An autorickshaw driver in Jaipur a couple of years ago asked me, “Hope you don’t mind my asking but are you a writer?” A shop salesperson looked at my execrable handwriting and commented, “You must either be a writer or a doctor”.
So, clearly, something gives me away.
The problem is that I’m not THAT sort of a writer. Not the sort that everyone around me wants me to be. I’m not the sort of writer who spent the Pandemic lockdown carefully crafting my creative skills and honing my “talent” so I could write that exemplar novel, that series of high philosophy essays to understand humanity, that definitive book on the state of the nation.
Maybe I do want to be that writer. As an adolescent, like most others, I wrote those poems. Emotions crystallized in show-off nonsense from studying literature. The ones you really should find and burn before you burn so no unsuspecting young relative clearing your remains gets traumatised. I do confess then that I did have those dreams (have? had?), that so many have of being a “writer”. Of giving voice to that mandatory (what do you mean you don’t have one) book inside me. But is that really me, babe?
Okay I lie and exaggerate. I do have one book to my name. A definitive experience of researching and exploring India’s contemporary history, a labour of love for this country of ours and our journey as a nation. But that was in 1997. It was a co-authored and co-edited experience with Ayaz Memon, plus some 50 illustrious contributors. And today, it is out of print.
Also, at the turn of this century, I did sit down to write that novel. I made a space that was my own, surrounded by other people’s books. I rejigged my computer to give it more juice, I bought lots of A4 paper. Whatever the equivalent of lots of sharpened pencils in this digital age. Or as digital as it was then.
And I wrote, some 80,000 words. I greatly enjoyed myself. I laughed uproariously at my own jokes in case no one else would. I made up some characters and I based others on real-life people with I hoped enough tweaks just to make them unrecognisable. In some cases, I was quite happy to be vindictive assuming people I had forgotten to stay in touch with had also forgotten me. I did not follow all those publisher’s rules about flow charts and Autocad drawings to make an architectural model for my novel with as much work in the fake structure as in the real thing just to satisfy some management-brained “editor”. Did Jane Austen do that? Pah! Who on earth was anyone to tell me what to do?
Aah, arrogance. Because by then my characters got lives of their own and became uncooperative, as a well-known writer had warned me would happen. They just hared off in their own directions, far away from even my deliberately free-flowing structure. I contemplated murder of a few as my only option. I asked for advice from writer friends and writer critics and got plenty, both good and bad. The whole thing was on the verge when it was no longer fun…
And just then, life dropped a massive distraction into my life. Boy did I jump to it!
I still have the files, Manuscript 1, 2, 3 et cetera. I last looked through them 10 years ago. They seemed increasingly childish every time I took a re-look.
Frankly, homicide of all the characters seemed like the only option. To spare myself the guilt, I did nothing. Which maybe is the same thing.
So that’s my career as a “writer”. I mean I am a writer. But not that kind of a writer. My admiration and respect for real writers has grown manifold. For their dedication and doggedness. For talent and their deep reserves. I salute them, the writers and their books, those I have read for ages, those I still do. Isn’t the human imagination fascinating? I read some. I review some. I collect some.
And then I stick to my type of writing. Short commentaries where 1,000 words seem like an imposition and 500 are about perfect. That’s me. The hack writer.
I take solace in this T.S. Eliot story.
“Don’t you think most critics are failed writers?” asked a fan-friend.
Yes, said Eliot: “And so are most writers”.