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, and 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 would just barge through the conversation, like an Army Tanker through a field of Tulips.
So now they tell me I am going to be on the other side of the 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. She was thinking of excuses. “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. I was heading there after work. There had already been three date changes from the publisher’s end before they settled on Feb 22. In my head, there was still a tiny chance that they would postpone things again. Part of the reason was there seemed to be no publicity. I texted my friend again.
“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, 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.”
“What small thing?”
“Nothing, just a small book launch. Very small, actually. I don’t even know why I am going.”
“Oh, man up, Nancy. You’ve done this before.”
On the way to the bookstore, I kept thinking about all the things that could possibly go wrong: What if I got the date wrong? or maybe they are going to call me right now and say: There’s been a slight mistake. Your story was never part of the book. To make matters worse I followed a colleagues advice and took the shortcut he’d suggested. “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 bored and 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.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the first one. Phew! I met my friend by the Gondola, where our books were stacked in the shape of a spiraling staircase, glistening like 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. After the initial introduction, and reading of passages, the book’s editor questioned every author on the panel, seven in all, about the story behind writing their respective stories. Later, the audiences were allowed to ask a few questions of their own, and there in the back row, I saw my parents proudly sitting through the proceedings.
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 were flashing, people were applauding, and then they came up to talk to us, shake our hands.
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 — Beer.
I wrote the story, High Time, as part of a short story writing competition organized by GreyOak publishers and Landmark bookstores. i was chuffed when the results were announced. High Time was also a Bookchums pick.
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.
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.
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.