INTRODUCTION TO THE WASTE SAD TIME
A few weeks after we started living in India, in a locality abutting Delhi, at the end of thirty-seven years of a nomad’s life, a journalist I knew gave me some advice. He said I should shut myself up in a room and immediately start writing a book, before I settled into a rut. He cited an instant full of anger in the life of Mirza Ghalib who said he felt at that moment like a musical instrument with very taut strings which at the gentlest touch would pour forth an air. I must write, he said, while I was still, like Ghalib, burning with anger and other similar sentiments. I did not follow the second part of this friend’s advice because I think writing is a deliberate act, born out of reflection and wordcraft and not a spontaneous, uncontrolled outburst of emotion. Besides, at the time this conversation happened, I was not full of rage even on matters my friend thought I might be angry about. My attitudes were far more autumnal.
But in December 2001, I did shut myself up in a spiritual kind of room and set out to reflect and write about what I had seen and experienced, playing solitaire as it were. I wrote at a slow and halting pace. The act of writing started transforming the way I saw the things I was writing about, forcing me to change some of what I wrote in the first instance, slowing me down further. I finished writing in February 2004. Then I wrote a chapter, part self-justification, part general observations about the nature of politics and of the trade I was engaged in to earn my living, which I named Apologia. This piece which I finished writing in the middle of 2004, chronologically the epilogue of the book, became its prologue. I left this work for about one and a half years to kind of rest and mature, rereading and editing it.
At one level this is a broadly chronological narrative of my experiences in the Indian Foreign Service, twelve of its fifteen chapters corresponding to different stages in my career. The last chapter is an epilogue, an outline of my worldview at the end of my wanderings and the second is a description of the moral atmosphere in which I grew up. At another level, it is a commentary on society, politics, diplomacy and people across countries, continents and time. At yet another, it is autobiographical as it cannot but also be a peek into the evolution of my own sensibility. In choosing the title,
The Waste Sad Time , stealing from the closing lines of T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton, I sought to sum up the mood of the book. But the word waste can have another meaning, the one in which William Shakespeare used it in the sonnet from which I quote in the frontispiece. Let those who read this work, posted elsewhere on this site, decide which of the two senses is more appropriate.
A quick sampling of reactions to sections of this work confirmed me in my feeling that neither my name nor the substance of my writing fit into the current, mostly, commercial, calculations of those engaged in book publishing. Yet, I thought, people wrote books for self-expression long before Gutenberg, when book publishing, as a money making enterprise was unknown. They had scribes make copies for keeping and presenting or others who liked or valued the book got scribes to make copies for them. No one other than court chroniclers and itinerant bards, copyists, suppliers of paper, papyrus or palm leaf, quill or reed and ink made a living out of poetry, belles lettres or other writing.
Making a transition from the age preceding printing presses to our own, I think of the internet and the worldwide web and its liberating influence. I look upon it as the most important platform today for independent, individual self-expression. The risks of not finding an audience for what is posted on the web are no greater than those for work which is published in print but not read, for a book can remain unread for a variety of reasons: because it is a bad book; because it is not prurient or sensational; because what it says is out of tune with current fashion; because the publisher is a bad salesman; because the author is unknown or because some splenetic reviewer has savaged it. And, a book, after it has issued out of the hands of its writer acquires a life of its own, whether on the shelves of bookshops and libraries or in cyberspace.
The Waste Sad Time
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