My relationship with the newspaper began and ended with its ‘Leisure’ page — with its cartoons, puzzles and crosswords. The only other thing that I found interesting, a virtual oasis in the desert of news,was what was known as the ‘Middle’. Positioned in the middle of the editorial page, it was a slice of life from readers about things one could relate to.
I clearly remember the leap my heart had made when I opened the edit page one day and discovered that the middle that day was by our much-admired professor, Mrs Malati Mathur. It was unbelievable – our teacher from our small town was being read by people all over India! I remember being gobsmacked by the grandness of this realization. Also, the seed, of maybe writing a middle one day and seeing my own name in a national newspaper, was sown. I loved writing and this seemed doable.
Fast forward ten years — marriage, baby, a couple of transfers and teaching jobs later, I finally sat down with a pen and paper and wrote my first ‘middle’. I thought it was brilliant, never mind that it was just a first draft! I mailed (yes, regular ‘post-office’ mail in the pre-internet days) it to The Hindustan Times. World! Get ready to meet this shiny new writer!
And then I waited. And waited.
I flipped open the paper every day, bursting with anticipation. Days upon days passed and other writers occupied my dream space before an envelope with my address in an unfamiliar hand and bearing the logo of The Hindustan Times arrived. I tore the envelope open with trembling hands and discovered within my first rejection letter. I felt my heart plummet right down to my soles.
I willed myself to keep writing. Just when I was seriously considering papering our room with the polite, generic rejection notes, there came another rejection note — this time with a difference.
The note was handwritten and accompanied with a heavily underlined and commented copy of my piece. It was from Mr T N Nair, who was then the edit-page editor at Hindustan Times. He not only said the writing was good, but painstakingly pointed out the problematic areas and offered suggestions to improve the same.
That proved to be the turning point of my journey as a writer; the publication of that revised piece was to be the first of my 100+ published middles. This gave me the confidence to turn towards other forms of writing. I started writing fiction, features, even text-books, along with middles. Those days of snail mails taught me patience, resilience and mostly, perseverance. While I am rather proud of doing this with my small-town education, no mentoring and no connections, I’m sure there must be many like me. — writers who made it on their own.
As lonely and tough that trudge uphill was, there were always editors who didn’t know me from Adam and still gave me the opportunity. How can I forget any of those considerate editors – always supportive and encouraging? I couldn’t have done it without them. Nor could I have dreamt of writing if there hadn’t been the people who prompted me to write. People like Dadu, maashi, mama, friends who, on the strength of my letters to them thought of me as a decent writer and kept gifting me books. Wherever I am at this point, it’s a good time to acknowledge my gratitude for all those big and small miracles, influences, and people who kept me going. To top it all, unlike in many other jobs, there’s no stagnation in the writing business, nor is there any dearth of challenges!
It smelled like sweet victory when acceptances started to outnumber rejections and the folder I had named ‘Booster’ grew fatter with carefully clipped published work. Finally, requests to write from some reputed publications started coming, and one day I actually saw my first book displayed at a book-store – Whew! That felt like I had arrived!
But is there an ‘arrived’ point in a writer’s journey? Or is it one more peak to be ascended after another? I feel happy that I navigated those uncharted seas without a mentor or the internet in the beginning. But there are still so many ideas I need to pen down, so many peaks still to discover.
Writing was Madhumita’s first love, which started with writing for school magazines in the 1970s. Since then she has been writing regularly for all kinds of publications. She writes third-editorials, personal essays, features on parenting, wellness, health, movie reviews and fiction for Indian and international publications. Her most recent publication was the book Tuntuni and Other Jungle Tales from Bengal a result of her ardent wish to share her childhood favourite with non-Bengali kids.