I have not learned to write.
No one has taken me through the literary paces.
I didn’t have literature growing in my backyard.
My parents weren’t professors, professionals or high achievers.
I was an average Jane for the longest time.
Although I did my schooling in an English medium school, we spoke the language minimally and wrote it essentially as part of our studies. I just knew my tenses and my spellings. Nothing more fancy.
Later in college, I chose literature for my Bachelors because I sucked at science and math. Emboldened by the tidbit prizes I had won in stray contests and a compliment by a relative who had read my embarrassingly amateur poems, I decided – Literature it will be.
However, I didn’t fall in love with poetry, prose or drama as one would have expected. With due respect to the teachers who walked us through the three years, I must say this – I couldn’t appreciate literature and nothing I learned there contributed to whatever I am today. No one showed me the glorious side of poetry or touched on the nuances and said, ‘Look, feel, relish the subtlety in this line’.
I could neither identify a beautiful metaphor nor go euphoric over an imagery. I was probably aesthetically challenged then or my faculties hadn’t matured enough. As a result, I merely graduated in English Literature. With neither love nor understanding. My relationship with the subject could at best be described as ‘ambivalent’.
But I loved to read. I loved the new words and fancy phrases that I came across in the bits and scraps I read. They gave me a high. I systematically wrote them down in a diary, revisited them and marveled at their lexical beauty time and again. While I did this, a bond was waiting to establish between the written word and me. I would like to call it some sort of literary serendipity.
Even so, I hadn’t the slightest intention of becoming an author in future. What absurdity! Ordinary people like me didn’t become authors!
Being a writer meant holding enviable academic degrees, having a handful of books in your name, being on the bestselling list, having impressive tags, being talked about by people and a lot more. And that was such a long shot in my estimate. No, ordinary folks didn’t become authors. They merely lurked around writing mushy poems in their diaries, sent stories to women’s magazines and waited for rejection slips all their life. (Who then had even thought of social media and such?)
And then, sometime in the mid 90s, Marquez entered my life. Who Marquez? The ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ guy, of course. I bought a dog-eared copy of the book from a second-hand seller. I carried it with me like the Bible. I sidled through it with great effort, without realizing that I was reading the translation and the language wasn’t originally the writer’s himself. But the book knocked me off kilter. Inspired by it, I was seized by a fever to give expression to my thoughts, in words that created pictures.
Even through the initial scramble, I didn’t make efforts to learn the technique because I was blessedly ignorant about ‘writing’ having a prescribed method. I didn’t know that people went to universities to master it and then went on to become established writers. I just went by instinct, writing whatever came to my mind. It was a period of free writing with no purpose. It was exhilarating. I reveled in it like a surfer riding the ocean wave, without the slightest idea of becoming an author still. A story here, a story there, a few dozens of poems and short articles constituted my pointless, unread repertoire.
And then one day, Roy won the Booker and it changed my fate. Strange, but true. Reading Roy was a turning point in my life. It said to me that to be an author, you just had to write from your heart. It didn’t matter where you stood presently. There is a way forward, to some place. If not to Booker, at least to a reader’s heart.
I created my own maxim and pinned it to my consciousness. ‘Every time you write, write it as if it is your own life story.’
In 2001, on a whim, I started my first novel, Sand Storms, Summer Rains. What an intrepid soul I must have been to set out on a blind project that took four years to complete and ended at 450 printed pages! How insolent towards the craft of writing to have ventured it without training or practice! The purists would have skinned me alive. What a huge leap of faith it was for me!
Somewhere between then and now, over reams of words and phrases, over crumpled sheaves and deleted passages, I morphed into a writer. Without me realizing it. I stamped every little piece I wrote with authenticity. Slowly, what I wrote began to touch lives. And as it happened, I mellowed from a fierce employer of words and phrases to a simple raconteur whose only aim was to tell stories that only sought to warm the hearts of fellow human beings. No highbrow themes, no definite genre, no veiled activism, nor any specific literary style. My writing, in short, became a kaleidoscope through which to watch life.
I may still not fit the technical definitions of an established author, but I know a lot has changed between the time I believed I could not be a writer and now – when my book ‘After The Rain’ coyly sat in the bestseller seat on Amazon. I take this as another poignant moment in my rites of passage from an average Jane to an author who can strike a chord with those who believe the joy of life lies in the small things.
Success isn’t about where others see you. It is about where you find yourself. It is not about how many miles are there to go. It is about how many paces you have come.
(My new book ‘After The Rain – stories that bind us’ is now available on Amazon all over.)