On the eve of the Jaipur Literature Festival, author Krishna Shastri Devulapalli lists ways in which Indian writers can stand out at the country’s numerous lit fests, regardless of the quality of their books.
If you hurl a hardbound volume of literary fiction into the air in frustration, chances are you’ll hit a writer… who’ll pick it up, peruse it and tell you, ‘Bah, my book is much better.’ Such are the times we live in. There are more writers than readers. So what do you do if you’re a not-so-famous writer and yet managed to get yourself invited to a lit fest because the neighbour of a second cousin who owes you one is having an affair with the organizer’s mistress? How do you milk that oversubscribed teat? How do you stand out in this throng of delusional attention junkies? How do you bookworm your way into the next lit fest? How do you steal the thunder from scenery-chewing pastmasters who know every trick in the book, theirs and yours? Given below are copyright-free ideas that’ll help you be the undisputed item boy or girl of the next lit fest you go to. My fellow writers, use them freely and fearlessly.
Undressed for the Part
In a venue bustling with Fabindians, this is a good way to stand out. Think Protima Bedi or the guy at the Oscars in the ’70s. You still remember them after so many years. From posterior to posterity is what you’re aiming for. Don’t panic. You don’t actually have to go nude. Very realistic latex body suits are freely available now. Any film costumier can get you one. You thought those six-packs were real? The makers thoughtfully leave out the more dangly parts to make them aesthetic, too. So chances of a rival writer trying to goose you are minimized. Unattired thus, you wouldn’t have to worry if your co-panellists are a recently reanimated Rabindranath Tagore and William Shakespeare launching their new, jointly written book of sonnets. You could read from the telephone directory and you’d still rock. While you’re at it, give the whole thing an activist spin. It never fails. Say your nudity is a response to sloth bears not being quick on the uptake or some such cause.
Dressed for the Part
I recently went to this lit fest where a writer who did a lec-dem on classical dance thought it fit to do her next session in the same outfit but with Ray-Bans and a Trilby (it was a sunny day). I realized that if her copanellist had announced that he was going to whip out an AK-47 and gun down the audience, no one would’ve noticed. Because a large sweaty woman in turquoise Kanjeevaram silk, jasmine in her hair, a garland of dead flowers around her neck, her forefinger curled to denote a parrot (she was playing Andal), wearing Aviators and a hat can do that to you. For your next festival, go dressed as Lawrence of Arabia (camel optional), Idi Amin (some skulls, maybe?), NTR’s version of Krishnadeva Raya or your favourite fairy-tale character. It can’t hurt.
Everyone knows the work of a dead artist is more valuable than that of a live one. An assistant will be required for the duration of your session. It won’t hurt if she’s dressed in a nurse’s outfit or even a French maid’s. Her job is to strap you tightly onto a stretcher and prop you up vertically against the backdrop of the stage. She will begin your session by reading out your last wish: to attend the festival and sell 500 copies of your book. That’s it. While the other writers in the session toil hard, reading out from their books and plugging them mercilessly, you don’t have to do a thing. All you have to do is make sure you’ve got dark glasses on and channel your Weekend at Bernie’s look.
Disorder for Pre-orders
If idiot film-makers can cold-bloodedly misrepresent serious disorders like Progeria and autism, why not us self-serving writers? Pretend you have a disorder. Call it, say, Gibson’s Nervosa. An ailment that basically makes you behave like the love child of Aditya Pancholi and Virat Kohli who has been adopted by Charlie Sheen. You can pepper your hour on stage with superbly timed abuses, obscene gestures, karate chops, violent tics and Jim Carrey-like facial contortions that’ll have your co-panellists on their toes. The kinks will, of course, disappear completely when you are doing your own readings. That is the nature of Gibson’s. Who is to contradict that? You invented it. Can be used with great efficacy on the organizers, too, if they don’t supply you with good booze in the evenings. Scottish alcohol reduces your symptoms, you see.
Personally, I find readings the most boring part of a lit fest. Readings turn second hands of clocks into arthritic octogenarians. I have been to a lit fest where an otherwise asymptomatic audience member, unable to take a writer’s soulful eighteen-page paean to the viscosity of manure in rural Bengal from his highly acclaimed novel, passed out and had epileptic convulsions that stopped only when he was given a bunch of old-fashioned keys to grip. Here’s your chance to revive and rejig this segment. Do your readings in reverse. Simple. Start at the end of the passage you have chosen and finish at the beginning. The unfamiliar juxtaposition and sequence of words will have everyone’s undivided attention. Do it with your back to the audience to double the reverse effect. If you’re a risk taker, knock yourself out – use the Songify mic.
Raju Ban Gaya Bestseller
Some people have all the luck, I tell you. I have been trying to get my books banned for years and my publishers are refusing to oblige. Reason: what in hell are we going to wipe our hands on after a greasy lunch? Take things into your greasy hands and ban your own book at a lit fest – mid-session. Have a bunch of people (even three-four sweaty fellows will do because cowardice runs high among writers and book lovers) stand up in the middle of your reading and object to certain passages in them that are deeply offensive to, say, male beauticians hailing from interior Kerala or HR professionals in the cockfighting industry. Have one of them come onstage and rough you up a bit. If you don’t like the moderator, here’s your chance to elbow him in the groin as you ‘defend’ yourself. Win-win situation. Your books will be sold out.
There’s this writer. She’s kind of the Greta Garbo of the literary field. This self-avowed hermit has a gazillion friends on FB, posts pics of kids and family and cavorts in the cascade of ‘like’s with abandon that would put the Liril girl to shame. But, apparently, she won’t do lit fests, releases, etc. I think it’s time that position was taken to the next logical level. Go to the lit fest. But refuse to be seen. Have five ‘fans’ surround you, accompany you to the stage and deposit you under the table. You will conduct your entire session from there – heard but not seen. Feel free to interject using your disembodied hand. The only disadvantage (or advantage, depending on which websites you visit) of this position is that you’ll have an unfettered view of your co-panellists’ squirmy crotches. But worth it, I think, when you see your sales figures.
Being a hater is always a good business move. I got most of my promotions telling bosses how much I hated their bosses. It helped that the boss was my uncle. But that’s not the point. So position yourself as a hater of a particular type/weight/ profession/hairstyle of person. If you choose hairstyle, your answer to any and all questions will be how much you hate this ‘kind’, and for how many centuries people with bowl cuts have been oppressing the ones with bangs, perms and hair extensions. Sold!
Tears for Cheers
At this lit fest recently, a literary type ‘wept’ in front of TV cameras, apparently overcome with grief because a biggie had been denied permission to attend. Good call. The world loves a cry baby. Bad prep, though. Because his Nirupa Roy moment was spoilt by bone-dry tear ducts that refused to cooperate with his manipulative little heart. So he ended up looking like he was winking at random people. Soon, people began winking back. Till the whole thing resembled one massive joke that everyone was in on except the TV crews. When you go the tear-jerk route, go suitably armed with glycerine or an onion. If that doesn’t work, have someone junk punch you. That’ll have you sobbing nonstop at your session. Say you are reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination or that you are lamenting the lack of proper toilets in Bollywood actors’ vanity vans. Anything, so long as you weep, sob, snivel and whimper alternately. Box office gold, I tell you.
Shaken & Stirred
Say you’re a secret agent. This is not as bizarre as it sounds. Several boys have used this ploy to tremendous effect in order to get dates or avoid arrest. In fact, between Classes 8 and 11, I convinced my school authorities that I was working for a top secret government project to expose unsavoury elements in the field of education. They made me school pupil leader. Then I was expelled. The average lit fest visitor has about the same willingness to suspend disbelief as a Rajinikanth fan. After all, he does come believing that all eighty-six participants of a minor lit fest are actually bestselling writers. Or that they are writers. Tell the audience your book has explosive revelations that’ll shake their timbers. Even if it’s a low-fat cookbook for the over-seventy. It doesn’t hurt to keep patting your vest or coat area, now and again, as if there’s a gun in there. Watch your sales skyrocket.
Sunny Side Up
When all else fails, there’s Sunny. Not Deol – though I have seen writers with vocal chords that rival his as they punch tables with their one-and-a-half-kg fists. Sunny Leone. I have a theory. I think the drastic reduction of newsprint for all things literary is directly proportional to the increase in space allotted to Ms Leone. It’s payback time. Right at the beginning of your session, drop a broad hint that Sunny Leone has given her consent to starring in the film version of your book. It doesn’t matter if your book is a compilation of essays about gall bladder health. No one will notice. Book out of stock before your session is done. Guaranteed.
Listen up. Other than Chetan Bhagat and Hitler (source: Scroll.in), the largest selling books are those written by doctors. Karan Johar’s proctologist, Amitabh Bachchan’s ENT and A.K. Hangal’s paediatrician all have bestsellers. Now add that to this: book lovers are rarely in peak physical condition on account of sitting for long periods of time doing god knows what to themselves while reading Fifty Shades of Grey. So what is a lit fest? It is nothing but truckloads of gullible folk begging to be part of your cult if only you can cure them of something. Go prepared. Subtly drop the word ‘healer’ in your bio. Perform a miracle on stage. Have a ‘fan’ ‘spontaneously’ rush towards you and ‘cure’ him instantly of his chronic haemorrhoids. Before long, you’ll have your own practice, crazy money, a fleet of cars, East-European groupies and a slew of lawsuits – in short, all the things that made you want to be a writer in the first place..
Excerpted with permission from How To Be A Literary Sensation: A Quick Guide to Exploiting Friends, Family & Facebook for Financial Gain by Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, HarperCollins India. The author is an illustrator, cartoonist, book designer, columnist and writer. He has written two novels, Ice Boys in Bell-bottoms and Jump Cut, and a play, Dear Anita.