Plots for the Picking, Writers!

Rupa Gulab

None of my friends gasped with righteous indignation (better known as a classic Arnab Goswami moment) when Yann Martel, author of Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi, said recently, “In some ways, India is a horrible place. It’s corrupt, violent; there are inequalities that are disturbing. At the same time, the place gave us Mahatma Gandhi. It’s a place of idealism and corruption.” We clucked and shook our heads sadly instead — come on, it’s hard to disagree with him, isn’t it?  And that got me thinking about literature. I’m not just disappointed that not a single Indian has written a deeply moving book recently — I’m really and truly
shocked because we have loads of terrific material for soul-stirring plots.

For starters, I haven’t stopped laughing over the fact that IAS officer Ashok Khemka was transferred 43 times in 19 years. I find it vastly amusing because it’s so gosh-darned ridiculous. I’m seriously considering writing a book about it. It would be the perfect plot for an international prize-winning novel. I’m thinking dark comedy, with undertones of indignation and helplessness, the stuff that Chinese dissident writers pour their hearts and souls into. Of course, I will change Khemka’s name and the situations. I will also deliberately not mention the fact that he is buddies with national rabble-rouser Arvind Kejriwal — that would weaken the plot drastically and may make the reader lose sympathy for the hero, considering that Kejriwal is a self-serving politician and not an activist in his brand
new avatar.

Now on to another book, this time in the light comedy genre, called The Incredibly Silly Things Khap Panchayat Leaders Say. We have to get down on our knees and thank the Lord that all of India isn’t ruled by khap panchayats. Or else Chinese restaurants may be banned across the nation because, according to Jitender Chhatar, a highly respected leader of one of Haryana’s khaps, the consumption of chow mein turns hitherto sweet, saintly men into animals and rapists. Personally, I believe that the best punishment for this incredibly erudite man would be to repeat his startling chow mein statement in China. Chopsticks have lovely pointed tips, don’t they? How tragic is it that George W Bush, the most sniggered at US president, seems erudite compared to many of India’s netas?

Or how about a really tragic story about how a villager, farmer or even a sophisticated urban Indian is mercilessly tortured by cruel greedy middlemen, extortionists in the bureaucracy or arrogant Indian politicians/criminals (same difference). The plot is very simple and I suspect every Indian citizen will immediately identify with it: it’s about how powerful people try to turn an innocent person into a criminal by demanding bribes, ordering arrest warrants for fake criminal offences as part of their intimidation techniques, et cetera. The Silence of the Lambs would have been the perfect title for it but since it’s taken, I’m thinking of calling it something like Babuji, Mujhe Please Bachao. Yes, it’s a standard plea that appears in Bollywood flicks from our grandparents’ generation. It may not be heard in Bollywood movies these days, but I can assure you that it’s uttered in anguished tones by citizens across the nation every single second. Haven’t you noticed that most people visiting a passport office anywhere in the country bear an uncanny resemblance to The Scream, Edvard Munch’s most famous painting? Now, if Kejriwal was really smart, he’d have realised that we’re not particularly interested in the childish public ‘naming and shaming’ of politicians. If you’re begging for votes, get our priorities right, Mr Kejriwal: we are in dire need of relief, not trashy entertainment.

Finally, here’s an idea to liven up fiction for children: Let’s scrap those old-fashioned gigantic monsters with funny teeth and rumbling laughter. Heck, no one identifies with creatures like those anymore — thanks to Hollywood, Shrek is cute! How about more believable modern monsters, like brash, badly behaved children of politicians who shoot and rape ordinary citizens just for fun? And if by some miracle (read massive, massive public outrage that dominates the air-waves) they’re convicted, they are generously (and sneakily) given ‘get out of jail free’ passes frequently and have lots of wonderful opportunities to act like monsters all over again.

Yes, there are lots of fabulous plots available in India today. It’s time to start writing them!  

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: NOVEMBER 2012