A friend sent me a link – Should writers be sexier than you? – and asked what I thought. Thought? This was no time to think, girl!
What I had to do was look up the hottest fashion photographer in HK, throw a saree on me like I was a gori who had no idea where the pallu was supposed to stay (on the shoulder, covering both the boobs if you please – I know the likes of Priyanka Chopra have made a single boob show in but hey, I ain’t a Bollywood actress, and I still need to dress in a manner that sends the right signals to my daughter), or imitate the writers in the article who looked like they were in the race to be the current dhak-dhak girl. Having accomplished that hot pic, I’d declare myself a sexy novelist, then sit back and watch my soaring sales that'd have Beyonce herself googling her new competitor.
Think I am bullshitting – read up on The Hot Authors project that, aghast at the prospect that writers are losing their place as cultural heroes, suggests they should start competing with pop culture stars on the same level. “Let’s promote novelists as sexy and fabulous. Insist that PEN award require a turn on the catwalk! Hold the National Book Awards on a sliver of sand populated by buxom models in horn-rimmed shades …”
Compete with pop culture? Heavens, what do they have in mind? Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian?
So, it seems that now, as a writer, I have to preoccupy myself with foundation (other than that of storytelling), depth (of cleavage, not character), plot (not narrative but moves that shall get me on the ‘Hot Authors’ list), details (not those that flesh out my characters but of what constitutes ‘Hot’) and other such infernal notions that are meant to plague the world of pop artists, Bolly-Holly stars and reality TV divas.
Uh-hmmm… The fact that artists reflect the prevailing culture seems to have escaped their festering brains altogether. We live in a digital, 24x7, consumerist world, inundated with choices, where our attention spans are under perennial assault. An average book takes longer to consume than a pop song or a reality show. And looks have always had a premium in our culture but looks have nothing to do with what the artist creates. Rafael was decidedly the handsomer Renaissance artist but both Michelangelo and he created art that is feted to this day.
A writer, primped out in an LBD or a wet saree or 3-buttons open (what is the advice for male writers here? Oh yes, the Hot Authors Project shot a writer in his undies in a tub!) shall as quickly become a pop culture star as the average kid grows up to be Superman because he donned the costume with the red knickers.
Writing is not performance art. A writer’s work – book, poem, essay, blog, news report – is written in a solitary space and meant to be consumed by an individual. The product, in that sense, is truly one-on-one, a conversation the writer begins and the reader completes. The catwalk, the sandy beach strewn with buxom ladies, are all evoked in the mind by that black ink on white (or sepia as ipad allows). As are conjured blind assassins and blood meridians and midnight’s children and the wide Sargasso sea – the creation of which didn’t need for their writers to be good looking or sexy or hot. All they required of them was that they hunker down and tussle with their craft and not give up until they had produced the best work they could.
As Kafka said, a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Writers reveal with their souls.
Writing, I have always maintained, is like any other work, except you love what you do! But there is a price to be paid for that love: no monthly pay cheque, no gossip with colleagues at the water fountain or in the pantry, no external enforcer of discipline, no business-class airfare when traveling on work, no annual bonus to validate one’s self-worth.
But, we’ll live with the shortcomings. Just don’t bullshit us that how we look/dress/catwalk is more important than what we produce – our writing.
I learnt in B-school that bullet points are a great way to get the message across, even to dumb initiators of Hot Authors Project. So here:
- Hot/sexy is in the eyes of the beholder
- The playing field for a writer is not a catwalk, it is the 5-inch space between the ears
- Writing is not performance art
- In an age of consumerism, no writer, when they have to step out – whether for a litfest, or photo shoot, or book reading, or speaking engagement – fails to step up. All writers are keenly aware of the pressure to market themselves (the Publisher would shoot them otherwise). And on that note, most author photos are photoshopped fraud!
- If that isn’t enough, imagine the writers you’d never have read because they weren’t hot enough: Dickens, Shakespeare, Ghalib, Iris Murdoch, Nabokov, Vonnegut, Doris Lessing…
If you are a writer, my advice: write the best book you can, and then market like crazy!