What's most rewarding about being a writer is that every single moment in your life presents you with raw material that can be turned into a piece of writing. If your bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere and you are stranded for several hours, you have a story to tell. If you happen to be bitten by a dog, you can write write a 500-word humorous piece and send it to a newspaper. If in bed, you happen to find your partner wearing her undies inside out, you can quietly store away that little discovery for use in a future book. Even if you are doing nothing, just lying in bed and watching the blades of the fan rotate furiously, you can use the image to open your new novel -- "Are they blades of a fan or hands of a clock -- he wondered. Time flies, sigh."
In the end that's what makes you feel powerful -- the ability to transform every moment into a story. Money and fame, if at all they come, cease to matter beyond a point. And nothing can be more gratifying for a writer than finding himself a platform from where he can share such -- seemingly -- day-to-day stories with readers without having to write lengthy articles or novels. A newspaper column is one such place.
Until about three years ago, I wrote a column called Sunday Spin in the Express. I don't remember exactly for how long the column ran; I think it was close to three years, initially as a fortnightly and then as a weekly. Every Tuesday night, around 10 o' clock (Wednesday was the deadline for the Sunday magazine to go to print), I would sit in front of the computer wondering what to write. Eventually an idea would arrive and I would manage to flesh it out into a 650-word column by two or three in the morning.
Before going to sleep I would mail it to two people, Sushila Ravindranath and Baradwaj Rangan. Sushila was the editor, while Baradwaj supervised the page in which the column went; so it was natural that I had to mail the piece to them. But the idea behind finishing the column and mailing it to them before daybreak was to make them read it as soon as they switched on their computers in the morning -- while there was still sufficient time left for me to make amends, if required, before the magazine went to print. They were people whose opinion I trusted blindly and I still do. But then, they also happen to be the nicest people I've known. By the time I switched on my laptop after waking up late in the morning, their feedback would be waiting in the inbox: "Very nice" or, simply, "V. Nice." I hope they meant it.
In February 2008 I left Express. I wanted to change with the Times. In the process, Sunday Spin died a sudden death. I had no idea that the column had become so popular until the Valentine's Day that year -- I had already submitted my resignation by then -- when I walked into the WITCO showroom on Cathedral Road with my wife to buy a bag for her. The elderly man at the payment counter, upon seeing my credit card, exclaimed: "Bishwanath Ghosh!" I panicked for a moment: was I on the defaulters' list or something?
"Bishwanath Ghosh. From Sunday Express. Right?"
"That's right. Why?"
"I read your column every Sunday, sir."
I felt like a star. At the same time I also felt a lump in my throat. Until then, I had been receiving complimentary emails and letters from numerous people who read Sunday Spin, but this was the first time -- and also the last -- that I came face to face with a 'lay reader' of Sunday Spin.
"But you won't read me anymore, sir," I told him as I signed the slip. "I've just quit the Express." For the next three years, I did not have a column but I wrote two books -- one already published and another about to be.
Today, Baradwaj and I are colleagues once again -- at The Hindu. And once again, I have a column. Looks like the good times are back. Only that the column is now going to appear on Saturdays in Metro Plus, and under a new name -- Life in a Metro. The deadline, though, remains the same: Wednesday.