Just as I powered my phone on,
WhatsApp notifications erupted one after the other.
A clamouring burst.
It was Raj.
I find it hard to describe him.
A friend. Or, an acquaintance.
Or, a well-wisher.
Maybe a spammer.
I don’t know.
Ever since he called me one fine day.
I just remember him as a man who texts me incessantly on Facebook.
So much so that I’ve put his window on silent.
We first spoke over a call.
He wanted to write a review of my book for a Nepali newspaper.
It was a book I didn’t want to associate myself with.
I was trying hard to erase it.
Every online footprint.
I had gone to the extent of deactivating its promotional Facebook page.
Such is life.
He never wrote the review,
Despite interviewing me for about an hour.
Though I’m eternally grateful to him for that.
But now, he’s back again.
In my life.
I’m dreading another review request.
I rang him up.
As he is in Delhi.
And it’s considered impolite to not call a fellow Nepali.
Especially, when they’re in strange lands.
I don’t understand his optimism –
In life and in literature.
Despite all odds.
He is a teacher.
Who still thinks, at fifty, that a pen can change the world.
Or at least, tweak it a little, for the better.
I have to give it to him,
Such grandiloquent hope,
Against all hopes.
He tells me he is in Delhi,
At the Sahitya Akademi.
The highest literary body in India.
“Meeting some friends.
For my new publishing house.”
Then adds (quite pompously) “I have a couple of other meetings, too.”
“Where do you stay?”
Raj asks me.
I tell him.
Without being specific.
“How far is that from Lodhi?”
He goes on.
“About an hour,”
“Can we meet somewhere in between?”
There is no way out with him.
Once he gets his mind to it.
He’s a persuader,
Of the unusual kind.
I never reply to his Facebook messages.
And he never stops pinging.
That’s us, in a crux.
If I don’t meet him elsewhere,
He is bound to find my home.
He knows, from my tone of voice and my blatant disapproval of his opinion over the Net, that I’m about to give him an excuse.
So, he drops a bait on me.
“I have an appointment with Ms Joy –
The Booker winner.”
I take it.
Knowing that, he says:
“Why don’t you come along with us?”
“Sure,” I say.
After all, it’s an opportunity.
A thousand possibilities pop in my head.
But I answer back with a blasé okay.
“Okay,” he says.
“See you then.”
And I cut the call.
I’m at a studio for some job.
But I leave with an excuse.
And head home.
I need a bath.
A black shirt.
And a black pair of shoes.
In about an hour, I get ready.
All set to meet Ms Joy.
I get late on the way.
I fret over traffic.
And fear getting late.
Raj keeps texting me.
Surprising myself, I reply.
To all of them.
But I just ignore it.
When I reach 420, Raj calls me up.
We try to find each other.
And eventually we meet.
Fun fact: we’re meeting for the first time.
He’s got a friend along.
Without bothering for pleasantries, we start speaking.
As if we are the best of friends.
I don’t know.
He is always there when I need to rant.
At all times.
Ready to respond to anything I say.
We reach 420.
At first Raj says, “first floor.”
We ring the bell.
Raj then looks into his WhatsApp,
“Oh no,” he exclaims.
“It’s the second floor.”
As we head up, an elderly woman opens the door on the first floor.
We head up again.
We know from the inscriptions on Ms Joy’s wall that it’s her apartment.
“You can’t be careful enough. Because you can’t be careful enough.”
We all wait outside with bated breath.
It’s Ms Joy after all.
The God of the Streets was the first serious book I ever read as a kid.
I still remember it having a permanent place beside the old telephone in my room.
It was from that era –
When telephones were a status symbol.
After about two rings, Ms Joy opened the door.
She is still a gorgeous person.
A few grey hair don’t mar it, yet.
Her voice is as soft as in her interview with Salman Rushdie.
Which was many years ago.
When she was as gorgeous as she is today.
Big moment for all of us. Me especially.
I have had a serious crush on her. All my life.
She opens the door and welcomes us inside.
Her apartment opens into a kitchen.
Lovely, quiet place.
There is a brass plate on the table.
Please don’t use mobile phones.
Please don’t use laptops.
Please speak softly.
Or something to that effect.
I am too smitten to notice all of that.
She blurs everything.
We all settle around a table.
She offers us lemonade.
Then the conversation begins.
There are tons of manuscripts on the table.
The walls seem plastered with books.
“I’m sorry, I came without informing you.”
Raj apologises to Ms Joy.
I’m like, WTF.
She is kind.
“No, that’s fine,” she says.
A quiet smile plays on her lips.
As if afraid.
“So, you’re from Himalayan Books?”
“Not me,” I say.
Turning towards Raj and his friend.
(I don’t want to be a part of this scam.)
Raj and his friend introduce themselves as founders of the publishing house.
I feel queasy inside.
Because the conversation is getting complicated.
She is speaking about translations. And Raj is talking about himself.
While his friend gifts her a packet of Darjeeling tea.
“Silver Tips from Makaibari,”
“So, you publish in Nepali?”
She is addressing Raj.
“Yes,” he replies. “We translate.”
“Is it a reading society?”
We have forty million Nepalese worldwide.
I don’t know what to say.
Or how to get them on the same page.
“The politics of disseminating information has changed,”
Ms Joy says.
We have a Facebook page.”
After a point, she gives up,
And turns towards me.
“So, young man.
What do you do?”
“I do nothing,”
“But I’m a big fan of yours.
And I stole this opportunity to meet you.”
“Thank you,” she says.
Handing over the contract to Raj.
Raj has no clue about contracts.
Or her work.
Oh my fucking god.
By now, Ms Joy is aware that Raj is a novice.
But she is too civil, too polite to say it to his face.
I fall in love with her.
All over again.
In handling Raj.
In getting into a contract with him.
In giving the right to translate her work;
The fruit of ten long years.
To a stranger.
To a phoney.
Excerpted with permission from The Legacy Of Nothing, Manoj Pandey, with illustrations From Yuko Shimizu, Pan.