Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Launches, Writers & Friends...

Last Saturday was a ‘learning experience’ as the organizational cliché goes. I have never been nostalgic about the management institute I left behind 24 years ago. I made good friends while I was there and keep in touch with them. But I avoid reunions and alumni meetings because I find them to be full of fake bonhomie. I am also scared of running into some classmates who I have spotted in airports and ducked behind pillars just to avoid bumping into them. So it was after a lot of trepidation that I decided to approach Abhijit Bhaduri and Vasanthi Srinivasan to join me for a panel discussion during the Bangalore launch of my new book ‘The Boss is Not your Friend.’

Abhijit is two years my senior from XLRI and he graduated the year I joined. He has taken a lead in the writing too. His first novel was published a couple of years before Harper Collins published mine. I wanted to be the pioneer from the institute to have a work of fiction published by a leading publisher. Abhijit’s book took the wind out of my sails. I was sullen about it for years. Things got worse when my book came out and the classmates I ran into dismissed my achievement by saying ‘You have written a book. Like that senior of ours Abhijit Bhaduri.’ That was like rubbing salt to the wounds. Every time I spotted his book in a store, I moved away from the shelf that displayed it, pretending I hadn’t noticed a title that mocked me-‘Mediocre but Arrogant'.

A few years later I heard another book of his had been published and I didn’t react as badly as I had to his first one. By then two of my books had come out, I had been on two international writing residencies, wrote columns and reviews for newspapers and had learnt to introduce myself as a writer without feeling embarrassed. A couple of months ago, I came across a really kind review of my novel ‘Master of Life Skills’ by Abhijit in his blog. He had recommended the book to his fans and readers. I felt bad about having been so churlish towards him although he wouldn’t have known of all the hang ups I had about him and his book. I wrote to him thanking him and we broke the ice. But I was still apprehensive when I asked him to help me with the launch. To my surprise he agreed without any fuss.

I also read his second book “Married but Available’ before the launch and enjoyed it thoroughly. While I was reading it I was constantly admonishing myself that I shouldn’t like his book just because he had liked mine. Besides I was reading it just after I had read Kazuo Ishigaro’s ‘Never let me go’ that felt so precious that I wanted to never let it go. But Abhijit’s work had me captivated right from the first chapter. Partly because I could identify with it and partly because he practices an economy and precision with words that shows more than it tells. I especially like the portrayal of women in the book. They are real and substantive without wearing their feminism on their sleeves. I suspect Abhijit is a far deeper writer than the titles of his two books seem to indicate. I am waiting now to read his third novel whenever it comes out.

Vasanthi was my classmate in XLRI. She was a hardworking student who spent a lot of time with books unlike me who hardly ventured anywhere near them. She was also friendly and helpful. We used to have a horrible subject called Quantitative Techniques and a sadistic professor taught it. He used to revel in giving us one question in every paper that he set, that couldn’t be solved by anyone in class. He turned peevish if someone actually solved it. Vasanthi did it once and he was in a pretty foul mood for a week after that. I have always respected Vasanthi for that.

Although we have been in the same city for years now and I am occasionally invited to offer an elective course in IIM Bangalore, where Vasanthi is an Associate Professor, our paths have rarely crossed. That’s how it is in colleges and post graduate institutes. You settle down with your bunch of friends and you are in touch with them after you leave the place. Vasanthi and I were in different groups and so we didn’t remain in touch. As with Abhijit, I was apprehensive when I called Vasanthi to help out with the launch. She is well known in management and academic circles and her papers have been published in leading international journals. I thought she would scoff at a book like mine. To my surprise, she agreed immediately.

Thanks to Abhijit and Vasanthi, I had a launch that I have always dreamt of. They kept the event lively and entertaining. The audience was with us all through the discussion and the commissioning editor from another publishing house (not the one that published “The Boss is Not your Friend’) pointed out this was one of the few launches she attended where there were more questions than the time allotted for them.

Sometimes we wait for too long to have the right kind of friends in our lives.

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