The Revised Kama Sutra

The Revised Kama Sutra
The Viking Penguin hardcover first edition

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Oatmeal Porridge and Colonialism

This morning, I put a bit too much water in the oats I sometimes boil for my morning breakfast, and the result was: the oatmeal porridge my mother used to occasionally make  for us when we were growing up. [Pre-P.S.: This is one of my occasional posts, and they are unedited.]

That was long before the British stopped crinkling their noses at "curry" and started loving butter chicken and tandoori, and my mother used to think that anything British or American had to be superior and full of "health": after all, they conquered us and ruled the world, and most Indians around us, including we children, were weak and emaciated. It was a no-brainer.

However, because oatmeal was also expensive and not easy to obtain in India (I think that some relative working abroad or someone coming in from Bombay would occasionally buy her a tin), my mother made her porridge very watery--you had to fish for the oats--so the single tin of Quaker (?) Oats would last for something like ten or twelve servings each over a period of six months for her four children: a grand total of forty servings.

Of course, 98 percent of what we ate was Indian; and once a month, my mother also made us kasaay, a bitter liquid brewed from various roots, and forced us to drink half a glass of the dark brown brew. It was a local concoction, and supposedly served to kill the intestinal worms that would definitely build up to a critical mass every month or so. Yet, anything British or imported, like Yardley talcum powder or Cadbury's chocolates or Britannia biscuits, was automatically superior to the local brand (in the case of chocolate, it was the only brand, for it took something like 40 years of independence before India started making its own brand: Amul). In the case of chocolates and cheese (the only brand we knew then was Kraft processed cheese, which came in round tins), we didn't need persuasion: it proved itself.

I don't know if the entire industry and mythology around oats and oatmeal is hokum, and whether oats have any nutritional value at all. All the same, they are easy to boil, and come in a tin, and I can't afford to order in breakfast at this point in my life. Our usual morning breakfast in Mangalore was rice congee, along with a leftover curry, or mango pickle, or coconut chutney, and/or pappad; it is the "hot" part of the oatmeal porridge that resonates with me; I hate eating a cold breakfast, though the German breakfast of breads and various hams, cheeses, and sausages, is not bad. And though I suspect the local rice porridge, bobor, is healthier than my plain oatmeal porridge, I suppose the oatmeal will continue for a while.

 As will mental colonialism, a subject that I've written about in many books, including The Revised Kama Sutra and The Last Catholic Colony.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Quotes from "Impressing the Whites"

These are random quotes from Impressing the Whites, completely out of context ... hopefully, they will provoke your curiosity:

Half-naked and barefoot villagers in remote parts of India had begun to spend anxious nights worrying about, of all things, their bad breath—because capitalist commercials had effectively penetrated their ancient, spiritual, breath-free minds.

A young Frenchman who had recently visited China and was greatly upset. Why? Because the modern Chinese were not as spiritual as he had been primed by the Western media to expect. In fact, these bloody Chinamen with their 30 million cell phones were as materialistic as . . . as . . . as he was!

If a brown woman dreams of passion, as in Shobha De’s novels or Namita Gokhale’s Paro: Dreams of Passion, it’s okay, it’s, whooaaaaaaaaa . . . a wet dream!

Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt be unthreateningly short. It also helps if you have large eyes and look like a Koala Bear, and are easily pettable. [One of the Fourteen Commandments for non-white people wishing to succeed in the West]

The neutered or sanitized men of the conquered race thus pose no threat to the women of the Master Race

Not only do colored immigrants owe African-Americans for the work they did in resisting slavery and discrimination, but we also have experiences and strategies to share. I remember sharing my chapters on “Impressing the Whites” and “The Fourteen Commandments” with a black man on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to New York’s JFK. This man, tall, strapping, and muscular, who had been somber and even intimidating (it seemed to me) through most of the flight, burst out in belly laughs almost twice a minute for the next fifteen minutes as he read through these two chapters. He then said to me, “I grew up in Portland, destined for jail and poverty. And I had to follow almost all of these Twelve Commandments* to escape this destiny.” It was a moving reminder of how much blacks and Asians had in common despite our differences in history and heritage. (*Since then, the White God added an additional two commandments.)

What is the result of this New World Order, the modern avatar of the Old Colonial Order? Crown us a suitable boy, and we’ll give you a million suitable boys and girls; we brown and yellow people exist only for Your pleasure, as You may have heard from all those heartwarming tourism brochures. And also for the occasional pat on the head You might be so pleased as to give us.
“Do not fire your pen-guns until you hear the Ayes of the whites” is the golden rule of Indian writers writing in English.

The West is a Jupiter-sized cow with a billion bursting teats, and the rest of the world is five billion mouths fighting to suckle a drop from one emaciated cow (with two working teats, the third being on a labor strike, and the fourth awaiting an Ayurvedic massage to unclog its overworked ducts. Therefore, milking the West has become a major Third World industry, art, or con game — one that we must master merely to survive. We are practiced milkers, and we’ll do almost anything, say almost anything, act any degrading role that’s called for — all for a drop of the gleaming, life-giving, white stuff.

The reason why India has no large community of professional anarchists, while having disproportionately large numbers of feminist theorists, Yeats scholars, E. M. Forster thesis-writers, or structuralists? Because, by definition, no anarchist milk may be suckled from the West; anarchists are too disorganized or anti-organization to know where their cows are, let alone to arrange for them to mate with their bulls and ship the calves to their Indian fellow travelers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Failure of Courage and Impressing the Whites

Impressing the Whites is a book with universal resonance, one that has been taught at an American university, and also in South Africa. And yet, it is known to very few outside a tiny circle in India and among a few Indians in North America. Why? 

[You can download the book here if you wish, or buy it from other channels.]

An Indian television host said to me, "We speak of it privately, among ourselves, but we dare not raise the subject in public."


Because the wrath of the giants might be visited upon them?

Possibly. Life is too short not to have a good time while it lasts.

And yet, life is also too short to live it as a complete coward, even though prudence, at times, is called for (prudence can also be an excuse for cowardice). 

And so, I dared. And the result: "Impressing the Whites." and a host of other books, including, "When David Davidar Drank My Wine"--which can now be downloaded directly from my site.

But some people, who almost instinctively and effusively praised the book (including a Bangalore journalist and socialite, and a multimillionaire Indian-American) backed off, later. Their courage (and their integrity) ... failed them. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Documents for a Museum of Publishing?

The Killing of an Author is the story of a writer with a dream, a quest for freedom and justice, and a quest that also comments, in its later chapters, on institutional racism (as well as the subversive-crushing element) in publishing ... but in a way, many of my major books do. And I feel I have recently been shut out of the conversation ... so far. Only The Revised Kama Sutra received considerable attention ... but when the West snorted at it (on the whole), India (I mean the Establishment), until then giving it a rave reception, followed suit.

[Finally, after Charleston and Eric Garner and a number of unarmed black teens fatally shot by police for minor non-crimes, it has suddenly became permissible, in America, to talk about institutional racism. Until that moment, anyone who mentioned the subject was slapped with a canned response: "Race Card!"

But people (some people, Fox News and its vast booboisie following excluded) have now opened their eyes and realized that, despite mega-actor Will Smith, Literary Shah-en-shah Salman Rushdie and President Barack Obama, institutional racism is still prevalent for the vast majority.]

These are the afterthoughts to one of the most powerful chapters in my book, The Killing of an Author--not surprisingly, a chapter that the Publishers Weekly reviewer chose to remain silent about (and you can easily guess why when you read the book).

The chapter is titled "The Scott Meredith Literary Agency," and here are my reflections on that chapter, in 2015.

So there we were, six fee-agents in our cubbyholes, many of whom (with one notable exception, sci-fi prodigy Barry Malzberg) had not ever written a novel or at least not acquired enough critical experience to pretend to give the detailed critiques that seasoned literary agents with at least two decades of publishing experience could give. We pretended to be such agents; our reports were signed “Scott Meredith,” and they used the first person frequently, as in “my fellow agents” and “as I said to my client Isaac Asimov the other day.” That was the element that was fraudulent—highly fraudulent—that we were pretending to give them what they expected: $200 (in 1981 and 1983 dollars, which the equivalent of at least $300 in 2015) worth of critique.
Or, to put myself in the shoes of the client. Sure, if I as a writer with a novel that I had worked on for four years was willing to pay for a $200, four-page critique by a seasoned agent and take my chances, including my chances of being discovered and represented, it would be what I deserved, and probably more than a fair value—if indeed an agent with twenty years of experience and a list of famous clients wrote it.  But if I had been told that someone just out of university, even with a Master’s Degree in Literature (and a 3.8 Grade Point Average, as I did have), would be lecturing me about writing and the publishing experience, and half of that would consist of canned bullshit—even though at least one-quarter of that might be very perceptive and right on (which, speaking of myself as the faux “agent”, I sometimes was), I would probably not pay at all; or at least, I might be willing to pay $50, and perhaps more for an exceptionally good critique--but it would have to be my considered, informed decision.

Which—$50—would, at the time, have constituted very fair wages to me, the “agent” (or Superagent Scott Meredith’s Mini-Me).  Because I was actually getting paid just $20 per novel, or ten percent of what the client had paid Scott.

So what have I and people like me to say in their defense for what they were doing? First of all, I didn’t even fully understand the system (the financial aspect of it, and the aspect of “pretense,” and the relative absurdity of it all) when I was offered the job. All I knew was that I had gotten a job in which I would be paid for writing, writing about books, writing at length, in a literary agent’s office ... and possibly with a chance to have my own novel accepted when it was ready. It was also the first job of any kind I was offered in New York, to which I had just moved along with my wife; we had very little money in our pockets, and she, too, had just gotten her first job ... so it was a very tense time for us, and it was a matter of "manhood" for me to contribute my share to the expenses of starting life in a strange city. (This concept or burden of manhood was something I was to accept, reject, or minimize as time went by—as a somewhat more of a social construct and a lesser value than art, accomplishment, and creating the kind of novel that no one had ever written before--which I, and some others, believe I eventually did.)

So the job was like a lifesaver thrown to someone who had, at many employment agencies, been asked to take a typing test ... and sometimes, disqualified or openly refused without any test.

So what is the reality, then, in the publishing industry--at least the reality that existed around fifteen years back? Many would-be writers or would-be editors enter the publishing industry at very low starting salaries, or as unpaid or semi-paid interns, all in the hope that, sometime soon, they will get a promotion, and eventually end up earning six-figure salaries as agents or senior editors in big publishing companies. If those who enter thus have a trust fund or family money to back them up, or come from elite universities, they can afford to leave a job they discover to have unethical components; in any case, they get promoted up the ranks very quickly: class is still a factor in elite circles. When I interviewed for a job at The National Lampoon (the humorous/satirical magazine), I noticed, later, that everyone who worked there came from Harvard or the Harvard Lampoon, and that, probably, they had called me in just out of curiosity. (In any case, I'm terrible at interviews; I'm usually much better than the way I present myself, which is shy, anxious, diffident. And I never went to charm school.)

So, in an unjust system, I had become an instrument, an unwitting tool of injustice and of exploitation. We were exploited, and in turn we (the realization took a bit of time) exploited or deceived other writers. The only salve to our conscience was this: What is the alternative? Do you have a better job for me? And if I don’t take this job, will not someone else jump at the chance to take my place?

Four months later, I did leave the job—to join my prestigious Indian job, which was at the time, also was a position and a symbol of power. But I stay for too long, because I missed my wife, who had chosen to stay back in New York, happy with her new job (also, we had not yet decided whether to return to India for good). So I returned nine months later, and finding the search for a new job in New York difficult once again, returned to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, which was at least a known devil ... until I found the courage to reject this concept of manhood altogether, leave the job (after having written a few subversive letters that alerted a few of Scott's clients!), and start working on my novel (by which time, our financial circumstances had improved considerably, and I had also found a part-time teaching position as Adjunct Professor of English).

The question that others must ask is: how was this system possible? How did Norman Mailer, Isaac Asimov, the estate of P.G. Wodehouse, and the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not discover that their agent was an unethical man who exploited poor or unknown writers (and his weak employees), and choose a different agent? Why did publishing houses not refuse to work with this agency? This is what the System did: it purchased souls, it purchased loyalty, it purchased justification—for whenever people who occupy chairs in publishing houses and agencies pretend to pronounce on your novel or the literary work of your life, often being interns or persons with barely any experience who have hardly glanced at your novel, but have been giving the job of disposing of the slush pile with fake reviews, if need be ... they have to find reasons to justify it to themselves. And then, they start to believe these reasons, as I almost did, getting out just in time, before I was totally corrupted. (Had I been the sole provider in a family with young children, would I have had that luxury? Not really.)

By the way, I am still in possession of photocopies of many of the “reports” that I wrote: around 100 pages, which I photocopied before leaving, knowing that they contained my literary labors, and that I would be telling this story sometime, and knowing that I had been exploited and underpaid by my employer. I am willing to sell these papers to a potential collector, because they belong to some Museum of Injustice or Museum of Western Publishing—which we need to have, because the increasing corporatization of the publishing industry means that there will be fewer and fewer stories to tell (and don't let the Amazon phenomenon tell you otherwise--the freedom I get from publishing on Amazon is meaningless, it means my book is visible to me ... and someone who is determined to burrow under a mountain of Amazon-pushed books to find my masterpiece ... that's all). However, I need the airfare, plus expenses, to get to the place where these papers and my other writings are stored; thanks to financial difficulties, I have been separated from them for the last fourteen years. So, the airfare could be set off against the price I am paid for these papers. Those of you who support what I have written (which one Asian Age reviewer described as "going where no Indian writer has gone before") and wish to encourage my quest, could also consider purchasing one or more paperbacks of my books at (all the books there except "The Taste of Water" are mine).

Because, as writers, we should never cease to hope ... and never give up, and never be afraid of telling the truth. Or this is what I said to around one dozen members of the audience that decided to spend a recent Friday the 13th evening listening to me speak about writing.And that is what, in my best moments, I have tried to practice.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Strange World of an Indian Bestselling Author

From The Killing of an Author, published in paper and on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Nook, etc. Selected passages from one of the book's most important chapters. The trouble with any excerpt in a blog is that, I have to restrict the language here, and also that no excerpt can really convey the power of the book as the book itself (particularly later chapters such as "The Taboos" and "The System and the Killing of Subversive Authors").

An Author Is Born

The Strange World of A Bestselling Indian Author

Finally the book ["The Revised Kama Sutra: A Novel"] was finished, and it included a strong, in-your-face Prologue, a political manifesto on behalf of invisible Third World writers, a manifesto demanding equal freedom and incorporating The Invisible Man Press:

“It is true that I, the author, have registered a publishing company in the United States called the Invisible Man Press because I felt that it was time for us Indians (including those of Indian origin — one-sixth of humankind) in this postcolonial age to feel free to say absolutely whatever we wanted to say, without censorship of any kind, real or imagined.”

The Prologue went on to suggest that censorship of Third World voices occurred discreetly in a democracy like the U.S., and that Western publishing was a very effective tool of this censorship and control. Briefly, the Prologue’s message was: We are equal citizens of Republic Earth, so please, no double standards, no paternalistic rules or prohibitions.

What chutzpah, I think now, looking back on what I did, for a brown writer living a marginal literary existence in the West to start his first novel with an attack on Western publishing, literary colonialism, and apartheid, and his first chapter with a blast at British colonialism! Rather than waiting, as Arundhati Roy later did, to first make her millions and establish her power base in the West, and then to choose causes that would make her the darling of liberals. (How this passage must have reddened the face of Peter Mayer, Penguin’s worldwide head, who received a copy of the novel from David Davidar shortly thereafter, and did nothing about it.) But I was young, green, hopeful, and proud, and didn’t know that there were no prizes set aside and waiting, in the West-dominated literary world, for Indian writers with balls, for unsuitable brown boys. (If there was to be a prize, I would have to institute it myself ... and I actually started planning for it  — “The Invisible Man Press Award for a Courageous Indian Writer” — but could not follow through because of too many commitments and too few resources.)

But my Penguin India editor David Davidar’s enthusiasm, the feeling that fame — or some sort of explosion (David’s prediction of the novel “taking India by storm”) — was around the corner made me decide, with finality, to ask that my on-again, off-again resignation from the Indian Administrative Service, until now my ticket to security and comfort and status for life in India, be made permanent and irrevocable.

.. (Please read the rest in The Killing of an Author, available on most e-book platforms and in paperback.)