Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Two Cities

These are difficult times -- packed with anxiety and the occasional dose of excitement -- for me. Till midnight, I am the City Editor of Chennai's biggest paper; and around quarter past midnight, when I have checked the last of the local pages on my tiny netbook screen, I click open the draft of my Calcutta book and get transported to that city and stay there, quite often, till the sky is just about to change colours.

Straddling two cities, and trying to do justice to both, is not easy. The moment I focus on one, the other starts nudging me for attention. So much so that when I wake up in the morning, I often forget where I am, until I notice the window. In the Chennai bedroom, the window is on my right, and in Calcutta, on the left. This worries me, because my mother used to always say, 'Never place a foot each in two boats, you will drown.' Will I drown?

I did not have this fear while writing Tamarind City. I live in Chennai, and it was a book about Chennai: so every single moment I breathed provided me with raw material to draw from. But then, the fear of drowning did not haunt me even when I was writing Chai, Chai, which was about seven different and diverse places other than Chennai.

I don't know where Chai, Chai will stand in a few years from now -- either they will find it endowed with literary value, or it will simply go out of print and be forgotten -- but it was a book I enjoyed writing. Those railways junctions offered an escape from Chennai each night as I sat in front of my laptop, midnight till 4 a.m. Only concrete benches, no benchmarks -- so I just wrote, and wrote with great pleasure.

But Calcutta is a different ballgame. It is easily the most written-about city in India. Sometimes celebrated, mostly derided, but rarely ignored by writers during the three centuries the city has been in existence. Almost everything has been written about it and almost everything about it written. So what new am I going to write, and how is it going to measure up to what has already been written about the city? That's worry no. 1.

Worry no. 2 is the discerning eye of the Bengali reader. Calcutta Bengalis are very sporting when someone makes fun of them (they'd even contribute a joke or two to your repository of Bengali jokes), but very touchy when it comes to their city or their icons. If you fail to see poetry in the faults of Calcutta, the fault is yours and not that of the fault.

And if the fault-finder happens to be a fellow Bengali, especially a non-resident Bengali, he will be instantly sentenced to death by residents fiercely loyal to their city -- residents whose guiding slogan in life is "Saala, jai bolish, Kolkata chhere ki thhaaka jaaye?"

Worry no. 3: the critics. I can already see them shredding the yet-to-be-published book into tiny pieces, saying how little I understand of Calcutta or Calcutta culture. (I can even visualise the editor of Outlook Traveller -- the only publication to rubbish both my earlier books, that too in a tone that reeked of malice -- engaging a reviewer to savage the book. Though I may just be rescued by the sudden closure of the magazine: if Newsweek is shutting down, then what field does this raddish called Outlook Traveller belong to?)

These are worries weighing heavily on my mind, but as long as they don't weigh me down, I should be fine.


Anonymous said...

oh! ho! don't worry so much. This books is going to be the best of them all.:)

Paresh Palicha said...

Don't worry too much BG, as long as the publisher of your book doesn't make a loss on the first print run, it is ok.

About some reviewer trashing your effort, it also should be perfectly ok, because ultimately he is just concerned about his own livelihood & not about your point of you.

And, when mass murderers are absolved & even anointed just because they are wearing a 'leader's' garb, a lowly writer like you 'is radish of which farm?' In the end, you too will be forgiven & (sadly) forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Long long time ago..u once wrote " have faith real faith doesnt matter i u dont belive in God"....
...U write driven by passion and love... and honest fearless passion is faith.. faith always triumphs....So why worry why fear.
Write...with faith ..real faith..doesnt matter if they dont belive in u..
There are many who do.... they long and love...always!!!Write for them !!!


Anonymous said...

Your worries are genuine.Bongs from Cal Do not agree easily Either they contradict or add sth to it :)
They don't think very high of Non Resident Bongs :)
You hv an advantage of having one of them by your side,she would forewarn u in case u make a lil mistake here or a big blunder there.
All the best.

Sudeep said...

Truly, a lot has been written about Kolkata, but if you are trying anything like the Chennai book – the khichdi of history, politics, culture, movie there would surely be not more than a handful, if any at all. It’s a khichdi that’s not easy to make, but is excellent if done well – and you have already done it once.

ravindra rajput said...

Waiting for your new book.... and planning to read your book chai chai..