Once upon a time we discovered that a text was not gospel. That once it issued from the imagination of the author, it was free to take whatever form it wanted in the mind of the engaged reader. This realization, millennia after it became evident that the word of god was not really so, would have relieved some writers as much as it frustrated others. ‘Enfin!’ Proust might have exclaimed from the comfort of his cork-lined room. ‘Readers will now leave me in peace, let them understand my work as they will, if they will.’ ‘Well then…’ Salinger would have murmured. ‘Whether I write or not is none of your goddam business.’
These famous recluses might have shrivelled up in the glare of the marketing blitz that is the modern writer’s lot. Doris Lessing’s publisher apologized for asking her to submit to an interview back in 1950, but in the last few decades writers who want to sell their books have to sell themselves first. With publishers seeking to hedge their bets, the onus is firmly on the writer to get the word out, as it were. Writers are expected to reach out through social and traditional media well before and after the launch of a book, and keep potential buyers engaged in their brand through a never-ending treadmill of public engagements. It seems, sometimes, that the more successful you are as a performing monkey, the less likely you are to be typing out works of staggering and heartwarming genius.
The brand of the writer has caught on in Nepal, too. Book launches are de rigueur for any self-respecting writer, as they are for those whom no one really respects, and one can hardly complain. Launches are just that – they provide the momentum any book needs before sailing out into the wide world, and they’re as good an excuse as any for a good old-fashioned shindig. After all that slogging away, every writer deserves his fifteen minutes. At the very least.
A brace of bimochans brought out the best and worst of the genre this weekend. Ironically, both seemed to overwhelm their subjects. Prawin Adhikari’s debut story collection The Vanishing Act rumbled to life in the ambient amphitheatre of the Nepal Academy last Friday after an expectant half hour coloured only by the lassitude of the dun dog sprawled to stage left. After La.Lit Editor Rabi Thapa’s brief introduction, Ujjwal Maharjan read short excerpts from the book and handed over to the author. To the palpable disappointment of the audience, Adhikari only thanked the caterers and the organisers, exhorted us to enjoy the evening, and vanished into the gloam of the advancing evening. Such was his modesty, you’d have thought he was merely announcing that the real author was on his way, that it was only a matter of time before he showed up. Later, he surfaced reluctantly to pose for the media, and was to be seen signing books by the light of an emergency light as all around him, we warmed the cockles of our wintry hearts with hearty doses of aila and chwoela.
Deepak Rana’s double header of a launch at Hotel Annapurna the next day – of Roads Less Travelled and The Silent Flute – couldn’t have been more different. Here too we waited, amidst a sea of ex-shrees, but this time for a real chief guest. Hell, they even handed out a programme. After what seemed like long enough for the author to complete the trilogy of which The Silent Flute was the second part, sometime-PM and longtime politician Madhav Kumar Nepal deigned to grace us with his presence, be felicitated, light the panas, and be seated. Chirag Bangdel spoke of Rana, Greta Rana spoke of Rana, then Nepal spoke of Rana. Very eloquently, too. There was also a ‘cultural item’ consisting of a young lady balancing things on her things. But the writer was, figuratively speaking, nowhere to be seen. He was there, no doubt, but evidently he had expended all his creative energies on his work; his flute remained silent. Book launched, he even allowed Madhav Nepal to sign copies of his book for him.
Perhaps, after all, a writer is best off being just that – a writer. Let the speakers speak, let the writers write, let the readers read, let the children play. We were all made – or made ourselves – a certain way for a reason. Don’t ask me to explain myself, please. Woof!