Balaji Venkataramanan: Waiting around at Bookaroo, Pune (The report of a first-timer)

Balaji Venkataramanan, the author of Flat-track Bullies was at Bookaroo, Pune last weekend.

Where do I really start? Maybe about the things I learned and my interaction with a few people.
First things first: the word Bookaroo doesn’t really rhyme with Kanga-roo, as in Tamil. Rather, it rhymes with kangaroo, as in English. When people joked over dinner about the way the kids pronounced the word Bookaroo, I mentioned to Swati Roy that I too pronounced it the same way as the kids till the time I landed in Pune.
Venkatesh M told me that he was the one who had reviewed my book in Livemint. I thanked him for the frank review and asked him to recommend the book to the kids who visit the Eureka store. (What I didn’t tell him though was I was not happy with his review initially. But after reading the reviews of a whole lot of other books in Livemint I felt mighty happy.)
Now, the word Kuching sounds like the word Cochin. (The g is silent.) If you don’t believe it, ask Jo where she lives. (Or is it some problem with my ears.) When Jo mentioned that she’s from that place, I told her I had visited the place a number of times. She was amazed and started talking about a few places in Borneo, the tropical forests and coconut trees while I started talking about some places around Cochin in Kerala and about the coconuts. We had a good laugh when we realised that we were talking about different places.
She said that she had heard a lot of good things about Flat-Track Bullies and got her copy author signed. I hope she feels the same way about the book even after reading it.
Martin was extremely funny with his ‘Poo-Power’ poem and rap songs. I told Jo that Martin appeared tired when he arrived late for dinner. She said “Don’t worry. That’s his normal look.” (No offence Martin, it was all in good humour.)
Rukshana Khan’s session on Wanting Mor was inspiring and Naomi took my help to check if Shrewsbury cookies were available in the hotel. Both of Wendy Cooling’s sessions were funny.
Natasha Sharma: I tried getting her Bonkers book and was told that all fifty copies were sold out on the first day itself. Finally bought Rooster Raaga and got her sign it. Her sessions were good and her dancing great.
Ummm! I can’t dance to sell my book. Maybe next time!
Deepak Dalal took us out for tea (my choice- Japanese Green tree over roasted rice), gave tips on how to sell a book and introduced me to one Druv Doshi who distributes Duckbill books in Mumbai. Druv liked my session and what more purchased FTB and got it author signed.
Yeah, probably some angels don’t have wings.
Shuka Sir is gentle and nice, even with a beer in hand and his poems are just like him.
Kala Ramesh’s Haiku session was great. Though I don’t quite have the IQ level to take it in.
Kavitha Singh Kale: I hope now at least a few will take to sending wonderful picture postcards again.
Vidya Mani, Shyam, and Ameen: We roamed the streets in the evenings stopping at every roadside shop on both the days. Bun maska, gooseberries, bhel puri and whatever. We sorta competed to see as to whose digestive system best withstood the serial assault.
Vidya Mani: I wish I had as much energy as she does and I hope that her book sells a million copies. Minimum!
Shyam: Apart from his wonderful doodle sessions, he watched Pune mostly from behind his camera. He took close to 20,000 photos in the two days. God Promise! Illustrator, movie director, actor, ad agency. Multi-talented, or what? I asked him to use his movie industry connections to get some big actor drop a word or two about his book. I secretly hope he will put in a word about FTB as well.
Ameen: He tried out his newly penned Hindi poem first on me. Only problem, I don’t understand Hindi that well. In one year he has become a very popular storyteller. One of his childhood friends came over to meet him last evening. Just to sound smart and witty I told her just wait one more year and Ameen will not have the time to talk to you. I sincerely hope that it comes true.

I discovered a lot of things about Flat-Track Bullies over the last two days.
Have always thought of FTB to be a sorta of a guy’s book. But girls outnumbered the boys in both the sessions. And they seemed to enjoy the APPLES, JACKFRUITS, MANGOES stuff better.
A few parents asked me to give advice to their kids. I personally asked them (I mean the parents) to buy the book as everything’s there. They wouldn’t listen to me 😉 But they want their kids to listen to me 🙂
One homeopathy doctor claimed that his daughter knows the capitals of all countries. He asked me to give her some advice. I wanted to tell him it’s not his daughter who needed advice. Anyway!
One good thing, a lot of little people in Pune want to turn writers. Something to do with the air of Pune? A couple of kids have given their manuscripts to me asking for feedback and one elderly gentleman wanted to know the process to approach the publishers. They all have my mail id.
I would have signed over 250 autographs over the weekend. But unfortunately 90% of it was in plain papers and notebooks.
Some kids even wanted me to sign Rukshana’s and Vidya Mani’s books. Though I felt proud and privileged, I refused. In the corner I found the volunteers busy signing away and my ego retired-hurt.
I asked a girl who was very enthusiastic about FTB if she had purchased it. She said she was running short of money. For a moment I thought of buying her the book. But before I could make up my mind, she managed to get the money from someone. Stingy me!
I realised that the most little people completely identify themselves with Flat-Track Bullies. If only they were allowed to buy what they wanted, this book would have become a blockbuster by now.
This morning, master storyteller Jeeva Raghunath and I took the cab to catch the early morning flight. I guess I annoyed her at 4.30AM asking questions on what she would do when she forgot her lines or what she would do when the kids didn’t respond to her jokes. She gave a master class.
People back home say whatever is learned in the early mornings stays with you forever.
I hope so.
I was asked to visit Shridi before returning. I didn’t. I guess god wouldn’t quite mind for I spent the two days in some kinda temple of learning.
I bade goodbye to Jeeva and proceeded to take the metro train to home. I changed my mind once I reached the road and stopped an auto rickshaw.
“How much to Triplicane?”
“750 Rupees.”
Yes, I am back in Chennai.

P.S: In case you people take offence to some of my jottings in the report, well, I am just following step three of Ravi’s eight-step approach to write a Flat-Track Bullies style book.
‘See the funny side of things.’


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