Writing is a passion that one develops when one starts reading, especially at a young age. There is something about being able to transport others into situations of your making and involving them in the lives of characters from your imagination that is incredibly exciting. The problem, though, is that making a living from writing is as incredibly tough and the idea of starving in a garret for the sake of your art is not really attractive to everyone.
In 1980, when I had just completed school in India, there were only two options for relatively certain employability – Engineering or Medicine. There were not too many seats available in either stream and getting admitted into a college to study either was a cause for celebration. Having managed to get admitted to study Chemical Engineering, I would have needed to be one of three things to turn it down and pursue a course in creative writing. I should have been the son of a wealthy father – which I was not. Or, I should have had confidence verging on delusions of grandeur in my abilities to make a living from writing – which I did not possess. Or, I should have had the delusion that I could substitute thin air (and a passion for writing) for food – which eluded me.
Working as a trainee in a fertilizer plant after graduation taught me that my metier lay elsewhere. The epiphany struck me on a day when a valve was damaged and everyone concerned rushed immediately to bypass the valve and save the reactor from imploding. Being particularly gifted in orienting myself geographically, I could see myself – under similar circumstances in the future - running around in circles and crying piteously, “Valve! Valve! Where is the valve?” I somehow suspected that this may not quite be the picture of the intrepid, efficient engineer that companies were eagerly seeking. A more immediate reason for seeking a change of job arose when my digestive system started acting up due to the abnormal changes in meal timings enforced by working on shifts.
The Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore must have seen students coming in starry eyed with very many differing ambitions but, I daresay, very rarely would one have come in with the unique ambition to change over from a shift-based job to a regular 9-5 one. Merely to ensure that odd work timings never again ruined my digestion, I took up financial management. Those were more benign days when derivatives and the like had not yet made their entry, especially in India, and it was unlikely that someone would urgently need me to make a ledger entry in the middle of the night.
As it happened, I spent a long sixteen year period working in the area of costing and fertilizer subsidies. I was reasonably successful – and the reason why I felt I was successful was that I managed to save enough to meet my modest needs and quit at 41 years of age to pursue my original love – Writing. There I was, master of my time and free to write but, suddenly, reluctant to do so. Writing, as in all the arts, is a process of opening yourself out to strangers and seeking their approval for your work. As an author, the only way you know you have done a good job – or that you even have the ability to do a good job – is when others tell you so. The first time you write you cannot help being full of self-doubts. The thought of putting out a piece, and having people snigger at the fact that you even thought that you could write, was daunting. Years of writing “With reference to your letter dated…” is certainly no great training for writing the next big thing in thrillers.
I ducked the issue by taking up trekking. Huffing and puffing up the Himalayas and stumbling through the thickness of the Deccan jungles seemed much more fun than getting snagged in a thicket of words. The urge to write, though, was not easily evaded. I tried to satisfy it in a less dangerous fashion by writing pieces – primarily humour – in this blog “Life is Like This”. It just would not let me be. A short story published in a collection in India only whetted the appetite.
Then , came a collection of three crime novelettes – Sirens Spell danger – of which one was penned by me and the others were written by a couple of friends - Radha Sawana and Karthik L. Now having become a complete addict, I have come out with a satirical novella – A dog eat dog-food world.
The one lesson I have learnt is that age-old cliché – If you want to write, Write; do not just talk about writing. If I had done it when I was far younger and more used to being inept at everything, finding out that I could not write worth a lick would only make me feel that I had made a misstep. Listening to harsh criticism would have seemed more the norm since, in those days, I was listening to criticism about everything else as well and was inured to it. Starting at 50 is more painful. If you really do not have it, everyone who reads you feels that you are such a fool for not learning what you could and could not do even after living for so long. Criticism sounds much harsher since you have reached a stage when you do not get to hear too much of it. (Being single is also a help – no spouse to keep reminding me of my multitudinous shortcomings).
Yet, I have written and shall continue to write till I am convinced by others that I cannot write worth a lick. If that is true I would, of course, prefer to be told, “I am sure you did your sums wonderfully well. So, do not get too upset by the fact that you are incapable of stringing together a readable sentence” rather than a stark, “If you thought you could write, maybe you need to change your shrink.”
Living is all about trying to do what you want to do. A loser is not one who tries and fails but one who admits defeat without trying at all. Having wanted to write all my life, I feel good that I have, eventually, tried.