greene got furious and now threatened his publisher that he was going to withdraw all of his books from his house. The publisher changed his mind hereafter, and published Narayan’s novel.”

“Really?” Dr Basu sat up, forgetting to eat his dinner.

“But the current scenario is murky and a little bit funny.”

“How?”

“An income tax officer finds something gravely wrong with the tax returns of a big publishing house. One night he raids the house of the proprietor and owner with his team and seizes some incriminating documents that can land the publisher in jail, besides a hefty fine. So the publisher comes to his office, and offers him a bribe of an amount the officer has no chance of earning his whole life. But the officer refuses it. However, they were seen chatting amicably for a while after that. Now that income tax officer is a published writer.”

Dr Basu had stopped eating altogether. His jaw had dropped. “I can’t believe it,” he said excitedly, “So this is the state of publishing!”

I took the last bit of my food in my mouth.

“But I’ve still a moral dilemma. That leader is not Graham Greene, not by any means. He is a fucking shit, mean, debauch and practically a savage. In case the publisher refuses us, he may go for his jugular and kill him on the spot.”

“So what? There’s nothing to be worried about if a publisher gets killed that way. Because you can safely assume that he is not a real publisher and most likely he has no sense of and taste for a good book. He’s just there for the business. He’s a fucker who we can do without. He’s dispensable.”

“I get it.” Dr Basu looked more excited.

“Publishing is already broken. Now it’s worse than shit. This is the reason why most people don’t read anything now. What will they read? There’s nothing to read .”

“But there’re writers — many serious writers. I know some of them,”Dr Basu said.

“I agree with you. There are, and will always be some writers who represent their age, milieu and the people around them. They write because they must. But many of these writers will never be published in this time.”

“Why?”

“Have you ever gone to a publisher’s office? You’ll see a bevy of smart, beautiful ladies working there as acquisition editors, they’re formally educated, articulate, some with foreign degrees even, but they don’t know a thing about literature. One of these ladies recently compared Chetan Bhagat to Stendhal.”

“Stendhal! Who? I’ve heard of Chetan Bhagat.”

“Stendhal is a French writer, of the realistic school. Anyway, imagine now, these gals are our gate-keepers. They decide who to publish. Do you think they will even read your work, let alone publish? Never. So it makes no sense to submit any work to them. Submission is the most unreliable route to get published today.”

“So?”

“So you’re left with two options. The first one is, you keep on writing without thinking of ever getting published. Like our cavemen who scribbled or inscribed their art on the walls of the cave. Did they care about fame or something? This option has many advantages. The most important of them is that you can stay cool at a safe distance from the shitty world of publishing. And you can die peacefully without any concern for your oeuvre,”

“And the second option?”

“It involves action. You have to cajole a publisher, coax her,, threaten her,, intimidate her, and in extreme cases, God forbid, put a gun at her head to get your work published.”

“Do you advocate gun for writers to get their work published?”

“I’m for the first option.”

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Tim Barrus, are you reading this?

mark-john clifford, thanks for your kind words.