Sometime this month, without my realising it, Ganga Mail turned two years old. Right now, when I am on my second drink after a long day, I feel like saying, "Who cares!" But let me not forget the days when I started blogging. At the time, I had felt like a mouse gatecrashing into a party of lions: who will read me, and why should they read me, when there is so much of good stuff around?
After two years, I haven't become a lion. But I am no longer a mouse either. Maybe I have become a dog, whose loyalty makes him snuggle up to the reader every now and then, irrespective of the reader's moods and whims. But let me tell you, at the cost of sounding pompous, that whenever I have written a post, I've worked very hard at it -- usually spending the entire night grappling with sentences before clicking on the 'publish post' button. Whether that's been worth or not, I do not know. Whether I have succeeded or not, that also I do not know. End of the day, I feel happy that I have a blog in which my emotions during the most important phase of my life remain recorded.
And as I pour my third and final drink for the night, I would like to raise a toast to those five people who have kept me going, and who will keep me going even in a situation where I might feel like giving it all up.
1. W. Somerset Maugham: The books published by Vintage carry a picture of him on the back cover: Maugham, who appears to be in his late thirties in that picture, looks straight into the reader's eyes. Six or seven years ago, when I was heavily into Maugham, I would stare into those eyes for hours, hoping that my gaze would bring him alive and make him impart his writing skills to me. Of course, I would be pissed drunk during the gazing sessions. I stopped the practice once I learned that he was gay.
2. Ved Mehta: I stole one of his books from a library I would not name. Stole as in, I never returned it. And I am proud of it because the book is long out of print, and is unlikely to be available unless... you know what I mean. The book, called The Portrait of India, contains some of his most brilliant essays. If there's a writer whose style I love and would like to imitate, that's Ved Mehta. Read his account of his meeting with R.K. Narayan in New York, and read Narayan's account of the same meeting. You will know what I mean. Mehta, by the way, is blind; and if you keep that in mind while reading his descriptions, you will gasp: "What the fuck!"
3. V.S. Naipaul: A House For Mr Biswas is a book I would like to keep in my puja room and light incense sticks every evening. But there are people who would like to spit on An Area of Darkness every morning, even without having read the book. But between these two books, he wrote dozens of short stories, including humorous ones -- stuff every aspiring writer should turn to for instruction. Try A Flag on the Island. I am so glad I saw the man, in flesh and blood, during a book-reading and got that book (Magic Seeds) signed by him. But I wasn't glad to see his temper: he scolded his wife, in public. She was sifting through the papers that contained questions put to Naipaul by the audience (the couple had announced that only written questions, that too the ones they selected, would be answered). The rustling of the papers kept irritating Naipaul, who was busy answering questions with utmost concentration and sincerity. When he couldn't take it any longer, he turned to the wife and growled: "It distracts me when you do that." The wife did not know where to look.
4. Dom Moraes: When I read his autobiography, My Son's Father, ten or twelve years ago, I decided I wanted to be him. When I read the sequel, Never At Home, my decision became firmer. Dom was my role model. Whatever he wrote subsequently was a rehash of some chapter or the other of these two books. Still, he was my hero. In 1997 or 1998, when the filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya died, Dom faxed a touching poem to the paper I worked for then. Dom and Basuda were close friends. The editor, who fancied himself as the Almighty's gift to mankind (rather womankind), put the fax copy into the wastepaper basket. I was heartbroken. Years later, I met Dom in Chennai. He had come to promote his new book, whose name I forget, which he had co-authored with a woman called Sarayu. He was frail, suffering from throat cancer, though he chain-smoked throughout the evening. I bought the book on the spot and got it autographed. He told me: "Please get it signed by Sarayu as well." I ignored his instruction and instead, pulled out the two other books I was carrying: My Son's Father and Never At Home. He affectionately wrote, "For BG", in their yellowing pages, and I did not mind dying the next moment. But within a few months, Dom was dead.
5. James Cameron: No, not the director of Titanic, but the respected British journalist who covered pre-Independence politics as well the 1971 war in Bangladesh, and in between acquired an Indian wife. An Indian Summer, which he wrote while recuperating from a near-fatal accident during the war coverage, is the most sparkling and from-the-heart account of the India that the present generation has missed out on. Thankfully, the book is still in print. In the past 10 years, I have bought seven copies, including two for myself. No, I don't possess two copies: sometime ago I had lent my copy to a girlfriend, who later denied having seen the book at all. "I think you were too drunk to realise which book you were giving me." That was that. I discarded the girlfriend, and bought myself another copy.