Friday, September 13, 2013

'Dobby Is A Free Elf'

So, the other day I had to bring cottage cheese (yet again) from the Milk Bar. I asked the shopkeeper to give me Rs. 60 worth of cottage cheese. Ek pau paneer laa be, he said to his shop assistant irritably, referring to India's quintessential local unit, the 'pau'. The disgruntled assistant brought some of the stuff, but even I could discern that it wasn't one pau. The shopkeeper looked at his assistant, as though enraged. Slapping him hard across the face, he said something that sounded like Yeh ek pau hota hai bhench**? Tune theek se nahi sunaa? Maalik ki baat theek se nahi sunni hoti, haanh? Translation? Well, here is a rough approximation: "Is this one pau, you brothel-born? Didn't you hear me? Is it not your duty to listen to your master?" The shopkeeper considered the assistant his slave! The assistant responded in a manner that would put Kreacher the house elf to shame.
Nearly a century after Lincoln's efforts to abolish slavery in the United States, modern slavery exists in this form in India. Many times the victims do nothing to mollify their situation. And shockingly, many times the victims are little children! I ask you, are these workers, indentured labourers and domestic helps not human beings? Do they not deserve equal treatment? To conclude, I would like to restate the title. "Dobby is a free elf!"

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Who the F*** Self-Publishes?

A couple of days ago, I was sifting through my email inbox, when I found something from a fellow author. Apparently, the guy was a top-notch Hindi poet, who, like many before him, had suffered the bitter disappointment of nobody buying his book of poems. The general consensus seemed to be that injustice had been done to him. Of course, this might have been just a gimmick to grab everybody's attention, or it might have been genuine. The point is, if almost every Pothi author hadn't received that frustrated email, our poet friend's book would have been doomed to oblivion.
As I mentioned before, he isn't the only one to have his books suffer from such a fate. There are probably millions like him. I happen to have the misfortune of belonging to this sad club. My companions would recall that, some time in 2010 or 2011, I published a novella of short stories, titled Tales From Beyond the  Mundane. Not surprisingly, no one bought it. The eBook business is not a particularly profitable one. Unless anyone knows about you, no one will buy the book. Self-publishing leaves all of the promotional work to you, which can be surprisingly exhausting. The premise of zero capital involved in self-publishing, as opposed to publishing through a literary agent, is non-existent. Likewise, book publishing agencies aren't particularly author-friendly. Unless you have a degree from IIM, IIT, Oxford, MIT or any other reputed university, chances are, the publishing agency will turn your submission down. You require credentials that have next to nothing to do with the quality of your work. You even need to invest in paying a small group of people to buy your book. Tell me then, in such a scenario, where should a demented soul such as I go?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dried Tears of A Destitute Child

Earlier this afternoon, when I was returning from my chemistry tuition (and a failed attempt to get the contact details of the maiden who has stolen my heart), I was to run an errand at The Milk Bar. After making my purchase of cottage cheese, I saw a little boy in rags, of no more than nine years of age, around whom was draped what looked like an oddly shaped baby monkey. I could swear it was the same nocturnal beggar kid whom my friends had shoved aside, laughing all the while at some hitherto inappropriate joke. Such was the condition of the duo, that I was moved to give the little begging youth a ten rupee note. Paise nahi chahiye. Kuchh khilaa do meri chhoti behan ko, he said. He wanted to buy something to eat for his baby sister (whom I had on casual sight assumed to be a monkey), who looked like she hadn't eaten in days! Feeling somewhat sheepish, I told him that there weren't much things that could be bought for the little child wrapped around his arms. After much deliberation I just told him to buy something for his little sister. It was then that guilt took hold of me, even as I bought a thirty rupee bottle of Appy Fizz and shamelessly drained one-third of it. I felt even more guilty when I found that I could have bought him a samosa or two, so that his little sister could get atleast some solid food.
This is not a new problem in India; more than half our population lives below the poverty line, but seeing it so rampant, in broad daylight, moves one to tears. Little babies who haven't even learnt to speak, are starving to death! Nobody seems to care about this pandemic of poverty. Indeed, most people view this problem in a mocking light. Had I given my ice cream sandwich to the little kid last night, I might have run the risk of becoming the laughing stock of the group! Even our politicians are doing next to nothing about it. Indeed, the only other people who seem to be concerned about it, are the bestelling author Chetan Bhagat, and our very own Aamir Khan sir, who has launched a focussed movement against malnutrition. So next time you have a bit of money to spare, forgo the afterdrinks snacks, and buy a destitute child some food. You will have made a lot of difference in his or her life.