fiction or fact

Here’s the formula for the future of the book: Become a TV discussion

Depth, nuance, and complexity must give way to loud arguments and fodder for tweets if books are to find readers.

A couple of weeks ago I was absently flipping through books at Blossoms in Bangalore, trying to decide on a worthy enough read for a five-hour plane trip. Milan Kundera’s Festival of Insignificance called out to me at first. Then there was a new creepy collection by Stephen King.

But at that moment my subconscious decided to be a party pooper and reminded me that I’d bought Open Veins Latin America a month ago and had not read past Page 10. I walked out bookless. That familiar dependable bookstore cocaine rush had failed to make an appearance. It fizzled and burnt out without as much as a whimper.

Bah. I felt what every self-respecting reading Indian feels at such a moment – utter failure. I had become one of them.

“Them” being a non-specific group of people who read, or might read, only if you give them something newfangled, trending, and quick enough. “Them” are the people who have no time to either invest in the geopolitics of Latin America or join Kundera on his next existential crises. No. We – they? – need something loud, brash and quickly forgotton.

We want books to allow us to pop out titles, names and topics, and then get into a testy match of viewpoints with very little to substantiate our high-decibel opinions. Opinions which happen to be slightly edited versions of the most impressive sentences that were written solely to fuel such socialisation.

To us, literature as people knew it is dead. No CPR or miracle drug will cure a nation with five-second attention spans and the lust to be the one who made the most compelling point. So I present to you the five things the New Indian Book needs in order to survive the apocalypse of the nuanced and subtle brain.

Let the title stroke the ego of the imaginary intellectual

We still want to tell ourselves we are cerebral people. Let the title be vague, but have a tagline that is pointed enough for us to pick it up. It’s the title that will allow us to sound arty enough in certain groups. In other groups we will refer to the tagline – we’re savvy like that. Dissect the book into easy-to-understand segments and make sure you throw in some difficult words in there, we’re not brain dead yet.

Shorten the suitability of the boy and dumb down a fine balance

Because good books that experimented with length and societal introspection have no business hanging out in 2015. Think White Tiger on steroids. We want to be in the know. The thing is, we need to make opinions and shove them out at Chinese factory scale.

Authors, please note we need to fling the FB trend of the month so hard that our networks won’t know what hit them. There’s also the matter of forming multiple opinions on the same topic, POVs if you will. We understand that our perception is narrow, but we’re worldly enough to understand and make up the perceptions of other groups too.

We got it, we know everything, if someone would just care to read and highlight our tweets more often. Help us do this by making books that give us paint-by-number ideas that are easily diluted into quick snappy retorts – those trolls out there are nasty and something must be done.

Give us more of talking heads

Listen, you don’t need to prove you are an expert. Let’s get philosophical – I mean, what’s an expert really? If you articulate your point sharply enough, wear something quixotic, and walk around with that deep expression on your face, then you are one. It’s that simple.

We need experts talking about very specific topics. Bonus points if you can get us riled up into two square oppositional groups that toss around counter-attacks at the speed of, um, really fast broadband.

Pick topics like the current administration, movies, film stars, and murderous mothers.  We also enjoy predictions. Economic, technological and political predictions in particular. It would be genius if the book mashed up all these topics to come up with some startling dystopia that we can all talk about.

The trick is to leave some room for us to create corollary predictions that emerge from the book’s main predictions. See? We’re still using that main mantra all decent literary artists employ – show, don’t tell.

Set the stories in Mumbai, US

We love those books where everything seems to be happening in a western country, even though they’re actually set in Delhi or Mumbai. If it weren’t for the cleverly placed names like Rahul and Aisha we would have no idea that Aisha’s stressful job with her bitch-ass boss wasn’t happening in New York. And we’d think rich boy Rahul’s Audi was cruising the streets of London.

We love those books – they make you think India really is kind of like America, provided you look at one micro-section of society and concentrate on building your scenes exclusively in restaurants, offices, malls, and cars. And ignore the Karva Chauth stuff.
If the ending must be sad, let there be a death – we don’t want to bother with the other complexities of human emotions that lead to people not making it as a couple.

Newhour it

The book that will survive this era will be a 9 pm TV debate. Come in with an agenda, make it roar and talk over everything. Make a point, make five. Come back full circle to the same issue and roar again.

Create friction. Identify a scapegoat and contextualise things with irrelevant mini-celebrities. Understand that this nation at its core comprises movie-going whistle blowers. We need a show with lights and dance. We need a lasting buzz with no tangible results.

We want to scream out your words, but not really come to a solid conclusion or solution because we are a tolerant nation after all, and we wouldn’t want anyone else to feel like they can’t have their share of say. Dangle a carrot, let the vegetable sway – our eyes must dance with it.

So where did this leave me? How did I figure out what to do with that five-hour flight? I haven’t caved and bought one of these books yet. I am dancing a fine line.

My Open Veins Latin America stares at me from the dining table, I stare back. We know what will happen eventually. Until my inner demons have figured it out, I must compromise. I diplomatically reach out for the inflight magazine and find myself agreeing to the appeal of a short day trip to Macau.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.