I would be lying if I said that the name didn't sound cliche when I first opened the link to the e-magazine, The Pretentious Basterds. Still nostalgic about the smell of a book and glossiness of a magazine page, I forgot the copy I downloaded in some non-descript folder of my over flowing hard-disk till, one day, when trying to make space for some other non-descript folder, I stumbled, once again, upon the pretentious pdf.
I decided to give this one a fair trial by going through one piece of writing to decide if I'd keep it or let it go. Scrolling down the neatly but quirkily designed pages, I began scouring 'The Trip'. Niranjan Sathyamurthy writes a convoluted and sublime story, within a story, within a story. A couple, high on dope and testosterone, caught in a heinous crime of passion; the orchestrator of the murder, caught in a conflict between the inevitability of a defiling action and the grossness of it, gives it up half-way and the author, let down by the guts (or the lack of them) of his own imagination, lets the story be. One can almost visualise an Escheresque staircase, each landing leading to another, and the richness of the imagery in the larger picture. I wished that the story too, could keep going on.
But these Basterds are unapologetic. To quote 'An Introduction': “that would be perspective and THIS is propaganda”.
I read. I read some more. I read the words yet again, this time slowly curling the words in my head till I had devoured all the pleasure possible from reading them. The patterns in the stories take their time to unfold, even as the poetry was unabashed as simple illustrations of things we tend to think about, yet not discuss. I felt a little exhausted once I was done, a little bit like how one feels after reading the Fountainhead. No, no. This writing doesn't possess the bare inner soul as the latter did for me but it does a) Divert your thoughts into the direction it pleases b) Make you look for yourself in the characters c) Make you wish you wrote it.
The poem 'The Stupid Magic Lamp' plays with stereotypes, far from the fear of offending [most integral to the freedom of expression], fulfils condition 'a' heartily; while the set of 4 poems, 'The Ball point Flash' forced me to peruse through it to find which of the protagonists I resembled the most. Yes, you'd find yourself in those self-depreciating lines too. I wish I had written 'The Trip'. It's very.. for the lack of a better word... me. Actually, here’s a better word: its very… you.
And so, after having wrung out all the fun their work could provide me with, I mailed Them Pretentious Basterds a pretentious questionnaire for some customized wit. They didn't disappoint me. I did end up with a minor existential crisis. So here goes, Ladies & Gentlemen, Them Pretentious Basterds!
Le Me: Them Pretentious Basterds? Are you trying to hide behind the label and looking for conformity?
Le Basterds: It was just a funny name that came up at the first meeting. Its a bit of a dig at most writers groups (well, this one in particular) that are really pretentious. If you’re going to be pretentious basterds, the least you can do is acknowledge it. Nothing more to the name. (Ignore Tarantino reference).
LM: What is your mission statement?
LB: We have no mission statement as such, but one of the reasons we started the magazine was this: Over the last decade the publishing industry has found a formula and is very busy shoving it down our throats. We see it get only more hegemonic with time. There will come a time when a literature enthusiast would have to, lens in hand, search and search for some fresh material that would interest him. We hope that it will be us he finds in that time of thirst.
LM: How did you feel about using Sundays for meetings? was it more like writers' anonymous?
LB: It was a choice between Saturday and Sunday. Someone picked Sunday for the first one. It stuck.
LM: What brand of beer did you drink most often while ideating? Did a switch in the brands have an effect on the output?
LM: Where are your stories inspired from?
LB: Are the stories inspired at all is a more pertinent question, but ignoring that, we will say: the influences are way too many to quote, but one thing common we all share is a dead end social life (we meet on sunday evenings!). Our stories probably come from our inability to express ourselves freely in accepted social scenarios. But probably not. It changes from Basterd to Basterd.
LM: How many ball point pens did you actually use to complete these sketches?
LB: Believe it or not, ball pens are the most economical things in the universe. If we could harness energy from ball pens we’d have no energy crisis.
LM: Which character of the series do you recognize most with? And the other members?
LB: I think I identify most with the Boy in Checked Shorts. The girl with the broken watch is my ideal girl. The girl with the orange jacket is a mixture of all the girls (amongst my friends) who I really think highly off. The boy who drinks only whisky is a sum total of my frustrations.
LM: Any hook ups within the team?
LB: Thomas, Niranjan and Kaber. Thomas and Niranjan are very intelligent, but Kaber is the better lover.
LM: Do you have any rules for membership or writing?
LB: We want to say something funny and witty here, but that's too easy, we like to really toil over our jokes and earn our laughs. No, we don't have any constraints or rules for membership or writing. Even if you don't really write much, we are happy as long as you keep turning up and adding to the feedback reservoir.
LM: Did you consciously try to pick up the most atypical writing or is it... (wait for it) a coincidence?
LB: We consciously try to pick the best writing. And the best writing is usually atypical.
LM: What would you look for in the contributions you get? Do pretty people have more chances of getting published?
LB: If they attach a sexy picture, certainly. But so far, everyone’s neglected to do that, so sadly no. What I look for is something that is enjoyable. I consider myself a fairly decent quality filter and if I read it and had fun doing so, chances are other people will probably do the same. There are occasions when this approach fails, which I guess is why I’m not the only one picking the contributions.
LM: Do you people often reject each other's work? How much time and convincing to shortlist a piece?
LB: I don’t know how “often” we reject each other’s work, but I’m pretty sure the hivemind hasn’t let a shitty piece past it yet. No one holds back their opinion for the sake of politeness if that’s what you’re asking. We do have differences of opinion, but that’s the thing about having an entire writing group as consultants - you can have as many re-readings and third opinions as you want, till you reach a consensus. About he first thing I wrote: Ito said he used to write like that when he was thirteen or fourteen.
LM: What's the best thing that has happened to your group so far since its inception?
LM: Any advice to budding writers... golden words?
LB: Well, there’s one golden word we can all agree on. Write. As much, and whenever you can. From experience, it’s easier said than done. Also when you read something you like, strip it apart to the extent you can and don’t rest until you can point your finger at the exact things you liked about the piece.
LM: Why are the titles of the pieces in a such a fancy font while the rest of the body looks normal?
LB: Isn’t that how we write? Don’t we seem to put more thought to our title than to the content. I am just putting a mirror up to society. (Phew, close one!)
LM: What are your feelings about Comic Sans? Is Helvetica the new comic
LB: I like comic sans. I wish people didn’t use it so much. But now it can be used cleverly in an ironic way. So figure it out, people. Helvetica is not comic sans. Helvetica is like your wife, she can stay next to you for years and you just sort of continue, without really thinking about it. Comic sans was that hot chick you went out with. When you got used to her hotness, she got boring.
LM: Do you judge people by the font they send their contributions in?
LB: Not unless its comic sans. Comic sans gets a free pass!
Personally I’m in this whole writing business just to judge people. I’m even judging you, by your questions. Start feeling judged. Feel very judged. I am a judger.
LM: Which is your favorite piece in the mag?
LB: Ito’s poem. I forgot the name. I think its the first piece.
It’s called Stupid Magic Lamp, by far the best thing in issue one.
LM: What time of the day seemed to generate most ideas?
LB: The time of day that I spend on my loo is seemed to generate most ideas. I had nothing to do with these ideas you know, time of the days just dropped them into my lap.
LM: Coffee or Coke?
LB: Coke. And a smoke.
LM: Arial or Bookman Old Style
LB: Comic Sans
LM: Serif or sans serif?
LM: Lines or dots?
LM: Indent or title case?
LM: Illustrations or photographs?
LM: writing or drawing?
LB: left testicle or right testicle?
Ravisha Mall is a struggling writer-photographer in times when everyone happens to be one. She is pursuing her Masters in Mass Comm. from Jamia Milia Islamia, and waiting to be discovered.
The Pretentious Basterds comprise of 50 members in an online group; ages varying between 19 and 30-something. 15 meet on Sundays, in Verhandas and Basements and Bedrooms and terraces. They try to keep out of the parents' or guardians' earshot. But only out of respect for their feelings.
Their issues can be read on: http://issuu.com/tpbmagazine/docs/tpb
Art that utilizes words as its 'paintbrush' is particularly intriguing: as opposed to an abstract stroke and a symbolic color, text is codified, sending great big brainwaves of pre-conceived associations. Its foundations lie in a system of signs and signifiers, with sounds and symbols that represent each word, syllable and letter.Read More
By Ravisha Mall, Issue 7, Text Art, April 2012