It’s just a book launch, I told myself. That was a lie. It was a BOOK LAUNCH. But then I thought, Ah, well I have been to a few before, poof! Why should this be any different? Well for starters, I was usually on this side of the panel. This side, meaning, the audience side. And I’d still feel nervous about putting forth a question to them Gods with answers to everything in their books. What if the question came out wrong? What if I spoke so fast, gibberish, not words, spewed from my mouth? I am not one of those who could simply say, “Oops, what am I saying?” “This is what I meant.” I am the kinds who would barge through the conversation, like an Army Tanker through a field of Tulips.
So now they tell me I am going to be on this side of a panel. Yikesabee!! I calmed myself down by saying, Well, there will be other authors there so I’d be safe in their collective presence. The night before, I exchanged a few texts with another author friend who was going to be there also. She was going bananas and was close to the point of not turning up at all. “I’d say I am an Agoraphobic and that I can’t be anywhere near public places,” she said. Seeing her in that state, something changed within me. Her fear made me swallow mine. Suddenly, I felt brave and putting on a swaggering display of courage, I said, “Nothing doing. Don’t be stupid. I’ll see you there at six.”
The day of the launch was upon me. There had already been three changes of dates from the publisher’s end before they settled on Feb 22. In my head, there was still a tiny chance that they would change the date again. Didn’t seem likely though. However, on the said date, there was none of the usual buzz on social media sites, or so I thought. It was there. I just wasn’t looking in the right places. It led to an exchange of more texts with the author friend.
“Not happening it seems,” I said. “There’s no dope on the event.”
“Oh. Shoot. Well, let me know in case you hear anything.”
I shot a few emails to the organizers who said it was most certainly happening today.
“It’s on,” I said to my friend.
“Oh shit,” she said.
At work that day my boss gauging my mood said, Why are you pacing around like a pregnant cat?”
“Sorry, I just have this small thing in the evening.”
“Nothing, just a small book launch. Very small, actually. I don’t know why I am even going.”
“Oh, man up, Nancy, and shut up. You’ve done this before.”
I drove to the bookstore from work, and throughout the drive all I could think about was all the things that could possibly go wrong: The bookstore could have disappeared overnight or There’s been a slight mistake. Your story was never part of the book. To make matters worse someone at work had suggested a shortcut. “It will cut your travel time by 30 mins,” he announced proudly. It did cut my traveling time, but it also made me even more nervous. I didn’t want to be that first guy on stage at an audition. Everyone is aware, everyone is alert. But you don’t want to be the last guy either. People are usually done by then, eager to know when they can leave.
Upon reaching there I realized I was famished. It was better, I thought, to be ten minutes late than reach on time and sit through the entire evening with strange sounds emanating from my stomach. So I grabbed a falafel roll, which distressingly, turned out to be stale. I chomped it down anyway, tossing half of it in the bin. I paid the guy hurriedly and rushed back to the store.
I wasn’t the first one. Phew! I met my friend by the Gondola where our books stood proudly as a spiraling staircase, if you will, with the glisten of a snake under white lights. She thumbed through the book and held open for my benefit, the page that announced my story and my name. Writers should be like misers, I think. Just like every single penny makes them happy, every single, published story should make us swoon with pride. She squealed. I squealed. She leafed through to her story and started reading it like she was some third person, as if she had only just come across it.
Soon it was time to take our seats. Breathe.Breathe. My friend sat next to me and kept mumbling, “God, this is so embarrassing. Look at all these people looking at us. I don’t know why I even came.” While I just tried to keep a low profile by sinking lower than needed in my chair. Then started a series of questions being posed alternatively to every author on the panel, seven in all, plus the editor, who was also compering the event. The question-answer session was the part I enjoyed the most, because it had this moment where everything was about the author. Nothing else existed, mattered.
As the evening progressed I realized I was fretting over nothing. This wasn’t so bad after all. I could get used to this. I was high on happiness. One, I was on the other side of the panel and two, there were people in the audience who had come to listen to us speak and get their books signed. It was a proud moment. Cameras flashing, people applauding, them coming up to talk to you, shake your hand.
Another friend joined us for the evening as we wrapped up a great night with a delicious platter of succulent kebabs and humongous mugs of chilled goodness — GODS Served Cold — Beer.
I wrote the story, High Time, as part of a short story writing competition organized by GreyOak publishers and Landmark bookstores. When the results were announced, I was chuffed. My piece was a part of the anthology titled, Urban Shots – The Love Collection. HIgh Time was also a Bookchums pick.
High Time is a story about a young Iyer bloke who is pestered by his parents to get hitched. Since he won’t agree otherwise, they trick him into meeting this girl. However, things don’t go as planned.
About the Publishers
GreyOak are relatively new in the field of publishing and have published a dozen titles. One of the distinct things about them is that they have a strong focus on writing and stories about India and/ or by Indian writers. Below is an excerpt from my story for the aforementioned anthology.
Muralikrishnan Iyer– or Krish to his friends – had turned thirty this morning. He had only just opened his eyes when his mother waltzed into his room with the biggest smile on her face.
‘Kanna,’ she cooed – an endearment she reserved for moments when there was a favour to be asked, or a touchy subject to be trod upon. ‘The good lord should save you from all evil eyes. Happy birthday, Kanna,’ she said and cupped his face in her hands, while Krish squirmed uncomfortably. ‘What, huh? What? So now that you’re thirty, your mother isn’t allowed to show any affection?’
‘Amma, please, can you just…’
‘What? Leave you alone? Okay, fine. Get ready. We’re going to Sushila Maami’s house.’
‘I am not going anywhere. I have plans.’
‘Nothing doing. You’re coming with us. I have already given my word to Sushila Maami. And Aunty has been phoning me day in, day out asking whether I’ll bring you along. Also, she wants you to sing for her some of your Sai bhajans when we’re there.’
‘What nonsense? But how can you promise someone on my behalf? I get one day from work, one day, and I have to do all this socialising with people I don’t even care about?’ Krish flung the sheets aside and stormed out of the room.
She followed him to the washbasin and spoke as he brushed. ‘Well, you might not care about her, but she loves you like her own son.’
‘Dad. Dad!’ Krish called and went to where his father was reading the newspaper. ‘Did you listen to what she just said? Tell her this is not done.’
‘What do you do for this house? Do you do dusting? Wash clothes? Buy vegetables? I mean, what do you actually do for this house?’ his father said, his tone unusually dramatic, like that of the characters from those Tamil serials he watched on Sun TV.
‘What? Wait, where’s this coming from? I’m saying something else and you are talking about something entirely different.’
‘We ask you to do one thing and you are creating such a scene. I don’t understand why.’
‘I… I…What? Never mind.’
‘Wear your kurta pyjama, that blue one. Dress decently for once.’
Krish threw up his arms. ‘Are you both even listening to what I’m saying? I don’t want to go. Period.’ He went into his room and slammed the door shut, wondering whether he’d ever have his own place and the much needed privacy.