First things first. Let me get a few confessions out of the way.
A, I have not read any of your books and yet I have seen your popularity and sales figure soar with every title you come up with.
B, the only rendezvous I’ve had with you was when I was working as an event manager. I came within breathing distance of you when I was trying to put a mic on your jacket, moments before you were to go up on a stage and address a gathering for the a motivational lecture. Oh, you seem to have done a brilliant job of delivering the lecture. Because after you were done, I heard enthusiastic and loud applause from the audience. Alas, I could not hear you deliver your lecture because I was running around to get the next act ready.
C, I am yet to meet anyone who has shown fondness for what you write or how your write. But for some reason, everyone I know has an opinion or two about you. And that sir, is no mean feat.
Chetan, I write to you to thank you for giving me the courage to quit my day job and wade in uncertain waters while I chased my dreams of being a published author. If not for your success, I couldn’t have done it.
Please indulge me as I go back in time. I first heard of you sometime in the later half of 2004. I was a first-year MBA student at a leading business school - MDI Gurgaon. Since it is a college of repute, students were expected to be good with academics and be well rounded. Those days, reading was regarded as a great way to “build CV value” when the placements happened. So I picked up reading.
I tried different genres. And by trial and error I settled on and fell in love with winding and layered tales of injustice, crimes, murders and the common-man-doing-uncommon-dares-in-face-of-adversity spun by the likes Jeffery Archer, John Grisham, Sue Grafton and others. What more, I often found myself lost into day dreams of creating such plots and stories myself.
Even though I had faith in my abilities and a fire in my belly, I was not sure if I could actually become an author. How could I? After all, I came from a humble background and English to me was, what can I say, intimidating! To me, English was something that only the elite could indulge in, in their fancy, lavish dinner parties. Lingua Britannica was something as exclusive as an admission to your alma matter – the IITs and the IIMs.
The writers and the readers of content created in English had to be special. I mean look at the bestseller list in India from Oct of 2004. Giving you company on those charts are greats like Dan Brown, Amitav Ghosh, Paulo Coelho, Robin Sharma, Mitch Albom, Khushwant Singh, Pawan Verma and others. All these authors have a pedigree that I could give an arm and a leg for. Each of them is read by and discussed by those socialites in their fancy Page 3 parties. And like most things they mulled over in their parties, I could hardly comprehend the language, the depth, the richness, the detail, the pain, the suffering, the longing and other such things that their books talked about.
You, Chetan, were like a whiff of fresh air in an old room full of yellowing books that hadn’t seen sunlight in years. You presence on the list dispelled the famous notion that writing was a serious business; and the notion that you had to be, if not a doctorate in literature, a post-graduate at least to even think about writing.
In fact more I read about the publishing business in those days, more I realize that if I had approached a publisher back then with my manuscript, they would’ve laughed on me. I probably would not even get to enter their grand, opulent offices. On top of it, back then, there were hardly any publishers. And most of them probably believed that they were the custodians of English language. In today’s parlance, we call them the Grammar Nazis.
Fast forward to the Oct of 2014. The tribe of these Grammar Nazis is fast headed towards extinction. The remaining, handful Grammar aficionados are hardly given any importance by anyone. There are more publishers than there are authors. Even foreign publishers have set up shops in India and they regularly publish books by authors like you. And I. Literary agents, and good ones at that, are now dime a dozen. Experienced editors are willing to work with newer authors without expecting a fortune for their editing talent. Great designers are willing to work for next to nothing. Modern trends like self-publishing and social media have unleashed a new crop of writers and given them cheap innovative ways to reaching their audience.
The publishing industry as we knew it traditionally had changed. And Chetan, you ushered this change. Your success made this change possible.
Unchanged however remains your presence on the bestsellers lists. Or may I you’re your dominance? On the latest list of bestsellers in India, you are accompanied by the likes of Paulo Coelho, Sachin Tendulkar and Boria Majumdar. And then there are authors like Preeti Shenoy, Ravinder Singh and Durjoy Dutta.
Sachin is an exception here because it’s his autobiography and it would probably be his only book in life. Apart from Boria (who co-authored Sachin’s book), I am not sure if any one else on the list has a background in literature or journalism.
The Ravinders, The Durjoys and others like them are not yet in their thirties and they command a fan following as large as established Bollywood or Cricket celebrities. Each book they come up with, is much-anticipated and celebrated by their fans. Without your influence I bet they wouldn’t have even considered writing as a career.
You know Chetan, you not only gave the Ravinders and Durjoys the confidence to go forth and write, you gave me a precedent that I could share with my family when I decided to quit. I could tell my friends that I was going to be an author like you and no one raised even an eyebrow. I could talk my employer into granting me a leave without pay for a period of one year. Your success gave me a plausible justification for switching careers after almost 10 years of work. The world around me questioned my sanity but because I had your success as an example, they eventually acquiesced.
There is more Chetan. You also helped create an entire ecosystem. Because of phenomenal success of your books and non-stop inflow of money pouring into your coffers, new publishers, distributors, designers, editors, reviewers sprang up. All of them attempting to ride the wave, the avalanche of new authors pounding on the doors of impending boom in the publishing industry.
As one such writer, an author, I shall remain indebted to you forever for your seminal work, 5 Point Someone. It started the avalanche that we all are hoping to be a part of. You have proved beyond doubt that English language and literature is no longer a slave to the modern and the rich and the famous. Isn’t that what you are reinforcing in your latest book, Half Girlfriend?
Chetan, Thank you so much! For giving wings to a common man like me to chase my ten-year old dream. And for helping create an ecosystem where the dream could actually see light of the day! You are the knight in the shining armor for dreamers like me. If not for you, my dream would’ve remained a mere thought bubble. I would’ve gone through life without realizing my true passion, my potential.
Thank you once again!
Author, The Nidhi Kapoor Story
Oh, would you have time to read my first book? I would love to send a copy. Please do let me know.
Note: An edited version of this letter appeared on qz.com at http://qz.com/315668/dear-chetan-bhagat-i-quit-my-job-and-became-a-writer-because-of-you/