Editorial JAM

April 10, 2012

Earlier today, I was talking to Vikster on twitter about how, the next time we are in Mumbai, I should bring along RED Full Blooded Romances so that he could read them out loud at dinner. This may seem like a surprising thing to the uninitiated – but allow me to assure you that to hear him doing a dramatic reading of terrible South Indian romance novels is one of life’s greatest joys. I’m hoping to persuade Anand to come along to dinner with his mic so that the joy can be shared with the world at large. But I digress.

During the course of this conversation I realised that I could adapt JAM (Just-a-Minute, the thing you play at college cultural festivals) into a game for editors. Here’s what you’d need:

  • someone to read out loud – ideally Vikster, but then he is very busy and important, so anyone else with a clear, bell-like voice
  • a game master to arbitrate – so someone who has mad language and grammar skillz
  • contestants – the best sort would be editors, sub-editors, or people planning to become editors or sub-editors
  • one buzzer per contestant
  • and finally, a RED Full Blooded Romance, a Srishti novel, or a copy of the Times of India or The Hindu (or any Indian newspaper really – just that those are the two worst offenders, though in different ways)

How to Play

The game master comes up with a list of violations of language and style. Depending on what exactly is being read out, these could include:

  • errors of grammar (almost every sentence in Srishti)
  • errors of fact
  • logical fallacies
  • inappropriate use of business or technical jargon (alarmingly common in RED)
  • cliches
  • pompous language (pretty much every other sentence in The Hindu)
  • completely irrelevant puns (pretty much every other headline in The Times of India)

This is only a starting list – I’m sure more can be added.

Then, one contestant is picked to start. After that, the elocutionist starts reading the material out loud. The contestant who starts has to buzz every time she catches a violation on the list. If she manages to do this for a whole minute (or article, or chapter – this bit needs to be worked out), she scores 100 points.

To make things interesting and JAM-like, any of the other contestants can also buzz if they think the contestant in the hot-seat missed something. If their objection is sustained by the game master, the original contestant gets negative points and the interjector gets a shot at going for the 100 points. If the objection is overruled, the interjector gets negative points.

Now you could play this for points, or, to make things interesting, you could turn it into a drinking game. So, instead of getting negative points, you’d have to take a shot every time you either missed an error, falsely identified something as an error, or someone else got the 100 points. With every shot you’d take, your reflexes would slow down further, making it even more difficult for you to identify the language violations in the next round – so the worst editors would be the ones who got tanked first.

That actually makes this drinking game a Darwinian method of selecting good editors: the weak and unfit will be culled from the herd by alcohol poisoning, while the good ones will be the last people standing. That way, this could be an excellent training program for interns at newspapers – or even an entrance test for journalism schools. I mean, it would eliminate the chance that you’d have someone grammar challenged spending two years at J-school, then six months in editorial training, and finally turning out to be completely incompetent as a copy editor.

The only disadvantage I can see with this idea is that rather than selecting people with really good grammar awareness, it may just end up selecting people with really good alcohol tolerance. But then, being able to function despite being absolutely sloshed could also be  major advantage if you’re an editor, and you need to drink  to drive away the pain of  editing freelancers who forget to use the Oxford comma.

The Wave Theory of Pillion Riding

August 7, 2011

From the annals of either sloppy editing or improbable contortions comes this:

Looking up, she saw Srija whizzing past on the pillion of her boyfriend’s bike. Srija waved and Charu waved back. Yuk, she thought, the boyfriend actually sported a ponytail and a tattoo. But Srija seemed to love both, as she had had her arms quite closely wrapped around the boyfriend’s middle when she had taken the trouble to wave.

This raises the important question: how? I personally would find it impossible to wave if my arms were wrapped around anybody’s middle. Is this one of those 65 Positions Guaranteed to Drive Him Wild that Cosmopolitan teaches you? Or is something more unspeakably non-Euclidean at work? Has Srija passed through eldritch dimensions that have altered her very being? Did she wave with tentacles? Did it lead to Sri-king madness? Ia! Ia!

(Psst. The awful books podcast I’ve been promising on twitter for a while now is under way. Recording will happen on my vacation in Kodaikanal in a couple of weeks. The first episode should be out in September, unless I trip up very badly when it’s time to edit.)

Word Power Made Easy

December 17, 2007

Junta like Jabberwock and Hurree Babu have cornered the market on reviewing good books. It’s futile to compete on their terms. No, I shall instead target an untapped niche – one I have already established some expertise in, what with abusing Ravi Subramanian and Chetan Bhagat – and review bad books. And the particular bad book we shall focus on today is that thing called LOVE (yes, that is how the capital letters are used in the title) by Tuhin Sinha.

There isn’t any one thing wrong with ttlC. It’s more of a museum of all the different forms of bad writing. Almost every rule of good writing is violated, but rarely to excess. The one rule which is violated to excess is: Thou Shalt Not Use Big Words, Unless Thou Art PG Wodehouse and Canst Pull It Off.

One Night @ The Call Center was like a steaming pile of manure. If God Was a Banker was like an 80s movie, but with lecherous and evil bankers instead of lecherous and evil generic industrialists. Tarbela Damned, Pakistan Tamed was like a collection of Indian National Interest blogposts converted to fiction by throwing in sex, paan and Irish whiskey. that thing called LOVE, however, is like the Barron’s GRE Word List with stupid people. The back-cover blurb itself says it all:

Mayank thus lives in disillusionment, aspiring, with diminishing hope, to fall in love with Utopian earnestness and with his ‘perfect woman’. … That Mayank’s relationship with Revathi unfolds during the course of one Mumbai monsoon, the first that an anticipating Mayank, experiences of the city, only makes this Utopia an even more surreal experience. Will Mayank’s romance ever strike a balance between Chimera and Actuality?

but there are equally unmitigated bits in the book itself:

There was universal talk that marriages were not holding. India was passing through a phase of massive changes in all spheres and there was no way it could have possibly remained immune to western societal influences. The urban Indian populace had begun to show the same symptoms of dysfunction that was once the domain of the prurient west.


Mayank … almost instantly thought that there could be either love or longing in a married woman’s life. If there were both, it reeked of a fluid situation in one’s marriage.


The Ganapati festivities, being innately imbued in the culture of the city; the residents, irrespective of the different regions of their origin, celebrated the festival with rare, infectious bonhomie.

And this just scratches the surface. The only other thing that manages to come close to the obsession with vocabulary is the obsession with brand placement. So characters never have coffee, they have Costa Rica Tarrazu at Mocha. They go out for dinner at Pop Tates1 and Tendulkars, and make sure that the ‘funkier of their apparels belong to accepted, up market brands like Provogue and Tuscan Verve’. On average, there’s one brand name dropped every chapter.

Also, all the characters are idiots. They do things like buy Pomeranians because they feel lonely2. There are onlookers who do nothing but watch people pray for an hour. And all the characters have a touching faith in some form of astrology or the other.

But even after this, it’s impossible to hate the book. Even when Tuhin Sinha abuses Punjews and Goregaon types for not speaking correct Hindi3. Or when he keeps quoting ghazals4. Hate is aroused only by the condescending attitude Chetan Bhagat takes towards his readers in One Night @ The Call Center. Tuhin Sinha takes the whole thing so seriously, that at worst you’ll end up mocking the book, doubled over in helpless laughter (which is what the girlfriend and me did when we read it, much to the consternation of the Barista staff).

If you don’t want to make the effort of actually buying the book, Tuhin Sinha’s website provides equally excellent opportunities for unintended humour, especially the About the Author and Author Speak sections. Still, I recommend buying the book, because, let’s face it, no other book will give you as many big words for only a hundred rupees.

1: To be fair, the Chicken Africano at Pop Tate’s are hajaar strong.
2: And this isn’t even a Gujew character.
3: Because we all know that only UP-Hindi is authentic. Pah!
4: The ghazal is the most despicable form of literature known to man. Along with the destruction of North Indian temples and the introduction of the purdah system, the introduction of the ghazal is one of the major wounds inflicted upon Indian culture by Moslem invasions.

Finally, an Entertaining Bad Book

September 23, 2007

I have abused bad books on this blog before. I roasted One Night @ The Call Center and If God was a Banker. But that was only because they were unmitigatedly bad books. On the other hand , Tarbela Damned – Pakistan Tamed has humongous mitigants to the badness. It is a conceptually bad book, the way Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahaani (Timepass Pages Review here, Greatbong Review here) is a conceptually bad movie. It makes up for the bad implementation by being based on awesome fundaes.

The back cover speaks for itself:

TARBELA DAMNED – PAKISTAN TAMED is a work of fiction that deals with the coming together of the Indian Intelligence services (RAW), and the Mossad of Israel, with help from the Irish Republican Army, to strike at one of Pakistan’s most prestigious and sensitive structures, the Tarbela Dam, in order to tame a country gradually but definitely becoming a ‘rogue’ state. All this is possible because an Indian Jew who after graduating from IIT Madras, emigrates to Israel to join the Mossad, teams up with his schoolmate, now an officer in RAW. Both of them share an ambition, and are in pursuit of the same goal, namely bringing Pakistan to heel. The two men have been deeply influenced by their teacher in school, the Irishman, Brother Manahan, who has inculcated in them a sense of admiration and empathy with the IRA. The planning, the execution, and the repercussions of their schemes for the substance of this unusual novel.

Stunning, no?

With concepts like this, you can happily overlook the writing itself. The book violates all the unities. There is no unity of place. The plot jumps from Shillong to Madras to Dubai to Ireland to the NWFP. There isn’t unity of characters either. Characters are brought in, given dialogue that sounds like an Indian National Interest blogpost, and then disappear, never to be seen again. The Indian Jew and the friend in the RAW who are supposedly the main characters make their last appearance fifty pages before the book finishes. In fact the last chapter features Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, neither of whom have appeared at all. And the last chapter is followed up by a non-fiction epilogue detailing the foreign policy of Pakistan since 1947.

The whole book reads like a string of abstracts of counterterrorism and foreign policy papers, which have been converted into fiction by the simple expedient of inserting characters, bad sex and awesomely mixed-metaphor dialogue like ‘I was always of the opinion that these American dogs will use us as condoms!’. You can’t not love it.

Ravi Subramanian Must Be Annihilated

July 16, 2007

When Chetan Bhagat writes a bad book, it is regrettable. It casts all MBAs in a negative light. People with an appreciation for literature- heck, for any good writing- will sneer at us and say ‘Oh, you’re an MBA. Like Chetan Bhagat.’ It’s hard, I tell you. Hard.

Still, there are mitigants. At least the brunt will be borne by people from IIMA and IITD. Also, TDCs and I-bankers. And those buggers deserve all the sneering they can get. So as an IIMB alumnus, my position is a little more secure.

Until now, thanks to Ravi Subramanian, batch of 1993, who has written a steaming pile of manure entitled If God Was a Banker.

If God Was a Banker is not a book to be thrown away lightly. It is not even a book to be hurled away with great force. It is a book whose copies must be seized from all bookshops, burnt in enclosed environments, and have the ashes buried under granite and basalt mountains. And after that the bookshops must be purified with Gangajal. Ravi Subramanian has accomplished the impossible and written a worse book than Chetan Bhagat.

When the very first page contains the phrases ‘The sun was yet to leave its heavenly abode’, ‘he knew the entire topography of the Greco-Roman chandelier’, and ‘his wife of nineteen years’, it dawns on you that Rupa has been on a cost cutting drive and sacked all its editors, and that the rest of the book promises untold horrors. But the true scale of these horrors is unimaginable until you actually encounter them.

The depth of these horrors is indescribable, and the range is almost infinite. There is anachronism – email in India in 1987, among other things. There is bad sex described using corporate jargon. There is a Gujew in Calcutta who speaks Punjabi. There is a shameless plug for The Hindu (okay, to be fair, the N Ram era probably hadn’t begun in 1987). There is a wholesale substitution of plot with morality play. There are – and this is surprising considering Subramanian is Tam – not enough commas.

You know, although Subramanian tries to project the moral as being about the importance of living an ethical and ascetic life, the real moral is that Iyengar men should not write1, and instead leave the writing to the more intelligent Iyers. In fact, Iyengar men should not do anything at all, except stick to their core competence of having daughters of unsurpassed beauty and dazzling charm2.

If you spot this book in your local bookshop, I urge you to do your civic duty, buy it and destroy it before some unsuspecting soul picks it up and is driven into shrieking insanity. Think of the children!

1: RK Narayan is the exception that proves the rule.
2: And let’s not forget the curly hair.

Update: As has been repeatedly pointed out in the comments, Ravi Subramanian is an Iyer and not an Iyengar. I apologise for the mistake, and urge readers not to let this detract from the rest of the post. However, I just want to point out that:

  1. This actually reinforces the case for annihilating Ravi Subramanian. He has brought shame and disgrace to not only IIMB alumni, but also to Iyers.
  2. The point about Iyengar men not being good for anything except producing daughters still holds good.
  3. Of course, Iyer men are good for producing daughters also, along with everything else. Though in the case of Iyer daughters, the beauty is dazzling (though surpassed by Iyengars) and the charm is unsurpassed.

I also mistakenly ascribed Iyengarness to R K Narayan. Apologies for that as well. So please include him in the list of Iyers who should write, and incorporate davenchit as the exception that proves the rule.

How stupid does he think we are?

January 1, 2006

For the past three weeks I have been struggling to come up with a post that can accurately describe just how bad One Night @ The Call Center is. And I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t possible. This post simply cannot begin to explain how awful ON@TCC is.

Still, I’ll try.

Read the rest of this entry »