My journey as a freelance writer began in 1993 with an article in the local edition of The Hindustan Times while doing my BSc from a college in Patna. I was 10-12 articles old when I thought of writing something bigger. I bought a fancy notebook and an expensive fountain pen and started writing my first novel, a story of unrequited love.
For the next five years, it became my singular obsession and I filled more than a thousand pages with my writings. However, it was not a complete novel, because in order to attain perfection I had been rewriting the first five chapters again and again. In 1998, I got a job in a public sector bank and was posted to a remote place in Punjab. Homesick, I began to drift away from writing. After coming home from work I spent my time cooking and watching soap operas. I had abandoned reading too.
Four years passed, I got transferred to a small town in UP called Basti, and Tarannum entered my life. It was a traditional arranged marriage (we didn’t even talk on the phone before our nikah) and we didn’t know much about each other.
When Tarannum came to live with me in Basti, the first thing she did was to dust the old books and papers in the cupboard. And there she discovered newspaper cuttings of my published articles and the partially written manuscript of my novel, then titled Four Corners of a Heart.
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She spent a couple of days reading it and then asked me why I had stopped writing. I told her that I suffered from writers’ block. She didn’t listen to me, demanded that I start working on my novel if I wanted to see her happy. She asked me to write at least 100 words every day. She offered to type my manuscript on the computer. Thus it became a sort of ritual for me to scribble at least 100 words every morning. Typing those words became part of her daily chores.
For several years it continued like this, but I was not progressing with the story and had barely added a couple of chapters in my novel. My old habit of reworking the same chapters meant that I wrote more than 200 drafts of the prologue and the first chapter.
Meanwhile, I joined a private bank and we moved to Ludhiana. My wife bought me a new laptop and told me to work seriously on my novel. Using emotional blackmail, she extracted a promise from me that I’d finish my novel first and then rework chapters. She told me if I tried to achieve perfection I’d never complete my novel. Her idea was to put the entire story on the paper and then edit it.
Her continuous pestering finally helped me finish my first draft. Her approach was astonishing, as she had neither a degree in literature nor any knowledge of the publishing process.
I wanted to get editorial feedback to improve my novel, which by then had a new working title, Three Kinds of Dreams, but it would be expensive. Tarannum offered me her personal savings. I contacted Kanishka Gupta of Writer’s Side and he agreed to review my manuscript. A month later, the feedback arrived and it was really heartbreaking. They found over 100 faults in my novel.
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When I shared the report with my wife she was unfazed and told me I should rework it on the basis of the feedback. It took me more than two years to revise my novel. My book was a mushy romance when I started writing it but ended up as a culturally insightful coming-of-age tale with a socio-political backdrop. When I felt that I could not better it, I started approaching agents and publishers in India and abroad.
After more than 200 rejections, I was about to give up, when a friend suggested that I should change the title. My wife agreed, saying Three Kinds of Dreams said nothing about my novel’s content and I should include ‘Patna’ or ‘Bihar’ in the title. We began to make a list of probable titles and I suddenly came up with Patna Blues and she loved it.
I was not sure if the change of title would do anything to get me a publishing deal, but she, as always, motivated me to approach agents and publishers again with the new title. Within two months I got an offer from Juggernaut Books.
Now, she wants me to finish my second novel before my first novel hits the bookshelves next year.