Monday, April 14, 2008

Three years of The Middle Stage

The date of my last post, April 12, is also the third anniversary of the Middle Stage.

How time flies. I was 25 then — I am 28 now; I had a day job then — I don't have one now; I had no burns then — I have sideburns now; I could run only three laps around my neighbourhood park then — I can do ten now; I owned lots of books then — I own lots more books now; I used to live west of the Western line then — I live east of the Harbour line now; I dreamt of being rich and drinking champagne then — I dream of being rich and drinking champagne now.

Regrettably, although the number of people visiting this site refuses to grow, the profusion of books and writers who have come and gone on these pages in the last three years makes it impossible to contemplate the kind of party that I proposed at the end of my first year (also, I am saving up for a vacation abroad, so you would have to bring your own alcohol anyway).

So I thought that all I'd do is thank you, my readers, for taking the time to read my work and often send in illuminating comments. I know it's cheap, but that's me.

I hope you will also read my first novel, which should be out in a while. And I've put together a selection of what I consider to be my best posts from the last two years:

"The Books Interview with Ramachandra Guha"; "Jawaharlal Nehru as a writer of English prose"; "Tigers in the poetry of William Blake and Salabega"; "English and Hindi in Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games"; "Necessary and unnecessary steps in Constantine Cavafy"; "On David Leavitt's The Indian Clerk"; "The sweet voice and harsh words of Osip Mandelstam"; "On Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red"; "Some thoughts on artistic time and real time"; "Words Without Borders, and the stories of Parashuram"; "The Books Interview with Christopher Kremmer"; "On Muhammad Yunus's Banker to the Poor"; "Houshang Moradi-Kermani's "The Vice-Principal" and Literature from the Axis of Evil"; "On Saul Bellow's Seize the Day" and

(yes, I know it's long)

"On Nagesh Kukunoor's Dor"; "Memories of a Borges book, and the old Twentieth Century bookshop"; "On Rajmohan Gandhi's biography of Mahatma Gandhi"; "The tumbfalling prose of EE Cummings"; "Shashi Tharoor, banally in love with India"; "On looking through Ted Hughes's Selected Translations"; "On Patrick French's biography of VS Naipaul"; "Fakir Mohan Senapati's roundabout fictions"; "On Amitava Kumar's Home Products"; "Talking India With Ashis Nandy"; "Wislawa Szymborska, curious about everything"; "On Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age"; "Travelling with Graham Robb"; "On Vinod George Joseph's Hitchhiker"; "Mark Tully and India"; "On the memoirs of President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan"; "The Kitab Literary Festival, and a disquisition on boots"; "On Jeffrey Goldberg's Prisoners"; "The zany fictions of Etgar Keret"; and my Books of the Year roundups for 2006 and 2007.

And from 2006: "A year of the Middle Stage".


Uncertain said...

Hearty congratulations on completing 3 years of fine writing! I have been a reader of middle stage for less than 3 years but the posts as well as the conversations have certainly enriched my literary experience and provided ample food for thought.

All the best also for your book. I look forward to reading it!

amit varma said...

Hey, Congrats! I hope you'll provide us with many more years of this.

But why champagne everyday? Noor Mohammadi Kababs everyday are the best a writer should hope for, and you already have a good life!

Chandrahas said...

Amit - Thanks very much. Indeed, as I only began writing here on your suggestion, you are the one I must thank the most.

Noor Mohammadi kababs are good, but I imagine they'd be even better with champagne. But I agree with you otherwise. Life's not bad.

Uncertain - Yesterday you broke the record for the most comments left by a reader on this site in single day. Thank you for your assiduous questioning, and forgive me if I respond to you on a slightly more leisurely schedule.

Rohit Thombre said...

Congrats and I hope u dont stop when you're famous, have literary feuds with Amis and Co in the Guardian and make the Booker shortlist,ideally by edging out Rushdie's nth time/space/language transcending 'enchantress'.As much as I hope this day will come,I'm afraid the mythical party would then become even more unlikely:( Also,I think u missed the 'Memories of a Borges novel' post in your list.It was one the more beautiful ones.

michalis said...

Dear Hash, many congratulations and thank you for the bright windows into all these books and writers. Hopefully soon we will be reading such good reviews of your own book by others!

Chandrahas said...

Rohit - What a good spot. I have added that Borges post to my list right away. As it was written right after my first anniversary post I forgot all about it while reviewing my last two years of work.

And thank you for your very kind words, which leave me with a lovely warm feeling. I think I may arrive on the scene just too late to catch Amis, but I'll just take aim at somebody else. As my blog means a lot to me - in fact I think the best version of me is here - I don't think I'll be stopping any time soon.

As a matter of fact I have just finished reading Rushdie's new novel, which does indeed have many impossibly sexy and immensely tiresome enchantresses, but also some lovely passages about other things.

Chandrahas said...

Michalis - "Bright windows into books and writers": that is a lovely image of what reviews should be about.

Your good wishes are happily accepted, and our many conversations about books often remembered. Look forward to seeing you in the summer, but I must warn you that under no circumstances will I consent to play chess with you, as it is not good for my self-esteem.

hk said...

hi Chandrahas
Congrats on 3 yrs and thank you for helping me find some great books and authors. Looking fwd to your novel. Hope you keep writing. Ping me if you travel to the US East Coast. Will buy you the champagne or some fine microbrews.

Avni said...

Hi Chandrahas,

Well, congratulations! I've been a silent but avid reader of your blog, ever since I discovered it about a year ago.

Allow me to indulge a little - the last six months have been the longest, most tumultuous of my life, and definitely the strangest. I moved, at 21, to new york from bombay, with no plans, very little money, and no friends. Anyway cliched as it may sound, your blog helped immensely in getting through it all. You reminded me of the constancy of literature, and it was one of the few things I had, to hold on to. I'd wake up on winter mornings in a dumpy room in a somewhat abandoned house, feeling cut off from civilization, flung to the end of the earth. And then I would read your post on say Cavafy, and it would be the one concrete thing in my days. Thankfully this phase has ended, and things have worked out. I wanted at that point to comment and say thank you, but never did.

I shall stop being a drama queen now, and end this long comment. I just wanted to say thank you, and also I too am looking forward to reading your book! I second Harish in saying, if you are ever in new york please let us know.

- Avni

Chandrahas said...

Harish and Avni - How curious. It does seem to me that most of my close readers are camped out on the east coast of America. Thank you for your good wishes, but even though the offer of champagne sounds enticing, I fear it will be a while before I ping or do anything else with you non-virtually.

Avni - "The constancy of literature" - what a good phrase that is. Yes, there have been several points times in my life when I myself have taken strength from the constancy of literature, so I know what you mean. Hope it all works out, and that you find other constancies to support this most constant one.

Jeeban Ram said...


Many congratulations on completing three years of writing a fantastic blog.

I read your blog early and often and I even miss it at times when there is a larger than usual gap between posts.

I would also like to thank the concept of blogging in general which allows me read exceptional writing such as yours sitting in my office/home and that too for free. May your tribe increase.

PS - Looking forward to reading your book.

Deepika Patil said...


'The Middlestage' experience has been an enriching one, for me!

himangshu saxena said...

Congrats! Chandrahas, you have a wonderful blog. Love your writing. Shall eagerly look forward to reading your novel. When's it being published and by which publisher? Best wishes for your forthcoming book.

Chandrahas said...

Jeeban - I was intrigued to read of your description of your life as "a series of embarrassments punctuated by flashes of brilliance". It is an opening worthy of a very good story.

Thank you for your kind words, and yes, you are right to think not only about my use of the blogging form, but also the strengths of the form itself. In fact I just gave a talk on "Literature and Blogging" at Manipal yesterday - maybe I will write up my notes and put them up here.

Deepika and Himangshu - I am always pleased to hear that my work has been of value to someone. I hope it will be the same with my book as well. The details of its publication are still being negotiated, so I don't know the answers myself. But it should be resolved shortly.

Vivek said...


Many congratulations!

A serendipitous discovery, your blog was and its been a wonderful read with some incisive analysis of writers and their works.

I join others in wishing you good luck for your novel.


Sundeep said...


You are already very rich. And very generous in sharing those riches.

A day will surely come when your dreams of champagne have evaporated. Much like the anniversaries of Middlestage, it will be a day to celebrate.

Chandrahas said...

Vivek - Thanks very much. If you're going to buy my novel, as you seem to promise to, that makes seven of you on this comments stream, plus perhaps a couple of hundred more among friends and family who have also committed to the purchase of the said artwork. I just sat down to do the math and figured out that, even in the worst-case scenario, my publisher can't in good faith demand a refund of any more than ninety per cent of my advance.

Sundeep - How strange: just a couple of hours ago, while I was waiting to get off the plane at Chhatrapati Shivaji airport, I was so bored by the delay that I began thinking the very same thing. Yes, I feel I am already rich in time, relationships, and learning (access to learning, that is). Cash is the missing quarter, and champagne the missing glass besides the water. But I babble, as I always do when thinking about sums of money more than three times my monthly rent.

latelyontime said...

I have been browsing through the blog and thoroughly enjoyed your style and your narrative textures. The review of 'Dor', especially, had me captivated.

Just wanted to drop in and wish you a happy Blog-birthday and to say it was good meeting up in Manipal. I shall eagerly look forward to your big book about short people... In the meantime do keep in touch (though my own Blog has now retired after five years of blabbering).


Chandrahas said...

Nishant - The pleasure was entirely mine. I greatly enjoyed your talk at the convention and thought it the best of the lot. But as you are, amongst other things, a teacher, you have had more practice than me in something we both appear to enjoy, which is speaking in situations where other people are forced to keep quiet and listen.

I had never really thought carefully about "false binaries" before, and I realised as soon as I heard you speak on the subject that it would be a concept of great value to me in my own work.

I hope your journey back to Bangalore was less eventful than your journey in. Hope to see you in Bombay some time.

Himangshu Saxena said...

Assuming your book is priced at Rs. 495, the royalty rate's the usual 10% and 207 copies are sold, that makes the advance only Rs. 1,00,000. I promise I'd never write a novel, primarily because I love my champagne alright.

Uncertain said...

Oh you're most welcome. Respond at leisure - these questions aren't going away anytime soon.

And yes I tend to skew most statistics. Consequently, I am neither too popular with survey statisticians, nor with experimental psychologists. Such is life.

Chandrahas said...

Himangshu - It is very kind of you to do the math for me, although I hope you realise I was not being serious. Advances are usually not refundable.

Where you are spot on, though, is in your judgment that there isn't enough of a market for novels in our country for writers to even dream of supporting themselves exclusively through their work. Among other things this is a tragedy of our education system, which emphasises quantifiable achievement and skills that are of use in the marketplace. I have lost count of the number of people my age I have come across in trains and flights reading only Paulo Coelho and Dan Brown, and believing this is really profound and inspiring work.

Finally, even though the figures you come up with are, as you say, quite low, they're still quite high when it comes to the real world: most Indian advances are lower than that.

As for me, I would not want you to pay Rs. 495 to read my book. It is not that long ago when that sum was more than five per cent of my monthly income, so I, who live upon books, have an idea nevertheless of how hard it is to find the cash for books. I would like the figure to be much lower, and after that if you like the book you can always buy me a drink.

Chandrahas said...

Uncertain: Thank you for your searching questions, which keep me on my toes. I have just written answers to one set of them, on Hinduism, Hindutva, and Hindu literature, here:

Kartikeya said...

Hey Chandrahas,

Congratulations on three fine years...

i remember reading your profile of Ramesh Powar and have been hooked ever since.

I look forward to your book..... if you ever come to Berkeley, do let me know..

I want to urge you to keep writing this blog for a long time to come, but im always hesitant about making wishes like these because at the end of the day, these are merely expressions of naked self interest (being able to read your blog), couched in terms of well-meaning encouragement.

So, even if you do move on to better things, thanks for all the fine writing. This is easily the most substantive blog i've seen.

Chandrahas said...

Kartikeya - Thanks very much. If I am ever in Berkeley I will certainly let you know. In fact, it would appear from this comments stream that all I need for an American trip is a ticket (admittedly expensive) and a visa (admittedly difficult), and thereafter I can journey from reader to reader.

But remember, I have the reputation of being an extremely demanding guest: gluttonous, bibulous, and garrulous. If peace and quiet is what you seek, and moderation is what you love, then never invite me over. In 2006 I went to England and stayed over with some friends for three weeks (I agree I overstayed my welcome), and our relationship has never been the same again - indeed sometimes I wonder if we still have a relationship.

I hear from some well-placed sources that you might be in Bombay soon, and maybe it is safer to meet here. We can call Ramesh Powar as well, since he doesn't seem to be playing IPL games like four hundred other cricketers.

adi said...

have certainly enjoyed my time here... and yes, am ready to bring my own alcohol, so, when's the party man?