Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The agony and the ecstasy

It was a Monday morning somewhere in March 2008 when I was awake at 5:00 in the morning. Mondays are never the most auspicious of days to begin something but "The Telegraph" was holding a short story writing contest and that day happened to be the last day for submission of entries. I was at my writing desk forcing myself to do something that I had consciously avoided for years now. The effort was on to write fiction and the last time I had tried that was in class 2 or 3 when I wrote a story about an elephant and a monkey. On further inspection, I found rather striking similarities between my story and the famous lion-mouse fable. I was bitterly disappointed with my effort and that put paid to any intentions of my writing fiction for the next 15 years or so. Any story that I put down seemed to ring too much of this movie or that novel for my liking.

Now in the course of working my dreary office job, I realized that fiction was still a wonderful outlet for the cobwebbed imagination. It would be impossible to shake off the influences as they defined who I was and how I thought but I could at least focus on minimizing their effect. Writing fiction would be playing God in the confines of my mind. Now that's fun! I would imagine multiple situations and characters as I walked around town day-dreaming but I could never find a strong enough reason to actually get going until then. So with the pressure of the impending deadline on my mind, I set to work with a pen and a notebook aiming to wind up before setting out to office.
With a couple of hours of work, I was thrilled with what I came up with. A story about the loneliness that engulfed an employee when he was the last person to leave office on a daily basis, was on the paper. It was a situation that I had had a personal experience of multiple times and for the first time in my life, I was really pleased with what had turned out on the page. Everything about the story seemed to be perfect; the tone, the compact length and the focus on the protaganist's state of mind. There was a spring in my step as I entered office and a cheerful mood enveloped me through the day. I planned on sending it out by e-mail in the evening from the office itself, once I was done with my office stuff.

It was already late evening when I first felt the shock. I felt my shirt pocket for the folded sheet of paper on which my story was penned and my fingers found nothing! It had probably fallen out in the canteen during lunchtime when I had pulled out my handkerchief to wipe my face. I abandoned all work and searched for it like a madman, even taking a sly peek into the dustbin at the washroom in the desperate hope to find it. But it was gone! The truest piece of writing that I had ever penned down was now in some trash can rotting with the garbage.

I had the story all mapped out in my mind so I could've put it down on paper all over again, but I was heart-broken. My shoulders sagged and a bitter taste invaded my mouth. I know from personal experience that authors think that every story that they have written is a literary masterpiece until it is reviewed by a more unbiased reader than its creator. However, in this case, it was not even about winning the prize. It was about bringing this great expression of my thoughts (at least I thought so) out onto the world irrespective of whether it was liked or not. It probably wouldn't have won the prize anyway considering the odd faux sounding stories that did eventually win. But the disappearance of something that I had created with so much intensity, hurt like never before. The joy that I felt at its inception was being paid for equally in measures of pain. Now whenever I sit down to take another shot at fiction, I find myself haunted by what had happened the last time I had tried it. But I know I will return that way again if only for the sweet feeling of satisfaction while the piece of paper was still in my pocket. No matter how many times the paper falls out of my pocket.

Now that is a similarity shared with the game of emotions called love. Stub your toe; curse and lament and swear against indulging in it with all your might. But you'll return time and again with the indefatigable enthusiasm that this time it's really true and this time it'll really last.

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