Books

What Does My Detractor Say?

People are never clear in their heads.

I am feeling a little shy to admit that I still read the things my detractor Manu Joseph says. I hear that his novel is being read, unlike his Magazine. But, I read it on his own Facebook wall. I suppose I should take such claims with a grain of salt. He says that his novels are too good, and that he does not emerge from any particular tradition. But, that is not true. I will tell you where he lifted many things from—As soon as possible.

But, what are the interesting things he thinks about these days? His interviews are full of “stimulating thoughts”.

Quotable quotes:

I’m not delusional, so I can see delusions very easily. I have always been fascinated by the power of delusion in people who are clear-headed in other ways.”

[Ah.]

“One of the book’s themes is that we all talk about clarity and sanity all the time, but the truth is it’s very dangerous. True clarity and sanity won’t allow you to do anything — it will just make you jump off the building. The pursuit of truth itself is a psychiatric condition.”

[Perhaps.]

I told my Books Editor at Open that we should carry very few book reviews because most of them are very boring and people don’t read them.”

[It is good if they do not carry book reviews at all. Elizabeth Kuruvilla is their books editor. After I saw her “edits”, I did not even read my essay. 😛 ]

“A very important character, a neuro-psychiatrist named Iyengar, is a cameo. He is trying to prove that sanity is not a majority condition; that you cannot consider a majority delusion as accepted human nature.” 

[Agreed.]

“Being an editor trains you to accept failure, strangely. You’re not so isolated as an artist that you have a moronic interpretation of failure. What is professionalism? A professional falls; he gets up and continues to walk. And I find that some novelists are not always trained for that — I really feel they should spend some time in a profession, in an office. I was at a writers’ conference in Edinburgh and it struck me there is something childlike about writers — it can be scary. An artist who is a rebel in his or her own field, and who is constantly questioning, might still be naïve enough to not use the same faculties in another context.”

[But, this has always been obvious to me.]

“I think Arundhati Roy’s novel deserved all the acclaim it got. I’m not a fan of her journalism — I think she’s an example of those naïve writers who became naïve because they didn’t have a job. If she had worked as a journo for some time, she would develop some weapons — you can’t be someone who keeps getting slapped around, mostly by yourself. And sometimes when you’re just theorising, it gets tricky — information is so vast and hard to access. Just like those early Brahmins never used to write anything down because they wanted to convey everything through the ear, I think academics can be lousy because they want to guard the information — they want money from the publishers but they also want to guard the info. Anyway, that’s a different matter.”

[But, that is a different matter. So, why is he going off topic? :P]

“The thing is, I think as writers we have to be very confident about what we want to say, and that this is how we wish to describe certain things. I’m not very intimidated by stereotyping, because I feel that sometimes there’s a lot of truth in generalisation. It depends entirely on whether you’re able to pull off the paragraph. Maybe what people want to say is that the paragraph was mediocre. Or, maybe they want to say, “I’m offended because you’re right.” People are never clear in their heads. Sometimes, when I’m describing something, I do know whether it will be perceived as funny or not. Or maybe I’m wrong.”

[My detractor knows so many things about these people. He has collected so much data about them. This is why I think that he is somewhat underrated.]

“I’ve noticed with novelists, as with most artists who don’t do anything else, you’re stuck in your own crowd. See, you can say a lot of things about journalists that are not very complimentary, but the one thing they cannot afford to be is naïve. It gives you that edge, being a journalist. Also, it forces you to meet people. As an editor I meet a lot of people I don’t want to meet, and whom I usually wouldn’t. But in hindsight, it’s very enriching for a novelist.”

[This is too naive a definition of naivete. :)]

“This whole first sentence thing is something that I personally need even in journalism, to just start the thing, you know—because it sets the tone, it does a lot of things, it’s very important. Because the novel is being born with the first sentence. The first sentence belongs to the writer. I went through a phase when I didn’t understand a novel that begins with, “And she kept the cup on the table.” I mean, it’s like, “This is your novel, you’re starting.” Even when I was very young, starting out in journalism, I used to say that the first line belongs to me. Maybe it’s also a boyish thing? You’re setting out on an adventure. But the risk is that it can be misunderstood as something cute or deliberate or forced.”

[Look. He knows what he is talking about.]

“I’m such an outsider. If there’s anything I like about myself, it’s that I’m outside this whole system, and people don’t realise how much I stand to gain by being an insider. For instance, I could use my column to really flatter Rushdie and other prominent writers, and milk them later. I can make so many friends, using my journalism. I’m very disappointed with myself, actually. I think people who have complaints about my journalism should grant me this—that I’ve not used journalism to make friends, while I would have benefited a lot if I did.”

[True.]

“Though I do talk about networking as if it is something that is beyond me, I think it has its value. And I’ve done a disservice to my own literary career by not being networked. You don’t have to do anything dirty. You just reach out to people, that’s all. And somehow, I cannot reach out to people. And it disappoints me at one level. But it’s a talent, and I don’t have that talent—to reach out, cultivate relationships. I’m not hostile.”  

[Awww.]

“I was always a very responsible person, you know. (Laughs) I think I was always somewhat strong, and I always aspired to be strong. And I don’t have any romantic notions about things like drugs. I like responsible characters.”

[Yes. Responsible editors leak drafts. That is something for which editors should be sent to jail, or at least sacked.] 

I think almost everybody is mad. I really believe that. Very few people in the world are sane, one of the subjects of my next book. You look at the average person–his or her beliefs, the huge cathedrals built for them, the religions that maintain order, the rubbish that people believe in, the imbeciles who can influence millions, the rover on Mars searching for water–it is very obvious to me that most people are actually mad. Sanity is a gift. In fact, Acharya is less insane than most people who think he is. Deep within him there is a clarity of thought. Sanity is about that–clarity. The struggle of humanity to achieve clarity is what all art is about.

[When I read things like this, I feel that I have come home.]

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