27 February 2011

Not Just Cricket by Vikram Dravid

There's more to life than World Cups
When I reached page 97, I suddenly realized that this was a really good book.
I had been reading slowly, enjoying the story about a typical cricket-playing boy from a middle-class family in Bombay. There had been brief glimpses of a world beyond. At page 97 the world beyond shone through, clear and unmistakable, and I understood how and why this book really wasn’t just about cricket. Cricket is the fabric; it’s also the substance of the plot. However, Not Just Cricket also carries glimpses into rich, deep aspects of life that can be revealed to most of us only through fiction because they are so removed from our scheme of things.
Most of the books I read these days are just too long. They go on and on, invariably repeating themselves, aiming to thrill the reader with flourish after flourish. As you long for them to end, all you can do is stretch your eyebrows in exasperation at that fundamental horror creative people seem to consider themselves entitled to – of having the output of their genius savaged just for the user. So after a long time, I was happy to be reading a book which ended too soon. It simply did not do justice to all that the author has to say.
Vikram Dravid is a doctor. He grew up in Bombay and now lives and works in the US. He certainly has the knack of telling a story and his characters are developed with skill, but there were some things I felt were lacking and I emailed him with my questions.

I found the fake names really annoying. Why Suchen Chembulkar? Especially, why Dalmeinkuchkala?! These names are parodies and more fitted to a comic or satirical genre. I found that in your text, which has a quite serene context, they formed abrupt and jarring interruptions. Was there a reason why you did this? And how much of the Pakistan tour you’ve described is as real and thinly disguised? I’m afraid I don’t know cricket so you will have to tell me in case there was a specific series you were talking about. I did enjoy stepping in and getting glimpses of Pakistan along with the team, though.
I was going to use the real names of current cricketers but was told that using the real name, particularly of a celebrity, in a fictitious scenario required their permission. I wanted to give the cricket an aura of authenticity, and not seem make-believe. Using thinly-disguised versions of current day stars, that most of the readers would likely be familiar with, allowed me to extrapolate their real life characteristics into my book without having to flesh them out.
Interestingly, readers have either been turned off or extremely tickled by the names. Dalmeinkuchkala refers to a previous chairman of the board who had a reputation of many unsavoury deals. I must say there was a little inspiration from Rushdie's use of Rani of Cooch Nahin etc, although I recognize that my book is not of the same genre or calibre. The tour is all made up.

Your style is neat and simple and I also admired your frequent linguistic flourishes. But … I would have been a bit more careful with the editing.

Being a first-time author, I sought a lot of advice regarding this. The manuscript has been edited umpteen times. I do think some of the usage may reflect my own peculiarities of language.
I really believe that I am more of a storyteller than a writer. In fact I am better at narrating verbally and sometimes my prose is gushy and has to be chopped up on the second go around.

What I really would have liked is more details of the glimpses you’ve given us into the fascinating lives of Arjun’s parents. I kept thinking kept thinking that you have the seed of more good books in some of the areas you’ve touched on there – in particular the aspects of rural medicine. Maybe a collection of short stories?
The two stories about Arjun's parents have been liked the most by all readers. They did start off as short stories, but because they fitted in well I used them to add layers and dimensions to those two characters and to tie in the narrative.

How did you find a publisher? And how’s the distribution going?
Being removed from India, with no direct access to publishers, I sent out routine emails to the big publishing houses. They weren't quick to respond. I found Cinnamon Teal on the web. They have been very responsive. However, people have found it difficult to get their hands on the book. I guess distribution could be better. For instance, I would love for it to be available in a chain of stores such as Crosswords. Currently it will be made available in select bookstores, I don't know which ones. I would love to be more involved. However, distance and the lack of wherewithal are stumbling blocks. The book has done very well in North America where it is available on Amazon.

What are you working on next?

I do have a sequel in mind, but am currently working on a string of short stories that tie in together with a common thread.

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