Monday, March 23, 2009
Blogging And Dreaming
...So that night when it suddenly began to rain soon after they had ended up doing what they shouldn't have, considering that she was another man's wife, he was surprised as well as relieved. Do you hear that? It's raining," he whispered to her. She didn't respond. She lay clinging to him, absent-mindedly drawing invisible geometrical figures on his bare chest. "Do you hear that? It's raining," he said again. This time she looked up at him shyly, her face glowing in the darkened room. She smiled at him and nodded. They locked their lips and bodies once again and rolled over, trampling upon the guilt-bug that was lurking on the bed.
The Guilt Bug is the first short story I've ever attempted. If at all it can be called a short story, that is. It's barely 1,500 words long, and ends rather abruptly. But am glad that I wrote it because now I know I can do it, having made several false starts -- in the last 10 years -- for novels that have remained in my head.
The first few paragraphs of Guilt Bug were also meant to be the opening of a novel I've had in my head for a long, long time now. They were written exactly five years ago, in a hotel in the small but charming town of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. I was on a two-month assignment to cover the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in the state, and Rampur was the last town on my itinerary.
The hotel, if my memory serves right, was called Delite. One cloudy afternoon, after roaming the town on a cycle rickshaw and getting people's views on the contest between two women, actress Jaya Prada and the widow of the former nawab of Rampur, I retired to the hotel and sent the boy to get a quarter bottle of whisky. After pouring myself a drink, I switched on the TV and began watching the news. The breaking news of the day was the mad scramble among sadhus to take a dip in the Ganga. It was an auspicious day, I gathered from the news, and hence the scramble.
Suddenly it struck me: "It's an auspicious day. Why don't you begin your book today?" So I switched off the TV and reached for my notebook and wrote these lines. Somehow, I couldn't proceed beyond the point when the two characters make love and crush the guilt-bug lurking on the bed. I had the basic story in my head, but I found myself impotent when it came to fleshing out the skeleton. So I left it at that and returned to the election campaign.
Then one day, just the other day, I came across those handwritten lines -- a piece of paper neatly folded and forgotten inside a notebook. Life was pumped into the flattened, bloodless bug and the remaining story was written in about two hours. I had intended to make the story longer, but that night I was running short on patience and alcohol. So I decided to wind it up as quickly as possible, and therefore, the abrupt ending. I was more eager to see if I could actually write a story -- from the start to finish. And I was glad that I could finish it -- so glad that I actually sent the story to New Yorker magazine. In my mildly drunken state, I believed I had written a gem of a story. Thankfully, the sun always rises sooner than later to sober you down. So the story got published instantly the morning after, without any evaluation, in my home publication called The Ganga Mail.
But come to think of it, it isn't a bad story that I've written. Really. When I read it a couple of times after writing it, I could actually visualise the couple in the bedroom -- the unsaid words creating the atmosphere more than those said. It's actually a minor achievement for someone who, till five years ago, didn't know how to proceed from point A to point B in a story without losing his own interest or making his reader lose interest. But then, five years ago, I did not blog. Blogging helps. Imagine a bunch of kids tugging at the trouser of an old man, "Grandpa, grandpa, please tell us a story." The old man pauses and clears his throat and begins, "Ok, once upon a time, there was a king..." And the kids sit in rapt attention. Blogging is a similar throat-clearing exercise. It teaches you to synthesise your innermost thoughts and translate them into words and tell a story that people will listen to.
Someday -- hopefully someday soon -- Guilt Bug would be a full-length novel. Since the story breeds on human unhappiness, it shouldn't be difficult to expand its length. Unhappiness is something that is not difficult to find at all: it is as common as the air we breathe. If anything, it is happiness that is elusive: you only find it in communist countries like North Korea or Cuba, where you are told, "Better be happy or else..." Come to think of it, most of us live in imaginary dictator-ruled communist countries, where you have to appear to be happy all the time, where even raising an eyebrow can be considered an act of defiance and attract censure. But raising an eyebrow is also the first step towards freedom, and I hope my novel raises a million eyebrows. As of now, though, the novel is only a dream -- only that the dream, this time, is not beyond touching distance.