C’mon, who amongst us hasn’t wished they had a nifty superpower?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. There is a small community of seemingly normal people, living right in our midst, which actually does have superpowers – a variety of them. Writers! If you look closely enough – at lit fests, book dos, publishing houses, at posh cafés signing deals or in seedy bars on the rare occasions when they’re buying their own drinks – they are not that hard to detect.

Here, for the first time, are India’s Literary Superheroes – Unmasked!

Sniff-A-Deal Man
He’s there at every literary gathering. His nostrils look like average ones but don’t be fooled. He can detect the scent of a deal quicker than anyone else in the room. Sometimes, even before it is thought of. So if you are on the lookout for a fellowship, grant, writer’s residency, paying book project or just a free cottage in Tuscany that’s been lying fallow, pray that Sniff-A-Deal Man isn’t in the vicinity because you have no chance. He’ll smell it, charge towards it like Wile E Coyote on Red Bull, screech to a halt, sign and seal the deal before you’ve had your first sip of the fake Black Label being served.

Extreme-Post Man
Extreme-Post Man has a unique power. It is the relentless and irresistible capacity to post every itsy-bitsy detail about his past, present and future books with assembly-line constancy. His posts can vary from ‘hands poised over keyboard to type first word of new novel’ to ‘today is the first anniversary of the third draft of my second novel’, from a JPEG of his copyright page to a YouTube video of him showing the page numbers of his book 1 to 252 in slow motion. If he’s your FB friend, don’t blink. You’ll miss his next post.

Outfocus Woman
Outfocus Woman’s superpowers lie in her eyes. Look at her pupils in repose. Slightly dilated. With that gentle, dreamy quality that makes you forgive her for not returning your calls or forgetting to do something she promised that your infant son’s life depended on. Add to this the half-closed lids and the picture of the romantic, semi-tragic writer removed from the mundane bothers of the real world is complete. Now mention her name. Or her book’s. Watch those pupils instantly narrow to flaming pinpoints, the hooded lids disappear into the eye sockets and the whites turn white-hot as they emit a hi-tech electronic buzz. Now change the subject to something else. Watch the dreamy, gentle look return. Mention her name again. Buzz-Squeetch-Kraching. Laser Eyes Back On! Oh, I could do this all day.

Salinger Woman
This one has that one superpower that other writers dread. She’s invisible. She’s never seen at book dos, lit fests or addas. She’s reclusive, you see. Fame, the world and its prosaic issues depress her. Prozac is what she craves. She is, however, available for interviews and does bunches of them, will accept awards by proxy, post reviews, squeeze the last drop of royalty from her publishers, have twenty-three thousand followers on Twitter and a gazillion friends on FB.

Poster Boy
Poster Boy’s superpower is the alchemy of his chiselled profile, concave, rock-hard abs and complete inability to string together a coherent sentence. He could carry a 120-page-ruled notebook and read his laundry list from it, it wouldn’t matter. People would buy the book. He could sell his old schoolbooks (in the unlikely event of his ever having been to school) if he posed with them. He could cut and trim his old newspapers and bind them and get on the bestseller list.

In-Through-The-Out Door Girl
If they put their mind to it, this is a superpower out there in overseas air for any NRI, part-Indian or non-Indian to harness absolutely free of cost. Every lit fest has one In-Through-The-Out-Door Girl. Reading out what could be her neighbour’s kid’s homework in a Kansas-meets-Kanyakumari accent that no one can understand. Every publishing house brings out at least a couple of books a year penned by the ITTODGs. If you’re a plumber in Burkina Faso, or a waiter in the Pyongyang branch of Saravana Bhavan, please write a book. ASAP. Spelling and Grammar: optional. Get it published in your hood first. The guy who prints the menu cards will do it. Send it to an Indian publisher, and voilà, be the toast of the Indian Literary Scene.

Buy-or-Die Girl
If you’ve been to a lit fest or a book launch, you’re bound to bump into Buy-or-Die Girl. Her superpower is the ability to follow you to the ends of the earth till you’ve bought her book. If you don’t have change for a five hundred, she’ll produce it. If you don’t have money, she’ll lend it to you (at 36% pa, compound interest). If you’re illiterate, she’ll teach you the alphabet. If you’re blind, she’ll get you the Braille version. If you’re deaf, she will hold a placard that says ‘BUY MY BOOK, GODDAMMIT!’ If you’re dying, she will present you with a buyback scheme. If you’re in a coma, she’ll have it intravenously fed to you. If you’re dead, she will seek the help of a medium and make it available to your ghost. Just so long as you buy it.

Uncle Girl
Uncle Girl has the unique capacity to be related to everyone in the business. Her fantastical family tree spreads its branches and roots inter-continentally spanning generations, faiths and ethnicities with panache. For example, in her acknowledgements and talks, Rushdie Uncle is followed by Chetan Chacha while Shobhaa Auntie is preceded by Karthika Mausi. Davidar Periappa and Franzen Chittappa become brothers and Aragi Kaki, by implication, becomes R K Narayan Uncle’s maternal aunt. Uncle Girl’s version of the Indian pledge reads a bit differently.

Powerhusband Girl
Powerhusband Girl’s powers are pretty much self-explanatory. Her superpower is being able to nag the living doo-doo out of her politician/industrialist/actor/writer husband. This in turn results in his facilitating the publishing of a new book of hers annually, which in turn allows her to speak incomprehensibly at lit fests (wearing dark glasses on stage for some reason) on subjects as varied as women’s empowerment, absence of proper urinals at bookshops, the falling standards in the elastic quality of low-cost men’s chaddis and world peace ... leaving the husband free to employ his own superpower of bonking the secretary.

Zoom-In Man
Zoom-In Man’s superpowers lie in his stretchable neck and the 110 X zoom capacity of his eyes. He is capable, when the need arises, of periscopic vision as well. Meaning, he can optically lock in on people even when there is a wall in between. If you meet him at a literary soirée, as he talks to you, his neck is capable of moving at a sharp angle past your intrusive head to scour the surroundings for a more important name. This could be an editor, writer or journalist, it doesn’t matter. Just so long as he/she is more important than you, and Lord knows there will always be several of those. Having zeroed in on his targets, the zoom eyes kick in to ascertain pecking order among prey. Then, bam, he disappears in a whiff of smoke. Zoom-In-Man is Sniff-A-Deal Man’s mortal enemy.

Assembly Man
Assembly man’s superpower is to pass himself off as a writer though he hasn’t written anything since 1997. His name on books is always ‘with’ someone or, alternatively, followed by an ‘and’ followed by another name. That sucker is the real writer. Assembly Man also puts together anthologies. Another great way to get your name on a book cover without actually doing any writing.

Double-Threat Woman
Double-Threat Woman doesn’t just write. She also sings, dances, juggles or bungee jumps. That’s her superpower. At lit fests and book dos, when you least expect it, Double-Threat Woman unleashes her double threat. Like mid-reading, she could dive head first off the stage, bungee cords and all, bounce off an audience member and return to her seat to continue her reading. It is difficult to win against her. Or, say, her superpower is Kuchipudi. How in God’s name does one defend oneself if she chooses to spontaneously interpret Radha’s divine love for Krishna via dance as one is reading from one’s book what one thinks is a hilarious bit about body fluids?

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli has written two novels (Ice Boys in Bell-Bottoms, Jump Cut) and a play (Dear Anita). He, too, has a superpower. He is Doesn’t-Get-It Man. In spite of the dismal sales figures of his books and his publisher changing her phone number several times, he continues to write.