Lately I've found myself in some pretty unfamiliar situations. Found in the literal sense because suddenly, in the middle of wherever I am, it occurs to me that I've never gone down this way before, like waking up at the entrance of a cave. This is the Tehelka gig. Given the job of a feature writer, you're pretty much in a new place every week. It's a really good thing because, well, I now know that Charles Correa and Hafeez Contractor don't like each other, that Varanasi is run by goons, that the romance of train travel runs dry after a day spent in one. But it's so easy to lose yourself. Having gone from a state of no activity to one of manic and spontaneous action, I've figured that out. Suddenly you're a lot less inquiring of yourself and a lot more curious about things outside. There exist some remarkable stories. A fortnight ago I met a man who worked for Air Deccan and faced jibes and insults with such humor that tired passengers gave up and begged him to tell them some jokes. Then there's the director who offered me half a lakh to write something nice about him, saying that it would be a matter of love and affection. He had been through a terrible week: a rotten movie, terrible music, no audiences, no sales, no income - disproportionate assets, actually - and visits from tax inspectors.
And even then you wonder. There's a fear that the cynicism I see in older journalists will one day touch me. These are not frustrated journalists, but good ones. You realise it through their eyes: after 30 years in the business they're not upset because they haven't succeeded, they're upset because they see sad things everyday. It's unnerving because this cynicism seems inevitable. One by one, people slip into that state of knowing how things happen, of expecting things to go down a depressing path. They've gone past the stage of looking at suicide attempters as novelty and bad directors as entertainment. Here they see something deeper and sadder.
I reason with myself that cynicism has its benefits. But what about optimism? What about a tale so good, so nice, that no one believes it? What if I told you about the actor who had nothing, who worked so hard that his director gave him 20,000 bucks in the late 80s for his impending marriage? What about the cricket chief who loves discussing his ideas, and is so enthusiastic about what he does that it's a treat to watch him wave his arms about and describe tomorrow? What about the guy at the morgue who got over an irrational fear to do a job well? You are swept away listening to them. They all become storytellers telling you wonderful tales, while you sit wide-eyed like a child tucked in bed. Some are terrible, some are wonderful. But you're not cynical, you're amazed. You're lost in their world. And then, when you have a moment to yourself, as you stand at the threshold of another interviewee's home, you wonder: in all these worlds, where is mine? But you ring the doorbell and the subject starts talking and you are lost in an unfamiliar place again, drifting further and further away as your own world reduces into nothingness.