Writing about writing is rather intriguing. Soumya, a humourist and an author, recounts how he became a writer and penned, rather keyed his first novella, befittingly titled, ‘Memories – A Novella: The Hilarious Nightmare of Growing Up’, exclusively in Different Truths.
This is a story about how I acquired this nasty addiction to writing. I am merely trying to shift the blame. As an apology for inflicting my stories on you, here I inflict another one.
Having an insatiable appetite for stories, and finding that supply is unable to match demand, I decided to fill the gap by making up stories himself. This is how that happened
My fascination with words began early, perhaps not as early as Abhimanyu, as I don’t remember anything prenatal, but soon afterward. I was fortunate in a literate ayah, who was my major childhood influence, and a literary mom, who had a sizable library at home. To keep me quiet, the babysitter would read to me from anything available, including Bangla translations of the English classics, and the Bengali Mahabharata. After such a classical grounding, I could not help but be a lifelong addict to the magic world of fantasy and fiction, initially oral, and later of the printed word.
But addictions have fatal side effects, and I became quite useless at all useful skills of survival. I wasn’t focused on studies and my handwriting made me suitable only for the medical profession. I learned to read, so that he wouldn’t have to wheedle others to read for me, and was a very precocious reader, forcing my parents to hide books in unconventional places, and put covers on some. That’s how I knew which to read first and in secret.
The inevitable next step was joining the ranks of my heroes, and start writing myself. The writing was fine, but I faced the problem of all would be authors, how to get readers? I had a captive audience in my family, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t decipher my writing. Solution – a little brother I could bully, who would copy it out for me.
Thus was born my first collection, containing humour, parody, rhymes, mystery stories inspired by Blyton and later Christie, war stories when the ’71 war captured my imagination and even plays.
Jump cut to high school. Obliging friends copied out my stories for a hand written wall magazine in exchange for doing their maths homework, and other obliging friends copied out pieces for their first handwritten cyclostyled little magazine, edited and mostly ghost written by me in exchange for names on the masthead to impress girls. Believe it or not, Bong girls fall for such stuff.
Fast forward to the 80s. Handwritten contributions are no longer acceptable, and typing is a skill I had failed to master. However, obliging young ladies willing to support the arts helped out, and college, university, and company magazines continue to feed my need to be heard. That’s how my partner-to-be first heard of me.
Working life and matrimony soon put all creativity on a back burner, until my children appeared on the scene, and mealtime, bedtime and anytime stories took care of all my creative juices and were well within my technical know-how.
As time passed, I hankered for a wider audience. By now, I was empowered with a stenographer, and a bit of charm could overcome my tech handicap, and double spaced typed offerings with self-addressed envelopes haunted editorial desks and found kind supporters like Jug Suraiya of TOI and others kindred and discerning souls.
I had the ultimate high, seeing my babies in print with my byline, and being paid for it.
Soon, work and family took precedence, and creativity was limited to sales pitches and the incredible job of bringing up two daughters to be independent free thinking individuals, well-adjusted in life, until they no longer needed or heeded me, and the craving for an audience hit once again.
By now, the world had changed beyond my tech challenged comprehension, and the virtual world ruled, denying me access. My wife, who had moved with the times, my friends, who had learned to cope, and my children, who were born with a mouse in hand, had no patience for my illiteracy.
It looked like my outpourings would die unheard through lack of virtual space. Finally, with patient coaching from few young colleagues and friends, I attempted the new medium, the blog and the FB and through many blunderings in unexplored and mysterious realms of which more shall be disclosed later, the end results were finding an entirely new set of readers, who did not pay in moolah, but in likes and comments and shares. Moreover, the reach was global, and it thrilled me to have loyal readers and followers from five continents, including someone from Moldova, a couple of people from Pakistan, and a few from Russia.
The happiness that this gave me, money can’t buy.
But now a new envy crept in. How come X has one million hits, hundred thousand followers, dozens of awards, and all for writing such bilge?
But then slowly, as my readers crossed the twenty thousand mark, and followers the thousand mark, and a few awards rolled in, I too started feeling better. I watched me in divine rank leap around with the intensity of the punter watching Sensex. I celebrated reaching the exalted eighties and mourned falling to the lowly fifties.
The next great thing to happen was that a story of mine was picked up for an anthology. Seeing my name in print, after ages, and that too in a book along with established writers gave me an immense high. This was followed by a couple of other pieces being picked as well, a funny poem here, a Limerick there, and a fairy tale somewhere else. It boosted my ego to ridiculous proportions.
Thus when an invitation came to try my luck at worldwide a novel writing competition, I bravely plunged in. This was supposed to be a novella or very short novel of thirty thousand words in thirty chapters written in a month. Of course, I failed. But I was kindly given another month’s time to try and finish it, although I was out of the competition.
Having a full-time job, which is quite demanding, time became an issue. I wrote mostly in airport lounges, and announcements for the delay in flights looked like lucky breaks. I even wrote crouched in the economy seats in flights. I welcomed traffic jams as I wrote in the car. I wrote late at night, sometimes groggy eyed after a party or official dinner. I welcomed conferences, which I normally avoid so that I could write while the speaker droned on. During our performance review, while waiting my turn to be grilled by our chairman, I was busy writing while pretending that I am polishing up my presentation like the rest of my colleagues. The story was finished in the extended period, but the quality of produce was debatable.
However, some people liked it, some raved about it, and although it did not even win the popular vote, the enthusiastic support turned my head. Now that the massive effort of actually penning thirty thousand odd words was over, my longtime dream of actually publishing a novel resurfaced. I had given up the idea as a pipe dream but now started hoping again.
The details of how it happened would make another story, but my rough draft was polished into shape by my daughter, who writes far better than me and deplores my efforts as lazy first drafts.
My artist daughter did the sketches; my toughest critic gave her scathing opinion, and through this family joint venture, a book was born.
A dream came true.
Whether it will be successful depends on you readers
If it is, there would be much more coming, so be warned!
Photos sourced by the author.
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Soumya Mukherjee is an alumnus of St Stephens College and Delhi School of Economics. He earns his daily bread by working for a PSU Insurance company, and lectures for peanuts. His other passions, family, friends, films, travel, food, trekking, wildlife, music, theater, and occasionally, writing. He has been published in many national newspapers of repute. He has published his first novel, Memories, a novella, hopefully, the first of his many books. He blogs as well.