Friday, February 15, 2008

A Farewell And A Beginning

This Sunday, the column which I have written for nearly three years will appear for the last time. Some readers will miss it, even then only for a week or two; while some others will say, "Good that he is gone! How could he write stuff like that!"

Anyway, I will miss my column and my paper, at least for a while. Seven years in the same place can bind you as well as bore you, and there comes a time when you have to make a choice. Still, the paper has given me a lot more than I could give it, and I shall forever be grateful. Yesterday, I went to a store to buy a handbag -- Valentine's Day gift -- for my wife, who had suprised me the night before by placing a pair of party shirts under my pillow. As I signed the receipt, the man who had swiped my card said, "Bishwanath Ghosh, Indian Express. Right?" I was taken aback a bit. "I read your columns, sir." Just when recognition was coming even from people who ran shops, well...

I am looking at the brighter side. The compulsion of writing a weekly column, which remained as fresh as a tomato would without refrigation, was distracting me from bigger things I dream of. My dream is to produce grains of fine rice, which needs no refrigeration and which tastes better with every passing year. Books.

In the past two weeks, two events happened that have shaken me up and strengthened my resolve to work on the books that I have planned. One, the evening I spent with Saeed Mirza -- the director of films like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai and Saleem Langde Pe Mat Ro, and the unforgettable serial called Nukkad. He has just written a book, Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother -- a book that I recommend to all. He shows you the real India.

That evening, we met him at the adda -- an informal gathering of selected people that happens every time a writer is in town. Mirza, still dashing in his sixties, sipped whisky and smoked as he held forth on the birth of his book. The book has been published by Tranquebar Press, which will also publish my travel book (as soon as I finish writing it). I felt rather proud when my publisher introduced me to Mirza as, "He is one of our Tranquebar writers."

Mirza's book is primarily the result of his travels across -- literally -- the length and breadth of the country and meeting the common man. "I have a house in Goa, and often while driving from Bombay to Goa, I ask the driver to take a detour. So we get into the interiors of Maharashtra, then to Andhra Pradesh, to Tamil Nadu, to Kerala, to Karnataka, and then to Goa. So what should take three days takes three months," he said.

When I managed to find him alone to sign a copy (which he signed as "In friendship -- Saeed"), I told him how my mother, my brother and I were enraged when, way back in 1984, our father took us to the theatre to watch Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai. "What a boring film," we rebuked my father. Saaed laughed. "Well, I spent Rs 12 lakhs to make the film, and I earned 48 lakhs. So if you go by the ratio, it made more money than Om Shanti Om!"

I asked him a few questions casually, at which he said he needed another drink. I went and got his glass refilled. But by then, other people had gathered him. Meanwhile, the heady cocktail of single-malt and the conversation with him had my head spinning with ideas. I headed home to work on my book.

Event no. 2: my meeting with one of my idols -- Paul Theroux, the great travel writer. Anyone who has written books like The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express needs to be worshipped with garlands and incense sticks. This morning, I attended a workshop he held for aspiring writers, and in the evening, listened to him at Landmark, the bookstore, as he spoke about his journey as a writer. Needless to mention, I also got my entire Theroux collection signed by him. And how beautifully he signed them, unlike most busy writers who just scribble something as a token.

After I finish writing this post, a challenging task awaits me: writing about Theroux's visit -- my farewell piece for the paper, to appear next weekend. I would like share a couple of tips Theroux had for aspiring writers:

1. Write long-hand: that gives you enough time to think and rethink your thoughts.

2. Get a job and get away from home. At home, your folks won't take your passion for writing seriously. In other words, travel.