Monday, December 15, 2014

Ghosts of Bloggers Past


When I started blogging about 11 years ago, I had no idea what was in store. It was virtually like jumping off a cliff. I didn’t know the first thing about blogging, and was apprehensive as hell. There were no blogging forums, no blogger groups, nothing. Quite a few people didn’t even know that such an activity existed. Surprising because I’m told blogging, or ‘weblogging’ as it all began, had been around circa mid-90s.

Anyway, I was way into blogosphere by around 2005-2006, had made many online friends and was on a high. A few years later, as my blogging dwindled to a few posts a month to almost a few a year, the blogosphere as I knew it slowly disintegrated into fragments. Other social networking avenues opened up – we all know what those are today.

Blogging became a business; a platform to promote not just writers, but also products. It was the ultimate marketing move by Internet marketing Gurus, in what could be called a blogging coup of sorts. Blogging was no longer about expressing one self. It was no longer about jibing into one another’s thoughts, or even bouncing off philosophy or sports, or any other field off one another. It was no more personal. It had gone global, onto a new level.

When I look back, browse through some of my old posts, really old ones from even my previous blog, I saw a warmth, felt a wave of nostalgia that is very difficult to express. Part of it could also be due to the fact that most of us back in those days, belonged to the same age group, give or take a few years here and there. We had common aspirations, common ideas about the world in general, and we were all peeping into the big bad world through the same set of eyes. We could relate to one another.

When I started writing fiction on this blog (well, mostly), it was with the intention of really trying to hang on to whatever was left of my self, my identity in this online world. I didn’t want to let go so easily like so many of my contemporaries had done. I remained, stayed behind, trying to find acceptance in a growing tribe of younger bloggers who were far more sorted out than we were. Their ideas were radical, they had a certain ‘in-your-face’ kind of an attitude which, by all fair means, was necessary to establish their own identity in this rapidly growing opportunistic forum. But, somewhere down the line, I felt myself slowing down, with not much energy in me to cope up. I was, as clich├ęs go, ageing. Most of my contemporaries had found solace in the fast moving world of either a Facebook or a Twitter. They had made new friends, found new avenues to express themselves, not always through the online medium.

Offline, I was pretty much where I was – a day job, a family, all the trappings that came with a life like that, which I chose, of course. The blog was slowly starting to become a fading memory. Until things started picking up again circa 2010, when I started penning a new set of stories, and slowly the audience for those stories started increasing. It was a temporary high, of course. I knew it all along, but gave it good with whatever I had. It resulted in a book, and then some. And I had vowed all along, never to give up on blogging. My blogger friends were now a much more younger and energetic crowd than my middling years, and the thought was sometimes frightening to say the least. This time round, I didn’t even have enough tricks up my sleeve to fit back in. I knew that they were far too different than me to be able to connect. Fiction itself had taken a new avatar. Some of these writers are brilliant. They have an almost methodical approach to their blogging – almost surgical in the precision, if I may add. They time it well, they sign up for promotional programs, they are the new kids on the block who are going to shape the future of this online medium. More power to them.

I’m going all retro because recently one of our old bloggers started a closed group for bloggers of yore, called ‘Ghosts of Bloggers Past’ on Facebook, where we all stood and started calling out our old comrades. It was slow at first, but eventually we came out of our respective burrows and pretty soon, it was a fairly deafening gathering. It felt good. For a moment, we were back in the late 90s and early 2Ks.. we were our younger selves. The feeling was almost tribal, for want of a better word. The group reverberated with the calling and shout-outs of familiar names that we’d once upon a time called each other even in our sleep. Then the noise wound down, slowly but surely. It was a great high while it lasted.

I’ve said this before, and I say this now. Blogging might take on a different meaning for me now. But I’m never gonna forget that hot afternoon of 2003, when for the first time I entered my username and password and signed up for this cyberspace ride, to boldly go where not many had gone before. And even though it’s never going to be the same for me, I will linger on in the far corners of blogosphere, maybe as a star, looking down on a new blogger, as they come online and type in their first nervous words out here. And I’ll smile and say – welcome aboard. Fasten your seatbelts. And brace yourself for the journey of your life.

***

Monday, August 25, 2014

All's Well


Neeraj and Prakash were in Neeraj’s farm house for just over a day and they were bored to death already. Their summer vacations had begun and Neeraj’s father had promised them some great trekking on the mountains alongside their farm house. But unfortunately he had to rush back to the city for some unforeseen business, stranding the two boys in the lonely place all by themselves. Neeraj’s mother, who was also an entrepreneur, was to join them a couple of days later. That left them with more than 48 hours of boredom.

“Come on Neeraj, this is so boring – and I’ve not even got my games with me,” Prakash said, the evening Neeraj’s father left.

“Come on dude, not my fault,” Neeraj said, frowning. He was equally frustrated.

It was an old ancestral farm  house with a medium-sized farmland in and around. While mango was the main plantation, they also grew some coffee and other vegetables. The place was looked after by an old couple, who were now more than two decades old here. Neeraj had little inclination to come to this place aside from the fact that there was some great trekking to do behind the house, a path that lead to the mountains, and offered a great view. He usually accompanied his parents here during the vacations.

The two boys were 14 and 15 respectively. Prakash was Neeraj’s bum chum, and had visited the farm house a few times earlier. This one had turned sour though.

“Why can’t we go trekking ourselves?” Prakash said, toying with the worn out remote of the worn out old television set, as their favorite sport played on the screen. Neeraj frowned some more. “Ha. Alone? Not with my dad around, buddy. He learns of it, we’ll be on the menu here the next day.”

Prakash frowned.

The two boys sat silently, watching the show on mute.

“Hey,” Neeraj said a few moments later.

Prakash looked at him, puzzled.

“How about we do some trekking in and around? You know..just around the place. No going to the mountains and all…”

“As in…?”

“Around the farm man. Just hang around the  coffee plantation. Something is better than nothing, right?”

Prakash sniggered. “And then what? Do some farming as well?”

“Shut up. And…” he said, lowering his voice, “there’s that old cabin also I spoke about, remember?” He winked. Prakash just stared at him silently, a little slow to catch on until it struck him. “Oh, you mean, those ghost stories the old man keeps telling…that one?”

Neeraj nodded.

“But didn’t you also tell me that place was out of bounds for us?”

Neeraj clicked his tongue. “Who’s going to tell papa?”

Prakash was unsure. “I don’t know, dude…”

“ Hey, sissy. You coming or not. I’m going,” Neeraj said, on his feet already.

“What, now?”

“What else. It’s still not dark. We can come back by then.”

“That old goose’s wife keeps looking out for us. What if she notices we’re not around and rats on us? She’s done it earlier too.”

“Man, you’re such a sport.” Neeraj was already on his way out. He stopped at the door and turned, rolling his eyes at his friend. Prakash switched off the TV and got up reluctantly. He craned his neck to check on the old woman and joined Neeraj finally.

***

The vegetation was at a lower plain with a lot of thick growth in between. The boys carried sticks to cut through the thick bush. They spent the first half of the morning simply trekking through the plantation. It was huge and beautiful, and they took a lot of pictures. Neeraj had already uploaded some pictures on Facebook.

A little before noon, they came upon the old well. It was clearly a very old well, maybe a half century.

“Wow,” Prakash said. He’d been to this farm house a few times earlier, but they’d never ventured to this part. He wondered why. Maybe they’d been kept from this place on purpose. Maybe the ghosts..oh well.

“Is this the spooky well? Looks pretty normal to me,” he said.

Neeraj smiled. “That’s what they want us to think. Normal. But I’m sure there’s something.”

They walked up to the well and bent over. It was quite deep, but they could see the ripples at the bottom. Their reflection bobbed up and down as a few pebbles fell into the water.

“Coo…” Prakash piped, his voice resounding across the wall of the well.

Neeraj looked around. Aside from the occasional bird and a distant dog, it was quiet and warm here. He looked at the cabin behind the well and nudged Prakash.

They stood outside the cabin, looking clueless. It was a regular cabin, with just a single room housing the water pump and generator inside. They walked around it and came back front.

“Hmm, nothing unusual here as well,” Prakash remarked. Neeraj nodded and stood.

“Maybe we ought to have come here after dark,” Prakash said, chuckling. Neeraj smiled. “yeah.”

“Shall we do that?”

Neeraj looked at his friend and raised his eyebrows. “Are you nuts? I could get killed.”

“Oh come on, you sissy..” Prakash ribbed him. The boys spent some time looking around the place.

“Give me your cell phone,” Prakash said at long last.

“What..” Neeraj started.

“Shh. Just give it.”

Neeraj handed him the instrument. Prakash took pictures of the well and the cabin, and then walked over to the edge of the well. He pointed the cell phone down and clicked a couple of pictures. The well lit up momentarily in the flash light.

Prakash was still leaning over a bit when he looked at the saved picture.

“Holy shit…,” he said, his hand and shoulder jerking suddenly; and down went the phone into the well, with a soft ‘plop’ as it dove-tailed into the water.

Neeraj took a second to register this. Prakash looked down, and then at him, open-mouthed. Neeraj ran to him and looked down.

“What the f…, Prakash…” he yelled. Prakash was holding his head, his face twisted into a knot. “Shit, shit…shit,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I’ll be doing soon as I go back and tell dad about this…fuck, he’s gonna skin me alive, man. Aaargh,” Neeraj said going in circles frantically, his eyes wide open in horror and disbelief.

“Man…” Prakash clutched his hair, his jaws clenched and he hit the wall of the well with his hand. “Bloody hell.”

The boys then stood for a minute, clueless. Neeraj looked around frantically. Prakash, the ever ‘practical’ one, pursed his lips.

“What are you looking for – a rope? Do you plan to go down?”

“Do you have a better plan, genius?”

“But, Neeraj..we don’t know how deep the damn thing is, man. Just..forget about it.”

Neeraj glared at his childhood friend. “Yeah, it’s easy for you to say that, you moron. It’s not your fucking phone. Dad coughed up almost 30k for this one, and that too because I made his life hell.”

Prakash had guilt written all over his face. “I’m sorry, Neeraj..I didn’t do it on purpose. Come on..I..I’ll get you a new one.”

“Yeah? Like how? By selling your bike?”

The air got a little bit thicker with that comment. Prakash was a middle class guy, and they both knew what it took for his father to buy him the bike. Neeraj regretted it the moment he said it.

“Sorry. I’m…I’m sorry Prakash, I..I’m just so scared.”

Prakash was silent. Though hurt, he knew what his buddy was going through. “It’s ok, dude. It’s my fault.”

The two boys sat down on the ground, thinking. Neeraj was chewing on a blade of grass.

“What made you drop it, anyway?” Neeraj said finally. Prakash looked at him and shook his head.

“They’re right. The well is spooked, dude.”

An involuntary laugh escaped Neeraj’s lips. “Yeah? Is that why you dropped it?”

“Man, you’ll not believe what I saw in the phone. It was weird..I mean..really crazy.”

“Cut the crap, Prakash. Tell me.”

“I saw someone in the picture.”

Neeraj stopped chewing and let go of the grass blade. “What?”

“Yeah,” Prakash said quietly.

“You mean…” Neeraj looked at the well and back at his friend. “There? Inside?”

“Not there..I mean, in the picture I clicked.”

“Great,” Neeraj said dropping his hands. “I guess now we’ll never know, shall we?”

Prakash took a minute to realize.

“Hey.” He shoved Neeraj gently. “Don’t you believe me?”

“Yeah, I do,” Neeraj said half-heartedly.

“Neeraj..”

“I said I do, man, what more do you want me to say? I just find it a little..you know – crazy. It’s not like we’re in a fucking graveyard, and neither is it in the middle of the night.”

“Are you saying you’d believe me only if it were night?”

“I don’t know, I just know that my expensive phone just fell into a well, and my fate is sealed. Is that too bloody difficult to understand. Huh?”

“Ok, ok, man…” Prakash said, throwing up his hands. “Fuck.”

Tired of thinking of alternatives, the boys decided to call it a day. They trudged back to the farm house and after a wash, plonked in front of the TV, neither really understanding or actually watching anything. Their minds were working furiously.

Neeraj lay in his bed later in the night, his eyes wide open. He still couldn’t believe he’d lost his phone, all because of a dumb picture. He wondered if Prakash was really telling the truth, or just …

He tossed and turned. His mother would be here the next day, and …and then he had an idea. He’d tell everything to his mother. She always covered up for him. Maybe she’d come up with something. She’d give him a hearing for sure, but she’d come around. She always did. He suddenly felt light. That’s it. He decided to tell Prakash about it. It wasn’t his fault really. Maybe, maybe he just freaked out looking at the dark picture. Sometimes people did strange things. He sure was pissed at his buddy, but then he was his best friend and had stuck by him through many tough spots.

He got up and headed down to the TV room. Prakash had stayed back to watch a late night movie. He descended the stairs and came to the living room. The TV was on, but Prakash was nowhere to be seen.

“Prakash.”

The caretaker who was cleaning up, came into view.

“Puttaiah, seen Prakash?”

The old man just shook his head and said, “He was here watching TV.”

“ok,’ Neeraj replied. That was informative.

Neeraj walked to the land-line and called Prakash’s cell phone. No response. He hung up.

He called out to him a few more times and went back up to his room. And there, by the window, was Prakash standing with his back to Neeraj. The room was dark, save for the light coming in from the lamp post outside the window. It was something Neeraj’s mom had felt necessary.

Neeraj shook his head.

“Bloody hell, there you are. I tried calling you so many times…”

Prakash turned around and smiled. This irritated Neeraj even more.

“What happened?” said a voice behind him, just then. Neeraj swung around sharply. Prakash was standing behind him, adjusting the string of his pyjamas. He looked up at Neeraj finally. "I was in the bathroom. I think the food was a bit heavy..” He stopped. Neeraj was looking pale.

“What’s up, dude?” Prakash said

“You were in there? Then who was there?” He turned toward the window. The curtain swayed gently. Prakash side-stepped him and came in. “Who was where?”

“There, by the window. Weren’t you standing there, just now?”

Prakash rolled his eyes. ‘I thought I just said I was in the bathroom. What’s up with you, dude?’

Neeraj looked at Prakash strangely. “Holy shit man..I just thought I saw you there, by the window. You even smiled at me.”

Prakash chuckled. “Neeraj..I think you took the well thing a little too..”

Just then Neeraj’s lost cell phone rang out from the bedside table.

****

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Mourning


(Repost Alert! With minor edits)

Asha dialed her friend Soumya's number on her cell phone and waited as it rang. Suddenly she heard voices. Cross connection. She recognized the male voice - her husband's. He'd stepped out with his cell phone just a few seconds back to make an official call. She craned her neck to look outside. Obviously he wasn't aware of it. She listened. The other was a female voice, unknown. Maybe it was a female colleague. She shrugged and was about to hang up...

"Please Priya, you have to be patient. Please."

"Don't you Priya me. You know I've waited long enough." Sounded harsh.

A pause.

"Four years, Hemant. Four long years. Isn't that enough?" she was saying.

Asha's blood froze as she heard the two voices pulling at each other for the next few minutes. Then suddenly she remembered she had to breathe. She cupped the mouthpiece and let out a long, shivering sigh and continued listening.

"Ok, enough of all this. When are you going to do it?"

"Shh, Priya, not on the phone. Please don't talk..."

"OK, ok. but when? You have to tell me. Now."

A long pause. Long enough for Asha's eyes to fill up.

"Don't know. I'm very busy these days. Maybe next week."

"You're lying. You can never do it."

"No, Priya..it's just that..."

"You can never do it, Hemant. Admit it."

"No. NO, I can."

"Ok, one week. But next Thursday, I want to see myself at the mourning."

And the line died.

Asha virtually tore the cell phone from her ear and replaced it on the cradle. It felt like a dumb-bell.

Four years...

***

The house was crowded with mourners. Some wept quietly into their handkerchiefs. Some sobbed heavily. Others looked on, gravely. Priya dabbed her bloodshot eyes and sat in a corner, looking shocked. A hand on her shoulder jolted her. She looked up.

"You are here, Priya. Mourning...and it's thursday. I hope your wish is fulfilled now. That's what you wanted, right?"

Priya sniffed and looked on in disbelief as Asha rose and walked slowly toward Hemant's large garlanded photo.

****

Aage se right


The rights and the wrongs of life are funny. What is right, is not wrong. What is sometimes wrong, might be right. What you thought was wrong becomes right after a while. What seems right, might just about turn out to be wrong in the first place. But just when you decided that it was wrong, a creepy crawly feeling raises it's hood making you wonder that maybe, just maybe it is not wrong in some ways. And when you console yourself and others that the right can never go wrong, something/somebody comes along and proves you wrong.

Right?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Shot One, Take One



‘Shashank, don’t touch that,’ Nivedita said, pulling her six year old from one of the mannequins. There were many of them, in fact – all donning various costumes. The place was dusty, noisy, not to mention smelly. People milled around, some looking busy, some actually busy and almost everybody was shouting orders at some body. A typical movie set.

It was the famous Trimurti studio, and Shashank’s first day out to such a place. His mother Nivedita was the supporting cast for one of the movies being shot in set number four. There were two other sets, all occupied and all busy with the same amount of hustle and bustle. Shashank had wandered out into the front yard where five to six huge vans stood, generator sets adding to the din, and of course, people milling around. Nivedita’s husband Rajesh was traveling on work and their day governess had taken the day off, so Nivedita had no choice but to get Shashank to the set for a day. She had instructed her make-up assistant to take care of him when she was busy giving her shots, but it looked like he was a bit of an explorer and didn’t much care for instructions. Plus all the colour and hype around him had gotten his energy levels a notch up. A few notches, actually.

He frowned at his mother as she dragged him into the air-conditioned set where the main lead and a few other actors were cooling off. Nivedita made an apologetic face at one of the assistant directors, ADs as they were called, left Shashank with her makeup artist and hurried to the small group of actors who were now animatedly discussing a shot with the director.

The makeup artist thrust a bottle of fizz to the little boy’s hand and quickly muttered something to the tune of ‘be right back, be a good boy etc.’ and sauntered off into one of the narrow corridor-like thingies in the set. Shashank frowned, sipped from the bottle and looked around. A while later he perked up, placed the bottle down and looked at something curiously. He stood up and slowly tip-toed to it.

A pistol. Wow.

He grabbed the gun and ran to a secluded spot, furtively looking around. He came to a small changing room where there were loads of boxes, clothes, some weird looking equipment and other funny things. He held the shiny metal object in his hand and admired it. Just then from the corner of his eye, he thought he saw something move. A man was hiding here, behind one of the boxes. He craned his neck to make sure, and suddenly a huge, hairy guy leapt up from behind the box, shocking him.

‘What are you doing here, kid? Run along now.’ Shashank noticed the man had a gleaming knife in his hand.

‘Are you a baddy?’ Shashank asked matter of factly.

‘What?’

‘Are you the bad guy?’

It took a while for the man to understand and then he laughed out. ‘Yes. Yes, I’m the bad guy. The villain.’ He scowled and made a scary face. He then brandished his knife at the little guy.

‘You know what this is?’

‘Knife,’ Shashank said poker-faced, like he’d been asked the dumbest question on this planet.

The man ‘tch-tched’. ‘What I mean is, do you know who this is for?’

Shashank shook his head.

‘The hero.’ He stretched the word ‘hero’ for effect.

Shashank shrugged.

‘But..the difference is, I’m actually going to kill him.’

‘What is actually?’

‘Not in a film, but in real life.’

‘Oh.’

‘You’re not scared?’

‘You’re killing the hero, why should I be scared.’ Shashank smiled.

The man looked confused now. Shashank looked at him blankly, and then with a wicked smile he brought out the pistol in his hand.

‘Ha ha, but I’ll be the hero’s savior.’

The man looked surprised for a fleeting second before he burst out laughing.

‘That one? That my friend, is a fake pistol. They use it all the time to shoot movies.’ He then brought his thumb along the edge of his knife. ‘This – is the real thing.’

Shashank frowned. Was this guy right? Did they really use fake pistols in movies?


***


‘Hey, where is the goddamn pistol I kept here?’ Shouted one of the prop guys who was ticking off a checklist in a notepad. His mouth was full of paan  and it resembled a beetroot about to explode.

He continued looking around, all irritated. One of the ADs came upto him. ‘What pistol?’

‘The one that’ll go into the shoot now. I’d kept it here. You seen it?’

They exchanged a few worried words which got the director’s attention. He came upto them. Nivedita was on the floor. She and the main lead of the movie looked at each other and smiled awkwardly at this intrusion. She was playing the hero’s sister-in-law in the movie.

The director walked upto the prop guy. ‘What’s the matter now, Vishwas?’

‘Sir, I had kept a pistol here. It was for the shot now.’ He kept looking under a few chairs.

‘Fine, we’ll use another fake; must be lying in one of the rooms. Ask your boy to go get it.’

Vishwas turned to the director, looking a little worried.

‘Sir.. I forgot to tell you. The fake one went missing last night, and I know how you get mad if things aren’t in order. So I quietly flicked one from my brother. He’s a cop, and on vacation. So…’

The director took off his cap and wiped his brow. ‘Unbelievable. I can’t.. I don’t know what to say, Vishwas.. you got a real gun, goddamnit?’

‘Sir, please calm down. We’ll find it.’ Vishwas hollered something at one of the guys.

‘Ok, I hope it’s not loaded, right?’

Vishwas again looked at him dumbly.

‘Vishwas. Don’t tell me you didn’t take the bullets out. Man, are you out of your stupid mind? That was the least you could have done.’

‘Sir, it was all a daze. I had to get here early on today and didn’t have the time..’

‘I saw a little boy playing with it a while ago,’ said a spot boy who was passing by and learned about it.

‘What, a little boy? Here?’ The director said, sounding a lot more worried now.

The word ‘little boy’ got Nivedita’s attention and she walked upto them. The first unit AD knew Shashank was her son. She turned to the director and told him about Nivedita bringing him along.


***


The killer stood smiling at Shashank, who was now feeling annoyed.

‘So? What are you thinking… hero savior?’

Shashank looked up at the man and said, ‘no, I will still protect him.’

The man quickly strode across, snatched the gun from the boy’s hand and stood back, laughing.

‘And now? What will you do?  Go crying to your mommy? I think that’ll be best.’

‘How do you know the gun is a fake?’ Shashank asked, his nostrils flaring. Nobody could take him for a ride like this.

The man slapped his forehead. The kid was getting on his nerve. He was on a contract to kill the main lead of the movie. He just wanted to quietly finish his job and get  back to his native town with the money. He specialized in knives and had never before fallen prey to the cops. He certainly didn't want the little tyke to burst his bubble. He knew the shoot would get over any time and the hero would walk to his vanity van. He'd put one of the security guards to sleep. But what the hell, some entertainment before the big job didn’t hurt.

‘Ok, you want proof? See, if this is a real gun,’ he said keeping the muzzle to his temple, ‘it should blow my…’ he pulled the trigger.

He never completed the sentence as most of his face blew apart like a water-melon and splattered across the wooden wall of the room, accompanied by a deafening sound.

****

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In the real world


I've been struggling with an idea the past few days; ok..I've been struggling with a lot of ideas these days, but this one was different. It was a story I wanted to post here and I've been worrying sick trying to get it down correctly.

No, it's not horror. And that's exactly my point. There was a time when I'd churn non-horror/non-crime stories with nary a care, and without much thought either. The ideas just flowed. But now.. it's different. And I feel a tad sorry for them. Guilty even (just about).

Some of you've read these stories of mine, liked it, preferred horror, and then some. So here's what I'm gonna do. I know how painful it is to dig archives, especially when you don't know what you're looking for. So here I'm inserting links to some of these old ones. And while you guys read, I'll try and come up with a new one.

I hope.

Gale Mein Khich Khich

Duck...?

Rain, Rain, Don't Go Away
(This one's been repeated twice, in fact. How vain can one get?  But hey, I made an important change in the ending. So there.)

Do let me know what you feel about these.

****

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

All that jitters… doesn’t sell


Ok, first off – this isn’t a rant. It is an observation both from an author’s point of view as well as a reader’s. Both in this case being me. We’re talking about the book, obviously. The last six months or so have been nothing short of crazy for me, in terms of work, life etc. But more importantly, it has been an eye opener of sorts. And that’s just as well, because the wider one’s eyes are open in such cases, the better would be the (future) journey, wherever it is that one wants to go.

So, let’s talk about Frankly Spooking. Yeah, my first published book. Very special to me, of course. I’ve blogged earlier about the exhausting but satisfying journey from submission to print so I’ll not blah blah about that. What I’d like to do now is write down a few of my thoughts about the production and after-production of the book.

Right from childhood I’ve been a recluse when it came to showcasing my own work. Call it genes, call it nature or whatever, I’ve never been a good mascot of my own work. Class essay prize, a singing trophy, a recitation prize or even a rank in my earlier years in school. I’d always have a certain detachment to the entire process and never really got euphoric about any of those milestones. My mom, well, she’s a different story, but I think I picked this trait up from my father. Good? I don’t know. Bad… don’t know again. Relative, perhaps.

Anyway, coming back to the book. When it did go into print and right until it reached bookstores, I was bombarded with questions: When will it be available online? What is the response? How many copies sold? Etc, etc. And each time I’d hem and haw, smile and say – we’ll know soon. We knew of course. Many of you have read it, reviewed it, liked it, loved it, wanted more from it. So the entire gamut of post production drama has happened. Articles were written, a couple of interviews were given, and many more opinions, reviews and ratings later, one would think I’d joined that shiny brigade of authors who’d overnight managed to turn their bank accounts into a hefty bag of gold. Right?

Wrong.

While the book did garner good reviews and was appreciated by many, in terms of actual sales, it hasn’t managed to open eyes, let alone raised eyebrows. And this was precisely what opened my eyes to the strange world of publishing.

Best selling author of the banking thriller genre, Mr. Ravi Subramaniam, who also happens to be a good friend I made during these last few months, has very wisely written an article in his blog which talks at length about this phenomenon. It’s a text-book lesson for aspiring authors to remain grounded and continue writing that dream novel no matter what.

So what does best-selling really mean in our country? Does it mean the book has sold in lakhs? Does it mean it has broken a record of sorts in sales? Neither. It only means that within a stipulated period of time, it has managed to make a number which differs from bookstore to bookstore. And the time period also differs. It could be a monthly best-seller, a weekly best-seller, or an all-time best-seller depending on what the bookstore chooses to call it based on their internal algorithm. Whatever that means.

Coming back to Frankly Spooking. Many of you may wonder – “how? It was good, we all loved it, so why hasn’t it made a noticeable difference in terms of sales?” After all, a commercial book is written with the sole purpose of selling it, right? The answer to that isn’t all that simple or straightforward. Because a good book and a good ‘selling’ book come from two very different and distant planets. What is good, need not sell, and what sells, need not always be ‘good’. Again, I use the word ‘good’ for want of a better word. Sales of course is a beast that is not dictated by a book’s literary worth. It is dictated by a book’s brand value.

Yes, brand value. And by that let me repeat, I don’t mean branding in terms of the actual content of the book, but really, by the value or the ‘visibility’ it created for itself. And that’s where the post-production drama called marketing enters the picture.

And even then, what sells a book is not merely good marketing. It’s a coming together of a whole lot of things; kind of like 'stars aligning in space'. It’s only when all these factors come together, does a book start flying off the shelf in large numbers. Sometimes at a speed that’s difficult even for the publisher or the printer to handle. Yes, it has happened. We all know a few authors who’ve managed to pull off this literary magic, right? So are the rest junk? Do those books don’t deserve sales? Certainly not. They’re good, they’re all good in their own merit. But what probably didn’t happen in their favor was the coming together of all these factors.

So what DID go wrong with Frankly Spooking’s marketing? Bad marketing? No, there was sufficient marketing that happened in terms of promoting it online – Facebook/Twitter/Print, it was featured well in all these three areas. So then? In my knowledge, what did the book in was insufficient visibility and a proper projection of its real image. What the heck does that mean you’d ask. It means, something somewhere went wrong in the way it was presented and the way readers perceived it to be. Which resulted in reluctant sales. And by that I mean people almost reaching out for that ‘buy’ button on their devices and for that title in actual bookstores, but not actually rendering that action.

Few pointers, or like I said the ‘stars’ that unfortunately didn’t align for this book:

  • Delay in actual time to market. It was delayed by almost a month, month and a half. We started teasers, visuals and other things to increase the curiosity of the readers/buyers, but for a long time didn’t have the actual book in place to really sustain that curiosity. Many lost interest after a while. The first blow.
  • I was made to believe that online media and print were the way to go for first time authors, due to some internal stats the publishers had about first time launches not making a lot of difference to their bottom line, so there. Second blow. A launch might’ve created or at least built up a certain image in people’s minds. That didn’t happen. But honestly? This part I’m really not concerned with, and I personally know that a lot of launches haven’t done any good. But all the same, some sort of ‘introduction’ might’ve helped. And I being a novice, had no idea of going about it on my own - the cost it involved etc. So I left it at that. Plus the time, which I've listed below.
  • The cover layout & design. All hunky dory, it was liked by the editorial dept., the publisher loved the ‘different’, ‘hatke’ design of the book. In fact, a few readers too told that it had a certain eeriness to it. But, what we forgot was,  as a ‘shall I pick it up’ factor, the book wasn’t much to write home about. It looked very ordinary and also the quality of paper used in the cover wasn’t upto the mark. Nothing much could be done because I stay in another city so I have no control over this. I thought about this only after the book was printed and I received my copy. Too late.
  • Time/involvement – as is the case with anything in life, you need to invest time and effort (not to mention a fair amount of money as well) to make a difference. The timing somehow didn’t seem right. I was neck-deep in work and had a lot of other commitments to be really able to make time for my own promotional activity. And money, of course, much of it was spent by the publisher but I guess it wasn’t enough to garner enough visibility. My loss.
  • The genre. This actually came as a total surprise to me. While people love thrillers/comedy/romance/crime, when it came to horror, not many were inclined to spend their hard earned money on the genre. ‘Will borrow from somebody and read’ was an oft-unspoken vibe I got. I don’t know if it’s the age-old stigma our nation has, that anything spooky is inauspicious, evil or plain against their cultural religious sentiments, one thing was sure. Horror wasn’t a ‘yay, I’ll pick this book up today’ genre. Again, my loss.
  • Last, but certainly not the least, and this makes a huge, really huge difference to the sales of any book. The pricing. At almost 300 bucks, many felt the book was steep. And I don’t blame readers. I myself have many a time hesitated picking up a book of popular fiction that was priced above 200 bucks. Of course, I’ve made all the right choices when I did pick up books above this range. Thankfully. But more or less, this was a very prominent ‘concern’ many had. ‘Oh, it’s 300?’ Some were polite enough to change the subject, some were pretty forthright about it. Again, this wasn’t something in my control. Maybe the publishers saw some worth in the book to price it at that tag, or they did it to retain their own brand value, one will never know. And by the time discounts started appearing on online stores, I guess the initial impression was made. So, off went that click from the ‘buy’ button.

This is not to say that publishing a book should be seen as a nightmarish experience. Not at all. It’s a greatly satisfying experience. One that all writers should look forward to. I for one, am looking forward to the entire rigmarole again. I’ve already begun work on my next, and have ideas lined up for a few more. All I’m saying is, for aspiring authors out there, do keep these things in mind when you wish to ‘sell’ your book well. Critical acknowledgement, good reviews and ratings are all very good, and I must say, you guys and the many others who read the book have been really generous with comments. I’m humbled, thank you. But I’m also saying that while word of mouth is good, one must also keep in mind the above pointers.

And of course, you must have a good story to tell.

****

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ctrl Z...? (redux)


Guru turned the car onto the main road and checked the rear view mirror. No trail. The cops would be left groping in the dark, as usual. He smiled and continued driving.

The drizzle had now turned to a steady downpour. The road was dark, illuminated only by the head-lights. There was no power in the area he was passing by, he could tell.

He turned from the main road, and would've missed it had his eyes not caught the car from the corner of his headlights. Probably skidded off the road before nose-diving into the canal. As he pulled over, he saw some movement inside the car. He looked around, squinting his eyes through the fat rain drops blinding him. The road was deserted. Should he, shouldn't he? He thought about the contract he'd taken on the builder. He had to do it tonight. Oh, what the heck, one good deed for a sin - He parked a little further and got out. Drenched, he slowly got to the side of the car and wiped the water from the window. He could see it was a woman, still breathing. The door was jammed. He quickly found a rock and broke the rear window, not wanting to hurt the driver.

"Hello..? Can you hear me?" He shook the woman's shoulder. She groaned in pain.

Aside from that, no response. Was she sinking? Without wasting another moment, he reached in and caught hold of her shoulder, pulling her toward him. She groaned in pain and the car jerked to a side, the rear wheels threatening to pull the car completely in. Steadying himself, he pulled her slowly until she was away from the wheel. And then, he heaved her out. The sudden shifts and movement had rendered the car imbalanced and it fell further into the canal with a huge metallic thud, muted in the rain.

An hour and a half later, he drove out of the hospital compound wordlessly. He'd paid for her treatment. Doctors said she would pull through. He felt strange when he turned to the main road once again. He looked at his watch. He still had an hour to do his job.

***

Dinesh pulled out the wad of notes from the drawer and out-stretched his hand toward Guru.

"You know Guru, I was after this guy for the last one month, but somehow he always smelled it out in advance, the little rat. You did what the others couldn't. Here...your 6 lakhs, as promised."

"Leave it, Dinesh bhai. I don't want the money this time."

Dinesh chuckled and looked at his cronies, not believing his ears. He then turned to Guru. "What happened? I thought you killed only for money."

Guru just shook his head and left. He walked out into the sunlight, his back aching. He walked to the lakeside and sat down on the bench, watching the ducks. The calm lake should've soothed his nerves. Instead he felt sick. Sick all over. Sick from head to toe.

His mind kept going back to the builder. He had caught him in his living room. It looked like he was about to leave home. Guru was quick, as usual. And then as he pointed his muffled gun at the man's head and pumped in two quick shots, point blank, he saw a picture on the shelf. He stepped closer to get a better look. He looked down at the builder he'd just bumped. And back at the picture, shining his cell phone's flash light. It was the builder and his wife.

The woman he saved that same night.

****