'8 pm it is then' I finally managed to seal the deal after days of convincing him to spare some time for me. Its hard to believe he is the same guy who 5 years back appeared so lean and slender that he could be easily blown away by a waft of air. We would often resist the strong urge to bully him around. And what might be the reason, you would ask? - He was the quintessential academic topper he has been always; and we needed him to help us around during exams. Of the four years that we were in the campus turning ourselves to engineers, we spent more time watching movies and gossiping inside canteen premises than the number of hours that we spent in the classrooms combined. With an almost 6 foot long skeletal frame and hardly an ounce of muscle in his body, he used to walk with stooped shoulders and appeared naive, meek and vulnerable all the time. Wearing almost half an inch thick moustache, he would never fail us for he also knew that we were capable of making his living life hell in the campus. So, it was a win-win relationship for us.
In 2009, he achieved the unthinkable. And we couldn't help but marvel at his sheer perseverance that finally led him in to the hallowed portals of one of the finest academic institutes in the world. But after years of riding the peak in academics, he soon fell down flat on his nose there. It took all of 9 months for him to stare down the barrel - Shudder at the very thought of not finishing amongst the creme de la creme of his batch in one of the toughest PG courses designed ever. For a guy used to winning all the time, this was a first. And he certainly struggled to cope up with it. But then he managed to survive and for the next 11 months that he spent in the institute, he was back to his true elements.
It is 8 pm on my watch. And as promised, I am on time. Few seconds later, I am welcomed in with a glad smile. Still in his track suit, he's perspiring and is nowhere close to being ready for the 'interview' I was here for. With a glass full of milk that he gulps down in a jiffy, he finally settles down in front of me on his bean bag. Offering me a cup of tea, I take a few seconds to observe his demeanor. He's a changed man. With a fairly athletic frame he appears fit; clearly no longer the 'lean nerd' we have known him as, back during our engineering college days. And after the initial greetings and reminiscing about those memorable days spent in ragging juniors and harassing our professors, I started the process of knowing the Beta 2.0 version of my friend here.
'So what's with you and working out in the gym? No one told me that you have gained so much muscle' I asked him, exaggerating a little about the whole 'muscle' thing.
'It all started back two years ago when I was doing my MBA. Academically, I wasn't performing to my potential. Frustrated, I finally needed something to take my mind off the fact that I was failing time and again. So, I started working out and focused on my health. And that kind of helped me cope up with what I perceived as failure' he stated.
Philosophizing never suited my friend. But he was always prone to it - Something he had long back acknowledged as the reason he struggled to connect emotionally with his girlfriend and most friends who were girls.
But I was here to know about the book he has written and is now trying to get it published. I was curious to know how he could write a 250 odd pager (at least that's what my sources confirmed till now) while working as a Senior Manager in a big Indian conglomerate at the same time. And then he revealed it all!!
'Four months into my first job as a management professional, I realised I wasn't cut out for this. And that was also the time I was having a hard time dealing with what many now label as 'Identity Crisis'. I had begun to question my decision of pursuing MBA whereas my peers were already doing worthwhile for themselves and my country. Someone was helping senior scientists build ICBMs whereas the other was doing cutting edge scientific research on rats and zebra-fishes. And then there was this 'four letter word' you are well aware of. So at a time when people around felt nothing bad could happen to me - now that I was earning well and financially secure, I felt otherwise. And just like that, I would be frustrated with little things in my daily life as the monotonous routine got into my head' he paused when his cell phone rang and excused himself.
Just when I think I would elicit responses pertaining to only his book, I find him beating around the bush. So whoever it was who called him up, certainly was a welcome relief for me!! Alas, it was to be short lived.
'So where did I stop?' he interjected my thoughts.
'Ohh...yeah...hmmm...you were talking about how frustrated you were' thank heavens, I recollected.
'Yeah. One fine day after a particularly satisfying workout in the gym, I was all feeling good for no reason. And out of thin air, the thought of maintaining my own journal stuck to me. So, I did' he stopped and I looked at him with my brows raised in anticipation, expecting him to complete his version of how he ended up writing the book.
'So what? That's how I ended up writing this book' he said poker faced.
He had me completely befuddled. How could he turn his own journal to a full fledged contemporary romantic fictional novel? Turns out he allowed his imagination to run wild, like letting loose a rogue wild elephant out on the streets (not exactly the best of analogies I have made till now!!). The chaos that followed is now what he is trying to get it published.
'Then how can your book be termed as 'fiction'? I asked him, by now clear that a part of him was also present somewhere hidden inside.
'Well, it's not exactly fiction for some aspects of the story are clearly inspired by what happened with me. But then, all the characters in it are fictional. Doesn't that make my book a fiction?' He made his point.
I could do nothing other than simply nod. So what's his book all about?
'It's an autobiographical account of a guy who thinks he is an emotional sissy' is the only response I manage to get from him.
'Are you the guy?' I ask to confirm. He's for once, definitely an emotional sissy.
'No, certainly not!!' he catches me unaware with that one just when I was expecting an affirmative.
So how's been his experience like, working on a book for about 16 months?
'Phantasmagoric!!' is his one word response.
'What the hell does that mean?' I ask him totally foxed beyond my senses.
'Doesn't matter. Well, it was a surreal experience. I could write whatever came to my mind. Build a world of my own, where I could do whatever I have always wanted to do and create life out of thin air. It was nothing less than magical' his childlike enthusiasm brought a bright smile to my face. No wonder he is a 'Harry Potter fanatic' and has an unending crazy crush on 'Emma Watson'.
Refusing to divulge details further citing the fact that he is yet to get it published, I could sense that he was also getting restless and impatient. Why? His manuscript got rejected by the major publishers and he for once is known to be poor at handling rejection. And just when I remind him that even JK Rowling and Amish had faced multiple rejections before they eventually succeeded, he cuts me politely with a 'But I am not them buddy. I am me!!'
I don't know what to make of it. But it's very clear that his book is his baby. And I am pretty sure that if no one publishes it, he will then eventually get it e-published. In his own words, he admits that his style of writing is as simple and plain as it can be - Nowhere close to the bright colorful fabrics that some of his peers weave out of words a layman could never have heard of. And he does clearly state that his book is not for the intelligentsia (Although I reckon he wouldn't mind if they read his book!!).
When I ask him what his strength is then? 'My strength lies in the fact that I let my heart tell me what to write. And my weakness is my vocabulary. I am yet to reach the literary standards set by Shashi Tharoor who is one of my all time favourites. Have you read 'The Great Indian Novel'? I am having a tough time comprehending it!!' he muses.
Sensing the fact that he has only spoken about him and his book till now, he switches gears and asks me about me. I tell him that my job as a photo-journalist and an active blogger continues to give me good reasons to stick to the same job; in a clear attempt at banter.
Somewhere in this conversation, it felt as if his unpublished (hoping it is published soon!!) book was indeed his baby he wasn't willing to let go so easily. He wants the best for it and that's why despite the evident impatience written all over him, he is willing to wait for the right publisher to present it in the best possible manner. That's almost narcissistic, isn't it? But then sometimes, it pays to be one!!
I happened to chance upon this extract from his untitled novel that goes like this:
‘Of course, what else?’ she responded. So, I straightaway went to Abbas Bhai to order breakfast for us. Within the hospital, there have been only three people apart from Lahari I have had the most interaction with. One was Dr Atreya, who would be quite wary of me and my blackmailing antics. He apparently had an affair few days back with the head nurse, whom the staff popularly knows by the name Savitha Ben. Of course there was Kamini who would always like a dedicated reporter feed me with juicy gossips and scoops on whatever scandalous that would be happening within the hospital. And then there was Abbas bhai, the ever smiling guy who was so down to earth that every time I had a chat with him, he would either tell me how lucky I am to have Lahari as a soulmate or talk about Allah and the ‘karam’ he has on his devout devotees.
‘Salaam wailaikum Abbas bhai’ He was counting cash in his cash box when I greeted him.
‘Wailaikum as salaam Varun ji. Badey dino ke baad Eid ka chaand chaandni ke saath nazar aaya hai. Mashallah!!’ he complimented as I blushed again.
‘How are you miyan?. How are things at your end?’ I asked.
‘Bas, sab Allah ka karam hai Varun bhai’ Whenever I asked him how he was doing, he always had the same trademark response to offer – ‘Sab Allah ka karam hai’.
‘Kya, bhai? You always say the same thing. Don’t you have anything else to say to me? It kind of gets boring you know’ I shrugged.
‘I am what I am because of Allah. If I am fine, it is because his grace is on me. And the same goes with you Varun bhai. After all we are nothing for you and I have to leave this world and eventually reach the great Lord himself. Tab tumhare karam ka sab hisab kitab hoga. Kya jawaab doge tum?’