In today’s Time of India, Ruskin Bond narrates a revealing anecdote. A boy who looked after his father’s ration shop requested Mr Bond for a book. Always happy to encourage youngsters to read, Mr Bond gave the boy a copy of his latest, large-format children’s book. The next day, Mr Bond bought some jaggery (gur) from the boy’s shop and the writer was chagrined to find that the sugar lumps were handed to him in a paper bag made out of the pages of his own book. “My author’s ego was shattered,” he writes.
When I decided to gather some of my short stories in a book form I had varied motives. The primary motive was to dedicate the book to a religious cult because of which I lost my job in Delhi and, far worse, I threw away a large collection of my books in a fit of depression. The cult took over the school where I taught with the promise “to run it at least for a hundred years” but killed it in a brief span of two years. The entire school complex including hostels and staff quarters was bulldozed to smithereens within weeks after two years of shameless prevarication which masqueraded itself as religiosity. Thousands of books from the school library were bundled and thrown into a truck and sold, I believe, at paper value. Were they pulped and transmuted into cartons for transporting items such as gur? I don’t know and don’t wish to know.
By dedicating my book to the cult, I sought to exorcise the devils put into my soul by the various people of the cult with whom I had very revealing interactions for over two years. Most of the stories in the book were inspired by my encounters with those people though none of the characters correspond to any of them. The themes of “faith, doubt, human fallacy, God's devise, divinity, morality, sin, facticity, fantasy, truth, illusion and deception” – as listed by an extremely perceptive reviewer, Sunaina Sharma – were inspired by them. Most of the stories would never have been written had I not had the (mis)fortune of interacting with the people of the cult. Dedicating the book to them occurred to me as natural an affair as Alexander the Conqueror beating the retreat from the banks of the Beas in ‘And Quiet Flowed the Beas’ (one of the stories) or Galileo the scientist capitulating in order “to be” in ‘Galileo’s Truth.’
There was another motive too in publishing the book. A lot of my blog readers had asked me to do it. They said that the stories were inspiring in many ways. I trusted them. Or, to borrow Ruskin Bond’s phrase, “my author’s ego” was on a gratification drive. Having lost in one place, I sought to win elsewhere.
Did I win? Not at all. Even those who asked me to publish the book didn’t show any interest in it once it was published. Two months after the publication of the book, without intending to draw any parallel with an eminent author like Mr Bond, I should say I feel like him when he received his sweet lumps of gur packed in the pages of his own book which he had donated to the shopkeeper.
Paper bags are far more acceptable than plastic bags, Mr Bond consoles himself towards the end of his piece in the Sunday Times. If his writing can reduce the toxin of plastic from the planet, he would be happy to make the sacrifice. Not without some grumpiness, however. That grumpiness is obvious in many remarks he makes about contemporary youngsters whom he compares to porcupines “with their hair standing on end like wire brushes.”
I felt consoled after reading Mr Bond’s piece. If a great writer like him has reasons to be grumpy, I have nothing to complain about. All other motives of mine for publishing the book have evaporated now. My ego is restored to its state of equilibrium, thanks to Mr Bond.