My friends and family often ask me where I find inspiration for books, articles and blogs. Other times they ask who inspired me to become a writer; what writers I admire and so on. I never really thought about it, but when one of my kids asked me, I thought it was important.
For most of my life I just wrote. I write everyday. Sometimes a line, sometimes a page, sometimes 20, but I write every day. And I write how it strikes me, as it happens (it used to be on scraps of paper, notebooks, tissue paper, now it’s on the phone); not at a desk long after the event has occurred, long after thoughts and feelings have followed one another. I do not recreate or create stories. I live and transcribe in the moment.
I started writing because I had a lot of questions about everything. As I wrote questions I wondered answers, and as I wondered I made choices and as I made choices I reflected on whether they were good or bad and corrected my behavior.
To allay doubts: I don’t rush to call my family and friends when something exciting, disheartening, or boring happens; I write.
What am I writing? Everything and anything. Going to the market with my father, for example. I learned the importance of selecting meat and vegetables with your own hand (not what the seller gave you), to negotiate hard, to walk away from the deal, to make the deal so that make it fair to both parties, and do it all in a pleasant, friendly dialogue.
“Kaise diya tamatar?” (What is the price of tomatoes)? “
“Bauji, dus rupiya kilo (Sir, ten rupees per kilo)? “
“Tamatar bech rahe ho, are you sona?” Aath mein do in batao. (Do you sell tomatoes or gold? Let me know if you sell 8 per kilo)?
“Aap teen kilo le lo to saath mein dei. (If you buy three kilos, I will give it to you at seven per kilo).
âBeta sabji mein daalna hai, tamatar ka nahin bechna sauce. Theeek bhav bolo. (I need tomatoes to add a little to the veg dish so as not to make and sell tomato sauce. Give me a good price).
The most important lesson was always the joke – this is how my father connected with people, speaking in their particular dialect, enjoying the joke, being interested in where they were from, how many people in their family, what were their dreams.
He used to say, âMoney is very important, but the world is about people. Kindness isn’t about giving money, it’s about treating people like humans, like your equals. ”
He had learned this lesson the hard way – he and his siblings had gone from growing up with means, to growing up in poverty, then out of that poverty and being left with meager means.
During the 1970s and 1980s, while discovering the nuances of these social interactions and everyday life, I also had the chance to have the opportunity to read the highly evolved and intellectual works of Tolstoy, Hegel, Hemingway , Tagore, Vivekanand and Thomas Hardy. I also read Dinkar, Munshi Premchand and heard Kabir dohas every day. I recited shlokas and sang bhajans every night, listened to sermons every week, and participated in deep debates at every opportunityâ¦ and wrote.
I have also read Lee Falk (Phantom, Mandrake), Bahadur d’Abid Surati, Champak, Chandamama, Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha, Reader Digest, Archie, Casper, Hot Stuff, Tintin and Asterix and Obelix.
In the early 1980s, I started reading newspapers and discovered RK Laxman. And thanks to our textbooks, the art of Mario Miranda had a great influence on my style of expression. In 1987, I discovered Larry Siegel, Sergio Aragones, Mort Drucker, Dock DeBartolo, Don Martin (among many others) through MAD magazine. In 1989, I discovered the work of Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and the works of Louis L’Amour, Jeffrey Archer and Arthur Hailey.
All of these artists and writers and many other philosophers, artists, filmmakers, musicians have helped me understand that there is no need for limits to self-expression as long as I know social and legal limits and also how to push these limits. without breaking them.
But, it was Busybee and Dave Barry that to some extent influenced my style of column writing. Busybee (Behram Contractor) was an Indian journalist and comedian who founded the Afternoon Despatch & Courier, a tabloid that I bought every day with my pocket money just to read the Busybee columns on the long bus ride to Madras Hotel. to Sayyad Gaon. in Delhi. Dave Barry is an American comedian and columnist who wrote for the Miami Herald and I came across his column by chance in the early 1990s, thanks to a friend online in Syracuse (later through the sitcom Dave’s World).
I still have no subject preference when it comes to reading – history, economics, political science, geography, technology, engineering, sports, art, wine labels, nutritional information on grocery ingredients, aircraft safety cards, EULA, comics, religious books, manuals, practical advice, practical adviceâ¦ I read anything and everything.
I guess it’s natural for me to write about anything and everything, but the focus is always on the experience of the ordinary person. Like the cabin crew wearing glasses on my first flight with Emirates. When I got on the plane on this particular flight, there was this crew member wearing glasses who was doing a little jig on the upbeat music that was playing over the music system. And she smiled while working because she enjoyed music. As were some of the other crew members.
They were all pleasant and cordial and focused on what they were doing. Guess what I’m saying is the crew was made up of real people in a relaxed environment enjoying their jobs and that reflected my travel experience.
So the average and ordinary person is my inspiration. People who have little or no power, who get up every day, no matter what happened the day before, and take one step and another during the day. People who weren’t born or raised for success. People who have to make choices between rent or mortgage and raising children, between health care and that extra hour of pay, between their dreams and the immediate safety of their families. The men and women who have faced high stress every day for decades, but who have the courage to empathize with other people’s issues or lend a helping hand whenever they can.
This is what inspires me.