By Devraj Singh Kalsi
I had never felt the need to move out of the city. Let me correct myself here. I had never felt the urge to move out of the city. All my friends were determined to leave the city after completing their studies. They had convinced themselves that there were no opportunities here. A better future, a dream career was only possible elsewhere. I did not buy this sentiment. I was not swept by the tide of majoritarian thinking. I was a loner marooned on the tiny island of my hardcore beliefs that withstood the winds of change.
I had always felt that a writer does not necessarily need to move out except for commercial compulsions. If he moves out, it does take him away from his roots and the intimate world he belongs to. He writes wistfully of the lost world and tries to draw a connection.
If I wish to write well, I have to read well. This can happen in the small town as well. Why should I leave the city I had grown up in? This was the kind of idealism that restrained me. I was convinced to hear this reassuring voice urging me to lock myself down where I was and just read and write. I listened to it and stayed back. For almost two decades.
While they moved at a frenzied pace made more furious by their ambition within, I was the one who remained out of this race, to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, finding bliss in buying vegetables from farmers, plucking guavas and mangoes, having long walks to breathe in the fresh air, and listening to birds and their different voices. Something must be terribly lacking in such a person who opts for things nobody cares about. Must be a nervous chap afraid of failing who refuses to participate.
Relatives and family members came down heavily, suspecting the lack of the seeds of ambition. Inspirational stories of success abroad were narrated. When these did not push me hard to go out and compete, they realised the futility of it and dismissed my cowardice and lethargy as a tell-tale sign of impending doom. A person who lives to commit professional blunder. Such abuse came my way. I brushed it all aside. Nothing went deep inside to stir me, to jolt me, to make me feel insulted, to feel challenged, to come out and fight the usual survival wars of middle-class existence.
Most of the friends became journalists and editors and rose to the eminence of the kind they had visualised. I was still reading and writing and undergoing the angst of creative puberty, waiting for the first novel to burst out of me. When they heard of my long, endless struggle, they advised me to become flexible and practical, move to a cosmopolitan city and build contacts.
I knew from my college days I had chosen a path less travelled. Okay, I was late in meeting them at the thoroughfare of success. But does it mean I have to change my chosen path now? Their words did not persuade me. I still believed in what I had chosen long ago. I was ready to face the consequences. My experiences of failure kept me grounded. I never thought I was desperate to meet success, never pleading for the gates of success to let me in.
The hectic pace of life never made me change my languid pace. I followed my speed, never rushing into anything. I had the time to stand and absorb the beauty of flowers blooming all around, I had the time to sit by the riverside and watch its languid flow. I had the time to sit under the shady tree and distance myself from the world around me. I had the time to observe hordes of people in the market.
While I did work in advertising as a copywriter for my bread and butter, I stayed away from the stressful world and chose to work from home. It gave me a flexible routine, offered extra time to think and write for myself. I felt I was going to lose this fine balance if I went elsewhere. The ideal state of composure would be lost forever.
A compromise would scuttle my romance with nature. I was convinced even if I had to write for any other medium, I would still do it from my hometown. If the creative output was impressive, the terms and conditions would be made flexible. I was not going to relocate for career gains.
The world is full of stories of people leaving homes for jobs. In the creative world, such stories of migration and struggle are also common. I was perhaps the uncommon kind who was convinced of the lack of the need to go anywhere else. Perhaps, it was true that the urge to make pots of money was not there. Or maybe I always believed big money was going to come if I wrote big stuff. Location was immaterial. Nobody really cares to know where the writer wrote the story so long as his work was good. When I read about respected authors who were grocers, postal clerks, and ration-shop owners, the entire perspective changed.
If I make it, I will be proved right. Perhaps I am wrong to think so. Sometimes, I wonder why I have this stubborn streak.
Is it because I love the city? Or I am afraid of finding myself fighting the same predictable battles as others do? Is it that I hate to come out of my comfort zone? Hurl any such reasoning. I am unruffled.
This makes me think hard again. Is it the love of people and places? Why don’t I try once to leave and see how it pans out? As I tell myself to change, something tells me not to get distracted. Stay on the path I have been following. Do not think like others, say no to herd mentality. But when others question my present life, they do not think I chose it. They think I could not secure a better one. It is a defeat when I have nothing to tell them, to show them, to silence them.
The world I live in is relatively small, but it is nurturing my system well. While the city-based people have also suffered a lot, their success hides everything else. My failures strip me of the barest cover to defend myself.
Take the counterpoint now. If life is so good here, why is your creativity not blooming and booming in the small town? Those city-based ones are writing best-sellers and you make tall claims of being a good writer. When it does not show in terms of success, isn’t it a wasted life?
More important to find out is whether the writer in me feels exhausted or wasted. I have a word with the writer within every morning. He says he is still connected and happy to be here, not regretting the choice I made long ago.
Agreed, creativity did not blossom here for me, but what is the guarantee it would have flourished elsewhere? They argue the chaos of survival, the urge to prove would have brought out my creativity. This slow life did not let it happen. They mean creativity comes out under stress. Well, it is an opinion and a possibility. But for me, I never like to write a single sentence under pressure.
At this stage in life, with nothing worth to showcase as a fancy badge of success, I have no regret for not moving out, of being content with whatever creativity I could muster to tell a few stories. Did I wait too long for creativity to bloom instead of trying to force it? So long as I can create something decent even if it is not conventionally successful, I am happy for myself. Nothing else matters – not even the harshest criticism of my choices.
The creativity I see around is non-competitive and complete in itself. Only humans want their creativity to become competitive, get acknowledged and recognised. I am happy to blossom the way my world wants me to bloom. Even if I do not, absolutely no regrets. Many creative folks have already gone down this path. I am not the first one to disappear without leaving behind a substantial body of work.
But the belief that brilliant stuff does not always have to come out of a metro-centric environment remains firm. All creative folks are not bound to create great art during their lifetime. Much of their existence is dedicated to the admiration of creative beauty in various forms. Forget the charm and trappings of success. Write in the way you love to write. This harmony is more important for the seeker within.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.