Frontlist | Covid warriors, survivors wield pen as pandemic inspires fiction

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Dr Maheshwar Prasad Chaurasia always wanted to write a novel. In May, he attended a webinar on how to write and publish a book. At the workshop, his writing instructor suggested that he start his journey as an author with a non-fictional work. He decided to write a book on Delhi’s fight against the coronavirus disease pandemic.

Dr Chaurasia was qualified to do so —as additional superintendent at Delhi’s government’s Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Hospital, he was part of the core team that set up the city’s first quarantine centres, isolation wards and testing facilities in the initial months of the pandemic.

“Those were the early days of the pandemic and we did not know much about the virus. Doctors and officials went sleepless for days as they fought the pandemic. People were in a panic and were asking so many questions. My book is about how the doctors and the administration fought the pandemic in its initial months,” says Chaurasia , whose book — Just Switch Off Corona — was released last month.

Chaurasia is not the only writer to have been inspired by the pandemic. Hundreds of books with titles such as Corona: A Checkmate; Murder in the Time of Corona; The Corona Wars; Corona Kiss; The Pandemic Plot; My Pandemic Experience, have been published in the past couple of months. Interestingly, a majority of these books — poetry, fiction, non-fiction in English, Hindi, Tamil and many other Indian languages — are by first- time writers and have been brought out by self- publishing companies.

The writers of these books include doctors, information technology (IT) professionals, teachers, most of whom seem to have drawn from their own experiences and understanding of the pandemic.

Dr Kumar Shyam, who lives in Hapur, a town in the National Capital Region, about 70 km from Delhi, last month published The Pandemic Plot, a novel that he says draws from the conspiracy theories surrounding the origin and nature of the coronavirus. The book that moves from Wuhan in China to Italy is the story of an international medical team comprising scientists from many countries, including India, who go on a mission to find the answers to some of the trickiest questions about the origin and spread of the virus.

His slim page-turner about this global quest ends with the conclusion that researchers at a Wuhan lab get infected and die and the virus spreads into the rest of the world.

“The governments and health systems around the world did not know what had hit them and there are so many conspiracy theories surrounding the origin and spread of the virus. l thought all of this made for a novel. I used many real incidents to connect the dots, ” says Dr Shyam, a general surgeon, who owns a 100-bed hospital in Hapur.“Being a doctor helped me write about virology with authenticity,” says the doctor, who wrote the book every night in his personal library that boasts 3,000 books.

Rahul Bhardwaj, managing director at Yash Publications, which published The Pandemic Plot, says the book is a hit, having sold over 3,000 copies in hardback and paperback since its release last month.

“We have got 30 proposals for books on Corona and have already published three. Four more will be published next month,” Bhardwaj adds.

Notion Press, one of the country’s biggest self- publishing companies has brought out as many as 40 titles on the coronavirus, both fiction and non-fiction in English, Hindi and Tamil. Some of the titles published by it include Born in Lockdown, Pandemic Spell, Murder in the Time of Corona, Why and How China developed the Coronavirus.

Interestingly, Naveen Valsakumar, co-founder and CEO of Notion Press, says that one of the reasons why there are so many coronavirus-related books on his company’s platform is that a lot of the writers are young and tech-savvy, who studied Google Trends and realised that there was a lot of curiosity about the pandemic.

“So, they decided to write books based on those trending searches. We made it clear to all writers that we will not publish any book offering unvalidated medical advice on Corona. For many people, writing about the pandemic has been a cathartic experience,” says Valsakumar.

Love and romance are among the most popular genres among those writing on the coronavirus. Sample some of the titles in the category: Corona Kiss, Cupid Covid; Love in the Time of Corona Virus, A Second Chance with Love in Corona. In fact, there are dozens of books titled Love in the Time of Corona. A lot of these stories involve young doctors whose lives are torn apart as they fight the virus.

“Lockdown had a deep impact on relationships and that is the subject of my two Corona books” says Kawalpreet Kaur, a 26-year-old teacher. Her first book, Love in the Time of Corona Virus, and its sequel, The Dark 21 Days, feature the stories of two youngsters who battle not just caste, and but also Covid-19 in a hospital in Italy.

Sayed Arshad, founder of Blue Rose Publishers says the reason why most books have been published by self- publishing companies is their ability to bring out a book fast, something many of the writers want. “Normally it takes about seven months to bring out a book, most self- publishing companies take three weeks flat,” he said.

After English, the maximum number of books on the coronavirus are in Hindi, and with some curious tiles: Namaste Corona ; Corona se Atmagyan (Enlightenment through Corona); Akash Me Corona Ghana Hai (The Sky is eclipsed by dense Corona); Corona Ek Safar (Corona, a journey). Rounak Rai, an art teacher and author of Corona se Atmagyan, a collection of 33 poems accompanied by his drawings, says he wrote the book during the lockdown.

“Corona brought out the best and the worst in human beings. My book captures the pain, the suffering and what this pandemic taught us about ourselves and about others,” said Rai.

“But one of the unintended benefits of the pandemic is the fact that it encouraged people to look within and become writers,” he said.

 

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