Monday, November 15, 2010

NDTV Journal: weeks 7-11

Dr. Prannoy Roy wasn’t always the man with the famous beard. Once upon a time he was 18 years old and working at a London grocery store. He admitted to my NDTV batch that he wasn’t very good at his job. He said that he knew, for example, where the can of mushrooms were, but whenever a customer would ask him for it, all the cans up on the shelves would start to look the same to him. His boss helped him out the first few times, but then fired him with the grand declaration that the young Roy would never amount to anything ever in his life. Dr. Roy acknowledged that, as an 18-year-old, he was crushed. I’m not sure but at that moment, I think I saw that 18-year-old resurface on the face of the 61-year-old man sitting across the desk in front of me, but that was for just a second.

Dr. Prannoy Roy is now my boss; he is the founder and Executive Chairperson of NDTV. Wikipedia calls him a ‘media baron’, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the whole of India probably knows who he is. That really means something in a country of over 1 billion people, a nation where approximately 1/6th of the world’s population resides. Dr. Roy’s got a whole lot of other complicated entries on his resume – Economics graduate from the University of London's Queen Mary College, PhD in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics, Chartered Accountant, Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. He has also taught at the Delhi School of Economics and has served as Economic Advisor to the Government of India. He’s been involved in the media world since the early 80s and has made a name for himself as a journalist, election analyst, and anchorperson. He told me that he too had worked with Deloitte for a while but had got bored.

Back in school, an English teacher had once told me that I had terrible style and that I thought too much of myself on two separate occasions respectively. The latter comment was made in reference to a poem I had come up with in a moment of complete angst. It was called ‘I’ll Reach the Top’. I was 14 years old then.

One day I’ll be,
Up there, you’ll see,
I’ll be the best one day.
I’ll be so big,
That all you pigs,
Will have nothing left to say.
I will, just wait,
Be so, so great,
I’ll outshine all of you.
I’ll be the CREAM,
Just let me dream,
I’ll make my dreams come true.

As a college student in the United States, I dreaded one photo editor at the university newspaper where I worked as a writer and photographer. The guy was White American, younger than me, a journalism student, and not only was he the most hated person in the newsroom, but on one incident he insisted that an English word I said existed did not exist. I hated how he assumed that he had the final word on that for some vague predestined reason.

As a foreign IT professional in the United States, I was struggling to carve time for what I really wanted to do – have a book published. I was desperate. I had once promised myself that I would be published by 24, and here I was pushing 26. So I forsook my feeble social life for daily writing time and socializing with a local writing club which was mostly white and over 50. For the first year, most people there didn’t even know my name, but they eventually learned how to pronounce it and ended up teaching me many things about the writing business. A number of them were published many times over.

One year I attended a writer’s conference in Oklahoma City. I remember how when I told a Deloitte coworker about the conference, he raised his fingers in the shape of quotation marks and said, “you mean, “writer’s” conference”. He then laughed in my face.

At the conference, I was terrified. Here were more old white people from the Bible Belt of America. The angry black woman I was set up to room with at the hotel spent the weekend telling me how no one wanted to buy her tome of a novel because it was about a black woman. I had finished my first book by then and was looking for a publisher. I’d pitched it to an editor who was interested at first but politely declined a couple of months later over email. Another editor wasn’t so nice – he said my work was so boring that it put him to sleep in the first few pages, but that he’d try and fish out the rest of manuscript if he could ever muster the bother. Over the next few months I sent letters to about a hundred publishers across America, and only got back 25 rejections. The others never replied. There were a handful of publishers who were interested, but they too turned me down in time. That manuscript has since been put on the backburner.

While I retreated to lick my wounds, a random publisher from Delaware that I’d never heard of got wind of me somehow and asked me to write some books for them. I am now working on my 4th book, and I’m still not sure how the folks at Mitchell Lane Publishers got to know of me in the first place. I need to investigate that one of these days. Or maybe I’ll just let the mystery be for when someone makes a movie about me.

Dr. Roy did go back to find that grocery shop in London. He saw that it had shut down a long time ago.

I didn’t get a book published by 24, but by the time I turned 28, I had had two books published. The first one happened to be released one day after my birthday.