A Small Story About The Big Fix

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The publisher and the prospective author were chatting companionably over breakfast. The writer, who usually worked late into the night, rarely had breakfast and tended to be grouchy early in the morning. But the food was good and the company was pleasant, and so he was feeling uncharacteristically cheerful for that time of day.

‘How’s that thriller of yours coming along?’ asked the publisher. ‘The one about spot fixing?’

‘I’m almost done with the first draft,’ replied the writer. ‘I should be wrapping it up in a couple of weeks or so. Then I’ll take a little time to revise it. Should I send you the manuscript once it’s ready to see if you’d be interested?’

’Sure,’ said the publisher. And the conversation drifted to other topics.

The writer’s phone beeped just then. He smiled apologetically at the publisher and glanced at the message that had just come in. Then his eyes widened and he leaped from his chair as if he’d been shot out from a cannon. The publisher raised an inquiring eyebrow.

’Holy shit!’ exclaimed the writer. ‘Three cricketers have just been arrested for allegedly being involved in fixing in the Indian Premier League. The book just became very topical. Assuming you like it, how soon do you think you can bring it out?’

The publisher smiled calmly. ‘How soon do you think you can finish it?’ he countered.

The publisher was Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO of Westland. The author was yours truly. And the book is – you guessed it – The Big Fix.

I mention this anecdote because many friends who have read the manuscript asked me if I’d been inspired by the controversy that rocked the IPL earlier this year. In fact, ninety per cent of the book had already been written by the time the allegations hit the headlines. It’s an amazing coincidence, but that’s all it is. This book is completely a work of fiction, and the characters have sprung from my imagination. The Big Fix in no way purports to depict reality or facts.

However, some of the on-field banter has been borrowed from actual conversations between players, and some real-life events did serve as catalysts for my imagination – most prominently the dramatic death of Bob Woolmer, the South African coach of the Pakistan cricket team, in the middle of the 2003 World Cup. Of course, investigators have officially declared that Woolmer died of natural causes, and there is no logical reason to believe otherwise. Still, conspiracy theorists insist that there was more to the tragedy than meets the eye, and the subject keeps getting raked up every now and then. It was during the course of one such conversation that the idea of writing The Big Fix popped into my head.

Few sports have been written about as extensively as cricket. An enthusiast could probably spend years ploughing through all the great non-fiction works on the game and still have plenty of books left to read. But strangely, given the drama and tension inherent to cricket, very few memorable novels have been written about it (Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman and Anuja Chauhan’s The Zoya Factor being the only exceptions that I can recall off the top of my head).

So I set out to write a book that would, hopefully, appeal to both whodunit buffs and cricket fanatics. I wanted (rather ambitiously) to create a murder mystery that would have readers furiously turning the pages to get to the end, while simultaneously coming up with passages that would make them feel as if they had been transported straight to the field, in the midst of the heat and dust of T20 battle.

That, anyway, was the idea. I’ve given it my best shot. Whether I’ve succeeded or not is for you, the reader, to judge. I’d love to hear from you. Do read the book and let me know what you think. Post your comment here, or tweet to me at @authorvikas.

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Tabish Khair‘s advice to young writers

1. Don’t write because you want to; write because you have to. 

2. It is not a career; it is a vocation. 

3. It is not going to make your life any better (or, hopefully, any worse). 

4. Listen to everyone’s opinion on your writing; accept only what you agree with. 

5. Don’t assume that what interests you will automatically interest your reader.

6. The only way you can learn this craft is by reading much and widely. 

7. If you like only one kind of writing, you are in deep trouble.

8. If you like all kinds of writing, you are in deeper trouble.

9. Strong opinions are necessary; prejudices are not. 

10. Alcohol and love, both in moderation, usually help.

Behind the Scenes

A dentist friend in Calcutta, famous for his painless surgery, once told me he lived in perpetual fear of being accosted at what might have been innocuous cocktail parties by lipsticked women who felt completely free to say, ‘You’re George Traub?! Can you look at this … aaargh?’ (Followed by a baring of gums in the full austere view of Calcutta’s enduring ‘suits’.)

I would like to tell George that one of his colleagues took revenge on his behalf. At a clinical sitting, halfway through inserting several appliances in my gaping mouth, the good doctor said, ‘I’m told you’re in publishing. Who with?’

‘…asla…’ I managed.

‘Would you take a look at my niece’s manuscript?’

That’s the trouble. Everyone has a book ‘inside’ them.

Which is why people in publishing are so shy of admitting to their profession.

Which is why, at those inevitable launches, when people ask me, ‘So, who are you with?’, I always say, ‘ Asla.’

(By an editor at Westland)

How I Got Over My Jealousy of Guitar-Playing Dudes

Kenny Deori Basumatary, author of Chocolate-Guitar-Momos offers some free advice

Kenny Deori Basumatary, author of Chocolate-Guitar-Momos offers some free advice

…By learning to play the guitar myself.

I could pretty much end this piece here, but for the sake of a little slice of unimportant personal history, let’s go into a few details.

Everyone in my family is naturally sureela. My mother, father and brother were all born with the ability to sing, my father is a jack of all instruments, and my brother inherited that from him and went on to become a music arranger. Me—I don’t know why I didn’t get that strand of DNA. I was born without the concepts of scale, pitch and note. I don’t even know why I embarrassed myself by participating in a singing contest in school.

When I reached college, my then girlfriend’s eyes always used to light up on talking about a particular guy in her class who was not only good-looking but also played the guitar. And my eyes used to light up too, but in shades of green and red.

You know what they say: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So I borrowed my youngest uncle’s guitar and began learning. Uncle was very patient. The great thing about him was that whatever I wanted to learn, he’d teach. The trouble, though, was that whatever I wanted to learn, he’d teach, with the result that instead of starting with the basics, I was jumping all over the learning curve. I had no idea of what was tough and what was easy, so among the first songs I’d picked up was Michael Learns To Rock’s Paint My Love, which contained two million chords and was a bit of a stretch for a beginner. My other cousins would go nuts hearing me practising the same things over and over and over, which is, actually, the only way one learns anything in life.

There are five stages of guitar-learning frustration:

Stage 1: Total newbie. Your fingertips hurt, you’re worried they’ll get cut and bleed, the skin starts peeling off. I’d say 50 to 70 per cent of people get frustrated and quit at this stage. If they’ve committed themselves enough to buy their own guitar, they stick on a little longer than two days.

Stage 2: Your fingers don’t hurt any more, but they simply refuse to obey your mental commands to form the correct chord positions. It’s very frustrating.

Stage 3: You can now play chords easily enough. It’s very rewarding ’cos you can sing along (if you’re sureela) or accompany someone singing, but it’s very frustrating because you want to be able to play the guitar solos as well, and you’re not fast enough yet.

Stage 4: You can play the solos of most of your favourite pop/soft-rock/country songs. But when on earth will you ever be fast enough to play stuff by Petrucci or Satriani or Vai? Damn, it’s frustrating!

Stage 5: This is the stage when you’re actually Petrucci or Satriani or Vai yourself. I have no clue what they might be frustrated about, but I’m sure they must be frustrated about something!

Back to my guitar autobiography. The other thing was that Uncle is the quietest person in the world. So quiet that he even laughs silently, and only when it’s a level-10 joke does he laugh with actual sound. Which was why, whenever I asked anything, he’d tell me the answer, but the trouble was I had no clue what to ask. So I never actually got to know any of the theory and principles of how music works. What was worse, the guitar I practised on was always tuned two notes low, so when I bought a book of chords (pre-internet era) and tried to play along with the songs, it never seemed to sound right, but back then, I had no idea why and I didn’t know what to ask, so I just gave up. I still couldn’t distinguish a high note from a low note.

Then followed a four-year hiatus in IIT Delhi, during which I did—correction, tried doing—vocals (very besura, I might add) in our band but gave up right before our first gig. Didn’t bother to learn any guitar in that time either.

After I dropped out, my then girlfriend dumped me. I was grief-stricken and heart-broken for over a month then, but I’m eternally thankful to God now. The phrase ‘good riddance’ comes to mind.

I fell in love with another girl back in Guwahati, and she wanted to learn guitar. So of course I volunteered to teach her. I dug out my brother’s old guitar, bought strings, and since the internet now existed, started reading sites like guitarforbeginners.com. Finally the bulbs start lighting up in my head. Oh! That’s why! Oh! This is why the guitar never sounded right. Oh, so I should practise this.

Thus, in the process of teaching someone else, I managed to learn about guitar and music in general. I also decided to become a bit sureela, so I brought over our family harmonium, put a huge blanket over my windows so that the landlord and neighbours wouldn’t throw me out or throw stones, and started practising both vocals and guitar. In the initial days, I used to watch others play the intro of songs like Wherever You Will Go and White Lion’s You’re All I Need, and I’d wonder, damn, will I ever be able to play those?

After a year or two of ass-grinding practice—I must’ve done three-four hours a day—those same songs were re-classified into the ‘I can’t believe I used to find these hard’ category. During those times, I aspired and practised to play much tougher songs in shows, but gradually, the realisation dawned that I didn’t really have that much of a fire in me. My foremost ambitions were to be a writer and actor. So by the time I moved to Mumbai, I was content with what I knew of guitar. I can’t play the solos of Pull Me Under or Sad But True, but I can play most of the riffs, and I can completely play popular stuff like Your Body is a Wonderland, You’re Beautiful, Yellow, I’m Yours etc., which we’ve played at a show or two, and that’s good enough for me.

But the guitar-learning experience was a very valuable one. It helped me prove to myself that I wasn’t a completely lost case. That I still had the determination to go from zero to concert-worthy through hours and hours of practice.

And above all, there is the simple but profoundly pleasurable feeling of playing and singing by myself. Few things can make me feel good so quickly. Once you have the skill, it’s yours for life. And it’s worth the effort.

— Kenny Deori Basumatary, author of Chocolate Guitar Momos

The Darling Books of May

So what’s cooking this month at Westland/Tranquebar? Grab your seats at a banquet of infinite variety laid out by Prema Srinivasan in the Pure Vegetarian Cookbook. Like the best books on cuisine, this one doesn’t just dish up a boring list of recipes, but examines the ethos behind each inviting offering.

And here’s another view from the kitchen. Apparently, it’s a man’s place! Jugaad chef Samar Halarnkar’s comes with rare culinary advice in The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking,  directed at men only. There goes another female bastion.

More lessons—of a different kind—from Certified Speaking Professional Scott Friedman, the author of several innovative writings on business efficiency. Best of all, his Celebrate proves, point by point, that happiness at the workplace has an exponential effect on the bottomline.

Sometimes, 13 is not an unlucky number. Demonstrating that is Baker’s Dozen, an anthology of shorts by both new and established writers, brought out in a joint effort by Elle India and Westland-Tranquebar.

Soumya Bhattacharya’s next, with If I Could Tell You, which comes in tender compelling prose that conveys a father’s rendering of his own life to his daughter.

We’ve also got four new books by Deepak Dalal (all Silverfish-Westland releases): fun and useful reading for your children and—probably—you.

In Beauty Unleashed: A Comprehensive Guide to the Perfect Skin and Hair, international skin and hair care expert Dr Dinyar Workingboxwalla brings you comprehensive information on what to look for in grooming products, on how many of these can be found in your kitchen, and how to maintain the looks of a model. A sample passage is available in the May issue of our newsletter, Tranquebar Times.

And three generations come together to make up A Sense for Spice, Tara Deshpande Tennebaum’s lively description of what goes on in a Konkan kitchen, and what the diaspora has taken from it. Look for the interview with her in Tranquebar Times!

Multi-faceted writer, Adil Jussawala, has written Duckbill’s wonderful Right Kind of Dog, poems for young adults illustrated by Westland’s design chief, Gunjan Ahlawat, and you can find another interesting interview on Page 11, where Asha Nehemiah, author of Staying on My Toes Happily, elaborates on the joys of writing for children.

Celebrations are in order!

Extract from the forthcoming title, Longing, Belonging: An Outsider at Home in Calcutta by Bishwanath Ghosh

Extract from the forthcoming title Longing, Belonging: An Outsider at Home in Calcutta by Bishwanath Ghosh

THEN ONE EVENING, in the autumn of 2010, I found myself in the dimly lit confines of Trincas, the restaurant on Park Street. I was sharing a table—laden with bottles of beer and varieties of kebabs—with two men who were distantly related to my wife and were now my friends. The live band was in attendance, and all eyes were on the singer—a small woman, mildly plump, wearing a black cocktail dress that was short and tight.

‘How old do you think she would be?’ one of my companions asked.

‘Twenty-five, or twenty-six?’ guessed the other.

‘Are you out of your mind? I first came here some fifteen years ago and she was here even then. She couldn’t have been singing here at the age of ten.’

‘Then how old do you think she is?’

We all looked at the woman. Under the soft lights, it was impossible to even guess. We returned to the beer and the kebabs.

Later that evening, as we stepped out of Trincas, I asked the liveried doorman who had just saluted us, ‘That woman singing inside, how old do you think she is?’

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘Since when has she been singing here?’

‘Since a long time ago.’

‘How long?’

‘Very long.’

‘And since when have you been working here?’

‘Since a long time ago.’

‘How long?’

‘Very long.’

‘Still?’

‘I don’t remember the year, sir. When I joined, Usha Uthup was still singing here.’

A long time ago. This was an expression I was coming across often in Calcutta. And the ‘long time’ would invariably be traced back not to a particular year but to the lifestyle indicators of the time.

One waiter I had spoken to at Olypub, also on Park Street, had come from Orissa at a time when one drink at the bar cost Rs 1.75 and a cotton vest was sold in the market for Rs 1.25. A little distance away, on Camac Street, is stationed a cart that sells dal vadas. The joint is called Victoria Vada because the owner had started off by hawking wares outside the Victoria Memorial a long time ago—when the rail fare from Jaunpur, the town in Uttar Pradesh where he had migrated from, was seventeen rupees and a meal could be had for ten annas. And now the doorman at Trincas was telling me that he had come from Bihar when Usha Uthup was still the crowd-puller at the restaurant.

Men like these expected me to do back-calculation on the basis of nuggets their memory could serve. But how was I to know which year a cotton vest cost Rs 1.25? As I prodded them for more clues about how long was a long time ago, I realised that these people have been living in Calcutta, doing the same thing they are still doing, from the time I was born—even before.

They are still around, so are the places. Except the escalation in the cost of living and biological aging, very little change seemed to have taken place in their lives and, by extension, in the parts of the city they were serving. This also meant I still had a chance to make up for not having grown up in Calcutta.

At the same time I could not think of relocating to Calcutta, mainly for the fear that its charm may begin to wear off once I had become a resident. Surely there must be other ways of knowing a city where I could not be born but would like to die—someday—to eventually mix with the soil that had given me my surname?

So that night, even as the age of the singer had remained undetermined, I became determined to write this book. That way I could return to Calcutta soon—and return more often.

By the time I hailed a taxi from outside Trincas, my mind had already begun working on a synopsis—even though I had barely finished researching a book about Chennai I had signed a contract for and was a long away from delivering the manuscript. Looking at one city as a subject had given me the courage to look at another. In a way, I was going to follow the footprints of the East India Company—first in Chennai, then Calcutta.

Interview with Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times

What made you do this book?

ImageAs a political journalist and writer I have always been drawn to successful political leaders who took decisions despite all opposition and not because of certain considerations. Without endorsing their position – even their seemingly authoritarian ways – there is need to understand the psyche and making of such personalities. Early in my career I was drawn to conflict reporting and when Hindu nationalistic politics came on the centre stage in the 1980s, I gravitated to its pursuit. Modi was a subject who fits the bill on both counts. It only helped that I had known him in his formative years.

Do you think Modi is one of the most charismatic/ controversial politicians in post-Babri India?

Without doubt, in post-Babri India, Modi is the most polarising political leader. Almost everyone has an opinion on him. His importance is more important because he does not have a political pedigree and no single patron like several of his peers. Modi is at the position where he is by sheer grit, astute positioning and remarkable leveraging of fault lines in his political fraternity. Modi’s preeminent position is also because of the ruthless manner in which he channelized the sentiment of hatred for his personal and political benefit.

Considering the subject alternated between hate and adulation, did you have to do the balancing act all through?

During the conceptualisation stage of the biography, I decided that the book would not be an essay or an opinion piece on Modi. Once I decided to distinguish between analysis of news, events and actions of Modi from my opinion on them, it became very easy to maintain the right balance between hatred and adulation – the two most important emotions that Modi generates. There are times when my opinion does reflect on my analysis, but this is rare and only when the situation makes it unavoidable.

What are the challenges in doing a book of this kind in terms of the lack of ‘enough’ history to back up a protagonist like Modi?

The biggest challenge was that this was a biography of a living leader who was still a participant in the making of future histories and that I did not want to write a hagiography, yet wanted access to him. The other challenge was to ensure that the research and writing did not get inundated in the post-2002 hatred that Modi generated while simultaneously making sure that I did not get swayed by sycophantic viewpoints that abound his personal terrain. I was also confronted by the fact that several facets of his persona are shrouded in matters that are sub judice and that most events pertaining to his life are too recent – even continuing – to take a reasoned historical look.

You are an expert on Right wing politics; do you think Modi has somewhere redefined the idioms considering he is seen more through the prism of development?

With the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Hindu nationalist forces played out their trump card. Its leaders argued that the Ayodhya agitation was not for a temple per se and instead to invert the prevailing understanding of the idea of secularism. But the BJP came to power only after compromising on key ideological issues and on its principal ideological mascot. Modi has revered this trend – albeit so far in a restricted sense, but also raising the spectre of doing so at a much wider, maybe even at an all-India scale. Modi revived the lost aggression of the Hindutva idea and has been steadfast in being unapologetic about it. Despite speculation he has made it evident that his availability is strictly on an ‘as-is-where-is basis’.

What was most riveting thing about Modi when you met him for the several interviews and what was that one thing that sets him apart from the others?

The most riveting characteristic of Modi is that he exudes power to hide certain obvious weaknesses. Like any emperor who owes his position to the awe he evokes and not the love that he generates, insecurity drives many of his actions – some of which he may later repent. But Modi is extremely methodical and disciplined. He is also a great seeker of information. He uses every tit-bit of information, so much so that many of his assertions after our meetings reflected some of what had been talked about. Unlike most political leaders, Modi is unabashed about everything. Be it his politics of hate, his fondness for a lavish wardrobe, fancy accessories or even his disdain for views that are contradictory to his. There is no wavering in his conviction that only his way is the correct one.

Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times will be released on May 1st 2013.