Mathurís book has defied all market parameters. There was no
fancy do for Mathurís The Inscrutable Americans when it
was brought out in 1991. Rupa and Co, the publishers of The
Inscrutable Americans is a comparatively small publishing
house with no big writers to boast of. The book won its author
no award in India or abroad and consequently there were hardly
any Press interviews. In short, the book came virtually
unannounced into the world. But ever since then it has refused
to budge from the readersí imagination. Ask Mathur about the
secret formula and he smiles, "If I knew what made a best
seller I would apply that formula to all my books", he
says. Indeed, for Mathur has written three other books after The
Inscrutable Americans, including the hilarious "Are
all women leg spinners?" Asked the Stephenian and the
recent, Making the Minister Smile, but they have made no
mark on the bestseller list nor in the literary world.
"The story of
The Inscrutable Americans is such that it sells",
says the publishers. But what is the story that makes it so
popular? To put it simply, the book is about a country bumpkinís
adventures during his one year sojourn in America. This
small-town-20-year-old has all sorts of illusions about
Americans and this puts him through a series of comical
situations. The tug-of-war between his inclination to keep his
vow of abstinence from the "three evils" of wine,
women and meat and his hunger to explore the alien world adds to
his dilemma and the bookís hilarity. Nothing, one would say,
to warrant a bestseller. However, the storyís success has its
precedent in Vladimir Nabokovís highly successful book, Pnin.
Like Mathurís The Inscrutable Americans, Nabokovís
book also recounts the amusing experiences of a bewildered
emigre in the USA. Pnin is considered Nobokovís most
appealing book and the best introduction to his works.
Two other unique
aspects of The Inscrutable Americans are that the book
has never had a hardbound edition and it is not expensive at
all. At Rs 80 the book is a steal.
price could be one factor for its steady sale", says
Mathur. According to him the book is popular with the youth as
some of them identify with Gopal, the protagonist. "There
are still a lot of people specially in the rural areas for whom
America is a mystery", he says. Most of Gopalís illusions
about America concern its women and sex life. Hasnít Mathur
stereotyped America as a sex-crazy nation in the process?
"America is a sex-crazy nation. It is a young nation where
the focus and emphasis is on the youth. The youth are very much
interested in sex there", says Mathur.
It was, perhaps, a
matter of time before someone tried to make a movie out of The
Inscrutable Americans. The screen version of the book was
produced by a NRI doctor couple Srihari and Indira Malempati of
Pikeville, Kentucky, and released in theatres the world over two
years ago. The Malempatis financed this film themselves, and its
production cost them more than half a million dollars.
Mathur also anchors programmes for television. He is, at
present, in the midst of interviewing vernacular Indian writers.
This is interesting since regional language writers never tire
themselves of accusing English language writers like Anurag
Mathur, of elitism and of failing to grasp the essence of the
many Indias and they are all real. What I write about is the
India I know best. The upper-class story has to be told too and
their story is as real as anyone elseís", says Mathur.
Mathur also plans
to bring out a collection of his poetry soon. But no matter what
he does Mathur will always be know as the author of that one
phenomenal book The Inscrutable Americans. Does that
disappoint him as a writer. " No, it does not, for The
Inscrutable Americans is my book too. If people know me only
as its author, its fine", he says.