Without doubt, 2020 was a tumultuous year. When the lockdown began, like many in the creative industry, I also panicked. The shooting of televisions shows that I was a part of halted and bookstores downed shutters. Secretly, I was happy though.
I was sure that not having to spend three hours in Mumbai traffic to reach a studio that was barely 10kms away from my home, discuss for five hours what would take me 10 minutes to write and then spend another three hours on the commute back home would mean I’d have a lot more time to write.
Finally, I was going to live the writer’s life, I believed. But how wrong I was.
Though the eerie quietness of a bustling city like Mumbai was unnerving initially, I was convinced the silence was what I needed for writing poetry. I picked up a pen and wrote a poem, then slept over it. Trying to read it the next morning I found I was illiterate – I could hardly decipher a word from the scrawls I’d made on paper.
In a decade of being a professional writer, I’d forgotten the art of writing with a pen.
While I looked forward to a few months of quietude, where my writing would blossom and I would write the Great Indian Novel, I had not reckoned the conspiracy schools would hatch to wreak havoc on my plans.
The extended vacations of my teenaged daughter and son began and my sacred writing space was violated too often. As they had too much time and energy to spare, our apartment started resembling India Gate after a violent public demonstration.
Our pet dog, whose barking skills were becoming rusty as he had not been using them for a while, began to work on them as, thanks to the clear air following the lockdown, he could now hear his canine compatriots who lived at the other end of the city. Believing it was only courteous of him to answer his friends, barks, yelps and howls frequently rang through the house. My wife would often sigh, roll her eyes, and wish loudly about a solo vacation – with none of us even in her mobile range.
Then came the online literature festival brigade and Zoom meeting warriors. Suddenly everyone and their neighbour’s cats were organising literature festivals. If earlier, lit fest organisers had to find sponsors to pay for the authors’ travel, board and lodging so writers could speak to other writers – often the only audience other than the guys handling the sound system and catering – now all that was required to conduct ‘international seminars’ and ‘literature festivals’ was a Facebook account and an author who has decent Wi-Fi at home.
I soon found I was gasping for breath, answering the same questions repeatedly, like ‘why do you write?’. I wish I knew the answer.
The only consolation was that few were interested in wanting to know the answer. Most people, me included, would scroll away from an author interview on social media and watch more exciting things… like videos of puppies dancing.
But one does get adjusted to any situation and I too learned to grapple with the challenges. Looking back, 2020, ironically, has been one of the most productive years in my career. I published three novels, completed two manuscripts for future books and submitted a script for a Bollywood film.
I also set up two shows for OTT platforms, wrote an audible original non-fiction and 19 newspaper articles, appeared in several television debates and interviews, read 119 books of various genres, watched an hour of OTT content every day (honest), did seven short master classes, and enrolled for a Master’s in Sanskrit.
The most courageous thing I am doing right now? Using a fountain pen to write novel. I am halfway through it.
Just in case you are wondering how I keep tab of all the above numbers, I keep a journal which keeps me sane. My wife, though, may disagree with the sane part.
Anand Neelakantan’s latest book Queen of Mahishmathi, the last in the Bahubali series, is out now.