I met blogger/writer Mayank Austen Soofi for the first time in my life in my office on 24 December 2014. It was for a story he was writing about people engaged in writing stories and poems related to the Delhi Metro. While we chatted, he made notes. Somewhere during the conversation, he interrupted and said, “Ms. Chatterjee, please slow down a bit. I need to write everything that you are saying.”
I could not believe my good luck that day. It seemed to be too good to be true. I hadn’t won a Nobel or a Booker or a Pulitzer. I hadn’t won a national beauty contest. I had not topped in an IAS exam. I was not a politician. I had not won any election. I had not done anything that is normally considered extraordinary. Apart from toiling hard for survival, all I had done was write a handful of poems and stories; but that was for my own happiness and joy. And now right in front of me sat a well-known writer taking my interview for a story for his blog.
Mayank kept asking me questions about my poetry and my life as a writer in Delhi and I answered as tactfully as I could. During a brief pause, when I had to attend to an official phone call and refer to some report in my laptop, Mayank got up and clicked some photographs of me at work. I felt rather awkward. I still could not understand how my life could be of any interest to anyone.
I tried to keep myself grounded. I told myself that this was for a blog, not a big deal really, and soon this interview would be over. Not too many people in India read blogs anyway. Soon Mayank would be gone and I would be back to my usual routine, what it was like before he came in.
But when the interview was over, Mayank said, “Ms. Chatterjee, I will come once more some other time with another photographer for more photos. We will select the ones we find most suitable. “
In spite of myself, I was impressed with the conscientiousness and zeal he seemed to display in his work.
On our way out, I took him through our showroom. This time, Mayank stopped and clicked some more pics of me near the cars. I felt as though I was modelling. I was quite flattered, but I was also very amused with myself, modelling at age 48!
Later on, while I was walking back to my cabin in the basement, a few colleagues sitting in the front office asked me, “Who was that guy clicking photographs?” I tried to understate things. “Well, he is a writer. He is writing an article on the Delhi Metro. He saw my poem “The Delhi Metro” on the internet, so he came here to discuss it with me. I wrote that poem long ago, about 8 years back.”
On 29 December 2014, Mayank called me for the second time to fix up an appointment the following day for more pics. I agreed. But now I had to deal with a new problem. A photographer was going to come and take photos inside the showroom; I thought it would look very odd if I didn’t give prior information to my management about this visit. More importantly, this also meant revealing to them the fact that I am also a writer.
Based on past experience, I always feel apprehensive about discussing my habit of writing in office. Bosses in general feel uncomfortable while dealing with subordinates who double up as writers; I guess it is because writers think; they have minds of their own and they tend to be highly individualistic. Leading them ahead is like pulling a bullock cart laden with bricks.
I was lucky this time. Everything worked out perfectly without any hassles. During the photo-shoot, Mayank suggested that I look thoughtful and serene and wear a very serious expression on my face. When he gave me a demo, he looked like a theatre artist and I burst out laughing. He said sternly, “Why are you laughing?” I quickly controlled myself and the photo-shooting ended finally when both Mayank and Manoj (the other photographer) were satisfied that they had got the best possible shots. I felt really relieved when I returned to my seat that evening. For a shy and reserved person like me, being the centre of attraction can be very tiresome.
On 10 January 2015, I got a call from Mayank. He said that his article featuring me along with other writers is now in Mint Lounge as well, apart from his blog theDelhiwalla.com! (Mint Lounge is a business newspaper of the national daily Hindustan Times). Oh my God, I thought, my photo is in a national newspaper today! For an ordinary, middle class person like me, that’s a huge achievement and I was absolutely thrilled!
I was even more impressed when I read the article that day in the newspaper. It was beautifully written and it had given maximum coverage to me as a writer. The wealth of love and blessings I got from my friends, well-wishers, and office colleagues because of this article completely swept me off my feet!
The very next day, I showed the Mint Lounge article to my parents. My Mom kissed my photograph and hugged me. That was the proudest moment of my life. As far as I am concerned, I got my first Pulitzer Prize on 11 January 2015!
Given below are the links of the article and of course, the pics from my own Nokia camera.
This is the pic that Manoj clicked of the 2 of us with my Nokia mobile phone.
My Mom, Beant Kaur…
My Dad, Amar Singh…
Gradually, reality sank in and we all came back to the normal routine. But it did feel good for some time, about being able to open up to the whole world about something that I have always held very close to my heart. As the days went by, I kept reading more and more of Mayank’s works, in Mint Lounge, in his blog theDelhiwallah.com, and his book “Nobody Can Love You More.” From this book, I discovered that his real name is Mayank Singh. I found each one of his stories a beauty, a thing of joy. Each one of them seemed to have a piece of someone’s soul, a heart that throbbed and beat with the rhythm of life. Even the photos had a special touch of an artist.
Every writer is, I guess, entitled to a few idiosyncrasies. In Mayank’s case, I observed that he is absolutely crazy about the French writer Marcel Proust. He identifies himself so much with his character Charles Swann that even his email id has this as his display name and his email signature has these lines: “A doomed character in Proust’s novel, Charles Swann, is of Jewish extraction. He parties with princes and enjoys access to aristocratic salons. He has a discerning taste in buildings, poems, recipes, sonatas and paintings. He is engaged in a scholarly study of Vermeer. He is fond of reading railway timetables. He loves an unsuitable woman.”
At the time of writing this story, Mayank was in Venice to gather more knowledge about Proust and connect with more fellow Proustians. Going by what he wrote recently in “Letter from Venice” in his blog, it appears that he is toying with the idea of doing a crash course in French to be able to read Proust in original.
One day an idea came to me; of using my own pics to illustrate my poems in my blog https://jasbirchatterjee.wordpress.com/ in a style similar to Mayank’s. That’s how I caught the photography bug! As I watched my photos collection getting bigger and bigger, I found myself looking at the world around me with a completely different perspective. The world outside hadn’t changed much, but I had. It was like re-discovering the world all over again. Was I blind all this while, for the last 49 years of my life? Perhaps. I was now like Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot and i mean this in a happier sense…
This thought led me to write new poems accompanied with photos clicked from my cellphone camera: Spring in Delhi, 2015, The Third Eye, Flight of Fancy, and Flowery Cycle. Here is the link: http://www.poemhunter.com/jasbir-chatterjee/poems/?a=a&search=&l=2&y=1 It was really exciting to be able to match the pics with the poems.
I tried doing that with an older poem “The Withered Petals.” Link is http://www.poemhunter.com/jasbir-chatterjee/poems/?search=the+withered+petals&B1=SEARCH
On 19 February 2015, theDelhiwallah.com had a new story: City Life – Delhi Lovers, Lodhi Gardens. Link: http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2015/02/19/city-life-delhi-lovers-lodhi-gardens/ It was about the love birds in Lodhi Gardens. After I completed reading it, something very strange happened to me. I could feel something inside me dissolve and come to life. A stampede of words, frozen and locked earlier, followed and flowed out of me like a waterfall. I turned them into a short story with the title “Adam & Eve.” This story is now available in an e-book of Fictionmagazines.com published in USA. URLs: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WX1GAVC
My 2 other stories ‘Lost & Found’ and ‘The Rebellious Cat’ were similarly inspired from some of the posts in theDelhiwalla.com.
I am working on my next story these days, but my hands shake every time I return to it. It’s hard to relive memories that you’ve worked so hard to forget. Like ‘Adam & Eve’ this too is waiting for a spark to bring it to life.
Keep the torch burning, Delhi Walla! A lot of little flames depend on it.
Well, here is a latest update as on 14 October 2017. On Tuesday, 3 October 2017, my weekly off from work, I got a second chance to host MAS and this time, it was in my own house! Long after he was gone, I still could not believe that Mayank Austen Soofi had actually visited me.
Here are some pics clicked by my daughter Suroshri.