Friday, July 30, 2010

Ganga Mail

The archive-list in the new template of my blog gives a year-wise breakup of the number of posts written. And I find that in 2008, the year I wrote Chai, Chai, I had only 15 posts. Fifteen posts in an entire year!

When you are working on a book, especially doing the writing part, it is difficult to keep updating a blog such as this on a regular basis. It takes me about three hours to write a post, and another hour of thinking and drinking before I start writing it. In those four hours I can add at least four hundred valuable words to my manuscript.

I feel sad for Ganga Mail: it is going to be subjected to neglect for the next few months. The blog has been my conscience-keeper, my only channel of communication with people who care for me and read me. But the book is more important: as long as I don't write a second one and then a third one, I can't call myself a writer. A writer, in my definition, is someone who has written at least three books and shows the promise of writing many more -- may be till the time when at least the state government acknowledges your skills and honours you with a minor, local award. Right now, I am only a journalist working for such-and-such paper, who is expected to polish other people's copies so that the paper reads better and who, in his free time, pursues his literary ambitions. What a pain -- to nurse such ambitions.

I get to work around 4.30 in the afternoon, 10 minutes plus or minus. I return home precisely at midnight. I pour myself a drink and start writing. And then I pour many more drinks. By the time I go to sleep, it is usually daybreak when the birds are chirping. I often wish I had woken up just then and gone for a walk in the neighbourhood park -- but such lifestyles are meant for saner, more sober people.

I wake up around noon and go through what I have written the night before. A lot of rewriting to be done, which takes a couple of hours. At around two in the afternoon, I head to the gym to exercise my heart. That's the time when Desperate Housewives are at the gym, wanting to look good, but they only exchange glances and not words. Suits me fine, because once I am at the gym, I am blind to the people until I have finished my quota of cardio -- a two-mile walk under 24 minutes. Lunch is at three -- that's the only time I watch TV -- and by four I am preparing to head to work.

That's my life these days. Ganga Mail should take consolation in the fact that my third book, which is yet to be written but which has been thought out, would be called by the same name. On The Ganga Mail.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Honesty Is The Best Medicine

Mother is gone. Wife has taken her place. Now I can continue to be a child for the rest of my life, because the past 10 days have showed me that my wife is as good a mother to me as my mother.

The past 10 days have been, to say the least, most horrible in my recent memory. As someone who regularly smokes and drinks and keeps irregular hours, throat and chest infections are like cousins with who I muddy my feet in the neighbourhood pond all the time. But this was a viral infection that knocked me dead. I shut myself off from the world, the worldly desires having already deserted me with the onset of 103 degrees fever, and the only desire that would surface now and then would be to be in the possession of a loaded gun that I could put to my head and end my miseries.

One sure-shot sign of recovery is the rekindling of the urge to live -- the urge to do things you are always used to doing. Tonight, touch wood, the urge has come back and that is how I am here, trying to write. But till this morning, I was almost a dead man, kept on the ventilator by an efficient and a concerned wife. She was perhaps sure I would pull through, but I myself wasn't sure at all.

This morning something else happened as well. As soon as I woke up, someone held a mirror to me -- which did not show the ghostly, unshaven me, the sight I was beginning to get used to seeing, but something more promising. It was a review of Chai, Chai in, a website I used to occasionally write for once upon a time.

After 10 months, it felt nice that someone had remembered the book again, and said nice things about it too. No, the review was anything but flattering. But it spoke the truth -- something I value more than just praise. Here is the review: please read it.

Chai, Chai may have a few firsts and pluses to its credit, but it is also true that it isn't the best Indian travel book ever written. In fact I would rewrite most of it if I had a chance now -- a chance I hope to avail of at a later stage. The best Indian travelogue, as the reviewer says, is yet to come. And that's where hope lies for people like me.

But what really made my morning was the reviewer's thought: "This is Ghosh's first book and I get the feeling that as he writes more, he will add that edge and depth to his existing narrative skills. We may yet see the first great Indian travelogue coming from Bishwanath Ghosh." How many, really, make that allowance for you? I owe the reviewer one good book.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Looking At Life In The Time Of Football And Fever

Today is July 1. I can hear the referee's whistle. It's half time. Six months from now, another knock-out match will be over. The scorekeepers will add one more year to the life lived, or subtract a year from your lifetime -- whichever way you choose to look at it. The score is either 1-0, or 0-1. You are the one who wins, you are the one who loses.

The question is how often do you win and how often do you lose?

Whether you want to enter the new year on a losing or a winning note, today is the day to strategise. Six months have gone past, so what? -- another six months are left to make up and maybe even score the winning goal. But when the opponent team is Life, which always has a trick up its sleeve to mindfuck you, even the best of strategies may not work. The idea, I guess, is to lie low and defend your goalpost till the last minute, and just when Life is caught napping, score a big one.

Last year I won, 2-1. In the first half, I achieved something I had always dreamt of: finishing a manuscript of 64,000 words and sending it off to the publisher. Till then, I hadn't written pieces longer than 2,500 words. But as soon as the second half began, my mother died. Minutes before the final whistle went off, however, the book scored a goal on my behalf by going into second reprint. So 2-1.

This year, the game began under the shadow of the terrible goal that Life had scored against me in 2009. My team, even though playing well enough all this while to defend its goalpost, is still licking the wounds from that nasty goal. Even when I recently went to Coonoor, breathing and sleeping in the fresh mountain air amid pin-drop silence, I dreamt about my mother on most nights that I was there.

The dreams were hardly pleasant ones. We, mother and I, were constantly fighting in them -- arguing with each other, shouting at each other. This is what happened in real life too while she was alive: we were always fighting -- the fight that happens when you love and care too much for each other. You sulk and wait for the other person to call, and then you make up only to fight all over again over something really silly.

So the wound that devastating goal from Life had inflicted on me is yet to heal entirely. It is not easy to get over her death when we had been a close-knit family of four for the past four decades. The empty seat in the audience, whose occupant would have otherwise cheered me, is distracting me time and again.

Today, during half time, as I get a breather, I resolve not to look at that chair in the second half and focus of scoring a few winning goals. Maybe after I win, I would go and prostrate before the chair. Let's see how it goes. The second half has just begun.

Today was not the day to have written a post. I am running high temperature and coughing like crazy. I can feel flames erupting out of my skin. Ideally, I should have been in bed by now, after swallowing a Dolo 650 and a spoonful of cough syrup. But I am also my own coach, and how can the coach disappear during half time? So I poured myself a drink instead, and decided to give myself a peptalk.