I've been blogging frequently of late, so much so that someone recently left an anonymous comment, wondering if I had lost my job. The anonymous soul thinks that if you are fired, you have all the time in the world to blog. On the contrary: a man who has to keep his kitchen fires burning and who has lost his job will be hardly at peace to think up anything blogworthy, or to think of blogging at all.
But frequent blogging is bad for me, nonetheless. Each post that I write eats into the precious time that I should be investing in the Chennai book, which is stranded in the half-done state for several weeks now. But I am weary of weighing words. You take a word in each palm and weigh them mentally for several minutes before deciding which one fits in better in a sentence -- it can be monotonous and tiring!
With the blog there is no such worry: it's your own bedroom, and no one is going to judge you whether you wear a torn lungi to bed or a proper night dress. The blog satisfies your itch to play with words without having to worry about how you put them across. Moreover, Ganga Mail is not a stickler for grammar; its sole guiding spirit is simplicity and honesty.
So of late, each night after I get home, I find telling myself, "Oh no, not the book again. Let me write one more post and then I'll give it a break. I am sure I will find something to write about." A blog post, unlike a book, is about instant publication, and instant publication leads to instant gratification. Therefore we all blog, even while nursing dreams of giving in the hands of the reader that one book whose pages smell better with every passing year.
In any case, it is going to be a long, long time before people reconcile to the idea that reading books no longer requires the physical presence of books. It might have happened in the case of music -- today a gadget tinier than your thumb can store a thousand songs -- but it is one thing to enjoy music and quite another to enjoy reading (enjoyment being the operative part).
To enjoy music, you need only a pair of ears that are in working condition. But to enjoy reading, all the physical senses simultaneously come into play -- the look, the touch, the smell, the sound, above all, the feel of holding a book. When you are reading a story online, you are a slave of the gadget on which you are reading it. If the gadget fucks up, you are screwed. But when you are reading a book, you are the master of what you are holding in your hands.
It is a lot like sex. The computer may provide you with virtual sex and give you the requisite orgasms, but it can never provide you with replacement for a smooch or a penetrative intercourse or even something as simple and gratifying as a mere touch -- no matter how much technology advances. Advocates of technology may argue what's in a touch when it comes to reading -- you now touch books, tomorrow you will get used to the touch of your iPad or Netbook or whatever. What's more, you can take your iPad (or even laptop) along to the bed or to the toilet, just like you carry a book.
But then, society is yet to validate online writing as works of literature: it will take perhaps another 50 years before bloggers become eligible for the Booker, and another 100 before they are considered for the Nobel Prize for literature. Or maybe even more. Till then, we will have to continue producing real books in order to be in the race, in order to be heard, in order to fulfil our ambitions.
My ambition, ever since Chai, Chai was released in September 2009, was to publish one book a year till I attained the age of 45, so that I could look back at my life with a small sense of satisfaction for having gone beyond the arduous task of keeping a job and yet at the same time feeding my ambition to be a writer. Success might eventually come at the age of 50 when I might develop erectile dysfunction and may not need the money that may pour in at that point of time -- but at least the success would keep my brain functional and yearning for more till the time I dropped dead. There can't be any worse death for a writer when his mind dies before his body.
In keeping with my ambition, I was hoping that my Chennai book would published this year. But fantasy and reality, idea and execution -- they are lines that rarely meet. And it is not easy when you are writing about a city you are living in. Each day you wake up to a new idea and to new people, and suddenly you find the complexion of your book changing and the word-length expanding.
I signed the contract for the Chennai book many weeks before Chai, Chai was released. My mother was alive then, and I remember her wishing me "all the best" -- I still remember making that call to her from the car park of my office. In spite of her death, I was confident that the Chennai book would be published in 2010 -- it was highly doable and I did try my best to make it happen. But then, mind is not a machine: it demands far more holidays and breaks and incentives. Needless to say, my next book will reach readers only sometime next year.
But, very strangely, destiny did not let me down. In 2010 too, I managed to get published, thanks to Urban Shots. Urban Shots is not my book, it is a compilation of 29 short stories, only two of which happen to be mine. But what a pleasure it is to hold a book in your hands and flip through the pages and find the sweets of your hard work embedded somewhere among them. Ladies and gentlemen, please buy Urban Shots and read the short stories, not just because Ganga Mail noses its way into it, but because the book is the collective result of enthusiasm and enterprise, of ambition and aspiration. You will know what I mean only when you read it. As far as I am concerned, I have fulfilled, albeit by default, my quota for the year 2010.