Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eight Years To Go

The last rays of the sun streamed in from the door of the drawing room that once hosted many luminaries and still draws celebrity visitors.

Ajay Das and I sat on either side of the door, with the sunlight illuminating the lines of my right palm which he was reading with a magnifying glass.

'One thing I can tell you, you are highly ambitious,' Das told me as he felt the palm.

'But will I be famous? A famous writer?' I asked him.

'Yes, but not before the age of fifty. You still have eight years to go.'

'Eight more years? Nothing before that?'

'What I mean is,' he leaned back on the chair, 'you will reach the peak of your popularity at fifty.'

I thought: what's the point reaching the peak of popularity at fifty when I would already be climbing down the hill into the waiting arms of old age? Then, second thoughts: these days, when life begins at forty, and considering that I published my first book only at thirty-nine, recognition at fifty isn't such a bad deal.

Das had been watching a Mohun Bagan versus East Bengal match on TV when I called on him at his ancestral home in north Calcutta. At eighty, he is one of the oldest surviving members of the K.C. Das family, the famous confectioners. He had abandoned the match to show me around the four-storey house, built in 1929, and as our conversation veered from one subject to another, Das, a bachelor, revealed that astrology and palm-reading were among his hobbies and had offered to read mine.

'When you come next time, bring your horoscope along. If I go through it, I can be more precise with the dates,' Das told me as I got up to leave.

I lied to him that I would. I did not want precision: a fair degree of uncertainty is always good when it comes to the knowledge of your own future. In fact, uncertainty is the only truth when it comes to the future. Yet one likes to hear nice things from astrologers. You secretly borrow hope and confidence from them even if you don't believe in astrology. I walked out of the K.C. Das home with a smile. But I had other reasons as well to smile.

I started working on the Calcutta book in the spring of 2011, and in the two years that have passed since, I have gathered sufficient material to paint a first-class portrait of the city. But the question is: will I be able to? It's one thing to collect material, quite another to transform it into an engaging book. For a writer, an experience is of little use unless he is able to express it in words effectively enough to make the reader undergo the same experience.

At least I've gathered the ammunition: that's forty percent of the battle won. When I landed in Calcutta two years ago to write the book, I was banking mainly on friends living there to help me discover the city. But, as I have increasingly realised over the years, people who you consider to be friends are of little help when you need them the most. Your life is of no interest to them. In contrast, people whom you barely know and expect very little from turn out to be your biggest benefactors in times of need. And so, I had total strangers holding my hand and leading me into the lanes of Calcutta. I don't wish to embarrass them by naming them here, but I shall remain indebted to them.

But now comes the path that I will have to negotiate all by myself: writing. It is so much easier to post a picture on Facebook: it takes barely five seconds. But to describe the same picture is words, five hours -- even five days. Why describe, then? That is because when you post a picture, readers merely 'see' it, but when you take the trouble of describing, the readers get inside the frame -- they 'experience' it. Pictures merely show, whereas writing tells.

And so, the journey begins. Long, lonely and arduous. I have for company two laptops, two Rubberband notebooks (with chrome yellow pages) that arrived this afternoon, several fountain pens and about three dozen books that I have kept aside to dip into from time to time for relief and inspiration. It shouldn't be so difficult considering I have been through it before: twice.

What I can't believe is how quickly these two years have passed. Wasn't it only the other day when I left Times of India and spent a month in Calcutta before returning to Chennai to join The Hindu? If two years can pass even before I could blink, can eight years be too long a time?

12 comments:

Paresh Palicha said...

You were famous while working in SEX itself. At 42 you're famous as a writer of books. So, 50 maybe the year for winning the Nobel or some other prestigious award. :)

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

Paresh: You must clarify to the readers that SEX stood for Sunday Express :)

Anonymous said...


..Eight years,blink of an eye,if you look at the larger picture..like,er, the universe has been arond for a trillion?!

and fame..but thought you already had that..of course if fame is defined by how your books and blog has connected people!-but if fame means million rupee deals and brans endorsements..you have a long way to go..i guess?!

Anonymous said...

That one Great Book by Bishwanath is not that far now. But it won't come by ur deliberations. It'll just happen.
When the calling wd come, U won't b able to hold urself back. And when it'd come out in the world, U'll wonder, did U really planned it.

So, move ahead dear. U r going right.

Shefali Tripathi Mehta said...

Good luck with the writing! Will look forward to updates on this to learn how the pros do it :)

Anonymous said...

You showed him ur palm in a begging posture? Not ur type of act.. u r already famous. hero ho..:)

Anonymous said...

Best wishes BG on behalf of your blog readers for your upcoming Kolkata book as well as for your next eight years journey towards reaching the peak.....

Arun t said...

You can climb the ladder of fame even before that:)

Anonymous said...

Bishi,i wasn't really impressed to know you were writing a book on travel,or expending your skills to express love for the foster city of chennai.You should instead write about wine,women,life and love.Philosophy suits you best and you have a profound insight into things.

Anonymous said...

"Pictures merely show, whereas writing tells."......yes...
please keep telling .... seeing is nvr gud enough... nvr..
while u strive to be the best writer the world... some ppl, who think u alread r one.. pray that it nvr changes...
yus...time flies...looks like it was just yesterday ....when it was chennai ... now kolkotta.....
kudos to the vagabond soul !!!
..or is it a quest.....
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xn5rvhjKIlQ)

P...

Arun t said...

Hello:) My name is Arun, your fan. Would like to follow you on facebook. But how can i . I searched , but did not able to find. Give me your user name.

Anubhuti said...

I can hardly wait for your next book, also because it's on the city I love to hate. And fifty is the new forty, as they say. Awaiting your reaching fifty but before that,the one & only Calcutta through your pen !!