Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/5/14 6:33 AM

Humour: Book? Launched!

Book?  Launched!

In which an unsuspecting writer goes to launch a book and comes away the wiser for it

My mother’s neighbour’s son wrote a book.

He found a publisher and now it was time for the launch. I was asked if I would please ‘do the needful’.

My mother being very fond of his mother, his mother making the most mouth-watering gajar halwa I have ever eaten, all entered the mix.

The cover was a bit on the lurid side. The title was enigmatic.  ‘You are what you are’, it read. And just as one digested that, there were ellipses and the title continued, ‘so take that world.’

Put simply, the book was titled, ‘You are what you are so take that world.’

I read the book from cover to cover in 30 minutes. It told a confused story of a confused young man who comes to Bangalore after having finished his course at IIT (sigh), which IIT not specified.

It chronicled each and every day in the hero’s extremely banal life. He acquires PG digs, has a cultural clash with his vegetarian, bhajan-chanting landlord, moves into a shared apartment with two slightly daft friends (‘we called ourselves as the three idiots’) and proceeded to er, live.

To breathe, to eat, to go to work, to go to pubs, to scout the best parathas in town, to try and phatao girls.

Even as my eyes glazed over,  the denouement came, thanks be.

Spoiler alert be damned, I’m going ahead anyway. One night, a burglar enters their apartment. Overcome with fear at the sight of the gleaming (glimmering, as the writer would have it) knife in the intruder’s hand, the three men cower and beg for their life.

Then our hero decides on a stratagem. He engages the truculent burglar in conversation and a tale of much pathos emerges. The intruder too, is from far away and desperately in need of money to send back home to a mother in dire need of stomach surgery.

I will not disclose anything more; if you want to know how this touching tale ends, you need to buy ‘You are what you are so take that world.’

They garlanded me when I entered the bookstore. The author was a bespectacled young man with an earnest expression on his pleasant face.

The place was packed. The crowd largely comprised the author’s parents, his in-laws (including his younger, unmarried brother-in-law, he told me), a brace of uncles  and his wife’s cousin.

The rest were his friends and colleagues.  There was much joshing and jollity.

The book dutifully launched (to catcalls and whistles, no less), I was requested to read from it.

This called for a couple of paragraphs describing the abject dismay/ despair/hopelessness,
of the apartment residents as well as the burglar.  I did so, and was proud of the fact that I did not once falter over words like, ‘He loomed like a monster with a monstrous dagger in his wrist.’

When I looked up, I realised I was reading to a rapt audience. What more could a writer want?

After the waves of applause died down, I was asked what I had liked best about the book.

I said I had been much struck by the way the men had faced down their fear. The way I saw it, `much struck` was within the confines of truth.

This led to a ‘panel discussion’ on fear.

I told the gathering I feared cockroaches. My entertainment quotient as a book launcher immediately went up by several notches. The writer told them he was afraid of Bangalore’s traffic. He said he’d ventured out one Saturday in a friend’s car and ‘got it hit.’

It took me a minute to realise he meant he had had an accident. That feared him a lot, he said. At which, many in the audience, behaving like lit fest audiences all across India, turned their questions into comments, and many (not so sage) pronouncements were made on fear.

When the author sat down to sign copies of his magnum opus, I was asked by at least three people to sign on his book, along with him.

I gently desisted, telling them it was his book.

‘I want all writers to sign in one place’, announced a matron firmly.

Since I had seen copies of my book in the store, I told them I would happily sign on the flyleaf of that book, if they so wished.

‘Is it about fear?’ asked one young woman.

That stumped me. ‘Fear and many things besides’, I told her. She was not impressed.

The last I heard, ‘You are…’ was going into its second imprint. I had apparently launched a true-blue bestseller.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

This ran as Third Edit in THE TIMES OF INDIA dated 5 Aug 2014.

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Sheila Kumar • August 5, 2014

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