Sometimes a story gets stuck in you, like a seed planted into the soil. It grows, spreads its roots, shoots its stem trying to breathe and live. In this process, it demands resources from the soil. And like the story of “B Ground West” did to me, it refuses to die, prodding and trying unless it can get on its own, and carve out a life for itself.
One of the reviewers was careful enough to bring this out. She writes, “The most prestigious institutes of our country are notorious for sucking out the self-esteem and confidence of countless of its students who show the slightest crack in their dignity. Isn’t it ironic that people who get into IITs may turn out to be even more messed up than the ones who don’t make through? I’m really grateful the author reckoned the gravity of the situation and tried to portray it to the world.”
It took me six years to finally give the story an existence of its own. These six years, I left my multinational job, stayed home while teaching at a coaching institute for my livelihood, and later joined a Doctoral Program to study a subject I had an interest in, Economics. A writer mines his own experiences, said Graham Greene. So did I, with relish. The characters stayed with me all through these times, talking, laughing, smoking, drinking, suffering, and living their lives.
The first draft, most of it, was written in a studio apartment in Navi Mumbai. Writing is a lonely job, more so when you have to make your own food! One thing that does help you through this process is music. The entertaining Hindi movie “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” had released somewhere around the period. I fell in love with the title song which has lines “Kab tak giney hum dhadakne… Dil jaise dhadke dhadakne do… Kyun hai koi aag dabi… Shola jo bhadke bhadakne do.” The song was on loop for a few months on my laptop while I was writing. The lyrics are inspiring and the music soothing. The song is etched in my memory and it transports me to those times even now.
For me the best place to get the flow of a story is to stand near a (not so crowded) Mumbai local train door. The trains in Navi Mumbai do provide this luxury during non-office hours. And because I was working at a coaching institute where classes are held in non-office hours, I often got this luxury. Standing at the wide door with the wind hitting you hard as the landscape of Navi Mumbai rushes through like film images, you are suddenly visited by the elusive link in the story you had been waiting for.
Thankfully, I have friends from Kharagpur, who would listen to the novel as it was being written and offered comments and feedback. They were the people who were stuck with me in these moments but like good friends, they always gave their suggestions. Feedback is an important part of writing.
Writing the final chapter and further editing happened at IIM Ahmedabad. Balancing profession and passion is the key if one is not a full-time writer. Sometimes one does think of the opportunity cost of writing. What if I was doing a lucrative project instead, something which shines up my resume? It is in questions like these that the determination and love for writing are tested.
Why I wrote this novel? One thing was the story won’t let me give in. Writers are supposed to bring out the reality and add to the consciousness of the society about which they are writing. I would have doubts about my story: Is it the same old blabbering which generally comes out in print from that part of the world about which I have written, the three letter short form which will be the first thing striking a wannabe reader, known as IIT.
Indeed one of the reviewers raised a question about IITians writing novels when they are trained in specialized fields. He thought I was confused about my career, something I have started taking as a compliment nowadays.
Being confused implies that you have not killed that silly gene which tells you that you are still searching for your dreams, and have not settled into the mundane arrangements of the absolute paved in your way. Being confused may not be bad after all!
Another reason was the wish to become a storyteller. “B Ground West”, and the fact that people have praised it has given me the inspiration to write my second novel. Somebody did say, ‘climb up your way, one step at a time’.
You can get more information about the novel here.