This is a blog about writing. Mostly short fiction. And occasional personal rant once in a while, if I may. Feel free to make your comments and feel sane again.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How To Become A Poet

This is a published story (Stories At The Coffee Table,, but it is free here, of course.

How To Become A Poet

"This One Really Sucks."

The four hand written words made Charvak decide to kill the editor of the highbrow poetry magazine The Bombay Review.

Charvak had received his first copy of The Bombay Review - a gift from his English language teacher at the school - when he won a letter writing competition. He was in eighth standard at the time.

“This is the cutting edge poetry magazine, this is the standard you should aspire to.” His genial teacher had told him.

Charvak didn’t understand or appreciate any poetry in the magazine but he preserved it. His interest grew gradually. By the time Charvak entered the college gates, he was a devoted subscriber. He began to read Blake, Wordsworth, Tennyson and of course Shakespeare. Then he entered his Lord Byron phase. He grew a beard for a month or two, became a member of a book club, and started to recite Browning as if there was no tomorrow. Despite his passion for poetry, he knew one thing very clearly: It could never feed him.

He started working for a shipping company with international operations. Pay was modest but steady. Now he began his romance with the country poets like Robert Frost. He went nuts over Octavio Paz and devoured the lines of Pablo Nerula. All the time he was reading The Bombay Review, keeping himself up to date about the latest Indian stars like Nissim Ezekiel, Moraes and Kolatkar who had chucked his lucrative job in a big advertising agency to write poetry that sang.

For next two years, he breathed only John Milton and wore only black. Then a senior poet of some repute advised him: move away or you will not grow. He had to kick himself, but he did and moved on to radical poets who wrote blank verses and experimented with different forms. Zen and other minimalists fascinated him for a year and he had a short haiku phase.

Meanwhile, he begun to write some poetry himself. After a dozen rejections, he realized that he needed some professional help. Much against his circumstances, he joined a poetry writing class. He made friends with like-minded classmates and held private reading sessions. Every weekend they would meet in a teashop or on somebody’s terrace and try to help each other with sugarcoated criticism. He kept on submitting his poetry to various magazines all the time and collected rejection slips.

It was 48th rejection slip from The Bombay Review with the four handwritten words that snapped the gears inside Charvak’s fuming head.

"This one really sucks."

Thin angular words written above the printed message did it for him. Charvak calmly decided to kill the editor on Diwali, a day before the Hindu New Year.

He visited a flea market. He had to rummage through tons of hardware and junk to find an almost new eight-inch dagger. He noted the magazine’s office address and did a reconnaissance trip. The office was in an old building in busy Fort area, right behind the noisy Bombay Victoria Terminus.

Next day he called up to find out the whereabouts of the cocky editor.

“I am in the office all the time because we are putting together the New Year issue,” the editor answered.

“I am a paper dealer,” Charvak bluffed. “I have a slightly damaged lot. You might get it at a bargain price.” He knew these things because he had recently checked similar consignments at his office and filed the papers for the insurance.

“Sure, come after eight p.m., I won’t have time during the day,” the editor replied and hung up.

Charvak reached there on the dot of eight. It was already cold and dark. But boisterous people were milling about on the road because of the heavy festival mood all around. He made his way through crowds of kids lighting fire crackers and mounted the steps of the dark and dinghy looking building. He was sweating when he reached the magazine office on the fourth floor. It was the only office open, because it was late and it was a public holiday.

“Yes?” The editor looked up from a manuscript file and removed his thick glasses.

Charvak pulled out the crumpled rejection slip from his shirt pocket and threw it on the metal table.

“I'll kill you for this.”

The editor looked at the dagger in Charvak’s hand and started laughing.

“You sure?”

“I am sure,” Charvak hissed and bared his teeth.

“You have come at the right moment. You are doing some thing I don’t have the guts to do myself.” The editor paused for a long moment to gather his thoughts. “I have tried to keep this paper boat afloat for more than 23 years now. Three years before, I was stupid enough to quit my job and run this magazine on full time basis. Now I have to go down on my knees to get the right people to write for me. I haven’t paid the printer for last three issues. You see, no secretary, no sales staff here. It is impossible to get ads for this kind of magazine. In these years of recession, corporate sponsors have backed out. Whoever had committed the ad campaigns are canceling. If you kill me now, it won’t be a murder. It would be an act of mercy. But do me a favor. I am sure, you haven’t done this before. That dagger will make a big mess, it will give you bloody nightmares and it will be painful for me.”

The editor took a gulp of water and leaned back in his battered swivel chair.

“Let’s make it easy for you. I have a revolver, an official gift from my ex-army father. It is loaded.”

The editor got up and unlocked his iron safe. He checked the bullets and placed his 0.45 Colt on the table.

“Go on, you can’t miss at this range. It’s a Diwali night. With all the firecrackers and loud speakers blasting, no one will rush here because of one shot. Shoot my head off, wipe the gun, arrange it in my right hand, go home, and party.”

The editor scribbled a sucide note in hurry and showed it to dumbfounded Charvak. He placed the note under a glass ball paperweight.

“The note is your insurance if anyone has seen you coming here,” the editor said.

Charvak sat as if hypnotized.

“Come on, be a real son of bitch, and shoot. I am single, without kids. No issues, no old mother waiting for me in a distant village.” He chuckled.

Charvak's eyes bulged looking at the gun but he couldn’t move his hand to touch it.

The editor stood up and walked around his table. He slapped Charvak hard across the face and picked up his gun in disgust. He yanked Charvak up from his chair.

“Why can’t I write good poetry?" Charvak asked miserably and licked the blood flowing from his split lip.

The editor slapped him again, this time on the other cheek and propelled him out of the door.

“Why? Why? Why?” Charvak stood in the deserted lobby. He was crying now.

“Each poet is an animal of its own kind. But you, had you been able to shoot, you could have written something worthwhile,” the editor barked and slammed the door shut.