Friday, December 10, 2010

Who's your daddy? Coz, like, hello, mine is an author

My father’s completed his book, scattered chapters of which are in my gmail account. I haven’t read even one. Military fiction doesn’t interest me. (I don’t know what does, as I was telling a friend over grilled chicken and rocket salad over lunch yesterday at Watermelon in Khan Market, but that's another story).

In the past year, my father has sent me these chapters for “feedback”, and general catching of errors. Long sentences plague the man. But other than Papa, cut out the commas and bring on the full stops, I’ve had nothing to offer. I did give him the email address of a publisher who then got caught in a sex scandal but that amounted to nothing.

When he sent me the synopsis, I felt weighed down. Bloody hell, what should I tell him?!

So I sent the synopsis to my one smart friend. (Really, I have just one).

She read it, this New York finance banker something or the other (or whatever it is you do, love). And she, speedy Gonzales, replied fatafat as they say:

He's trying to be Robert Ludlum?
Or a highbrow version?
Who does he want reading his book?
Is this to be a mass market thriller?

I had no such questions. They didn't strike me even. Glad, relieved, thrilled to have all of hers, I promptly forwarded them to my father. He thanked me. I thanked her.

I'm telling you, this being the only fraud journo in a family of total non-literary types can be a problem. People harbour expectations. My mother can’t spell ‘colonel’. She asks me to repeat very slowly -- "c.o.l - what?". My brother rings me from obscure cantonments with oddball queries on the etymology of sesquipedalian; "HOW THE FUCK SHOULD I KNOW?!" is my standard reply. Doesn’t deter my thick-skinned sibling from calling me right back in the next hour – have you found out?

Aarggghh!

Back to the book: Papa's been collaborating with an old Army-days friend of his who now lives in Seattle (with a black guy who has for a dog a Rhodesian Ridgeback called Jazz). Pushy Uncle went back to college in the states to study communications. I think that was brave of him.

Years ago, when he was working in Dubai -- strange, itinerant life he’s led since prematurely retiring from the Army -- he would write letters to his friend, my father, two three times a year on handmade paper and include in it a paragraph for the three of us. I’d love seeing those thick rectangle envelopes, detailed address written in blue calligraphy on the top of which would be glued big, exotic Arab stamps. When the mail would arrive, I’d announce clearly (yelling, actually), PUSHY UNCLE’S LETTER HAS COME, as if my family was a bunch of uneducated villagers and I was clapping for them to gather around to be read aloud this this letter from the lands of Alif-Laila.

I love Pushy Uncle. I love that he still writes with an ink pen. I remember the doll he got me one Christmas. She came with three changes of clothes. I love that he calls my father by his full Punjabi name, not the strange anglicised cowboy nick it’s come to be thanks to the Brit boarding school in Mussorie he was sent to as a boy. When Pushy uncle's wife took off with all his money, he wasn’t bitter. Or at least he didn't show he was bitter. His two sons are all grown up, and, as far as I’m concerned, totally useless for siding with their mother and never visiting their father.

One awkward evening the year before last, when Pushy was in India -- he comes down once every two years -- I was introduced to his son,“just in case you want to marry him”, my mother said to me. To this end, but mostly to entertain herself I suspect, my mother invited Pushy Uncle, his wife and the one son in town over to dinner. I was told to come home early. I did. I cut my swim short. My hair was damp when I entered the house. I performed my usual exhibit-A routine: say hello, smile, shake hands/ peck cheek, throw in the bit about being a journalist, then flee.

Throughout the evening, there was this strange pass-the-salt kind of silent dynamic at play, and not just at the dining table. The son -- my ‘intended’? -- drank three bottles of beer and only once went to the loo. The next day, Intended sent me a couple of long, polite wordy texts -- ‘if I may be so forward as to ask you to join me for a drink or a coffee, as you see fit’ or some such crap. I snapped at my father for giving him my number. I hated being put on the spot and having to type some inane reply: gee, umm, flattered but I’m seeing someone. What I didn’t say: You’re a short, fat, totally unimpressive, gone-on-your-mother kind of chap likely to get hernia/ cirrhosis and I don't like your hair.

Thought for the day: If Hernia and I had got married both our fathers-in-law would be authors. Enter the laws of que sera sera. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Two weeks ago, Pushy uncle was in town. My father and he were sitting in the drawing room. Pushy uncle, smoking his Marlboro lights (?), drinking his whiskey, was telling my father about some GPS system he must get his hands on.

Enter the daughter with legs of jelly (me, me) for it is she who dragged her fee to the finish line of the marathon.

Hiiii uncle!!

He’s a perfect hugger, this Pushy uncle. He will exclaim out your name, stub his cigarette, stand up, give you the tightest, most vigorous shake and look so full of joy at ‘how grown up these kids are’ and then clasp you entirely in his smoky sweater.

With this man, ‘how are you’ is a deadly serious question. And unlike with most people, thought has to go into the answer. A flippant, fine, thank you simply won't do.

Tell me, he said, how’s the journalism coming along?

Um, you know, I said, it’s okay, a bit boring if anything.

Really, why is that? Show me what you’ve written of late.

Define 'of late'.

Ohh come now, have you begun to specialise?

Specialise? Haha. No, absolutely not. I don’t have a sustained level of interest in ANYTHING. That worries me.

Sweetheart, that’s alright. You take your time. You do what it is that you like. Because, I’ll tell you one thing, it's perfectly alright to be a generalist.

Haha. I like that. A generalist. I'm a generalist. (I repeated this to my friend at Khan over lunch and we laughed). Hmm. Where’s your drink?

And so, like always, I wriggle out of tough spots. I change the topic. I get him to talk about the book. Your father’s book, he corrects me. Yes, but you had something to do with it.

Have you read it, he asked me.

In bits, yes. Why, what did you think?

Oh. I thought it was umm, ‘crafted in a lot of detail’. (I have the knack of talking a lot of crap with a lot of ease but I'm unsure of how well that cloaks my ignorance slash blatant lies). Why, I asked him, what did you think?

I’ll tell you something, he said. When your father emailed me the finished thing last month, the whole bloody completed chunk of it, huh, I took a print out of all those six hundred bloody pages from office and I took it home. I took it home and I thought to myself, let’s see what this is about, what he’s done with it. Let’s just flip through the first couple of pages, get a feel of it..

He talks like this, Pushy uncle. He’s talking to me and telling me how he felt when he read the first draft.

...and my god, I stayed up. I tell you I stayed up the whole bloody night reading. The next thing I knew was it was 4 in the morning and I said to myself, I must call my friend. And I did. I called him, and I said to your father – I have just stayed up the whole night and read the entire manuscript and I thought to myself, you’ve got something here, my friend. You’ve definitely got something here.

Then snapping out of recall mode he said to me, of course, your father being your father was on the golf course and couldn’t hear me, but the bloody chap did good...

Jelly legged me, with a train to catch, getting impatient with all this my god, bloody chap talk didn’t have time to soak in the compliment my father’s oldest friend was paying him. But it's been playing on my head -- how over the last year, I've seen him typing, cutting out newspaper articles, and staring over lampshades mulling over his plot -- he has this look. I've had nothing to do with his writing process, naturally. My contribution has been minimal. I've answered questions about MS word, key board shortcuts and line spacing.

Sometimes, I've indulged his amused frustrations. The good thing about this man is he laughs at himself easily. Gentle ribbing at his expense is part of a routine. He's confessed to character development going nowhere, pace dragging, chapter names becoming dramatic -- all with a certain amusement at this self inflicted plight.

I'd make slight soothing sounds. Don't worry, I'd say to him. It'll turn out fine. Then we'd joke a bit about it being a bestseller: that even if no one reads it, even if it doesn't sell, hell, even if it doesn't get published, you'll be the only one in our family to have actually written a book! That too at 60! I'd tell him about Frank McCourt and to not worry about age and the first novel. He'd tell me to not wait till my hair goes all grey and my memory starts wobbling before I embark on such a maddening exercise. I'd say yea, yea, in my inherited-from-him way of being amused at small circle of life truths.

I've been impressed with his speed, his discipline and how busy he's kept himself. I need to tell him one of these days, preferably after I read the book that well done, Pappy. You did good.

11 comments:

triloki nagpal said...

Nice read - keep it up...

The.Mystic said...

Daddy's an author now! when do you turn one? *pushy Punju accent* Do let us know about the book and make it really big, use your journo skills, invite someone crazy for the book launch (not Rakhi Sawant). :D

Pushy actually reminds me of a surd friend named Pushkaran, he was the laziest guy I've ever known, so we called him Push--Karan!

P.S. If you find time, do read my blog, as you'll notice, I have your dad's problem of writing long sentences. (Selfish act of the day P)

Anonymous said...

great, I thought it was "six legged/footed". etymologically maybe not that far off.

Perakath said...

I love how you can make Khan market and the golf course sound exotic. (Rocket salad?!)

And no wonder you have only one (smart) friend, if you go around saying that all the time.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Okay, here's the thing. The back-handed compliment. I dreaded reading this because of its length. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled and it looked like a novella. But because it's you, I trudged on. And then, of course, as always, your writing pulled me in. Sure fire, you are. Well done.

Here In Franklin said...

Because I read too fast, I thought at first that Pushy Uncle was really your uncle and that your "intended" was your first cousin!

Glad to know otherwise.

Nimpipi said...

Triloki: Thank you + will.

Myster: Ok, get rid of the girlie image, my friend. You're a man. Be not shy. P.S: I was tempted to publish that comment you told me to not publish. Obedient act of the day.

Anon: See? No normal person is expected to know these things!

Pera: Haha! Point taken. No more slamming other perfectly good friends even if they be blest (blessed?) with mediocre-intellect.

Khan market? Golf course? Exotic?
Rocket salad = more leaves, on the lines of spinach, but here :

Eruca sativa (syn. E. vesicaria subsp. sativa (Miller) Thell., Brassica eruca L.), also known as rocket or arugula, is an edible annual plant. It is a species of Eruca native to the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Portugal east to Lebanon and Turkey.

UB: I luhurve you! But fine fine, I'll keep it shorter, Scroller. Hmmph!

HIF: Haha. We do that here. Call friends of parents or parents of friends Uncle and Aunty. It makes no sense. Once my mother tried to get us kids to say Mr so and so Mrs so and so. Tired it. Got strange looks. They thought it was rude for some pipsqueak child to NOT be saying Uncle and Aunty. Sum total -- didn't work, especially not while growing up in Army circles where all anyone wanted was regimentation.

Now of course, unless I've known the 'aunty'/'uncle' in question for donkeys years, I say "helllewww..." and leave it suspended at that.

The Bald Guy said...

Military fiction? I'd love to read it. Bring it on!!!

The.Mystic said...

I don't want too :P I am perfectly fine with being a transgender.

The.Mystic said...

Thanks for not sharing my id :P I don't want that kinda attention :)
It's just for your eyes only!

Parul said...

So important question: what are you doing about getting it published? I am here if you need any help.