Amish Tripathi is the new Chetan Bhagat. Neither man may like that statement; Chetan may protest that he’s still ‘in’ and Amish may say that his brand of literature is more ‘serious’ than Chetan’s, but in the sense that Amish is to Indian Writing today what Chetan was to it six years ago, it is true. The much-publicized million-dollar deal that Amish signed with Westland last week only made it official. (If you haven’t yet heard of it, you have now. Go google.)
I got to know of this thanks to the television screen they mounted in our cafeteria at work. My boss and I were having our daily breakfast, and I was in my usual sunny mood prattling along about something or the other when he pointed to the screen and said, “Hey, you’ve got to get yourself one of those.” When I raised my head I saw Amish Tripathi in pleasant conversation with an NDTV reporter who was asking him all sorts of profound questions. (‘How are you feeling?’ ‘How much are you selling the movie rights for?’ ‘Has it sunk in yet?’)
The sun in my mood went down rather quickly. I replied with ice and indignation in my voice: “I don’t think I will ever be in his situation.” And then I added a few well-chosen barbs hinting at the immaturity of Indian society and how Ekta Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan become icons here (with due apologies to fans of both). I did not rant, but I came close.
Envy, for those of you who’ve never experienced it, is an emotion that eats at your soul and spits it out half-chewed and dripping with spit. All that day I could think of nothing but Amish and his brand new million-dollar contract. There were no two ways about it; after all that is said and done, if someone offered me a contract of that size for my finished books, let alone those I have not even thought of, I would sign my name twice over without even glancing at the fine print (providing, of course, that the check doesn’t bounce).
But this wasn’t just envy. I feel envious of people all the time. This time I was also conscious of a deep sense of resentment, a bit like back in college when the guy who failed all his papers in our class got a job before everyone else. The rest of us didn’t just feel jealous. We wanted to wring his neck. It’s not just the person’s success that gets to you; it’s the added perception that the success is undeserved that puts you on slow roast and burns you.
Even in this Chetan and Amish are twins. Both come from non-literary backgrounds. In fact, both openly snub the ‘snootiness’ of mainstream literature. Chetan has gone on record saying that a writer doesn’t need good grammar to be a good storyteller. Amish has repeatedly been unapologetic about his writing in interviews. Here are two guys that have nothing but the most rudimentary skill with language making a killing at writing books. And that just kills us. If Salman Rushdie got a million-dollar contract for his next book I don’t think I would have felt as bad.
The good thing about knowing envy when you feel it is that you can work around it. Some of the publicity that Amish got for his deal, I reasoned with myself, must have rubbed off onto the industry itself. It must have gotten some people thinking about Indian books and Indian authors, and who knows, some of these people may chance upon my name and pick up one of my books. So looking at it that way, whatever Amish sells indirectly sells my books, and those of all the other writers that make up the market. Whether this line of thinking is logical or not, I don’t know. But it has made me a lot less miserable.
I also realized that whether his success is deserved or not, the resentment that I felt for him isn’t. I may believe that I can write better than him, but the truth remains that I cannot write like him, and therefore I cannot walk in his path. In fields like this each one of us must define our own parameters that define ‘success’. The world may delight in telling you that fame and money are the only two true arbiters of success, but there may be others that matter more. You may find them if you look deep enough, and perhaps when you do the noise from the outside world will matter a little less; maybe then you can turn the volume down, put your head down, and get to work.
But turn the volume down on a million dollars? Not easy.