Journalist Pinki Virani is pissed off with modern India. In her previous books, we’ve seen what angers the author-activist about this country. Aruna’s Story was the real-life tale of the rape of a nurse that left her in a coma; Bitter Chocolate was about child sexual abuse; and Once Was Bombay? Don’t get me started on my favourite topic. The title is self-explanatory.
Thinly veiled: And too thin.
But these days publishers want more bang for their book. How does one convert serious issues such as caste, religion, rape, genocide, foeticide, sati, cultural wars and every other socio-political disaster that’s slammed us in the face in the last seven years or so into a fast, saleable read? Why, through celebrities of course.
So Virani’s latest book, a novel titled Deaf Heaven, which “examines the crisis that underlies the façade of progressive modernity”, also features a Bollywood family where father and son share the same initials. It’s a family where the manglik daughter-in-law marries a peepul tree and an ex-fiancée ends up with a polo-playing Delhi businessman. Sound familiar? By the time I was less than halfway into the book, I had already identified more than a handful of characters, including the information technology czar who gets cozy with a wine correspondent whose husband is a political chamcha, and the princess who “would have married a playboy had he not in a drug-alcohol fuelled surge of hate shot down his parents at dinner”.
As one character tells another in the book albeit in a different context: “Completely fucking weird. Who would believe it if we wrote about it, it’s Kafkaesque.”
Everyone knows that in India, reality is always stranger than fiction. Creative people often claim that reality as their own. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra did it this year in Dilli-6—a chunk of the idea came from actual events (see the Wikipedia entry on the Monkey-Man of Delhi). There’s no harm in using reality to tell a story—director Spike Lee explores the reality of race relations all the time. But if you call it fiction, you have to take it to another level—there’s no point changing names, rehashing gossip that every journalist has heard and rearranging events and people in an attempt to create a racy, preachy narrative. And if reality is your true muse, well then there’s another category they call non-fiction.
The jacket describes the book as “fiction that dares to subvert form, structure and expectations to hold up a mirror to a nation at tipping point”. I’d say it’s more accurate to call it a novel with an identity crisis.
Reliance Communications has already announced that Deaf Heaven will be India’s first cell novel—the plan is to convert the book into a pack of SMSs available through subscription. I think I can already guess which parts Anil Ambani’s company will cut when it is condensing the book.
PS: Those of you who wonder how books are really written should buy Sankar’s recently released The Middleman. At the end of the book, the author (reluctantly) shares how he went from idea to manuscript.
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