I still remember the day I first walked into my office. It was September 1, 2012. I had been called the previous day by the Assistant to the then Executive Editor to attend a test.
It was a surreal experience. Here I was, a graduate with no experience or fancy degrees to show. One fine night, in a drunken stupor, I sent a mail to the then Editorial Director, seeking, bluntly, a job. He liked my language and immediately directed the Executive Editor to test me. No resume was asked, no certificate was checked. The only question he asked me after the short interview was: when can you join? It's been over five years now and the memories of my interview still are fresh in my mind. It was some valuable lessons I learnt that day: nothing matters if you are willing to go the whole way; and, if you don't ask, the answer will always be no. Life is quirky, you never know when it will take a turn for good, or otherwise. The reminiscence I indulge myself in is an offshoot of having read Of Human Bondage again. William Somerset Maugham distilled all his artistic capabilities to concoct a story of such magnitude and import. How was he to know that his words would ring true for a man a century later and he would sit up in the night, marvelling at the sublimity of words and ornateness of thoughts encapsulated in the 400-odd pages. There are books, I have said earlier, which transform us; and Of Human Bondage is every bit of that ilk. The protagonist in this tome is an abominable creature, worthy of neither attention nor thought. He is me.
How else can you define the familiarity with which he swoops down on you? We search for traits we lack in characters that we chance upon in books. We want to feel, albeit for a brief moment, what it is like being a protagonist, living with those moral values, and determination, we are found wanting. When such a character makes an apparition, we are overawed by the realisation that his life, deeds, victories and jubilation could have been ours. However, once the book is closed, we return to our dreary lives, back to normalcy. The peculiarity of Philips lies in the fact that he offers no such comfort. Even when you are away from Maugham's world, you are a prisoner of his thoughts. It seems as though he derives a moral pleasure out of hurting our raw nerve. Philips is a no-good, underachieving, selfish and abominable specimen of human being that ever walked on two legs. It's this repulsion, this abhorrence, Philips generates that make him the most real of all literary characters I have ever come across. There is nothing special about him. He lacks exuberance, character, will and morals. The most sublime emotion he can draw is contempt. It's this base and coarse character that makes him contemptible. However, it's the very trait that makes him human. Maugham spared no word to draw the comparison. Philips is no ordinary character. He is me.
We are all contemptible people, hiding behind the veneer of morality and revealing ourselves only when there is surety that nobody is peeping through the keyhole. There are candlelight marches being organised all around; affectation of candour is the mark of luminaries these days; toddlers are falling prey to predators; and we are all happy in our little cocoons, lying low in the hope that the turbulent storm will blow itself out and when everything is calm, we would scavenge on the moral decay that our society would have become. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... says Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. Maybe his allusion was not to the French Revolution but a prophecy for our times. Maybe I'm overreacting. Anyway.
Had a nice meal after a long time. Wanted to eat stew and loaf, but as usual I was vetoed by a dictatorial majority that has no faith in democracy or constructive debate: my family. I have started reading Maugham's The Summing Up. It was a book suggested by a former senior, who was so enamoured by its narrative that he shut himself up in a room for a year and wrote a book. I was the unfortunate soul tasked with the responsibility of editing it. Our friendship was on the edge for a few weeks, for with my each doubt his temper would rise. Slowly, frayed nerves obliterated the senior-junior ethics and we nearly came to blows. However, better sense prevailed and we both beat a hasty retreat; he from writing and I from his friendship. Old memories, close to heart.