Sunday, December 13, 2015

Muhammad Ali, the Greatest and the Wittiest

I had recently forgotten that Muhammad Ali fought for much more than himself, and is a man with the courage of his convictions, and wit besides:

Here are a few inspiring and entertaining quotes from him, many of which resonate with me:

Social Consciousness and Commentary:
"Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up."
"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name, and I insist people using it when speaking to me and of me."
"Nobody has to tell me that this is a serious business. I'm not fighting one man. I'm fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of 'em, here is one man they couldn't defeat, couldn't conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30m black people."

"I am America. I am the part you won't recognise, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me."
"We were brought here 400 years ago for a job. Why don't we get out and build our own nation and quit begging for jobs? We'll never be free until we own our own land. We're 40m people and we don't have two acres that's truly ours."
"I'm gonna fight for the prestige, not for me, but to uplift my little brothers who are sleeping on concrete floors today in America. Black people who are living on welfare, black people who can't eat, black people who don't know no knowledge of themselves, black people who don't have no future."
"I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin' hell, but as long as they ain't free, I ain't free."
"What's really hurting me - the name Islam is involved, and Muslim is involved and causing trouble and starting hate and violence. Islam is not a killer religion, Islam means peace. I couldn't just sit home and watch people label Muslims as the reason for this problem." In the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
"Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger."
"I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over."

The Fighter:
"What's my name, fool? What's my name?" To Ernie Terrell during their 1967 fight - Terrell had refused to call him Muhammad Ali.
"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick." Before the 'Rumble in the Jungle'
"That all you got, George?" During the 'Rumble in the Jungle'.
"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Mahatma, the Goats, and Young Cats: My New Humor Collection

When I was in my late teens, I used to read Punch magazine, and one of my favorite writers was Alan Coren, who published a humor collection titled Golfing for Cats. It turned out that the book had nothing to do with either golfing or cats; but golfing and cats were the two hottest subjects on the bestseller list at that time, so he married the two and made up the title. (Alan Coren's book ended up doing quite well.)

My story is totally different. Neither cats, goats, nor Mahatma Gandhi are particularly hot at this moment (the Mahatma, if resurrected, would be horrified by Donald Trump and prefer to return to his grave), so the Alan Coren anecdote only partly explains the title of my new book: The Mahatma, the Goats, and Young Cats, all of which do occur in my collection of humor and satire, but are not its main subjects: this being a diverse humor collection ranging from Jesus to Ronald Reagan, from Indian politics to American nukes and deficits, from Adam and Eve to modern puberty, from Gandhi to chicken jokes, and jokes about Indian stereotypes.

Still, I was delighted when a generous and hugely talented Phnom Penh artist, Stephane Delapree, gifted me the paintings of his blue cats for my book cover. This is probably one of my best covers ever, if not the best. Thank you, Stephane!

The book is up at and Barnes and Noble, and also at:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Quotes from "Impressing the Whites"

These are random quotes from Impressing the Whites, completely out of context ... hopefully, they will provoke your curiosity:

Half-naked and barefoot villagers in remote parts of India had begun to spend anxious nights worrying about, of all things, their bad breath—because capitalist commercials had effectively penetrated their ancient, spiritual, breath-free minds.

A young Frenchman who had recently visited China was greatly upset. Why? Because the modern Chinese were not as spiritual as he had been primed by the Western media to expect. In fact, these bloody Chinamen with their 30 million cell phones were as materialistic as . . . as . . . as he was!

Not only do colored immigrants owe African-Americans for the work they did in resisting slavery and discrimination, but we also have experiences and strategies to share. I remember sharing my chapters on “Impressing the Whites” and “The Fourteen Commandments” with a black man on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to New York’s JFK. This man, tall, strapping, and muscular, who had been somber and even intimidating (it seemed to me) through most of the flight, burst out in belly laughs almost twice a minute for the next fifteen minutes as he read through these two chapters. He then said to me, “I grew up in Portland, destined for jail and poverty. And I had to follow almost all of these Twelve Commandments* to escape this destiny.” It was a moving reminder of how much blacks and Asians had in common despite our differences in history and heritage. (*Since then, the White God added an additional two commandments.)

What is the result of this New World Order, the modern avatar of the Old Colonial Order? Crown us a suitable boy, and we’ll give you a million suitable boys and girls; we brown and yellow people exist only for Your pleasure, as You may have heard from all those heartwarming tourism brochures. And also for the occasional pat on the head You might be so pleased as to give us.
“Do not fire your pen-guns until you hear the Ayes of the whites” is the golden rule of Indian writers writing in English.

The West is a Jupiter-sized cow with a billion bursting teats, and the rest of the world is five billion mouths fighting to suckle a drop from one emaciated cow (with two working teats, the third being on a labor strike, and the fourth awaiting an Ayurvedic massage to unclog its overworked ducts. Therefore, milking the West has become a major Third World industry, art, or con game — one that we must master merely to survive. We are practiced milkers, and we’ll do almost anything, say almost anything, act any degrading role that’s called for — all for a drop of the gleaming, life-giving, white stuff.

The reason why India has no large community of professional anarchists, while having disproportionately large numbers of feminist theorists, Yeats scholars, E. M. Forster thesis-writers, or structuralists? Because, by definition, no anarchist milk may be suckled from the West; anarchists are too disorganized or anti-organization to know where their cows are, let alone to arrange for them to mate with their bulls and ship the calves to their Indian fellow travelers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Failure of Courage and Impressing the Whites

Impressing the Whites is a book with universal resonance, one that has been taught at an American university, and also in South Africa. And yet, it is known to very few outside a tiny circle in India and among a few Indians in North America. Why? 

[You can download the book here if you wish, or buy it from other channels.]

An Indian television host said to me, "We speak of it privately, among ourselves, but we dare not raise the subject in public."


Because the wrath of the giants might be visited upon them?

Possibly. Life is too short not to have a good time while it lasts.

And yet, life is also too short to live it as a complete coward, even though prudence, at times, is called for (prudence can also be an excuse for cowardice). 

And so, I dared. And the result: "Impressing the Whites." and a host of other books, including, "When David Davidar Drank My Wine"--which can now be downloaded directly from my site.

But some people, who almost instinctively and effusively praised the book (including a Bangalore journalist and socialite, and a multimillionaire Indian-American) backed off, later. Their courage (and their integrity) ... failed them. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Documents for a Museum of Publishing?

The Killing of an Author is the story of a writer with a dream, a quest for freedom and justice, and a quest that also comments, in its later chapters, on institutional racism (as well as the subversive-crushing element) in publishing ... but in a way, many of my major books do. And I feel I have recently been shut out of the conversation ... so far. Only The Revised Kama Sutra received considerable attention ... but when the West snorted at it (on the whole), India (I mean the Establishment), until then giving it a rave reception, followed suit.

[Finally, after Charleston and Eric Garner and a number of unarmed black teens fatally shot by police for minor non-crimes, it has suddenly became permissible, in America, to talk about institutional racism. Until that moment, anyone who mentioned the subject was slapped with a canned response: "Race Card!"

But people (some people, Fox News and its vast booboisie following excluded) have now opened their eyes and realized that, despite mega-actor Will Smith, Literary Shah-en-shah Salman Rushdie and President Barack Obama, institutional racism is still prevalent for the vast majority.]

These are the afterthoughts to one of the most powerful chapters in my book, The Killing of an Author--not surprisingly, a chapter that the Publishers Weekly reviewer chose to remain silent about (and you can easily guess why when you read the book).

The chapter is titled "The Scott Meredith Literary Agency," and here are my reflections on that chapter, in 2015.

So there we were, six fee-agents in our cubbyholes, many of whom (with one notable exception, sci-fi prodigy Barry Malzberg) had not ever written a novel or at least not acquired enough critical experience to pretend to give the detailed critiques that seasoned literary agents with at least two decades of publishing experience could give. We pretended to be such agents; our reports were signed “Scott Meredith,” and they used the first person frequently, as in “my fellow agents” and “as I said to my client Isaac Asimov the other day.” That was the element that was fraudulent—highly fraudulent—that we were pretending to give them what they expected: $200 (in 1981 and 1983 dollars, which the equivalent of at least $300 in 2015) worth of critique.
Or, to put myself in the shoes of the client. Sure, if I as a writer with a novel that I had worked on for four years was willing to pay for a $200, four-page critique by a seasoned agent and take my chances, including my chances of being discovered and represented, it would be what I deserved, and probably more than a fair value—if indeed an agent with twenty years of experience and a list of famous clients wrote it.  But if I had been told that someone just out of university, even with a Master’s Degree in Literature (and a 3.8 Grade Point Average, as I did have), would be lecturing me about writing and the publishing experience, and half of that would consist of canned bullshit—even though at least one-quarter of that might be very perceptive and right on (which, speaking of myself as the faux “agent”, I sometimes was), I would probably not pay at all; or at least, I might be willing to pay $50, and perhaps more for an exceptionally good critique--but it would have to be my considered, informed decision.

Which—$50—would, at the time, have constituted very fair wages to me, the “agent” (or Superagent Scott Meredith’s Mini-Me).  Because I was actually getting paid just $20 per novel, or ten percent of what the client had paid Scott.

So what have I and people like me to say in their defense for what they were doing? First of all, I didn’t even fully understand the system (the financial aspect of it, and the aspect of “pretense,” and the relative absurdity of it all) when I was offered the job. All I knew was that I had gotten a job in which I would be paid for writing, writing about books, writing at length, in a literary agent’s office ... and possibly with a chance to have my own novel accepted when it was ready. It was also the first job of any kind I was offered in New York, to which I had just moved along with my wife; we had very little money in our pockets, and she, too, had just gotten her first job ... so it was a very tense time for us, and it was a matter of "manhood" for me to contribute my share to the expenses of starting life in a strange city. (This concept or burden of manhood was something I was to accept, reject, or minimize as time went by—as a somewhat more of a social construct and a lesser value than art, accomplishment, and creating the kind of novel that no one had ever written before--which I, and some others, believe I eventually did.)

So the job was like a lifesaver thrown to someone who had, at many employment agencies, been asked to take a typing test ... and sometimes, disqualified or openly refused without any test.

So what is the reality, then, in the publishing industry--at least the reality that existed around fifteen years back? Many would-be writers or would-be editors enter the publishing industry at very low starting salaries, or as unpaid or semi-paid interns, all in the hope that, sometime soon, they will get a promotion, and eventually end up earning six-figure salaries as agents or senior editors in big publishing companies. If those who enter thus have a trust fund or family money to back them up, or come from elite universities, they can afford to leave a job they discover to have unethical components; in any case, they get promoted up the ranks very quickly: class is still a factor in elite circles. When I interviewed for a job at The National Lampoon (the humorous/satirical magazine), I noticed, later, that everyone who worked there came from Harvard or the Harvard Lampoon, and that, probably, they had called me in just out of curiosity. (In any case, I'm terrible at interviews; I'm usually much better than the way I present myself, which is shy, anxious, diffident. And I never went to charm school.)

So, in an unjust system, I had become an instrument, an unwitting tool of injustice and of exploitation. We were exploited, and in turn we (the realization took a bit of time) exploited or deceived other writers. The only salve to our conscience was this: What is the alternative? Do you have a better job for me? And if I don’t take this job, will not someone else jump at the chance to take my place?

Four months later, I did leave the job—to join my prestigious Indian job, which was at the time, also was a position and a symbol of power. But I didn't remain in there for too long, because I missed my wife, who had chosen to stay back in New York, happy with her new job (also, we had not yet decided whether to return to India for good). So I returned nine months later, and finding the search for a new job in New York difficult once again, returned to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, which was at least a known devil ... until I found the courage to reject this concept of manhood altogether, leave the job (after having written a few subversive letters that alerted a few of Scott's clients!), and start working on my novel (by which time, our financial circumstances had improved considerably, and I had also found a part-time teaching position as Adjunct Professor of English).

The question that others must ask is: how was this system possible? How did Norman Mailer, Isaac Asimov, the estate of P.G. Wodehouse, and the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy NOT discover that their agent was an unethical man who exploited poor or unknown writers (and his weak employees), and choose a different agent? Why did publishing houses not refuse to work with this agency? This is what the System did: it purchased souls, it purchased loyalty, it purchased justification—for whenever people who occupy chairs in publishing houses and agencies pretend to pronounce on your novel or the literary work of your life, often being interns or persons with barely any experience who have hardly glanced at your novel, but have been giving the job of disposing of the slush pile with fake reviews, if need be ... they have to find reasons to justify it to themselves. And then, they start to believe these reasons, as I almost did, getting out just in time, before I was totally corrupted. (Had I been the sole provider in a family with young children, would I have had that luxury? Not really.)

By the way, I am still in possession of photocopies of many of the “reports” that I wrote: around 100 pages, which I photocopied before leaving, knowing that they contained my literary labors, and that I would be telling this story sometime, and knowing that I had been exploited and underpaid by my employer. I am willing to sell these papers to a potential collector, because they belong to some Museum of Injustice or Museum of Western Publishing—which we need to have, because the increasing corporatization of the publishing industry means that there will be fewer and fewer stories to tell (and don't let the Amazon phenomenon tell you otherwise--the freedom I get from publishing on Amazon is meaningless, it means my book is visible to me ... and someone who is determined to burrow under a mountain of Amazon-pushed books to find my masterpiece ... that's all). However, I need the airfare, plus expenses, to get to the place where these papers and my other writings are stored; thanks to financial difficulties, I have been separated from them for the last fourteen years. So, the airfare could be set off against the price I am paid for these papers. Those of you who support what I have written (which one Asian Age reviewer described as "going where no Indian writer has gone before") and wish to encourage my quest, could also consider purchasing one or more paperbacks of my books at (all the books there except "The Taste of Water" are mine).

Because, as writers, we should never cease to hope ... and never give up, and never be afraid of telling the truth. Or this is what I said to around one dozen members of the audience that decided to spend a recent Friday the 13th evening listening to me speak about writing.And that is what, in my best moments, I have tried to practice.