I swerved the car swiftly to avoid head-on collision with the truck. That was the turning point in my life. That also was the ‘THE END’ of the clutter that has been nagging me for several years.
I am a voracious reader. Books have consumed a major part of my life. I started collecting books at the age of seven. Not that I wanted to read, understand or enjoy, but for a reason which sounds absurd. I wanted to look rich, feel knowledgeable and show off to my friends. Sounds funny too, doesn’t it? That is how I began my journey ‘on books, with books, towards books, for books, from books and of books.’ Where did I get this book bug from? A valid question. It’s there in the blood, and we know blood is thicker than water (not an apt comparison, I know), and science says genes are evidently those units of heredity which determine some ‘glaring’ characteristics that the offspring receives from the parents (and still we talk about generation gap!) I accept that it ran in my blood; ran helter- skelter initially, then ran across the length and breadth of my body, sprinted through my veins and stayed put in my heart, mind and soul.
That’s a lengthy introduction to my passion for books, but not unnecessary. My life story is linked with this passion. A fashion changed into a passion. I remember carrying ‘Chandamama’ in my school bag and whenever the teacher wanted to share a story and relate it to the topic, I would fish out my ‘Chandamama’ and flaunt it with pride. She would appreciate me for my interest in books. I waited eagerly for that moment. I cherished such moments that swept me off my feet and enthroned me on a high pedestal. I enjoyed the envious glares of my classmates and especially Meera’s. I seemed to have a love-hate relationship with her. I wanted her to envy me, congratulate me with vengeance, but be my friend.
As I grew up and graduated from one grade to another, the queue in my bag became unmanageable. They vied with each other to become the ‘prized read’ in the class. There was another challenge that troubled me- my classmates wanted to borrow, read and ‘SHOW OFF’ their ability to relate and correlate with the given themes and topics. Being possessive about my collection, I ended up giving lame excuses, ‘my mom will scold me’, my brother is reading this one’, this is my granny’s gift, can’t offend her … and the likes. I knew they weren’t convinced and they knew I was bluffing. I also knew that they indulged in back biting, Meera included! This series went on for a long time without a break.
The ‘end’ came suddenly, shockingly, leaving me desolate, and crestfallen. The saying, ‘All’s well that ends well’ did not go with me. What started as a fashion, got me compliments, took me to great heights, dropped me midway unceremoniously.
Perhaps I was destined to witness ‘end’ throughout my life. This initiated it.
The unforgettable day began with weird incidents at home, in the school bus, during the prayer assembly and continued to harass me till that final blow during the English period. As soon as I got up, I slipped and fell, hurting my back. That can happen to anybody, right? But I took it as a premonition; I got into a scuffle with one of my classmates in the bus, for window seat, (how mean of him not to part with window seat for a girl). My intuition cautioned me. During the prayer, out of the blue our Principal called me and announced, “Srikala will conduct today’s assembly.”
Oh, the poor me! I froze in my tracks. But I put a brave front and walked towards the dais. Everything looked blurred and I felt faint.
“Srikala, move,” that was my P.E.T sir. I cleared my throat and gave commands, Stand at ease…. Attention, repeated four times, meanwhile I tried to recollect the prayer song. Started with gasps and after the fourth line I stopped. I went blank…… the ‘end’ was near. Our Principal was known for his anger. Thankfully one of my classmates prompted and I picked up and managed the ‘show’ till the National Anthem. (later I came to know it was Meera)
Once in the classroom, I could feel the laughing, mocking faces of my friends.
‘We are about to graduate from school and you don’t know the prayer song? Their piercing eyes ridiculed me.
The first hour was English. My favourite subject and teacher. But as luck would have it, they ceased to be my favourite subject and favourite teacher after that day.
Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, we were in the Trial scene and soon the drama would ‘end on a happy note’.
We were enacting the scene and suddenly Madam said to me, ‘Srikala, pause for a while. You read a lot of books and your knowledge I believe surpasses that of your classmates, how about relating the theme, the plot, or the characters to any other book that you have read. It would be an interesting session if you could…..”
Before I could think of an excuse, someone from the back bench said, “Madam, he has never read any book till date, he only collects to show off. He proudly says passion for books runs in his blood, true, but not for reading, at least not with her.”
“Srikala, this is not expected of you. I am disappointed.”
This incident need not have made me feel so desolate, but my ego was hurt and more so because it was again Meera who had busted my secret.
I did not thank her in the morning when she had helped me to complete the prayer song, but this was unpardonable, I stopped talking to her. Thus, ended my love-hate relationship with her. A flimsy reason to snap a relationship! But I did it.
Now you may ask- where does your passion for books, runs in the blood etc reflect?
Remember Newton’s Third law of Motion?
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
“Forces are always found in pairs.”
“Human behavioural equivalent – every action by a person causes another person to have a reaction to the action.”
The taunts worked wonders with me. Though Meera did not exist for me anymore, her words had a ripple effect on me. I was all geared up for my journey. It is strange that the person who caused the reaction, has disappeared from my life. Or so I thought.
Life is known to spring surprises on us. What, when, why and how-these question words remain intriguing.
Once I embarked on the journey, there was no looking back. I did not read to prove myself; I did not read to prove someone wrong. Truly, honestly, each book took me places, from Enid Blyton to P.G. Wodehouse, to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead, Mills & Boon (from teenage to three tens); Perry Mason wooed me, James Hadley Chase chased me. The Trio- R.K. Narayan, Mulk raj Anand and Raja Rao brought Indian life alive on paper. Life, in all its splendour, variety, complexities and intricacies, pitfalls presented a breath-taking panorama.
Fantasy took me into a world of supernatural elements, and Fairy tales landed me in a realm of dwarfs, elves and fairies.
The make-believe world of wild imagination, of suspense and thrill, of politics, of romance, held me in a tight grip. I did not want those rapturous moments to ‘end.’
To perpetuate my joy of reading, I started writing. I captured my joyous moments by penning down on flash cards, small spurts of words fell on paper. Little did I know these would turn into pearls.
So began my author journey.
The advent of something always implies the end of another thing. It so happened that reading became minimal and writing a passion.
The old books found themselves tucked safely in the attic. Bidding adieu with a heavy heart to the old, and welcoming the new with open arms, I set sail towards a destination which was enticing but unknown. They weren’t just narrations of my feelings, experiences, failures, flaws, fears, that found expression on paper, they were learnings that got imprinted on mind and embedded in my soul. With each story the real me kept emerging.
I had never introspected – what is the ‘real me?’
I was carried away by a flow that meandered across the highs and low, the fantastic and the real. I started living in a cocoon- the world that I created was the one in which I resided. Nothing else existed beyond that sometimes real, sometimes illusory world.
I viewed the world through the coloured glass. Or is it that I saw what I wished to see; I interpreted the way I wanted it to be!
At the outset life was sailing smooth with loads of enthusiasts who loved my fictional world and perhaps resonated with it.
Was it an escapist tendency? Or was it the readers’ quest for what was denied in real life?
My popularity was taking me dizzy heights. Success had gone to my head and it stayed put there.
The coloured glass was what I had wished for!
Till the day it ended.
‘End’ is the button that brings one down with a thud. That thud if one can survive, then he/she will forever remain rooted to the ground.
Or didn’t I?
SURVIVE THE END?
What makes you, can break you too! I realised this a bit too late in the day.
My ego was fanned by the publishers, who earned a good amount on my published books, and my readers, who were benefited in some abstruse way. There was the third category which puffed my ego, and the moment a new wave swept across, they swayed. As we would have seen at the theatres during the release of a film. The fans garland their favourite actor’s huge cut out, raise slogans and wait from the night before, vouching their allegiance to the fan club; then there are those who follow these fan associations though they have no say in the group. Lastly those whose allegiance shifts the day the next movie releases in another theatre. They are the ones who swell the crowd but know nothing about the person whom they are supporting. They are in fact, not affected in any way, it is a routine rigmarole for them. But it makes a big difference to the one in focus.
I did not evaluate the eccentric behaviour of this category because their mere presence made my self-importance swell.
We all flounder, don’t we? And we learn, we evolve.
The ‘I’ in me pushed everyone aside and relegated them into the background. (I should have remembered my granny’s tales about her egoistic behaviour that snapped all relations and how she was left alone to work with her ego and what burst the bubble – the thud.)
When I said, ‘genes’ and ‘….in my blood’ I did not think of this ruinous angle at all! It was as though life had had enough of me and my self-conceit. The warning signals bypassed me. My deep knowledge did not come handy, my flippancy drove me away from ground reality.
Every ascent has a descent. Destiny did not conspire against me, I carved out my own downfall.
The END was near but I couldn’t sense it.
It was during a press meet that my ego spilled out.
I either ignored the top journalists or preferred not to clarify their doubts which ranged from professional to personal.
AND the ones I chose to answer put me under the scanner.
“Madam, have you thought of co-authoring with Neeta Mehra? She is known for her subtlety and you are famous for your unconcealed opinions. Your characters exhibit your traits. Being obtuse doesn’t always pay off….”
“Srikala co-authoring! Never, not even with the so-called Literary giants, or award winners.”
That drew the attention of many who were patiently waiting for ‘a slip of the tongue.’
The literary column of a popular Newspaper brought it to limelight, “However talented and charming an author maybe, it is unbecoming to put other authors down.’’
Chat shows directly lashed out, “How conceited she is to refer to literary gems as ‘the so-called literary award winners’ and the list kept growing.
My undisguised contempt for beginners, newcomers in the field, my caustic remarks about bestselling authors… kept adding to my downfall.
Remember Shishupala and Lord Srikrishna in Mahabharata? The 100 errors count?
I wasn’t bestowed with that three-digit number grace period.
How indiscreet I had become!
Disaster followed me everywhere. Incidents of my headstrong behaviour were made public.
‘Eminent personalities do not have a personal life’- whether it was in Arthur Hailey’s ‘In High Places’ or Irving Wallace’s ‘The Man’, I do not remember but I should have remembered the essence of it, at least. (I did consider myself an eminent personality in the field of writing).
The blow that would shatter me, was yet to come.
I was not only known for the fiction genre, but also for non-fiction, especially Self-help and motivational books. (How I wish I had practiced what I preached.)
It was a big day for me as my motivational book titled “Change with Change” had won the award in that category.
(And I had ridiculed awards!)
The Vivekananda auditorium was full to capacity. The dignitaries from the Department of Art and Culture graced the occasion. Authors, whose novels I grew up reading, were there to bless me. What an honour! How privileged I felt! I was rapturous.
How I wish I had stayed humble. Humility was miles away. The ‘pompous self’ reigned supreme. Amidst thunderous applause I was honoured by the Chief Guest, Shri Manas Choudhary, the Cultural Secretary.
I was prepared for the volley of questions from the media, but not the scathing remarks.
“Ms. Srikala, congratulations on this success. You seem to have transformed the lives of many with ‘Change with Change’. But without any offense meant, has it changed you at least 10%? It is easier said than done, right madam?”
I turned around and came face to face with Meera. She hadn’t changed much. Her poise made me feel diminutive.
“How dare you slander me Ms. Meera? Or is this your vengeance accumulated over the years?” (My inner voice urged me to be calm, but my ego was hurt beyond repair)
“Madam, nothing personal here. You are an accomplished author and you have shown people the right path to tread on. Mine is a simple question- how do you relate yourself with the book?”
As though taking the cue, several other journalists thronged her.
“Madam Srikala, why is it that you don’t gel with your peers? Do you feel insecure? There are many authors who deserve this award, how did you manipulate….”
That knocked me out. For the first time in many years my tears welled up in my eyes. Everything blurred. I staggered, someone put arms around me to steady me.
Instinctively I knew – Meera! It couldn’t be anyone else!
Still my inflated ego did not accept her support. I almost ran out of the auditorium, got into my car and drove past all those who stood aghast at my duel with the journalists.
Not that my arrogance was new to them.
Tears still blurred my vision. I relived those appalling moments and seethed with rage.
I remembered my own words, ‘before retaliating count ten when you are angry.’
I tried. Perhaps the first time that I made an attempt, with great effort, to stay calm and count ten. I took deep breaths and relaxed my clenched fists.
And when I opened my eyes, I was heading for a collision with a truck coming from the opposite direction.
My vision had cleared, but I was in the jaws of death. Death stood with open arms.
When faced with the ultimate end, there are no clashes, no ego, no conceit, no arrogance. You are a speck in the vast universe fighting to live, defying the end, hoping to be alive.
Yes. I must restart to end the era of self-conceit.
The bubble burst.
I regained my self-control and swerved the car….
I had decluttered my life.
I had evolved. The end illuminated my life.
“Meera,” I said aloud as I released the brakes. I knew where to go.
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