The Revised Kama Sutra

The Revised Kama Sutra
The Viking Penguin hardcover first edition

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.]


CONTINUED on my new blog http://richardcrasta.com/the-failure-of-courage-and-impressing-the-whites/

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 http://bit.ly/CrastaCS (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.)

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Discovering My Father's Story: Eaten by the Japanese, the Memoir of an Unknown Indian Prisoner of War

What I present to you is two stories. One is of a simple Indian soldier from a village near Mangalore, one who, according to his brother Louis, "never got into a fight with anybody"--finding himself in the most brutal war in history, World War II, and being taken prisoner by a fellow Asian army--the Japanese Army, which treats thousands of Indian prisoners with a  brutality that results in higher mortality rates for them than for POWs of the Nazis. And then, after a miraculous survival, comes home to write his story, which is forgotten, perhaps scorned by his feudal superiors.

The second story is of a son discovering his father's story even as his father is 86 years old, and feeble enough as to leave the world at anytime--and being so moved by it as to be compelled to publish it and to give it to the world.  It is a story about fathers and sons, part of the universal story that will never end, and will never cease to have fascination (incidentally, there is a strong father-son theme in my novel, "The Revised Kama Sutra"--the final scene of the novel, before the Epilogue, combines reconciliation with acceptance).

I presented the book to my surprised father at his 50th wedding anniversary--the emotional story is told in the book. He died 2 years later, and though the Indian Army Chief, General Malik, in 2000, received the book with honor at a personal presentation (he had read it), it was forgotten or not properly distributed after a couple of months.

So, in about the 2nd week of March 2011, as his 101st birth anniversary approached, it became imperative for me to present the book in a more accessible form (it has no distribution),  as an ebook, on what would have been his 101st birthday.

The book (3rd edition), is now in e-book form on Amazon (and all other platforms, and also in paperback from Createspace.com & amazon). But here, below, are a few excerpts from the book, which are possibly inadequate. The book is up at: http://amzn.to/eWVexV

EATEN BY THE JAPANESE: THE MEMOIR OF AN UNKNOWN INDIAN SOLDIER
by John Baptist Crasta, edited with an introduction and 3 essays by Richard Crasta


From the Acknowledgments:
The author, and his son and publisher, wish to acknowledge the help of the Japanese and others who helped the author during the War, including those who restrained themselves from eating the author, thus making this narrative possible.

From the Biographical Introduction by Richard Crasta (regarding his father’s humiliating poverty as a child):
It is harder for a rich man to enter Heaven than for a camel to enter the eye of a needle, or so the Bible says; but it was always pretty easy for a rich man to enter St. Aloysius College and its high school, and to escape the whipping the padres gave to the fiscally and morally unlucky. After all, the college towered over property donated by the local squire, its chapel being a magnet, every Sunday, for the town's cream of Catholic society. My father, though not one of India’s wretched poor, was consigned by his family income to its struggling lower middle class. And often, because he had not paid his two-rupee monthly school fees on time, he was kicked out of his St. Aloysius High School classes by the Italian Jesuits who were then in charge.

From “The Torture Ship” (chapter of main book):
Slowly and more slowly it sailed on, heading for the south, and our ordeal worsened as hours passed. Heat, suffocation, stench, thirst. We were allowed a handful (hardly two ounces) of cooked rice and a little dry fish and a cup of water twice daily. The Japanese said if we ate more in the ship, we would fall ill as we were not doing any fatigue. We did not worry much about the quantity of food. We would not have minded even if we were not given any; but with the two cups of water supplied per day, one might die of thirst. We tried to go on the deck to have a breath of fresh air for which we longed so much; but the moment we climbed up the staircase, we would be kicked down by the Japanese sentries.

From “The Second Voyage of the Torture Ship”:
Could humanity be degraded to such an extent? Could Providence be as cruel? The steamer had only one kitchen from which water was being rationed, and the two thousand men had to come one after the other, in a line, for that cup of life-preserving liquid. The rush began at 6 am. My turn came at about 10 am, after four hours of waiting, only to be met with the curt words, “Water finished!” Heavens, what was I to do until next day? Who knows? Before I could reach the front of the line, water might be exhausted again next day? Death was certain. I went round with a cup to my Indian friends, to Malays, even to Japanese, and was met with the reply “Sorry, I have very little.”

From “The Second Voyage of the Torture Ship”:
Dysentery broke out on the ship. The few latrines were being used by both unfit and fit men. In our own party of one hundred and fifty, three or four deaths occurred daily. The corpses were wrapped in a worn-out blanket and lowered into the deep ocean, unwept for and unsung. I could see hardy men prostrate with dysentery, unable to move, without any clothes. The Japanese did not pay any heed to what was going on. Dysentery spread to other holds of the ship, killing seven to eight daily. But the ship was not stopped, nor was an attempt made to evacuate the victims.
Insanitation and squalor increased. There had been cases of men dying from dysentery within a day of getting sick. Except for separate accommodation being allowed, no treatment was given to the men, and the disease spread anyway. The scene was pitiful and heart-rending. Brave, virile soldiers who would have defied anybody in battle were now helpless like babies and were groaning and rolling naked on the floor presenting a weird spectacle. I could not bear it and tears started trickling from my eyes as nothing in my life had moved me to that extent. Was this the penalty we were paying for being honest and principled?

From “Koga the Devil”:
The next day, another Japanese soldier, Koga Hugcho, was put in charge of us. I call him Koga the Devil. I still cannot forget his Satanic face nor forget his atrocities. If anyone deserves to be hanged first for the ill-treatment of prisoners, it is he. A man of about 30 years, quite well-built, with slant eyes and an ape’s mouth with a gold tooth, he looked like a mixture of Japanese and Chinese, a most unprincipled and inhumane brute. Although he said he belonged to Tokyo, I am inclined to think he was either a Taiwanese or a Manchurian.

The next three months that we passed with him were the bitterest of our lives. Our daily routine was: rise at 4 am, go to the surrounding jungle and fetch two or three loads of firewood; breakfast (two spoonfuls of rice) at 5.30, off to the tapioca garden at 6 am, cut grass till 11 with half an hour’s break, return for lunch; half an hour’s break, again off to the garden, back by 4 PM; fill a fifty-five gallon drum with water and boil it ready for our master’s bath; again collect two or three loads of firewood. Thus were we kept busy from before daybreak to sunset. In addition, each of us was called upon by him to help the Japanese cook in preparing the morning food—in which case, we were required to get up at 2 am. Fire had to be lit to boil rice, curry and water. The firewood was invariably damp and gave out clouds of smoke, completely blinding our eyes. If the fire was not lighted, the Japanese cook would curse us and even beat us. Food had to be ready before daybreak so that the raiders might not notice the smoke. By now, the planes had no targets left. They would watch for any signs of smoke and let go their deadly bombs.

During fatigue, if Koga thought our speed was not up to his expectations, he would beat us with sticks, fists, and kicks. He said that Indians, like the British, were lazy and were not fit to live. They knew only to enjoy. That is why they were being defeated. He told us the Allied Navy had been completely annihilated near Formosa and in the Philippines. Land fighting was going on in the latter place, and the Japanese were winning. There was no chance of our returning to India. We would remain there in New Britain and cultivate tapioca.

In the evenings, even in heavy rain, the Japanese made us boil water for their bath. This was almost an impossibility as the fireplace and firewood became wet. But there was no argument with our masters.

Our hut was more like a pandal[16]. Even in a light rain, water trickled inside. It was infested with rats, mosquitoes, ants, lizards and snakes. Had the Japanese given us half a day’s rest, we could have improved it, but even on our so called holidays, they made us collect coconuts and extract oil for them!

I had a relapse of malaria. Koga allowed me rest as long as my temperature was on; but as soon as he felt my forehead cool, he would ask me to work. To make matters worse, an ulcer appeared on my right foot. The wound broadened, giving out pus and a horrible smell. The leg swelled, and I could not walk. No arrangement was made for dressing the wound. Not even a piece of linen was given. I tore my langoti[17], dressed the ulcer in filthy water from the nullah, and bandaged it in a dirty rag. Flies swarmed around the wound. Blood trickled down sometimes. The Japanese saw this, but were not moved with compassion. Koga said it was a trifling thing and asked me to go on fatigue. I could only walk with the help of crutches. Other Japanese who saw me on the way thought I deserved rest.
Owing to agonizing pain, my temperature did not subside. I and the four others requested Koga to shoot us as it was better to die than to remain as their prisoners. He jokingly gave us shovels and spades, asking us to prepare our own graves so that we might be shot the next morning.

Basanta was the one most cruelly mistreated. For some trifling offence, he was tied with live battery wires; and when the unfortunate man cried for mercy, all the Japanese laughed. He fell down. They kicked him and made him get up, again tying him up with the torturing wires. Besides Basanta, there was another Sikh, Kartar Singh, with us. Koga ordered them to shave off their beards as, according to them, the beards made them ill. For disobeying him, they were beaten.

One day, Basanta was standing by. Koga, like a dog, came upon him and passed urine on him. On another occasion, Basanta was spat upon.

We again pleaded with Koga to shoot us all. He warned us not to repeat this request. We were their prisoners and must obey them. Even the British General Percival was being ordered about by a Japanese soldier. We had been defeated in the war and must not speak anything out of the way.

From “Fathers and Sons—A Tale of Literature, Reinvention, and Redemption.”—essay by Richard Crasta
But there was another, non-literary duty to be performed before I could feel some degree of liberation from that powerful sense of incompleteness in my relationship with my father. Dr. Arunachalam's gesture of touching my father's feet, repeated later by another Mangalorean I greatly respect, Konkani musician, composer, and impresario Eric Ozario, had haunted me. Because, having been an individualistic, city-raised Christian too cut off from my culture and even from my Indian Christian village roots, I had never touched my father's feet. Back in America, I feared that I would never forgive myself if my father passed away from this world without my ever having touched his feet, while others—no doubt my brothers, kindred souls, and cosmic, Brahmanic extensions of myself—had done so.
In October 1998, ten months later, I arrived in a monsoon-lashed Mangalore and dashed home from the airport, heading directly for my father's bedroom. He didn't come out to greet me as he usually did, for he was weaker than before, slowly losing his once-solid grip on the world. I walked right in and hugged his frail frame, paused a few seconds, and then bent my once-proud body and touched his feet.

From “Killing to Eat: or Calling Upon the Japanese to Face their Dark Side” by Richard Crasta
And though I believe all of us have within us a dark side, and that in a profound sense we are also the Other, it is also important, in the illusory everyday world that we call Reality, that we append the stories of the weak and the voiceless to the histories written by the mighty and the once-mighty, and that each us of register our horror, our personal footnote, to the Official and often Sanitized Communal History. Any lingering doubts I may have had about the title disappeared after I met Roger Mansell, an American war historian who had been examining the Japanese record in World War II. Mansell was horrified by the lack of remorse in a recent Japanese compendium of World War II recollections called Senso.  He explained that American G.I.s had been cannibalized simply as an act of demoralization; these acts had nothing to do with the nutritional needs of the Japanese. So I decided to retain the title for this second, public edition, even allowing in a moment of optimism that the book might receive attention in Japan and persuade the Japanese to confront and admit to their widely observed racism and start a national campaign to tackle it, making it less possible for a future Pico Iyer to say, “In Japan, an Indian is the lowest of the low.”

Besides, why should it be so hard for the Japanese to issue an apology to all the Indians who were so abused and manipulated, and to their children and descendants? Will not that hasten the process of healing and forgiveness?

Paperback is here: http://www.amazon.com/Eaten-Japanese-Memoir-Indian-Prisoner/dp/1480034053/
E-book is on all platforms.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Where Did You Find the Courage?

It was at a New Year's Party in Mangalore, possibly in 1999, or at the turn of the Millennium, that a relative who had read my book (and there are very few of those--my relatives are mostly non-readers) approached me and asked me, "Where did you find the courage?" He had just read a recent book of mine. Later, I would be told by another reader who searched me out and found me, "I never knew books such as this could be published!"

Well, my friends and well-wishers, it's getting harder, because of certain choices I made, to be an independent publisher, have exhausted me financially, and because it's not enough to publish a book, as an independent; you have to market it, and the algorithm gods have to favor you, or your book's existence will not even be known.

A few of my books were pure joy to write (though hard work to edit--I sometimes edit a book as many as 30 times). For example: Jesus and Pals Explain Their Daddy Issues and What They Do: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id660043280

But I have other books, both serious and joyful, to bring out (books that may not be artistically superlative, but which have, as Stephen King put it, "the eloquence of truth"), and if you wish to support what I write--which is still rare, I think, from Indian writers--and my continuing to be a courageous writer of new books, please do pass on these new, easy to remember links. I would be especially benefited from purchases from Google and Createspace (or my Createspace-produced paperbacks from Amazon)--not because that is the best you could do with your money (I'm sure you could do better)--but because you probably know me or have some interest in my continued survival (presently precarious) and publication, and because they pay me quicker than most other platforms--an important consideration right now. However, whatever is convenient for you; and please note, if you visit my platforms and my Facebook Author Page frequently enough, you may find an occasional flash sale or free books for a few hours.


Amazon US: bit.ly/CrastaA
Google  Play http://bit.ly/CrastaG
Createspace paperbacks: http://bit.ly/CrastaCS
Smashwords:  http://bit.ly/CrastaSW

By the way, for my humor books on Createspace, Amazon, Apple, and Nook, please search for "Benny Profane": a pseudonym.
Thank you.