Beaten by Bhagath

I’m still convinced that the title of this review should have been: ‘Beat a potato by being another potato’ but I decided on ‘Lion, Jackal, or Adder’ because, like the author, I too feel that writers need to choose a character for themselves. Well, the choice isn’t limited to these animals as I know a writer of mathematics text-books who spends months diligently copying from every other text book and then making changes to make his manuscript sound different… I call him a donkey because of his mindless slog and also because his text-books are massive tomes. He is successful as he manages to literally and otherwise make an ass of thousands of students!

The point that S V Divvaakar or SVD is trying to make is if there is indeed a formula to writing fiction. Before the readers of this review start feeling that ‘Beaten by Bhagath’ is SVD’s MPhil thesis, let me say that this one is a light-hearted analysis of a writer’s subliminal meanderings that also happen to flow through the surreal world of publishing, all in the form of an endearing story.

The protagonist BB – and I suspect the acronym BB is more likely a lateral inversion of SVD – decides to bring out his thought scalpels and dissect the success of K-10 or Ketan Bhagath – who, I again suspect, will have Chetan Bhagat peeping out of the mirror image of K-10. Well, we have BB declaring that he ‘could read no more than twenty pages’ of whatever K-10 writes, and yet admits that he has ‘enjoyed some of his books’.

Beating K-10 is not about beating an author, the person. It is actually about beating the psyche of millions of young readers who put themselves behind him, because they see themselves in his books. A writer, really speaking, needs to be the ‘symbol of young India’s thoughts, its aspirations, its mould.’

As a reader I felt I was jumping in and out of a writer’s mind, swimming with or sometimes against the flow of opinions in the book. There were times I agreed with what BB seemed to be saying and at other times I found him blabbering like some over-excited self-proclaimed writer or publisher in my Facebook list of friends. I’m quite sure a lot of us have read FB updates that sound perilously close to what BB says here:

Books too are no longer the low investment game they used to be in the past. I know from experience that even a well written book needs at least 25 lakhs to support the necessary marketing effort to get a fighting chance. Show me a book which gets it and I can show you a successful book. Question is, who puts in the money?

SVD has adopted a rather sedate format for the book. Yes, it is all about the process of writing a novel and then publishing and selling it… but it all begins as a pulsating charge of an idea. So the book traces the path of how it is the success of Ketan or K-10 that pushes BB towards the inevitability of becoming a writer… and all that happens after this. The best part is that a reader stays with the protagonist all the time. SVD doesn’t ask you to hop, skip, and jump from one character to another and then connect all the leaps in the excel-sheet of your mind. The book does not ask your neurons to work out in a Gym, so to say… but takes you on a long ride through the difficult terrain of what writing a novel can be. As S V Divvaakar writes in the Author’s Note:

A book can have a profound influence on the reader’s life and destiny. But who knows the incredible voyage of a book as it seeks its destiny in the warm, loving hands of the reader?

If this sort of a voyage interests you, this tale of two writers is certainly going to keep you entertained. This voyage makes it clear that conventional college education can be such a waste ‘and it’s worse if you have multiple talents. Do you become a singer or an investment advisor, if you happen to be good at both?’ he rued.’ Well, yes, the book also informs you about the pitfalls a writer may come across, but you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a defined formula for creating a block-buster in thirty days! No, this isn’t a guide to writing for dummies… the book opens page after page of writer-relevant information in easy language that pulls a story along. So if this is a flaw, then it is… it isn’t the story that blends in the wisdom of information, it is the other way round in this book. We have pages of even bulleted chunks of information snapping at you suddenly. But then, what saves the day is the uncanny wit that is wrapped around every info-junction. The author’s tryst with hilarious narration is obvious in the way he describes what an ‘album argument’ or a ‘page turner’ is… and the hilarity multiplies when a reader realises that there are ‘Gyani ji, Gaya nahi ji!’ sort of gonadal giggles waiting to pounce at you even as you read about potential writers ‘creep out of bed after you-know-what, sneak into my study, and click away into the morning, adding several pages each night. It was almost like the guilt of waiting to savour the voyeuristic delights of the other woman after getting over the mundaneness of official husbandry.’ One almost begins enjoying the feeling of being a writer…

The book does have its dull and insipid moments, pages that are bloated and lethargic, and pages that seem like those pesky calls from builders and telephony service providers right when you are in the heart of writing your review or blog-post! But then, I’m always willing to gracefully accept such untutored gyrations if they come along with some sublime moves… like the time when SVD boldly pronounces:

Walk away with grace, or stay back and fight. Either way, it is hands-down victory for the big guys. Like Sachin’s Mumbai Warriors clobbering Wadala Street boys in a benefit match. 

…or this one:

So, often, once a book leaves the publisher’s warehouse, it is really an orphan in the market, surrendered to the will of God.

The book takes you on a joy-ride from the emergence of this chromosomal bug called ‘writing’ to the appearance of dusty piles of creative indulgence waiting to be regurgitated as some new avatar! This is one book where I stopped being bothered about which character was being introduced as they just came and disappeared after their two-bit role was done. Most of them appeared to make some delicious statement before moving on to make their guest appearance in some other novel by some other author, I’m sure, but leaving writers who are readers of this book with some thoughts to dwell upon…

‘Cut-to-cut boloon toh, yes. Like any business. Big fish, small fish, you know. Survival of the fattest.’
‘So what’s the solution, Balbir Bhai?’
‘Dekho bhai, ultimately, public is the real king. Only the public can rescue you from giants or make you another giant….’

…and the discussion moves on to nibble on the relevance of discovering new genres and finally there is a lip-smacking ‘bit about luck and being discovered.

Books like this one tend to be as engrossing and entertaining as any romance or thriller out there in the book-shops… they can be as enigmatic and informative as the biographies and auto-biographies you search for… they have the power of connecting with your dreams. I say this because wherever I look I see a writer or someone who dreams to be a writer.



Book details:

Book: Beaten by Bhagat
Author: S V Divvaakar
ISBN: 9382473033
ISBN-13: 9789382473039
Binding: Paperback
Publishing Date: 2012-11-11
Publisher: Frog Books
Number of Pages: 193
Price: Rs 125/- (in 2013)

2013-06-06 14.39.06 (Large)

Arvind Passey
06 June 2013