I got married in Calcutta in April 2006. Within two months, I went back on a short visit, during which I spent a few hours at Belur Math, the home of Swami Vivekananda. I distinctly remember being overcome by a sense of calm as I stood there, watching the Ganga flow with dignified silence. And then it all came back to me, like a flashback.
It was in the summer of 2004 that I began my journey into self-discovery in the real sense, on the banks of the Ganga. The route was sex. I was in Uttar Pradesh at the time, covering elections, and in the process spending two long, lonely and sexless months roaming its dusty towns. There was a brief respite from the loneliness when I caught up with my friend Sanjay at Ayodhya. There, one morning, after attending L.K. Advani's press conference, the two of us went to the makeshift Ram temple that sits on the rubble of Babri masjid, and then to the banks of the Sarayu river.
Legend has it that Lord Rama drowned himself in this river. Sanjay and I stood there in silence for a while, and that's when I noticed her. She was good-looking, and must not have been more than thirty years old. Accompanied by another woman, perhaps a relative, she emerged out of the river. They walked into a thatched shed, which seemed to be a changing area. There, this woman first got rid of her wet blouse, and then took her sweet time changing. All along, her wet breasts hung loose, glistening under the morning sun. The other woman, the relative, looked at her in shock. But she simply didn't acknowledge that look of shock and went about the elaborate process of changing while being topless. Little did she know -- or maybe she did -- that a tornado was building up inside me.
Advani's rath proceeded to Bihar, Sanjay returned to Delhi. I came back to Kanpur. I was alone again. Alone and tormented. I decided: I'd done enough of election reporting, and that I must now take a short break, maybe in Haridwar. Why Haridwar? Because it was cooler, it was in the lap of Himalayas, and it had a river where people bathed.
So one April morning, I arrived in Haridwar, a cool breeze brushing past my cheeks as I took a cycle-rickshaw from the station in search of a hotel. It seemed the Gods had decided to favour me: that day happened to be the day of ardh kumbh, of half kumbh, an extremely auspicious day to take a dip in the Ganga. That afternoon, sitting on the steps of Har-Ki-Pauri, the ghat, I had my fill of breasts. Breasts that were big and small, young and old, rich and poor, sophisticated and rustic, urban and rural. The tornado had subsided. But another storm began to build up. It led me further up the Ganga.
I don't quite remember when that storm subsided, but it left me with a blog, On The Ganga Mail, a title that was inspired by this article I wrote for my paper. And thus began the journey of a man in search of himself who, night after night, would labour and transform his joys and agonies into words and sentences. And then, one day, the man got married and was suddenly at peace -- peace induced by the fact that he no longer returned to an empty home and therefore had no time to agonise over trivial things.
It was this peace that I experienced as I stood at Belur Math that morning, three years ago. I thought: my journey is the same as that of Ganga. It began with turbulence, in the Himalayas, and now it ends in such a serene manner in the plains of Bengal. Why can't Ganga Mail, the blog, be turned into a book so that this journey gets recorded for posterity?
I wrote to two publishers. One of them outrightly said, "We are not interested in publishing blogs. Please get back to us if you have a novel." Another hemmed and hawed, basically asking me to fuck off but not in so many words. I then showed my blog to the editor of a publishing house that brought out only academic books. The idea was to get an opinion. The editor, a young but highly talented man, wrote to me saying that while he liked what I wrote, it was highly unlikely that any publisher would ever touch it. Reason? I was not a big name and, therefore, nobody would be interested in the personal crap that I wrote. He was only speaking the truth, and I admired him for that.
Today, as a blogger, I am like an aspiring actor who hasn't gone beyond performing for himself in front on the bathroom mirror. I might be a great actor, but no director is going to come to my bathroom to see how well I act. I shall remain anonymous and die anonymous. But if I were to become a successful actor, then there would be people waiting outside my bathroom to record my performance in front of the mirror so that they could make documentaries or at least put the clips on Youtube. And mind you, the actor in me hasn't changed one bit: I am the same actor who once performed in front of the mirror and who is now delivering hits. It is success that makes people change the way they look at you. Which is fine. But the sad part is, while merit leads to success, success never looks at merit. It only look at names and faces that are already associated with success.
In 2006, London's Sunday Times sent out the opening chapter of V.S. Naipaul's 1971 Booker-winning In A Free State to 20 agents and publishers. Only the name of the author and the names of the principle characters were changed in the 'manuscript'. To the newspaper's great surprise, the 'manuscript' only got rejection slips! Not a single publisher touched it. Conversely, if the paper had sent out pages from the diary of a London teenager, passing it off as a journal that Naipaul had kept during his younger days, there would have been a minor riot among the same set of agents and publishers.
A friend of mine, who spent a few years in New York before returning to Chennai, was telling me a story the other day. In New York, as also in other Western cities, you find musicians (in India you'd equate them with beggars) who play in subways and pavements. People who have a few minutes to spare gather around these subway musicians for a while and then move on. If they feel generous, they drop a few coins into the open guitar or violin case. One day, a well-known musician decide to play in one of the subways. He played for a couple of hours but no one recognised him or bothered to stop. He was the same musician people would have paid hundreds of dollars to watch him perform, but he was right here, performing for free, in a subway but no one bothered to stop and listen. The logic is simple: if a musician is performing in a subway, he can't be great. Or, if a musician is great, he can't be performing in a subway. Conversely, get an Olympic wrestler and dress him up in a jacket and a bow tie and hand him a violin and ask him to wrestle with the instrument in an opera theatre, he'll most certainly be welcomed as the messiah of 'New Music.'
Success depends a lot on your coordinates. How to get to those coordinates -- that's the real success story. Everything falls into place after that.