It is one thing to write a newspaper column or a blog post, quite another to write a book. I am not stating anything new, just that I am realising it the hard way (as if there was any other way). Writing a column is like running a 100-m race. You pump yourself up and start running: the finishing line is in sight and you know have to make it, come what may.
But when you are working on a book, it is like being the sole participant in a 10,000-m race. Doesn't matter how long you take, but you have to reach the finishing line at some point. Since publishers are not going to wait till eternity, you have to keep running till your senses tell you that you've reached what looks like the finishing line. But that could just be a mirage: what looks like the finishing line to you might not be so for the publisher. So you sweat on, like a Kenyan runner.
And when you are writing a travel book, it is not just the running that matters: you also wonder about the style of your running. Should it be sprightly like Bill Bryson? Or have the lazy pace of Pico Iyer? Or consistent like Paul Theroux?
As you run, you also find two people standing on either side of the track and bucking you up: "Run like me!" One of them is a bearded West Indian called V.S. Naipaul, and the other a bearded Indian called Pankaj Mishra. You can't ignore them: Naipaul became famous only after he started travelling, while Mishra became a celebrity after he travelled to some small towns in India and noticed butter chicken being served in Ludhiana.
But end of the day, this is my race. None of the gentlemen I've mentioned above is going to hold my hand and pull me to the finishing line. I've to follow my own rhythm and style to complete the 10,000 metres. And since I am the only participant, I will never know whether I've done well or not till the crowd cheers.