On 7 March, I attended the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. The festival, now in its seventh year, is the largest in the Middle East and features writers from around the world.
I attended three sessions:
- Is there such as thing as an Indian novel?
- Mouse-proof Kitchen
- Thrilling Private India
The session on the Indian novel included Ashwin Sanghi and PG Bhaskar. Sanghi and Bhaskar were great foils for the discussion as their approaches are so different. Both were engaging, funny, and insightful. The following list of key lessons learned is entirely tongue-and-cheek and is meant to be taken completely out of context.
- The contemporary Indian novel is genre-based in simple English for a broad audience.
- Amitabh Bachchan has a temple dedicated to him in Kolkata.
- The best editors don’t make a good book.
- If you want to write a novel, all you need to read is PG Wodehouse.
- The only formula for writing a novel is that there is no formula.
- There is no such thing as an Indian novel.
- Midnight’s Children is the watershed moment for the Indian novel.
- It took more than 25 minutes for someone to mention Chetan Bhagat.
- Ashwin Sanghi sticks to a simple formula. The 3 Es: Entertain. Educate. Enlighten.
- India is the third largest English language book market in the world.
- Words aren’t important.
- Words are important.
- Many novels seem to go to press as if unedited.
- More than 37 publishers (or was it 47?) rejected The Rozabal Line.
- Sanghi had to self-publish the book because there weren’t any publishers left in India.
- Marketing matters.
- Writers hate marketing.
- PG Bhaskar has the best t-shirt ever: “Be careful! You’ll end up in my novel.”
- The future of novels is WhatsApp.
- Foreigners can write Indian novels.
I was quite relieved to hear the last point. I was the only non-Indian in the room for this discussion. As one participant put it: “You stood out.” I guess I always will. Stay tuned for more session lessons learned.