To begin with, it took 28 years of cumulative courage to admit that I wanted to be a writer and then when you have used up your twenties in mostly with the fear of ‘coming out’, the following decades of your life are followed up by the fear of ‘never being read’ by anyone save your own self. This is how the journey mostly begins. From thereon the additives only get worse than just the fear of ‘coming out’ or ‘not being read’- panic, horror, cold and hot, sweat, bouts, stammers, and since this is not the whole of the list, I have to end it with ‘etc’.
“So, what do you do”? This is the harshest blow you can land on such a writer. The answer has to be forcibly extricated from the complicated permutations and combinations of the writer’s brain wiring and looped over the dreaded additives I talked of earlier, before it can see the light of day and make it all the way to your auditory canal. This question pushes most writers, first into a restive silence, which can sometimes be so interminably long that we could have endured another change of generation in that time. However, if you do survive this you will be rewarded with a stammer, mumble and babble, in that order. And then, wait for it, the two syllable answer is thrown out like an outcaste with a despicably communicable disease-‘writer’- and then silence. Torture. In that order.
There you go I said it, now it’s your turn. ‘Oh- a writer? Hmmm”. Silence. “Interesting”. More silence. More torture. Interesting as in foolish, I know that’s what you mean. I know the tone.
“So what do you write?” more torture.
‘Umm..ah…” continued torture.
‘I’ve written a couple of books, some magazine articles, poetry, travel, short stories’ (by god I wasn’t being pompous. What I was saying was true. To save my self I had been writing just about whatever I could).
“Impressive”. And then this “So under what name do you write?”
What? Do people use pen names even today? No you idiot, what he means is that since he has never read your name anywhere in print he’s just assuming that you use a pen name.
‘I use my own name’ and that is that.
And if you haven’t read my name in print is because it has not dispersed well. Well that’s how it is as of now, but some day…( ‘some day’ is the favored phrase of all writers’ dreams). Besides you’d have to be reading all, absolutely every written word, to come across my name in print. Well as of now at least, but some day… And the dream sequence continues.
But wait for the final blow. “Can I have your card?”
By this time I think the fellow is joking. I smile, he extends his hand. He’s serious and I’m speechless, yet again. More silence. And then in the league of Thomas Alva Edison’s inventiveness, a fantastic idea was invented in the labyrinths of my writer’s brain wiring. This idea stayed and has since been tried and tested successfully on many more such episodes of random acquaintance encounters. I pretend- fumble in my ‘jhola’ (- an Indian writer’s sack-cloth or canvas bag)- a must-have writer accessory, which is a telltale of his/her profession and somewhat eases those torturous silences I have been recounting. So I fumble in my ‘jhola’ and come out with a sorry face, ‘Sorry, I’m all out of cards. Just so forgetful’, smile and let it go at that. ‘Forgetfulness’, that was a master stroke. Of course it stinks of writerliness and its horrors.
This card business, however, has become a necessary menace. Everyone in the chain of chai-wallahs to dhobis and school teachers to what not, save circuitous explanations of careers by simply exchanging cards. Some are so elaborate that one could extract material for a whole reasonable word length article that would receive suitable remuneration. But the many writerly reserves of a writer cannot elicit words about his line of work that might look pretty on this small square of paper called a visiting card. When you belong to the side that stands opposite the Booker and Pulitzer kind of writers then what do you put on that paper? ‘Writer’, no too short. ‘Author’ no, not unless you have published that one book languishing in the closet like your self. No, there is nothing else that can go in there. This is the beginning and the end of it. This is not the stuff of what visiting cards are made. Besides who would be visiting anyway when you are a writer not a writer writer. You know what I mean. Go for a fumble in the ‘jhola’, it works.