Serendipity and After/36
a novel about publishing of a novel
“Before I leave for London, we should meet.”
I got this message from V Ramaswamy, my editor.
“Oh sure,” I messaged him back.
So we were meeting at a small bar-cum-restaurant in North suburb of Kolkata. He had with him a file containing his blood investigation reports and an endoscopy plate. I had with me the full print-out of Shadowland, that my publisher had recently sent to me.
After ordering for our drinks, we exchanged our things. He began to examine the print-out and I began to read his reports.
“So did you consult any doctor?” I push the reports aside.
“Not really. I just took the medicine you prescribed on phone. I’m fine now.”
“It’s antral gastitis. Not much to worry about it. But you should stop consuming alcohol. You shouldn’t keep late hours with your translation and editing things. You should have regular meals. No junk food or spicy diets. That’s all.”
He looked reassured. “I’ve already stopped taking alcohol,” he said.
“But we’re going to take it right now.”
“I’m reading Serendipity — every installment of it. You’re writing like Roberto Bolano. It reminds me of 2666.”
Bolano? I never thought at this angle.
“Why don’t I see Tim Barrus commenting on your novel these days? He wrote some wonderful lengthy pieces about you and your work.”
“Tim has most probably left Medium in disgust. He’s actually a genius in the truest sense of the term. He was losing interest in writing and has now shifted from writing to photography. Why would someone like him confine himself to just one medium? I miss him. He was the first person to cheer me up on this project.”
“But I see a new face in his place: Arin Basu.”
“Have you read his comments? What do you think of him?”
“Very well-read, excellent tastes, scholar, versatile, sensible, sensitive, empathetic, gentleman. Did I miss any point?”
“He’s a brilliant editor. You would not believe how beautifully he edits on sentence and word level. He points me my mistakes and adds private notes without even me asking for it. Such a nice person.”
“Is he really a medical person like you?”
“Yes, he’s from my Medical college. But he must be junior to me by many years.”
“What does he teach at that university?”
“I’ve no idea. It should be epidemiology because he’s an epidemiologist. But he might teach comparative literature as well. He’s a polymath.”
“But I’ve one negative thing about him. He seems to belong to pro-establishment, that ABP kind of thing. I bet he has not read Subimal Misra or Roberto Bolano.”
“So what level are we at now — anti-anti-establishment or anti-anti-anti-establishment?”
We now harp on publishers.
“You know I met one big publisher recently. He has made a name internationally, but he’s practically a vermin, doesn’t know a thing about literature — the exact opposite of your publisher. If I ever get him in a solitary lane and if I’ve a dagger with me at that time, I would stab him. Shaala Banchot.”
I made a hearty laugh. “Are you carrying a dagger these days? But you seem to have been good at Bengali expletives.”
“Why should not I? I’ve been translating Subimal Misra for over a decade. My wife is a Bengali. Then I deal with a lot of your fucking Bengali intellectuals.”
“But what about your grandmother? You didn’t write a thing after she left home for West Bengal.”
“I’ve so much trouble writing about her. It always gives me a rush, and I find my eyes full of tears. I’ve never had my lacrymal glands so active. So I stopped writing about her.”
“But what happened to her? You must have gone to see her after you came here to Calcutta.”
“Yes, I did. Just after my admission to Calcutta Medical college, I went one afternoon to see her.”
“You should have written about this meeting.”
“I don’t want to, because it’s kind of a tearjerker, the kind you’ll see in Bengali movies. Just imagine an octogenarian lady sobbing over me and muttering, repeatedly “Excuse me, sona. I could not keep my promise to you.”
“What was it about?”
“Reaching here, she brought up one day the topic of her one acre land and claimed it back. The land was registered with pisima’s name. Pisima readily agreed to give it back. But the resistance came from her elder son and his wife. How could one claim it after so many years? Where’s the proof that she gave my father money to buy this land? Initially pisima fought tooth and nail for her mother arguing that she was a witness to it. But the husband and wife duo now pounced on her and shut her up.”
“It was a big blow to my grandmother. She was devastated. She was shell-shocked. Her world fell apart. Overnight her spine bent at her waist, her wrinkles multiplied and her vision diminished.”
Arin Basu Have you read Subimal Misra and Roberto Bolano? What subjects do you teach at your university? As you see it, I’ve inducted you in this novel with this chapter like I did Tim Barrus. Tim seemed to like it, and had never objected. How do you react to it? Serendipity is about real events and characters and a fun experiment in novel writing. Please let me know how you feel about it.