Have you always wanted to be a writer? It’s a question I am asked often. The answer, of course, is no. Like bone density and colour of hair, ambitions change with age. Here, in chronological order, are my ambitions over the years:
Between the ages of one and four, I wanted to be largely left alone. Or, failing that, grow tusks so I could really hurt various aunts and uncles who pinched my cheeks without warning or expected me to recite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for no reason at all.
Between six and 10, my ambition was to be a chauffeur, and drive the rattling, knocked-up vehicle we affectionately called the family car (named Fiat Menon) for 24 hours a day, if not longer. This was probably an extension of the earlier ambition to drive away to areas distinguished by the absence of aunts or uncles of any description.
Before I hit the teens, my ambition was to play international cricket, and during breaks in the season, make discoveries in physics that would have startled Albert Einstein had he been alive. On weekends, the plan was to write the great novel that would make me the first Nobel Prize winner in both physics and literature (and peace if possible, not necessarily all in the same year).
Between 13 and 16, I had the kind of ambition that cannot be discussed in a family magazine. But magazines did enter into it, as I recall.
The first book I penned was at the age of eight or so. This was a history of the world. I remember the first line I ever wrote: ‘Much of history is lost in antiquity.’ I was not quite sure of what antiquity meant, but the word rolled off the tongue nicely, and seemed to suggest its actual meaning.
The start served a dual purpose – it established that I knew words like antiquity, and also gave me an excuse to cut down on the amount of writing by saying there wasn’t much to write about pre-antiquity. Give your toughest job to your laziest worker, the philosopher said, and he will find the shortest route to accomplishing it.
Looking back now, I realise that I could never have won a beauty pageant. As a youngster, I wasn’t particularly interested in world peace, nor was Mother Teresa my biggest hero. Those clever questions asked at the pageants therefore would have tripped me up. ‘I want to write’ lacks the impact of ‘I want to end all wars’. The former might be more honest, but the latter is more attractive.
Sadly, my earliest ambitions were never realised. I didn’t grow tusks and I don’t drive. Perhaps, the next time around...