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And then there were words…

31 Jul

When Swapan sms’d me to ask if I would review his book, I readily agreed. And then, I procrastinated for reasons too complicated to explain.

Swapan is now a neighbour but has been a friend, colleague and competitor for almost two and a half decades; so, I have known him in more ways than one. And yet, I was surprised to learn that he had failed once in school.

Now, several weeks after carrying the little book around (it’s size, and much more besides, reminds me of The Little Prince that I was gifted in college) I sat myself down to review it. Actually, you can’t read This is all I have to say…you race through it and, before you realise it, you’ve reached the end. Which, I guess, is how it’s meant to be. So, you return to it to nibble on its maxims and, if they seem familiar, it’s only because they’re all (well, almost all) so very apt.

This_Is_All_I_Have_To_Say

Swapan Seth's Book Debut

Swapan Seth’s style has always been pithy. And this book is very Twitterish: it’s alliterative from the start (“An assortment of angsts. A cauldron of concerns.”) aphoristic, crisp and often clichéd. But, as we’ve always been told in advertising, clichés invariably work. Advertising runs not just in Swapan’s veins but also through his pen (or iPad or whatever digital device he used while writing this 95-pager) and its impact shows in everything about the book. It’s been written to a brief; with a sharply defined core target audience (his two sons) and a larger – yet niche – set of folks in mind; its positioning is unique (which may also be a bit of an issue because conventional booksellers won’t know which shelf to stock it in) and it’s exquisitely designed by Bonita Vaz-Shimray whose use of a wonderfully-named font, MrsEaves, adds to the crunchiness of the words…. like almonds in muesli. I do feel, however, that towards the second half of the book, the designer got carried away and readability does become an issue. But packaging is essential for any creative person who secretly worries that his ideas may not otherwise be expressed as well as they were originally envisaged.

There are gems tucked away in this book: “Parenting is a relay race.” And almost the entire chapter on love: “One day you will find love. Or rather love will find you” are among my favourite lines. If, in any book or film, you can find even one line that you relate to instantly, consider yourself as having received more than what you paid for the book (Rs 195 in this case). I found some sections reminding me of others that I had read (the chapter on Friends brought back memories of Desiderata, for instance) but even if Swapan has been inspired by all that he has read (and his appetite for words is XXL) there is nothing wrong. James Webb Young, an early 20th century practitioner of advertising said that ideas are nothing but an original combination of old elements. And Ms Rowling is known to have written that words allow us to create magic like nothing else can… this book comes close to it.

There are, however, some things I would have done differently.

The title, for instance, seems to eliminate the possibility of another book – and that would be a shame. If this is really all Swapan has to say, I’d be surprised. I find the front and back covers trying too hard to impress the reader that some well-known folks have endorsed the book: not really required, my friend. I have a knack for finding typos and would like to meet the editor in Roli Books who let several slip through her pencil. Most of all, I would have liked to see the names of people who played a role in Swapan’s life instead of their being relegated to pronouns: a teacher and his first client as an entrepreneur are the only ones named.

The book is dedicated to his sons with a line “May love be the ampersand between the two of you” and perhaps that’s why I love the book: the ampersand is a delightful but undervalued character that connects almost everything epigrammatically. And I tend to overuse the word “and”… often violating the most fundamental tenet of Wren & Martin.

But, for now, this is all I have to say and you should go find the book. You don’t have to be a lover, a husband, a copywriter or even a parent to enjoy snacking on Swapan’s words… bon appetit!