This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Wednesday, 28 November 2012
"Rainbow's End" (my first novel)
My first novel, "Rainbow’s End", has, one hopes, finally reached the point where it might see the light of day. The last my publisher (United Publishers) told me was that it was set for a release in September of this year, ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.
This book has been years in the making. I got the idea a long time ago, back to front as it happens. I thought of the last chapter first and then thought up a story leading to the last chapter. I don’t know if this is unusual.
It kept on nagging at me while I told myself I’d not got the time for this sort of thing. Then when it got on my nerves enough I said "fuck it" and got down to writing it. And as I wrote and rewrote it became my life. Research, writing, the total absence of what passed for a social life, all this was the price I paid.
I interviewed former terrorists, including a top surrendered member of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Chakra Gohain. I read every scrap of news I could find on terrorists and their techniques. I visited the local jail, taking advantage of the fact that the state director general of prisons was my patient. And I used my imagination till my brain rose up in revolt.
The question still exists, "why?" Why would I spend a year of my life writing of this? No clear answers, except that I felt that the story of an entire lost generation of Indian youth, unknown, ignored, marginalised, drawn to "glory", needed to be told...somehow.
I wrote it like this. I’d write in my clinic, in between patients, on odd sheets of paper. Then in the evenings I would type the material up on MS Word. Every time I finished a chapter I would pass it on to a select group of friends for comments. This is the same technique I’m following for the novel I am currently writing. It took me over a year to finish the book when I finally got started on it…I used to replay the last line "High above, the first hawk of the day is already circling" over in my mind every day, like a talismanic charm. Finally -the night I wrote those words I'd written non-stop from morning onwards and I was so charged up I literally did not sleep for three days.
Having completed it in February last year, I first sent it to Roli Paperbacks in Delhi. Roli demanded some alterations which I, personally, felt detracted from the flow of narrative. But the woman who read it told me it was "boring", so, in the interests of getting the book into publication, I made those changes – which included deleting almost an entire chapter which I had spent a month and a half over. She then told me it was all right and she had passed it on to her editor, Renuka Mukherjee. This Mukherjee woman sat on the book all year until finally, after many reminders, she told me in January this year her company could not "take my book aboard" since their fiction quota was full. After a year!
Of course I know the reason…novels on the North East don’t sell. Not like diaspora fluff. Nothing personal, just business.
During 2005 I had incubated several ideas but couldn’t settle on any of them because there was no incentive to write so long as I did not know whether my work was fit for publication at all.
So I had to find another publisher in a hurry and I found United Publishers, whose office is in Guwahati and only a hundred kilometres away from my home. They had published a novel on the broadly same topic, Travelling With Dreams, not a good novel but at least I knew they would publish mine. And so it proved. Unfortunately, I had to shell out money as well to invest in its publication, but if some people at least buy the book and it does reasonably well (by Indian standards) I hope my future books would do better.
So, what is it about? It’s about terrorism in the North East, as seen through the eyes of an insurgent called Rollin Jethong. The book is basically a biography of Rollin and is spread over his years as an insurgent. I wrote it in the historical present tense and nothing in it happens that Rollin does not experience directly or indirectly.
I invented a tribe, Rollin’s tribe, which I called the Halkas. This is a pun, actually. There is a real tribe called the Garos, which had an insurgency going till recently. Now "Garo" means, in Bengali, "dense" while "Halka" means "light". Another tribe I created was called "Pathla" which also means "light". And I left the state and city where everything takes place unnamed.
Why this topic? Indians who read this will be aware of the insurgencies ravaging most of North East India. They are all different but have some factors in common:
Ethnicity centred. They are for particular tribes or ethnic groups
Extortionist. They are interested only in money, and this goes to finance their leaders and their lifestyles in Bangladesh where all these leaders hang out (I guess my book might end up being banned in Bangladesh, and if so, good. It will help sales!)
I’d probably have written it differently if I’d written it now, but I’m not gonna change anything, thanks very much.
In 2001 I was present just a hundred metres away from a terrorist strike by the (now practically defunct) Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) terrorists on an electronic store in Shillong which had refused to pay after extortion demands. Five people – three salesmen and two customers – were killed. I saw the blood on the ground for myself. I saw the fear psychosis which led people not even to dare to condemn the attack. I saw the church tacitly support the HNLC by clamming up (yet now that the HNLC is on its last legs the selfsame church comes forward to facilitate "peace talks"). I saw politicians convey terrorists through town during police crackdowns in their official cars. My friend Ricardo once called me to the shop in which he works (it's in the same building that my clinic is) and showed me an HNLC extortion operation in progress. And I saw – at last – the police being given a free hand and destroy the HNLC in the course of a single year.
No two insurgencies in the North East are exactly alike and my novel tries to include some features of them all. But my Halka People’s Liberation Front is most closely based on the HNLC.
There was one odd episode while writing the book. I was researching during writing, and planning ahead. Now so far as training went I could not find precise details but had an idea that the usual movie depiction of terrorists being trained using real weaponry was not on. So I had my HPLF men train with wooden guns. I thought if someone challenged me on this I’d say different groups trained differently. And then I came across a photo report in Frontline magazine on Zomi terrorists and their training camp. What were they training with? Wooden guns!
It’s all there in my book. I’m sorry if it’s not pretty, but murder, torture, extortion, threats, and urban guerrilla warfare seldom are.
The picture is the cover I painted for the book. It has been accepted, but is supposed to be retouched to shift the man over to the right. The publisher was stupid about this as well. He first asked me why the man looked like a Chinese (I guess he’s never seen a North Easterner before) and suggested I introduce a rainbow…
I had a lot of fun including names in the book from among my friends and acquaintances. For example, "Ken Jummong" was an amalgam of two friends from dental college days, Ken Ngomdir and Jummo Ango. And I’m doing the same for the book I’m writing now...so stay in my good books!
These are two versions of the cover for my first novel, "Rainbow's End". The first painting was done in the early part of the year.
Rollin - version 1
I had much trouble with the face and anyhow the figure is too stiff.
The publisher actually accepted it and then, suddenly, rejected it and demanded a new cover. One of the demands was for the human figure (my "hero" Rollin, it was meant to be) on the right so as to make it on the front cover. So I painted it again, and I think I did a better job second time around.
Rollin - version 2
It is, actually, not as dark as it looks on this, which is a digital photo of the painting and not a scan. The human figure is much more dynamic and I prefer this version by far.
I just received the first copies of Rainbow's End, at long, long last ...I got two copies by post today.
I'd had a look at the publisher's first copy in Delhi, but that was all on white rough paper and had thin covers with little printing merit. Today I got the first real copies - read passages from them, and...
Well, I'm as narcissistic as the next guy - and I do like to see myself in print, though that is hardly anything new for me any more. But this was the first book I'd written. It's like the first time I saw my article make the cover of Eastern Panorama magazine, back in 2002.
OK, I won't review my own book, but they screwed the cover up a bit. They removed the figure in the painting I did and put up something that looks like a Nepali playing the guitar on a rifle of unknown design - on the same background. They did correct a couple of things wrong with the blurb on the back. I'd refused to accept any book which said "This is his first attempt at a novel." Attempt? WTF?
The printing isn't bad and the paper quality's good, but they amalgamated some of my paragraphs to shorten the length of the book. This pisses me off because they never asked me first. it also takes something away from the flow of the reading.
Oh well, OK already. Although I shall never be getting anything published by this lot again, let me get them to at least promote my book then. I'm sure that unless I keep on prodding them they won't bother.
Will be putting up a photo of the cover in a day or two. Pass the word around in the meantime, Indians here, will you? And don't judge it by the (new) cover!
Out of the blue, I just got a telephone call from the local (state-level) TV station. They want to interview me, about my writing and specifically about my first novel Rainbow's End as well as about my upcoming writing, including my short stories and poetry.
The woman who called says she'll come to the clinic tomorrow afternoon to talk to me, and the actual interview will be next Thursday, which coincidentally also happens to be my half-day off from work. (Incidentally, the woman also said she's terrified of dentists so she'll talk to me in the waiting room of the clinic, thanks very much...)
know, I have one novel published, Rainbow's End, which came out (with a great deal of difficulty) in 2007. According to the (extremely incompetent) publisher, sales are almost nothing, and I have yet to receive a single penny in royalties. Yet I was astonished when, yesterday, a friend brought to my attention the fact that the novel is being promoted by a German website which has given it four stars of five...
According to this website, the novel is available through Majestic Books in London and Fine Books in New York. I have no idea who these people are and where their offices are, what their e-mail addresses are, etc. I didn't have the slightest idea that the book was even being sold abroad, come to that.
Those of you in London and NY - or with friends there - might do me a bit of a favour. I'm not going to ask you to buy the book, though if you do want to, an online review is here (from Priya D'Souza, "priloza", incidentally, who is a close friend of mine and therefore not quite an unbiased authority). But, since I am having a hard time getting my stuff published, you might let me know who these publishers are and how I might contact them. Since they've published one of my books they might be willing to consider more.
Also, if you are very gracious, you might let a few friends be aware that the book's available, by whatever means you choose. If I'm to have any incentive to continue to write, I need all the help I can get.