Monday, December 21, 2015

How To Be a Literary Sensation - Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli takes a break from writing humor novels (his earlier books 'Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms' and 'Jump Cut' gave ample indication of his rare talent) and tears into a non-fiction foray on his experiences as a writer that pretty much rips open all things literary in India. He chooses to please none and everyone in the domain is stripped off their pretences, normally hidden behind a translucent cloud. The result is a book that gives a writerly peek into this inaccessible industry - which is what makes Krishna's book hilarious. There's nothing as funny as the truth and Krishna is too good a humour writer to let go of so many wonderful truths that stare him in the eye all day.  To me this is a book that will remain unchallenged for a long long time for the simple reason that not many have his craft nor his courage and clarity of purpose.
Harper Collins, 249 p, Rs. 299

The cover gives it away. The byline (or tag line or whatever that is called) is too long so I did not include it up in the title. It's 'A Quick Guide to Exploiting Friends, Family and Facebook for Artistic Gain'. There is that stamped bookmark (or whatever it is called) on the top left hand side that proclaims 'India's No. 1 Non-Bestselling Humorous Writer'. Having sufficiently warned us Krishna then dips into his experiences with writing and getting published - consuming his family, friends, editors, lit agents, lit events, bestselling writers, published and unpublished writers and every one else in the path.

I rate funny books by the number of times they made me laugh out loud. My normal standard is three for a good book, especially if it has one that is long enough. Now not all humour writers have the ability to make you laugh out loud - some make you twitch a lip, some make your eyes dilate a bit and it is only the rare talent that makes you laugh out loud. Few fall in this last category - Wodehouse did, Dave Barry did, Sidin Vadukut did, Vinod Ekbote did and certainly Krishna did. Krishna's book gave me about 25 (some all time high record with Dave Barry and Wodehouse surely) which certainly means that I identify with his views and have been exposed to some similar experiences but more than that, its a tribute to this rare, funny man's increasing expertise with his craft. That I think is a great sign because I cannot wait to read what Krishna will produce down the line at this rate. He is intelligent, is obviously working at getting better at his craft and has now totally thrown off all indications of any kind of restraint or conforming to norm. It is great stuff and holds great promise.

To run you through the book map - it is a series of articles on writing and the publishing industry - some of which he wrote earlier for other publications. The compilation is a delightful lot that starts with him bushwacking the creative life, milking his friends, bleeding his family, mining locations and customs, sparing women and children, distilling performance arts, unfriending facebook and in the end carpetbagging literary things. The one that got me rolling was the 'Dictionary of Publishing Terms for Writers in India' which is a masterpiece. Why they did not put this up as the first article I cannot understand. Good beginnings make great sense - just as good endings. Why put the best stuff in the middle? The rest of the last section is equally funny with his take on 'Twelve Literary Superheroes', 'Eigth Maths Problems for Writers' 'Book Awards Deconstructed' and going back to the beginning 'Cunning lingo', 'The Hitman and the Corporate'. Ah , too many to choose from.

So we have his greeting cards business that began with a bang with his 'Happy Diwala' cards, Kailash Mehta and his obsession for good quotes which he appropriates as his own, KSD's friend  Sriram who started on his literary career with a raunchy story involving the English teacher and aborted (the lit career) after an early suspension, Go-Gopal's classic last line to the ageing call girl who was trying to pass off as a college girl with a causal 'correspondence course-aa?', the dangerous world of Paddy Padmanabhan who after a couple of drinks goes ballistic upon suspecting that he is surrounded by homos or eunuchs and gets his own Glenfidditch confused (this one is incredibly hilarious like that drunken scene from Amar Akbar Anthony), there is that discovery why the Gross National Happiness Index of Bhutan has something to do with the attire that the male guide wore, KSD's two hilarious dates with Pinky and her search for abortionists and Ning Singh's nifty goes on and on.

I left out much of the literary things part which is the funniest section for me - but a glimpse of that is a must. After the essential reading of the dictionary of publishing terms we move into vegetable bondage (another brilliant aspect is the titles of the chapters - this one is about how vegetable bondas are the super star at a book event), 13 ways to be  lit fest superstar (most tips already taken), Anatomy of a book event (must read, and its pretty close to the truth believe it or not) and another one of my favorites, 12 lit superheroes. This section includes real life characters like sniff-a-deal man, extreme post man, outfocus woman, buy or die girl, uncle girl, double threat woman an d others. I met all of these among the 12 and hope to meet the rest soon.Book awards deconstructed...I give up here. Go read.

For my ready reference I will reproduce a few of my favorites. These are from the dictionary of publishing terms.

Acknowledgements: Section of a book that usually comes at its end where you praise all the people you want to beat to a coma with the hardcover edition.

Copy edit: Editing that concentrates on the mechanics of your writing. Meaning, if your book is the works, copy editing is the spanner. If your book is the wheel, it is the spoke. Typically, copy editors, while doing their principal job of updating their fb status, take a high-speed look at grammar, punctuation and spelling errors and add some if there aren't enough in your original manuscript to give it that much needed edge.

Genre: Word no writer had as yet figured how to pronounce but insists on using with impunity at lit fests. It means classification of books. Examples of genre in fiction are mystery, romance, historical romance, mysterious romance, hysterical romance, mystical hysteria, morontic history, crime fiction, criminal fiction, literary fiction, literally fiction and illiterate fiction (most popular in India).

Hook: Used to mean that special something that makes your book stand out from every other title on the bookshelf. Also, the implement you use to catch your editor when she is running away from you at the lit fest. Usually followed by line and sinker.

Marketing: Effort the publishing house puts in to make sure your books reach as many editors as possible. Santa Claus heads this department and is assisted by the tooth fairy. The elves pitch in when they are short staffed.

Typo: Typographical error that usually appears on the first page of the book, making the writer immune to all the errors that follow.

Krishna's book is filled with such stuff. And the titles make you laugh too - Trans-Sunday (about transgenders attacking his house on a Sunday), What's in a Mname?, The Prosodomy of Assonance (reminded me of Ludlum), Of vegetable bondage, The pen pushers of Retellapur (of stories retold by modern day writers).

If you like funny books, read good stuff, write and want to write, are a publisher or wanna be publisher, are a lit agent or a wannabe be lit agent or anything to do with this industry, you must read this book. If you want to know what happens behind the mysterious doors of the literary world this is pretty much as close as it can get. A better reason to read it would be to get your entire year's quota of laughs. This is the time to make up.

I did like his last piece immensely - about how his job is to displease, to write as he wishes and not dance to everybody's tune. Few have the confidence to take that path. That is what separates the boys and the men also I guess. Good for you KSD.

I also think Krishna does to Chennai what Ruskin Bond does to Dehradun or Mussoorie, what RK Narayan does to Mysore. One can feel the real Chennai as we know it from the 5 star hotels to the seedy bars, the autos to the bondas, the flowers in the hair ladies to strong drink whacking males. Well done Krishna. You're getting to be as bad as Dave Barry. 


Sunil said...

Good one Sir :)

MoSport2011 said...

Lovely review Hari....yes, this was a book with a difference

Rajendra said...

look forward to the read..irresistible, it seems.

Harimohan said...

Dear Sunil, you must read it. You will enjoy it immensely and you as a budding writer will learn much too. :)

Harimohan said...

Thanks MoSport 2011. I agree fully.

Harimohan said...

Raja, as a humour writer you will throughly enjoy Krishna's take. Must read.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Hari. You have been most kind. Your analysis of this primary effort of mine in the area of non-fiction means a lot to me. You are one of the finest writers of non-fiction I've read in recent times. Also, it has come to be that no book of mine feels complete without your review :-)
Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

Harimohan said...

Thanks Krishna. I really appreciate that. Funnily my foray into non-fiction (50 no) and my next non-fiction effort are pretty much a result of your belief in my non-fiction writing. Not a bad thing if we are pushing each other to do some good work. :) And once again, at the cost of repetition after the long review, great work Krishna. I do hope the book gets the recognition that's due to it.

And in an inexplicable way, its nice to see the writer's comment in the comment's section. Kind of allows others to interact on this forum too.