Let’s begin with my good friend Sai Kumar Kumpati from Hyderabad. Sai has a girl and a boy. They are all grown up now. They are wonderful...and beautiful, awesome, loving and successful, too, according to the pictures of their exciting life shared on a daily basis by the devoted parents.
Isn’t this piece supposed to be about books, writers and publishing? Indulge me, dear reader.
The older one is getting a Masters in Casino Management from the University of Lower West Alabama. Apparently in preparation for the giant casino boom she has predicted in the next five years, where every Indian village will become a mini-Vegas. For which Sai has been persuaded to buy a large tract of land in Rentachintala (mortgaging his family home).
What has any of this got to do with books? Patience, dear reader.
The second one, god bless him, is doing a combination course in footwear design and bauxite mining from the University of Umpherstone Sinkhole. He is currently taking a gap year (after six harrowing months in Australia) in Mykonos. Animal lover that he is, the darling boy has adopted two kangaroos. Mrs Kumpati is now in the outback, babysitting the two joeys named Mummy and Daddy. Sai, meanwhile, is fobbing off loan sharks in Hyderabad.
Cut to the chase, you say? Just one more paragraph. I promise.
Well, my point: from the time they were born, the Kumpati offspring have not had to do a single thing for themselves. From potty training to homework, from shopping for clothes to shopping for universities abroad – and everything in between – it has been done by the ever-willing Mama and Papa Kumpati.
Okay, let’s address your long-pending question now, reader (if you are still here). What has any of this got to do with writing?
Well, if you haven’t noticed, this global epidemic of parent as devoted slave, which has given birth to the much-dreaded millennial, has infected the field of literature. The new-age writer and his book are the perfect examples of helicopter parent and lazy, entitled offspring.
“Hey, I’ve just written the first page of my first novel. #feelingawesome”
Tell me you haven’t seen this, or some version thereof, on social media? Followed by hundreds of “supportive” posts and comments from other would-be writers, would-be readers and fans-in-the-making, cheering and egging on these selfless, heroic intern/apprentice writers, for not just performing the fearless task of admitting their infant book in kindergarten, but sharing their joy and achievement with the world at large?
Today’s helicopter writers have taken it upon themselves to share the progress of their premature literary progeny, nurturing them, supporting them, assuring them they are always there for them – starting from anaemic infancy, through shaky toddlerhood and unremarkable teenage years, to young adulthood. Not reading the writing on the wall (if you forgive my pun), instead of euthanising the wretched thing, they continue this “support” through the book’s disconsolate adulthood, not giving up even when it is in its miserable old age, bed sores and all, right up to its anonymous death. With the more persistent among these “parents” digging up its rotting corpse every once in a while at deathless lit fests.
Which is why, like the Kumpati offspring, so many books are failing miserably today.
A writer’s job is to write. And do this in privacy. And guard both the process and the output from prying eyes. And put all his effort into the joyous misery of writing, rewriting, editing, weeping, contemplating death, writing some more, drinking (could be green tea, too), and getting the book to be the best version of itself. All in private.
Dear writer, considering how often we hear you referring to your book as “my baby”, here’s an analogy. Your sharing, blow-by-blow, with the voyeuristic world of social media, your book as it is being made, is the literary equivalent of sharing the details of how you made a real baby. In other words, we don’t want to know. And, more importantly, you shouldn’t be telling us any of this.
Coming to the completed book, if you have actually got here, you have done your job, dear writer. That’s it. If you have gone about it the right way, you have written, deleted, added, rewritten and edited the crap out of it, and wept, contemplated death, lain under your bed hugging your childhood teddy bear, and drunk substandard liquor (or high-grade gaumutra) in the process. In private. In other words, you have been a great parent to your book.
The published book may be your child, but it is an adult now.
It needs to make its way in the world on its own. It will survive or perish depending on how hard it is going to work. Which, at the risk of being repetitive, depends on how hard you worked at being its parent at the appropriate time. If you haven’t done this, no amount of work, support, cheering, sharing, caring on your part at this stage, when it is a printed, bound volume, a full-fledged book sitting on a shelf, will make any difference to its status except perhaps compromise its dignity. And, more importantly, yours.
In essence, be a good parent to your book when it’s in the making. Don’t go easy on it. Don’t go easy on yourself. But do this with kindness. Do it quietly. Good parents don’t crow. When the book is done, get the hell out of its way. If you do this, who knows, it may actually end up making its daddy proud.
Krishna Shastri Devulapalli has tried to be a good parent to his five books. They are making their way in this world on their own, in an honourable fashion, he hopes.