Date: 9/1/2012 10:17:00 PM
More than half the night has been spent in the balcony - with films, music, reading and writing at random. And waiting for the red to break through the ribbon of frozen white light right under the dark clouds. As the documentary Kerouac: King of the Beats comes to a close, a few people have come out for a morning walk with their favorite dogs. The film was fairly good, most surprisingly it made me want to write immediately – so here I am watching people walk in the skating rink. The two playgrounds opposite my balcony are , empty – well, one of them is definitely a playground with implements for kids to swing and slide from, the other is an unused plot cover in random greenery where teenagers put a net and play volleyball. Volleyball – when I was their age, we would have played cricket. We played cricket almost everywhere – if we were staying over at friend’s place, out went the bed – into the balcony – and we spent the night playing cricket in the bedroom.
So yes, the film made me want to write. And I decided I will start from Mysore. A bit over 15 years back I had joined my company at Mysore – a two months of training. That was the first time I was to earn my own living – but the bank played spoilsport. My salary account was not active for the 2 month period, so I did not have as much money to spend as I had hoped for. Every night I was spending hours on the phone – talking to A, my then girlfriend, and she had to pay the bills. Back then we believed the relationship will last forever – at least I did, can’t speak for her. Maybe she did not – she had bet that my infatuation with her will not last for more than an year, and I won that bet. Or so I had believed, till she told her new boyfriend that her last relationship lasted just 6 months – the poor chap called me up when they were breaking up, I wanted to hang up – he had called me up, around the time I had moved to Bangalore, believing A was trying to get back with me, which wasn’t the case. But curiosity got better of me, especially because A and me had started calling the other up almost every day for about three months now – that is from the time I started earning again.
So, A was paying the bills. One fine evening she told me that she had taken a small loan against her gold earrings – one of the last gifts from her father – so she could keep her phone number alive. She was supposed to get them back as soon as we had enough cash. I thought, yeah, we would be rich soon enough. And that’s what love is like – selfless. Years later, when I got her a phone – we had broken up within a month after I gave up my job, I wanted to write and I wanted to see how it felt to be out of job – and then joined a 2 year MBA program, and the end of it I joined a company at Bangalore, we started chatting regularly after the long gap – and she decided I should get her a phone. And I did, because I finally could buy her things she wanted.
So yes, when I got her the phone – Sofia told me how A had said “I am spending so much on the phone bills, selling off my jewelry, and he still doesn’t see how much I love her”, Sofia said she just wanted returns on all those investments – the moment she feels she can’t get any more returns she would break away immediately. I have still not made up my mind if she was right, A and me did completely stop talking with in two months of me getting the phone – I decided not to talk to her anymore after the call from the boyfriend who followed me. The shock of finding out that she had been in a fairly long relationship – and always told me that she was alone, and making up a lot of scenarios that follow being alone – was a bit too much for me. I already had huge trust issues – and this compounded them beyond anything reasonable. I started doubting every word she had uttered over the last 3 years.
Immediately after that I had given up my job – I decided I had accumulated enough savings to try my hand at writing again – once the savings are exhausted, I can find another job. Now that I knew what it was like to be without a job – I really did not find the idea frightening. When the recession had hit and A had lost her job – I told her she was panicking for no real reason, she would find a job with ease, she was better than most people around – but she kept insisting I had no clue what it felt to be jobless. So, I quit my job to understand her better. But I failed badly, as we ended up parting ways in less than 3 months from then.
It wasn’t any better planned this time around. I just knew that I would try to get a collection of my poems out – Garbh Mein, a direct reference to In Utero. I had written an intro explaining how the artist was dead at birth with nothing new to say, but there was something still left in utero, deep in the caves. The collection did come out, but 2 years later – and then, sunk without a trace. That was the time I decided to enter various writing competitions – hoping to earn some money through them. I fancied myself as a professional bounty hunter.
Through one of these competitions, my correspondence with Rishabh started. Some international magazine had come up with a competition – with the best 10 stories and poems being published in an anthology and cash prize for the top 3. I had sent in a story – about a man who is full of guilt after his girlfriend says that she had sex although she was uninterested, just to please him. It came in at #7 in the anthology.
As soon as I got the collection, I read the top prize winner – and thought my story was much, much better. And then I looked at other finalists – at #3 was a story by Rishabh. I had read his poetry/ stories from books I picked up at the used book sellers who set shop on footpaths around the city – and loved his work. Obviously, he hadn’t sold many copies – I had never even heard the name of the publishers. He must have self-published – and there was no other option with most big name publishers being nationalized.
His story was a series of letters, written by an old man living in the 2020s, to his great grandson who contacted him from the future. The vision of a future that came by after the disaster that we are precipitating right now – and reflecting on the mistakes we committed, even though a lot of us still remembered the first emergency, we still let our minds being hacked. Those who could see only thought of how to survive it richer.
That story was also better than #1, was even better than mine, was indeed the best story in the collection – by miles. The personal journey of a man who was shaped by the first emergency captured the whole disaster without ever spelling it out. Reading it, I decided I must contact the author – sent a mail to the publishers of the magazine, and surprisingly they sent me the email address immediately.
He had moved to his hometown – a small village somewhere near Delhi. I wasn’t surprised that he was avoiding the big city, where I believe he lived most of his life – all his stories are of people settled in big cities. In my first letter to him I wrote about how I found his address, and how I hated all other stories in the collection. He replied back immediately encouraging me to participate in more competitions, writing about the life in the village and confessing that he had not read any of the finalists. That he had still not found time to read my story – too busy with his own writing, and reading books he has to review for different magazines overseas. Almost everything of value was now published by publishers oversea. Or was self-published, and if you were lucky, got picked up for republication by one of the established publishers. The Indian houses only churned out propaganda, which was widely loved – maybe because nothing else was available.
He wrote another mail after he read my story – saying it held a lot of promise. But I failed to establish a link between the personal and the public – I would learn to do that with a little more practice. He sent me link to another competition, being held by some NRI living in Caribbean. We did share a lot of stories after that, but I did not participate in any more competition – I did not seem to have the discipline it called for, I preferred poems where I needn’t worry about being logical. He did win a few more cash prizes, and he did keep participating till the very end – till the import of books was banned as well.
By the time the publishing freedoms came back, he was no more. Not sure too many would have read him anyways. But the few who did, write a lot today – some read widely, others incompetent.