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An Onam Feast for Life

Nearly a year ago, I released my book, Life is an emoji, which is a collection of Life articles curated from my column in Khaleej Times, written since 2010. It is a brilliant book with such refined nuggets chipped from everyday things that I was certain it would be lapped up by people, instantly.

Did they?

Come on, when the world is at its wit’s end, without a frigging idea of how to stay alive, when each morning brings with it a new set of ‘will we, won’t we’ kind of colossal challenges, what will a book on Life’s little things cling on to? Do you think it will even appear on the periphery of people’s mind? Fat chance.

It was a dismal period that gave us all a taste of real-time apocalypse. Readers had priorities that were more important than a book called ‘Life is an emoji’. Understandably so. We were in times that played trapeze between life and death. A book that should have been a lifeline struggled for breath. But there is one good thing about books. They may bleed but they will never die. They may lose steam but will never vaporize. Like the Bard wrote in his Sonnet 55, the words we write will outlive every memory and monument.

So ‘Life is an emoji’ spent its time in relative oblivion for a year until yesterday, when time blew a powerful gust of air into its Covid-hit lungs.

You must notice how tiny miracles happen in life. So tiny that you will miss them if you don’t pause and pay attention. Yet so big that you will sink to your knees in gratitude if you reckon their random occurrences. They appear from the most mundane spaces of our daily life.

A friend I hadn’t met in nearly two years invited us home yesterday. She was among those who had booked a copy of ‘Life is an emoji’ at the time of its release, but things went south for everyone after that, and the book couldn’t find its way to its deserving owner. But yesterday, when I got an invitation to her house, I duly remembered to take the book with me.

I didn’t know if the book still had any relevance to her; if she still coveted it now as she did back then. I wasn’t sure if she would love to read the articles that I had gleaned from Life spread over the years on a news page. Her love for my writing was undisputed and this conviction alone prompted me to take a copy with me. Call it hope or faith.

Thus, after a year of waiting, the book reached its destination. As I signed my name on the first page before handing it to her, I wondered for a fleeting moment if I was imposing it on her.

Allow me my candour.

Authors always doubt their place in their readers’ hearts, no matter how many books old they become or how much support they marshal around them.

Just as common it is for writers to take their readers for granted and dish out mediocre fare after a point, it is equally common for them to underestimate the loyalty and love of their readers. Blame it on the writer’s innate sense of insecurity. It is inevitable in a domain where there is no fixed demarcation of who is excellent and who is half-pint. In a space where, as a friend remarked, there is no clear ‘entry point’.

But I was in luck. My friend’s joy at receiving the book was boundless. And when she paid for it, without the slightest demur, I felt Life (is an emoji) had come a full circle.

Doubts briefly dissipated. Self-belief found new pastures. The voice that buffered my spirits in bleak times spoke to me again. “There are people who value your work. There are people who feel it is worth the wait. You don’t own your writing. Your writing owns you. Forever.”

For a writer, every penny that comes from her book is tantamount to a fortune. I took the money with gratitude, shoved it into my husband’s chest pocket. Upon return from their place, he put it at the altar, a practice that we always follow as an expression of gratitude for every little grace and blessing.

Now, here comes the tiny miracle that I was referring to earlier.

It was Onam today.

In a house of two, preparing an Onam sadya is tedious and a major waste because our appetites have significantly shrunk now. So, following the current trend, we ordered in our feast today. When the delivery man rang the bell, I knew where exactly to reach out for the money to pay him.

At the altar.

The exact amount that I had to pay him had come from the book I had sold yesterday. I hadn’t made a million from the sale of my book, but it paid for my Onam feast today.

It might come across as a show of cloying sentimentality to many, but to me it was remarkable. The next time I am prompted to tell someone as a matter of fact that writing doesn’t feed me, I will remember this day and swallow my words.

For once, literally, my writing fed me. Sumptuously.

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