This is very strange, I told my friend. You are a well-known journalist, you teach journalism in at least two colleges and you don’t want your son to take up journalism? And you want me, an ex-and-not-well-known journalist and who lives by writing to give him that advice? Why? Don’t like his writing?
“Don’t be funny! You know he writes very well. You were his mentor once, remember.” I knew I had to be guilty somehow or the other. “Have you seen the plight of journalism today? You should know how good writers are faring.” Ouch!
Her son, a fresh MBA graduate, was staying with me the night, purely to save hotel bills and was slated to take off for a trek early the next morning. Given that our sleeping and waking hours had a very narrow overlap zone, I dutifully started my counselling as soon as we were in the car on the way back from the airport.
I had no clue what I was in for.
“So, how is your writing?” I thought that was a safe, neutral opening.
“Oh, fine uncle! Hold on for a sec! My mother has been talking to you, right?” he laughed out loud. “Did she tell you that I should take up writing or I should not? Don’t answer that. I will tell you. She doesn’t want me to become a journalist like her. And she is afraid I would. Right?”
I felt like a batsman who was run out even before he could take his guard.
Know him; he knows
Once we were home, he sat me down.
“Uncle, I know your pet prescription to all your students who want to become better writers. Read more, write more. I fully agree with it and I will never forget how you had helped me once.
“Maybe, thanks partially to you, I love to read and I love to write.”
Ah! That felt nice. He was just starting, though.
“I read and write not to take up writing as a career. I climb mountains. I play the guitar for a rock group. I enjoy cooking. I am a champion swimmer. So, should I become a mountaineer? A chef? A musician? Or a professional sportsperson with all those fat endorsements?”
Fortunately, he did not wait for answer and went off to take a shower. I went to the kitchen to fix a quick dinner for both of us.
“I have spoken to some of my friends about you, uncle,” he said as I joined him at the dining table. Now, where was this heading?
“Told them you are a super coach. You have helped create several good writers.”
Was this a compliment? Na! There must be a but coming soon ….
“But, that’s ok for regular people.”
“By regular, do you mean, older people?” I ventured.
“Well, you know, older, working, married and all that.” Such a broad definition of regular!
Old medicine; new prescription
“For someone like me, you have to change your prescription. Today, guys don’t read. And what they write is WhatsApp, that too when they cannot forward something readymade.
“You can’t become a champion swimmer like me if you don’t want to enter the pool, right? So, whoever wants to become a writer must write. So, your advice is spot on. What you are missing out on are the two Es.”
Wasn’t I supposed to be the psychologically superior coach? When did I end up on the couch?
“Experience. Enjoyment. I keep telling my friends to write about what we experience and what we enjoy. They are so lazy, they just copy-paste what I write.
“It is time you added the two words to your prescription. Put Experience right in the middle. And Enjoy last. Read. Experience. Write. Enjoy. By experience, I don’t mean what you have gained or lost over the years.” The rascal deliberately looked at my paunch and my bald head.
“By experience, I mean the world around me, beyond me. Which unless I venture, I wouldn’t know. And writing for me is sharing, which is necessary to complete the enjoyment.”
When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. There was a note below the cup, which he had used for coffee and left for me to clean.
“Thanks, uncle! Keep coaching. I will send my friends to you. Tell mom not to worry. I can take care of myself. And tell her I love her.”
I called her up and read the note out to her. Told her she had a very intelligent young man for a son and there was no need to worry.
Then I asked her, a little hesitantly, “Do you think I should change my profession? I mean am I a little old—”
Her laughter cut me short. “Every time I talk to him, he leaves me with the same effect. It wears off. You are doing fine. Take a shower and read the newspaper. The poorly-written reports of sundry evil acts will make you feel wanted and normal.”
I followed her advice.