This is the story of a woman whose life took a 180 degree turn just with the entry of a simple computer and an internet connection. I am this woman. When I was at the peak of my career as freelance journalist and author, circumstances forced me to migrate from Mumbai, a city I have lived and worked in for 25 years, to Calcutta. The shift changed the entire course of my life at a time when I was doing extremely well in my career. When we shifted, I had to leave behind my main ‘weapon’ of attack – my electronic typewriter. Writing therefore, came to a complete standstill. My husband hired a manual typewriter for me to get on with my work. But where were the assignments from local papers? I wrote of Mumbai-based stories for Mumbai papers. Mumbai editors were no longer interested in assigning work to a contributor who had migrated to the opposite corner of the country.
Knocking on the doors of Calcutta dailies did not yield much. “We are overstaffed already,” said one editor. “We have stopped taking submissions from freelancers now,” said another. The manual typewriter was getting to be a pain in the neck. The ‘r’ was broken and the ‘t’ did not function at all. Conditioned to the cartridge of the electronic typewriter, I hated to change the black ribbon when it had to be replaced. The reels did not move properly. I decided that perhaps, it would be best to ‘retire’ and concentrate on something I did not particularly care for – being a housewife. After 15 years of full-time writing, it was not a happy thought. Rather, it was my own way of coping with the frustration, trying to keep myself from landing in one of those dreaded cage cells in the neighborhood loony bin. Then, a family friend mentioned the magic word ‘computer.’ My life changed forever.
My husband ventured to shell out the greenbacks provided I did my own market survey. Taking elementary notes on the configurations I would need for my kind of work, I set off, scouting the market for a PC that would suit my needs and my husband’s pocket. I ultimately landed the kind of machine I was looking Every day, I would spend two hours teaching myself the basics through the online tutorials - how to move the mouse, how to open a particular window, how to name, save, copy and edit files on my word programme, how to cut and paste from one article to another, how to install the printer and use it through the PC and a hundred more different things I once thought were beyond me. The ‘learning process’ was a continuous journey of discovering oneself. It was a great way to give oneself an ego massage. But it did little to fatten my empty bank balance – I was still without work. Then, my husband voiced an idea that was already there at the back of my mind. “Why don’t you write that book on cinema you had promised yourself years ago?” The idea took root. There wasn’t much work around anyway. So, I dug up all the paper and magazine clippings I had collected as raw material for the proposed book over the past ten years. I joined a film library, made notes and took Xeroxed chapters from books I could not afford to buy. Few Indian libraries, specialized, private or public are computerized yet. I got my ‘ammunition’ in order. Then, I sat myself down with a determination I never knew I was capable of.
It took much heartbreak, hours of frustration, as chapter after chapter took a return ticket from publishers who were not interested in ‘stuff they had never heard of.’ It was feminist film criticism, a new subject for Indian publishers. I made a file of the rejection letters from publishers. It kept on reminding me that these letters were the only obstacles in a running race to the finishing post. It was a matter of time till I reached my goal. I finished one chapter and got on to the next. I was not working in sequence since this was non-fiction and scholastic. I always gave in to the temptation to go back and revise. I ended up revising, editing, brushing up, polishing, re-drafting every single chapter so many times that I finally lost count. I realized that this fine-tuning, this desperation for that Utopia called perfection would never have been possible without my computer. I updated facts and broadened my database all the time as the book got written.
In layman’s terms, my book had to do with an analytical study of the portrayal of women in Indian cinema from the 1920s to 1998 from a feminist’s standpoint. It was something no one in my country – journalist, film scholar, film critic, and filmmaker had even attempted before. I wanted my work to live beyond me. I wanted to carve my name into ‘the history of writing on cinema.’ The computer became much more than a machine. The Internet and I began a torrid extra-marital affair that continues till this day. It evolved over time, into a friend, philosopher and guide. I should have dedicated the book to my computer and to WEB.2. Being a mere human, I was afraid to.
Three years later, with GodAloneKnowsHowManyRevisions, I finally pulled myself away from the computer, from the Internet, from all the doc.files I had saved up as chapters – I had still not learnt to function from a ‘master document’ – and declared that the book was complete. No publisher still. The subject was new. I could only write, I did not know the first thing about how to print, publish and market it. With a little help from my brother, an art director in a publishing concern, who did the cover, the book finally rolled out of the press under an imprint my husband invented for his new publishing house, on December 21, 1998 with a new imprint – Parumita Publications. The name of the book is – SUBJECT: CINEMA, OBJECT:WOMAN – A STUDY OF THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN INDIAN CINEMA . It is still the only book of its kind in the whole world because no one has analysed Indian mainstream cinema the way I have done. There are many who could have done a far better job than I have, I know that. But I decided to be the first.
Soon after the book was released in the Indian market, writing assignments began to pour in. I went back to being a freelance journalist and film critic, writing for newspapers, magazines, e-zines, all over the place. My computer is my partner in this wonderful enterprise of creating and re-creating myself through my writing. By January 2000, my next book – INDIAN WOMEN – FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT – a collection of my articles on gender, was released at the Calcutta Book Fair. The imprint was the same – my husband’s firm Parumita Publications. My computer and Web.2, albeit in an indirect way, had given my semi-retired engineer husband a brand new occupation at 60!
By 57, I had an average output of 15 articles a month spread over five national newspapers, three national magazines and four e-zines. Thanks to these new creation of science and technology, a new virtual world that had opened up, I had discovered and added new meaning to the same writing I had been doing for years. The computer and the web, two magic inventions of mankind I once tended to dismiss as techno-gizzmos I did not need to understand, are now my closest friends.
I am now 65, and have completed my Ph.D. within 18 months thanks to this discovery of Web.2 which made international interaction functional and productive. I have singly authored 16 books and currently, three manuscripts are waiting with one literary agent and one publisher. I have won two prestigious fellowships over the past seven years. I still write at least one article a day and have an average published output of 15 articles a month. I am logged on for nearly eight to 12 hours a day and surf constantly. I have made hundreds of friends through Web 2, people I have never met and am never likely to meet for the rest of my life. Web2 continues to unfurl new magic, new wonders, new friends and new promises every single day, one of them being Pulsewire and the friends I have made on it. Life is beautiful, thanks to Web.2.
Saturday, March 21, 2009