E for Envy

Alright. Rant ahead because really, I should just get this out of my system.

Tishani Doshi

So I was reading Tishani Doshi’s “The Pleasure Seekers” and by the time I’d reached page 50, I wasn’t terribly gripped by the novel but it’s not appalling either and idly I put her name into Google. There was an interview with her on CNN-IBN, which I watched and realised that she really is as gorgeous as her author photograph suggests and when she speaks, she’s charming. Then I clicked on the link for her website. Fifteen minutes later, I was pretty much foaming around the mouth and looking for cloves of garlic and crucifixes to fling at my computer screen. Purple doesn’t even begin to describe the writing on the site. By the time I’d survived the About page of Tishani Doshi, “poet, dancer, writer, wanderer”, the copy editor in me had turned into the Incredible Hulk and could only howl with inchoate rage at sentences like this one. “Being the product of two cultures (Gujarati and Welsh), and the middle of three children, and also being curious and sensitive by nature, it was almost always certain that she would become a writer.” So those of us damned into inheriting only one culture and not being the middle kid can’t be writers?

Somewhere in my DNA is a masochistic strand, clearly, because not being satisfied with reading the About page, I went to read her poetry and short stories. And it all just got much, much worse. Just what was it about this prose and poetry that got people excited? How could someone with such twee writing get an agent or get published? Aren’t there literally hundreds of wannabe writers who are trashed for having marinated their writing in sentimentality and hung their paper hearts to dry in their “novels”? Then how on earth did Doshi make it past the hurdles that those poor losers crash against? I just couldn’t figure it out and part of me cackled furiously at the saccharine stuff I was reading, the prose that had been bludgeoned into fitting some notion of “lyrical”, the poetry that mostly felt callow. The other part of me roller-coastered directly into juvenilia and with every link I clicked, I entered into a stupid, futile and utterly pointless competition. Because no matter how much I rant, the fact is not only is Tishani Doshi lovelier than I’m ever going to be even with reconstructive surgery, but she’s worked hard, written her novel, got an agent, got published. While I’m ranting on my blog.

That’s my attempt at sounding something like the age I am rather than the pouty 16-year-old I was channelling when I read her “At the Rodin Museum” and snorted dismissively. You write poetry in a museum? Ha!, I thought. I can write equally maudlin nonsense, and in the back of a clattering Mumbai cab, complete with photo.

It hasn’t started yet.
Not here.
But there, in the distance –
Where it’s all white
And the skyline looks as though
A hundred sheer curtains
Have been dropped on the city –
There,
It’s raining.
Here it’s all still
Even the smoke
Isn’t wisping.
All of us,
Deep breaths, wide eyes, prickled skin.
Here
The sky is the colour of light,
Tall buildings the colour of shadows,
The sea a shifting pattern of pewter sheets,
Where the cloud cover is cracked,
Snaking crescents of water,
Bright as lightning.
Everything is still, frozen smoke.
Everything is shimmering.
My city has been crafted in silver,
Cloud-beaten.
Its colours swirl low in the underworld
Of rainwater drains,
And above
All of us,
White noise and grey silhouettes,
Wait for another downpour.

Add a tongue-stuck-out expression here, befitting let’s say a three-year-old, and you have the complete picture. Putting this up in a public space is my attempt at rapping my own knuckles for succumbing to the deadly sin of envy. Public ridicule, bring it on.

After having finished “The Pleasure Seekers” and in the rainy light of a monsoon morning, I still don’t get what it is about Doshi’s writing that got literary heavyweights in a tizzy. I wonder how Radhika Jha feels about the character of Ba who sniffs people and fortunes out (literally) and whether Ekta Kapoor would find it amusing that this piece of literary fiction that Salman Rushdie found “captivating” and “delightful” shares the tone and setting of her pulpy, unwatchable family dramas. And the language… once in a while, Doshi’s language, peppered with bits of Hindi and little idiosyncratic turns of phrases, is charming. Most of the time, it’s just cloyingly sweet and too damn precious.

But most of us have at one time or another wanted to write with lyrical flourish, when we thought we were Arthur Rimbaud while making our way back from Delhi University or some such place. For me, things suddenly shifted after I read “The Real Thing” by Tom Stoppard, which has some of the most beautiful speeches on language and love, and I saw most of what I’d written for all these years as sentimental claptrap. I doubt hawking the old stuff would get me any of Doshi’s success so really,  there’s no point feeling envious. But I do. Because on particularly hormonal days, I did maudlin better than Doshi and I wrote heartbreak with a little less cliché. And dammit all, I want to look that lovely and have an agent.

If my life was a Disney movie (I’m nowhere near cool enough to be a Pixar creation), then right about now, you’d see me crumpling, crackling, shooting steam and turning from an inoffensive dollop of a human being into a hideous, pointy-nosed, witchy-looking thing. Envy will do that to you. Or me, in this case.

10 thoughts on “E for Envy”

  1. Haven’t read Ms Doshi, but I know what you mean. I don’t get the whole lyrical writing bit. Unless pitch perfect and accompanied by a really punchy story, it is the most annoying style ever. But then again, as you point out – she did write the novel, get the agent, and get it published. You and I just rant ;-)

    PS: I would be most curious to know what would be the subject of your novel.

  2. Mackie, I know this blog may not be the best example of it but I do have SOME sense of self-preservation. So no, no more poetry if I can help it.

    Chetna, I’ll have you know I actually have not one, not two, but three possible subjects. One day I will write all of them, instead of or while ranting here. I’d tell you over email except you and I both know how bad I am at that. :D

    Hello Banno. :)

  3. she dances, anon. haven’t read the book but seen her dance and going by what you say I’d say it’s prob better watching her than reading her, q lovely she is to watch. more envy. :)

  4. Deepika, ah yes, how could I have forgotten the subhead of her website: “poet, dancer, writer, wanderer…”

    Sunehra, if you’re a middle child and are curious and sensitive by nature, there’s a sliver of possibility. But you’ll also have to be able to bond with your publisher “over fried eggs and literature”. Best of luck (and I say that last part without a whit of negativity, by the way).

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