Saturday, July 8, 2006

Recipe for a bestseller
A number of first-time authors have come up with hit formulas by delving into their alma mater days, says Anandita Gupta

Hours of scribbling away furiously for those terrible term papers. Some endearing moments — playing guitar in starlit nights, lazy sessions for rum and debate at the local dhaba, singing Bob Dylan numbers, eyeing pretty girls….

Perfect stuff that college memories are made of. And stuff that seems to spell a surefire formula for writing a bestseller. For, more and more alumni of India’s premier professional institutes are turning first-time authors, writing about their first-hand experiences at their alma mater.

Harvard, IITs, IIMs, XLRI — the Holy Grail that a student would give his right arm to get hold of and rarefied environs that coveted companies frequent, hunting for their future CEOs. But, interestingly, these institutes have recently inspired a slew of stories based on them, written by their ex-students.

Chetan Bhagat, Abhijit Bhaduri and Tushar Raheja—the list seems predictable. For, this motley crew of young authors have all undergone the rigours of being in premier professional institutes and have ended up writing about them.

While Investment-banker and IIT alumni Chetan Bhagat explored the sensitivities of human bonding amidst the pressure of IIT’s grading system in his Five Point Someone, XLRI, Jamshedpur’s alumni Abhijit Bhaduri shatters the myth about MBAs being super brainy by dubbing them as ‘mediocre’ in his novel Mediocre but Arrogant.

Then, there’s Tushar Raheja, fourth-year student of the IIT, Delhi, who talks about an IITian’s quest for love in his breezy novel, Anything for you Ma’am. And not to miss the 19-year-old Kaavya Viswanathan’s depiction of the stressful times and stiff competition among high-schoolers for getting into universities like Harvard.

And look at Kaavya Vishwanathan. Despite the controversy surrounding her work, it is in demand. “Maybe, it’s the controversy that’s aroused people’s interest. But it’s also the theme of a high-school girl’s struggle to get into Harvard that has made this book attract youngsters,” says Ajay Arora from Capital Book Depot, Chandigarh.

These books neither boast of a well-knit plot, in-depth characters nor a linear edit. Still, these books have been bestsellers and the authors have been flooded with e-mails from students, demanding more. Beams HR professional-turned author Abhijit Bhaduri, “My inbox is flooded with mails asking me when is the sequel to Mediocre but Arrogant due. Adds Chetan Bhagat, “My manuscript was rejected 12 times but I was determined and made my work reach out to people. But I’m surprised at the overwhelming response that’s come, despite my not being a professional writer.”

What, after all, is making these books sell like hot cakes? Explains Vipin Kinger from Asia Book House, Chandigarh, “The huge hullabaloo about premier professional institutes in India has inspired a lot of awe and curiosity among students, who read these books to get a slice of action from these institutes.”

Arora puts forth another perspective, “The professionals who’ve experienced studying in these reputed institutes wanna flip through the pages of these books out of sheer curiosity, to see how authentically are they written.”

Little wonder, such books are hogging the ‘bestseller shelves’ at bookstores occupying a few thousand square feet of expensive retail space. Fusing facts with fiction, they perfectly capture the fancy of Indian readers, who are craving for much more of this stuff. So, all you collegiates out there, keep making mental notes of all you are going through. Who knows, you’ll end up writing a bestseller some day.