I read. I liked. I friended. I picked up Desmond Macedo’s debut satire A Guy Growing Old in a Country Growing Young (brought out by Harper Collins) soon after it came out earlier this year. Liked it, especially the first chapter; no, loved the first chapter. Started following him on Twitter, and then friended him on Facebook. We’ve never met, or even spoken with each other, but correspond and share common professions (advertising/writing) and an earlier city (Bombay/Mumbai). Having been a copywriter in several Mumbai agencies, Macedo now works out of Pune as a freelance copywriter, entrepreneur, and of course, author. In this email interview, he talks about the book, the several issues he brings up in it, and whether there’s hope for people growing old in a country ever growing young.
IS: The first chapter is one of the most exquisite pieces of writing I’ve ever come across. It really takes you back to the time you talk about there. Was it a conscious decision to start this way, or did you feel ‘inspired’?
DM: Since I was writing from memory, it turned into a flashback. It does seem a beat slower than the rest of the novel because that period was slow. I wanted the narrative to slip into the period.
But something else was at work that I have to admit. I wanted this book to be well written. I had to start from the first sentence. I do not know if I have succeeded, but if you found this section exquisite, it is what I had in mind. So, conscious. And while you have said this to me earlier, the rest of the book is in the same style, just a beat faster. Actually, there is more wit in the rest of the book, so it may ‘seem’ faster. A reader tends to read this book fast. It is written that way. I have people who finished it in one afternoon.
It’s also past and present, the two divisions in the story, so the reader may feel a difference.
IS: The portions after that, right up to the beginning of the last chapter, are not in the same mellow vein and look eager to cover a lot of ground: girls, GenX, politicos, attitudes, aspirations. It also seems punctuated, as you seem to want to move from one issue to another quite rapidly.
DM: I intended this book to entertain. Not educate, instruct and inform, through thesis, academia and research material. I also intended this book for youngsters. Elder folk with a sense of fun will love it, but I knew that some may not agree with a few of its views. Like in the chapter, ‘Bottom-up Country’, there are these lines: ‘Top-downers loved meetings because it gave them a chance to reinforce hierarchy. And wherever there was hierarchy, the top level was usually old.’
So if the youth were going to read it, I had to be practical. What with the number of wonderful distractions they have – Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, iTunes, movie and music downloads, games, chatting, coffee shops, dating, career, salary and pay hikes, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blogs, Man U and Barca – better to keep my book short. And just try to make it fun. Happily, I did get a bonus, too – some have told me the book has interesting insights.
It is deliberately written in short paragraphs. This would seem ‘punctuated,’ but it gives the book pace, avoids any boredom setting in, and the reader, instead of me, moves rapidly on. The reader should love how the fun surfaces every little while, without any dependence on puns and innuendo. There must be a pun and a half in the entire book.
One more important reason. Though I do not mention it anywhere in the book, I have noticed that the present generation has a better sense of fun than earlier ones. They are teaching Indians to laugh at themselves. So if I am appealing to them, how else to?
IS: The end promises to offer hope to your protagonist – with the discovery of those inspiring messages beneath the bed – only to crash them. Why did you choose to end on a non-positive note? Did you consider that it might limit the potential success of the book?
DM: How can you end on a positive note when, as you turn old in India, or as Dan Mullagathanny was turning old, you are left isolated: at work, at getting jobs – as the book says, ‘Who will give a 49-year old a job when he can get two twenty-four-year-olds for the age of a forty-niner?’ – by your own disdain for the language used by the youth, by your lack of interest and/or facility in things technology, by your enthusiasm, drive and ambition that does not equal theirs.
And anyway, the bit about the one-liners beneath the bed was a crack at clichéd thought, expression and jargon, which is quite a noticeable thread throughout the book.
Besides, even with the melancholy tone, the reader still has a laugh. My synopsis to the publishers says so: The story will end on a sad note, though wittily, the way the entire narrative runs.
But, if anything, the end is more reality than any other consideration. ‘The old disdain the young and the young disdain the old’, as the book says. I have watched how determinedly youngsters separate from elders even at family get-togethers.
IS: Why did you choose this as your first book? You seem quite politically tuned in. Was it the typical writer/political participant’s angst coming out through your protagonist? The language at least suggests so.
DM: Politics lends itself to satire. Politicians can do things that are so funny, satirists can’t match them. But politics is where writers get the urge to set right the wrong, like they easily can, but they clamour for the truth louder than others, and their desire to expose it is usually stronger than the others. Like Behram Contractor and Art Buchwald, two people I have loved reading, and Swami Anklesaria Iyer, whom I think of as a business and finance satirist.
In my case, as must be with a few other writers, honest and straightforward writing is a good idea in India simply because no one uses these traits – we are devious. So honesty is always rare and fresh here. I often had my forthright, straightforward headlines/copy bounced in advertising.
IS: Did this not need any research? Or did it?
DM: I wrote quite a bit of this book simultaneously as the events took place – as I read the newspapers. You will notice from dates. Some research has also gone into it. A helpful editor, too, dug up some names. Well, he is young, with more drive and ambition. *Smile*
IS: The standard first-book question now: How autobiographical is it, especially with the protagonist sharing both his initial and age with you?
DM: A good part of it is. As I believe: If you haven’t lived it, you can’t write it. Not true, all the time, but it helps if you believe in something.
IS: Any particular reason for choosing Dan Mullagathanny (Dan ‘Pepper-Water’ – a popular form of soup, aka rasam, in South India) as your protagonist’s name?
DM: I was looking for a name with an Indian cultural reference. Like Mullagathanny. Yes, it’s the word for ‘rasam’ that South Indians and Anglo Indians use, me being both. ‘Dan’ was to offset the ‘Mullagathanny’, nicely. I had tried out the name with colleagues, and they seemed to like it. So it stuck.
IS: What’s your personal take on the situation in the book’s title? With an ever-increasing youth population and a population that’s set to become the world’s largest in the next decade or so, is there hope for people on the wrong side of 40 – or should we just move to the Himalayas?
DM: There may be several people in India facing a similar situation. For them, it is good to know where they stand. As when Rajesh Khanna passed away, many youngsters condoled their parents. And when a mother wanted to gift clothes to her son, and had almost paid for them, he called and said, ‘Drop the thought, mom! Just leave this generation to do its own thingy.’
The division is so distinct.
And oh, there is hope in the book for them, as Dan tries to cheer himself: ‘One consolation. Elders will be an officially designated minority. A vote bank. Once in five years, Gen-X will come around kissing my arse.’
IS: Most copywriters eventually move on to either film-making or pure writing. Had you ever seen yourself making this transition (although, yes, you continue to be an independent ad professional), or did this just happen along the way?
DM: Serious writing never occurred to me until Google Blogs arrived. Irony right there – technology gave me the idea.
I did run out of the desire to write for a client, as you often have to do in advertising. I wanted to write as I want to write. For instance, have stiff and studied, well-educated English stand next to guttersnipe language, like it or not. Like, ‘Dan Mullagathanny questioned the wisdom of burning his own arse.’ Or contorted logic like, ‘Clichés work. That’s why people use them. That’s how they become clichés.’
IS: Finally, expectantly, simply: What next? ‘What Dan Lamented Next’? Or something else?
DM: On Twitter, I came across a thought: Tips On How to Market Your Book. ‘Shut up and write your next book.’ Even the handbook for writers says, ‘Write regularly’. This book came about much that way. I used to write regularly on a blog. That’s where I got the character’s name, and practised writing the way I want to write.
So that it will be.
- Read: Here’s an extract of the book on the Harper Collins WordPress blog: ‘Guy Growing Old’ on Harper Collins
- Buy: You can buy the book on old-gen and new-gen stores (bookstores and e-commerce sites respectively).
- Follow: You can follow Desmond Macedo on Twitter through @Desmond_Macedo. You will also find him on Facebook and LinkedIn.
And find out what Irficionado is here: Irficionado: Here’s Presenting…