I couldn’t get through your first book because I was too young when I picked it up and your English was too you. They don’t teach that kind of grammar even in English-medium schools. They didn’t even tell me ‘English-Medium’ meant that the medium of instruction was English. For many years I harboured a deep, unspoken irritation that my parents didn’t bother to send me to an English-Large or English-Extra Large school. Why Medium? Is there is a test I can take? I will take it, I swear. I will ACE it. Just let me.
Anyway. I’ve read several of your essays now. And interviews, etc. I’m writing to request you take a few minutes to give some advice to a young writer who is at best feeling lost and at worst has become lost.
I’ve only really had two struggles in my life till now. School was a breeze. I always won all the competitions. I was obedient. I managed to cultivate Reading as a hobby. (I’ve picked up the capitalizations from you, I hope you don’t mind. And the parentheses also. Flattery? No – arrey I happen to write like this too, I’ll send you my plays as proof!) I found two incredible girlfriends. The second one is now my wife. We’re happy, as far as it is possible to be happy in the grotesque world you so mercilessly keep reminding us of.
So eventually the struggles have simply been struggles of two great migrations. I moved to Singapore from Delhi when I was 15. Then I moved to Mumbai when I was 24. Both moves were traumatic and exhilarating in their own identity-defining ways. But I’m telling you this because both moves prompted me to write my two plays.
The first – The Good, the Bad and the Sholay – we staged in Singapore, and I had my own sudden and unexpected moment in the sun just like you did with God of Small Things. I mean, honestly, nowhere near the same scale, but it felt huge at the time. Still does, on floody Mumbai days. Felt also like now only death will end my story. My solace was a little speech that Elizabeth Gilbert gave on TED – she said don’t worry you’ll write even better things, so I believed her.
The second play – A Fistful of Rupees – (I know, I know, I’m sorry about the names! I was particularly tired that evening, and after that it was too late) we’re now staging in Mumbai and around. The play is a small eyebrow-raise to the people who profess to love Mumbai (and India). My move back here from Singapore was difficult only for this reason. All the people I talked to told me glorious tales of golden, sagging clouds like giant ball sacs from which wealth rained like non-stop spunk into the laps of the talented, skillful population, just as long as they kept working it long enough. In fact, Mumbai is a shithole like no other. I’m sure you know. From Antilla to Dharavi on the economic spectrum, there is no respite here for anyone. No one is happy. No one has the time for that beauty you keep saying exists. Writing the play was my only reprieve. I wrote it angry, directed it slightly less so, and am now touring it like I was never angry in the first place. So I guess it helped.
There’s a tremendous energy in Mumbai though, egging you onwards towards ‘success’. There is a definition of it lurking in the rat-infested shadows here, but I never seem to be able to completely see it, just like the rats. The second play was runner-up in the Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Awards, so that felt like success, but it wasn’t, really, in Mumbai’s eyes. Success looks closer to directing a Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan in a multi-crore super-duper extravaganza hit-blockbuster type thing. But you know, with heart, not just aiweyin. With substance also. Both things. Commercial, but with heart. Thoda thoda everything. That’s the Bollywood genre, na? Full Thali, with dessert also. Must have a happy ending, just like those famous Bangkok massages.
It’s an odd situation now, in my brain. There is a roof over my head, but there isn’t much money in the bank. My moral and academic life is vibrant, I think. I’m reading your new book, for example. I’m learning to read Urdu. I’m writing a lot (though what I write isn’t what I want to write too much of the time). But in my head there is still a need to be successful that plagues me – despite the fact that I don’t have a clue what that might mean. I just don’t know what it is. Something in your description of success, about the pursuit of the freedom to behold and rejoice in beauty, something made sense, but not entirely. Something is still not clicking into place, mentally speaking. I’m suffering from acute Bombay.
Still. I’m living here. I hate the city, but I’m making lovely, precious friends. I want to have kids, but I don’t want all this for them. You have to be quite sadistic to bring new people into this. I’ve opened a production house now, hoping to make meaningful films and all. Pat on my own back. But there isn’t any money for that yet, so I’m currently writing Punjabi dance numbers in the hopes of networking and insane virality and resultant unimaginable popularity and affluence.
I don’t know what I’m asking, to be honest, so I won’t waste more of your time. God knows you could’ve written another searing essay by now that the world needs. But if you could send through a couple of sentences of a little something, perhaps it would help. Or it would just bring me joy, so that’s also worth your time, maybe?
Thank you for all your writing.
Love and pairi pona,
PS: Please don’t read anything else on this blog without asking me first.