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Prashant Yadav Posts

An ode to a friend – he was 50, I was 0 – till death did us part

Note: This was written exactly a year ago, give or take a week, in a different context. An excerpt of a larger piece. But this part talks about the first friendship I built. A friendship across an age gap of 50 years that lasted 23+ years. Till he passed away. Years later, I got a feeling I saw him in a market in Noida. I knew I saw him. Can’t explain how. I still feel his presence sometimes. Allow me to build some preamble.
My earliest childhood memories are me in an all aluminium rickshaw with bags hanging from its side going to Spring Dales School, Pilibhit in my Nursery. They gave me a really colorful handpainted report card, with columns, subject names, scores in colored sketch pens on a yellow chart paper. Very beautiful. I think it also had a picture of flowers pasted on it. I stood first. A few years later when I could understand, I saw that report card and felt proud. Mom told me I had only gone there for a month or so and that disappointed me.
Then, I remember police line scenes with my maternal grandfather. A towering man, with sword like moustache and a voice so powerful, it would freeze your blood if it talked to you in anger. We clicked immediately. Much later, I tried to rationalise it by thinking that perhaps I was the only boy in his family – he had six daughters, he also had a couple of sons none of whom survived and I was the eldest son of his eldest daughter – the first of his grandkids. I liked his gun. I liked how he told me that one should never lag behind in the matters of food. I loved how he talked Urdu poetry with me – a kid barely able to pronounce his own name but just happy with all the affection. And, he would take me to the barracks where I would play doctor to the innumerable cops, I distinctly remember me sitting on his office table using my plastic doctor’s set – using stethoscopes and thermometers and injections on sundry cops. The doctor’s set had other equipments too, none of which I knew and none of which I used.
Images with him fill my mindspace. There are some images from Shahjahanpur and Lucknow KG Medical College when dad fell severely ill and everyone had lost hope. Must have been a traumatic moment for all of them. I dont remember much or the severity as I spent most of the time at his place in Badaun.
He’d gift me a gun almost everytime. And he’d get something or the other everytime he came home. I saw him fire a gun and that segued into my first trysts with smoking, as the only thing I noticed about the gun was the trail of smoke. I was his bright shining puppy and he was my first friend. Interesting that i was across a massive age barrier. I think we loved each other as men.
He continued talking Urdu poetry with me from the days I started walking upright. And he never explained it till I asked him to. He expected me to understand. And that made me push harder and ask for help if I could not. There, he treated me as an equal. And that, I guess founded our friendship as men. He also loved to quote Ram Charit Manas. And he had a big scar on his back. Whenever I’d see him without his shirt on, I’d want to touch that scar. I think I did too once or twice when we slept in the same bed. Or maybe not. I loved his sweaty smell but I hated his blanket. It pricked me.
Much later, as a teen I’d spend bulk of my summer vacations at his place. He’d wake me up at 4 and take me to really long walks. We’d walk some 7-8 kilometers, from his home to roads to fields to the bridge on the river Sot (called Laal Pul – I’d wrack my brains everytime to figure why it was called Laal Pul but I never saw anything red). In class VIII, I told him I wanted to learn Urdu and he taught me to read and write it. I can still read and write Urdu though might need a quick 5 min revision to identify all letters.
They say I’ve inherited his height and voice. Perhaps the dark hard face too. And that scares me. He died of throat and lung cancer when I was in my first term at Ahemdabad. They didn’t tell me he was gone till a month and a half later when I merrily returned home in the term vacation and innocently asked where he was. I also remember him lying on his sick bed in AIIMS, a pipe going through a slit in his throat, his booming voice had left him. That was three months ago, in mid 2000, when I had just been selected to Ahemdabad and was waiting to join.
We had our share of adventures too – like him fighting off a pack of twenty aggressive stray dogs with his stick in a dark night on a deserted street with me tangling with his knees. But all of that for another day.
Of all the wonderful friendships I have and have had, and I have been very lucky with friends, this, the first and the longest lasting has to be up there at the top. Wherever you are, my friend, hope it is as fun as you always made everything, hope the Urdu poetry still flows and hope that voice still booms.

Chicken a la poos doesn’t exist!

Yes. You heard that right. There is nothing called chicken a la poos. Not in the least a French dish.

Does that make you smile, chuckle, open your eyes wide or fall off your chair? Good. You are one of the small tribe that gets ‘Chhoti si Baat’ jokes.

But don’t despair if this exotic sound French preparation doesn’t ring a bell yet. It’s a situation you would have faced. In some way or the other. At some time or the other. A smartass hijacking your date and walking away with your girl.

The genius of Basu Chatterjee is not just in inventing a faux French dish but also, how he named the characters. Nagesh is the smartass. Everyone has or has had a Nagesh in his life (am sure it works for hers too, any insights be welcome). Check this out if you don’t believe me:

And then, the reposte. How Chicken a la poos comes back to bite Nagesh in his ass. Not everyone gets such a sweet revenge, but something one must aspire for.

Oh, and don’t miss the legendary line: “Auraton ki kayi kharidariyan aisi hoti hain jo har kisi ko nahi batayi jati hain.”

 

Does publishing need its own “Writer’s Room”?

It is high art. Writing a book.

Interestingly, making a shirt was high art, till garment factories came along. Making a shoe was high art, till systems came along that churned out as many shoes in a day that artists (rather, artisans) would do in ten years. Heck, ‘making’ a book (as opposed to writing it) was high art before Gutenberg came along.

(Image courtesy: Inc.com)

Of course, the idea is blasphemous. How can you compare writing a book to shoe making? Almost like saying god is a stone, or a marble slab in a particular direction, or a wooden cross.

Ok, artistic indignation aside, let’s look at the industry. Trade publishing is struggling. People are reading more, on computer as well as on paper and yet most published books don’t sell beyond three digits. New winners are few and far in between. It takes a year plus for the book to hit the market after done writing. Writers make peanuts. Publishers don’t spend on marketing and writers lack the skill. Structurally, at 8-12% royalty, not much incentive for the average joe writer to spend on marketing. We are pushing smart people out of writing books.

From publisher’s side, it is spray and pray. Only, sprays happen too few times and far in between. And with a directionless writer occasionally following the beats of his heart and at other times, trying to ape what has worked, publisher has very little control to use her industry knowledge to impact the sprays so that their probability of being a winner successively increases.

But the industry has plenty of positives. People still read books and they will continue to read on paper at least till the school system relies on paper books. Shift from paper to fully digital content in schools hasn’t even happened in the US, so we are covered here for twenty years at least.

And people read what they see or hear about. The idea is to find new winners. How? When the cost of new product introduction is low, the key is to cut the time for new product introduction. How? The way it has been done in shirt or shoe making, cooking, furniture making – by making a process.

TV has done it with Content Heads conceptualising an idea and then assembling a Writer’s Room, a Showrunner and the show being directed by a team of directors instead of a lone, magical mad genius. And it has created art at a massive scale which has been commercially successful too.

James Patterson has done it in books. His fiction sells in massive numbers though the constant criticism is, his work isn’t aesthetically pleasing or profound. But then, the utility of his model is just to show the direction. There could be other ways to build a process that don’t dumb down art – Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and countless other TV shows show us it is possible to have an integrated process and yet create deeply engaging stories that work for many people.

The question is, do we leave books (here, fiction) to die prematurely or do we think of faster, better ways to create books that reach more readers. Do we continue the spray and pray or do we work to build frameworks to better integrate market intelligence, creative work, and production?

Is it time for the books to have their own Writer’s Room?