It was a typical morning in our household. We were starting our breakfast. My wife, Bharati, was looking through her WhatsApp messages, as is usual for her every morning. I was standing next to the Breville coffee maker, waiting for my tea to be brewed.
“Look what Kanchan Tai has sent,” Bharati said.
Kanchan is her elder sister living in India. I was curious to see what was so exciting. It usually is some video, a joke, a photo of her garden or some famous singer singing a song I am not familiar with.
“What’s it?” I asked, approaching her.
“You read it and tell me what you think.”
She turned around and pointed her iPhone with the screen facing me.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Just read what she has written.”
I read the first line, which was written in Marathi. A close translation of it in English would be, “This one sentence says it all.”
The next sentence was in English and said:
“I am sure if we had met, we would have had a great time over a drink talking about politics, theatre, sports, and music.”
“It’s nice. Who wrote it?” I asked.
“Don’t you remember? It was you.”
Then it dawned on me. The sentence was part of a speech I gave on December 9, 2018, in Pune, India. Bharati and her sisters had arranged a gathering of family and friends as a remembrance of their father Vasudev and mother Sudha. Vasudev would have turned one hundred years that month. Those who knew them were requested to say a few words in remembrance. I had never met my father in law. I spent barely six months with Sudha when she had visited our house on Long Island, New York, to help Bharati when our daughter Sukanya was born.
From what I had heard from everyone, Vasudev was multi-talented and genuinely liked to connect with people. He loved sports, had acted in plays, played the violin, and enjoyed to talk about politics. As it happened, he had a stroke during a company-sponsored casual cricket match that turned fatal. Bharati was not even a teenager at that time.
Sudha immediately faced the challenge of a single mom, now with the sudden responsibility of earning a livelihood and taking care of her children. She trained to become a nurse and maneuvered through various #Me-too type environments working for multiple doctors. She was one brave lady.
I wrote the sentence quoted above to describe what would have happened if I had met Vasudev. I wrote briefly about my experience having Sudha with us. My writing must have touched a nerve with the audience, based on the comments made by those who came forward to shake my hand.
“You only knew Sudha for six months, but you told us more about her than those who knew her for a lifetime.” Said, one person.
“Excellent.” Said another.
“Short and crisp.”
“Well, he’s a writer, after all.”
I thanked them and was glad that I was able to present Sudha and Vasudev as a unique couple and had managed to touch their soul.
When we write something good, it has the power to influence others. Sometimes to enlighten and entertain them, other times to inform or tell a story they would remember. When I wrote my small speech, I didn’t think that I was doing it solely for my pleasure. I aimed to write an essay to express my feelings and let the audience know something about the person I was talking about. The impact of my writing was also due to the multiple revisions of the first draft. I had read the draft of the speech several times to Bharati to get her feedback and tweak it accordingly.
In my opinion, no writer writes in solitude sitting in a faraway enclave on a mountain top. We write for our readers. We want our readers to feel they have not invested their time in vain reading or listening to our piece.
About a year ago, I met a person in a casual gathering. I noticed he was going around, talking to all the guests one-on-one, and handing them what appeared to be a business card. When he approached me, he introduced himself and gave me his card. I took a look and noticed that it had the name of a book.
“Did you write this?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “It is a global mystery. I published it a few months ago.”
“Wow, congratulations,” I said. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty good, I would say,” he said. I noticed a bit hesitancy when he added, “I do it for my own pleasure, you know.”
“Of course. I understand.”
I was inclined to ask him what he meant by that. I didn’t understand why this person was promoting his book at the same time didn’t seem to care about the readers. It didn’t seem to matter to him if they liked it or not.
Later I was talking with another close friend. He had noticed me talking to the author.
“Was he talking about his book?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “He says it’s an international mystery.”
“Don’t waste your money. I couldn’t get past the first five pages and never understood what the mystery was.”
A few days ago, I was reading an interview with Amor Towles, author of the bestselling book Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. It was in The Writer’s Digest magazine dated November/December 2019. Mr. Towles says that when he starts writing a story, he writes what pleases him.
“ I write my first draft for myself. I don’t care about anybody. I don’t care whether I can sell it. I don’t care whether it is going to be popular, what the rules of writing are, what my peers are doing, or what the great writers of history have done. ….”
But once it is finished and ready to be revised, he is serious about it. He focuses on the audience.
“…..once I have my first draft, I am then editing for my audience. Between the writer and the reader, there is a covenant. I am putting in the effort, but you as the reader, you may end up paying for this work, but you are certainly going to invest time in it if you read the whole thing. The covenant is out of respect for the reader, I should be putting in time, not telling you all the things that suited me, but I should put in time to clean it up.”
Great advice indeed that every serious writer should heed.