I was a good girl as a child. Obedient. Well behaved. I listened.
And I wrote. I kept diaries. I wrote stories I placed in the most volatile setting I could think of. The first Gulf War, which was then playing out several thousand kilometers away from my protected middle class life in India. My family read all I produced, then advised me to avoid unfamiliar settings. I listened.
As I grew, I was advised to study Economics at university, and to try for a career in Investment Banking. That’s what a lot of cousins were doing, and they were making tons of money. They were working long hours too, but we never saw the unglamorous side of their lives. Banking seemed the sensible option. I listened.
I read Economics at university, joined a bulge bracket investment bank. I worked late, made money. And then, as I spent a birthday at an anonymous Private Equity conference in an anonymous Frankfurt, I had an epiphany. I hated banking. Absolutely loathed it. The poring over accounts, the painstaking projecting cashflows years into the future, the constant touting for business. I looked around me at the sea of grey – men and women, all bright, well educated, well turned out, and now all uniformly consumed with the acquisition of money – and I realised that I wasn’t one of them.
And that birthday evening, as I sat alone in my anonymous hotel room, I wrote. It was all forgettable and formulaic, but I finally felt like I was doing something I wanted to. It felt like I was listening to myself. It felt like coming home.
I wrote around work for a while. Between meetings, during my commute. On weekends.
And then I decided to leave finance. I told my husband, and though the loss of one income would hit us, he was supportive. I called my parents, and they panicked. It was a perilous life I was about to choose. Who knew if – and when – success would come. In the meantime, it would be better, both for my equanimity and my solvency, if I continued to work. I didn’t listen. I was past it now. My own voice sang loud and clear.
I quit my job. I set up our spare room as a study, filled the bookcases with my favourite books, our music system with my favourite music. Everything was set up for me to write. Except I didn’t. I couldn’t. Days stretched before me, inspiration refused to strike. I found distractions. Coffees with friends, long walks, daytime TV. Books I had never before had the time for. And suddenly time turned unyielding. I’d end my weekend with good intentions. On Monday I would work. But there was always an excuse, a handy distraction. By the time Wednesday came around, I’d feel like it was nearly the weekend. It would be better putting things off till the next week. As I was starting to realise, a surfeit of time is sometimes as, no, more debilitating than a lack of it. My folks worried about me. ‘Go back to work’, they said. I didn’t listen. I was going to begin my magnus opus. I was. Just as soon as the weekend was over.
When I did finally begin to write, I was told to think commercially. Not to write short stories, as it was hard to sell a debut collection. Novels were more marketable. I didn’t listen. I wrote story upon story, submitted them to agents. They didn’t sell.
I was told not to write a novella. Was told they were even harder to place than short story collections. And of course, I didn’t listen. Again, I clogged up the inboxes of agents with no joy.
I was counselled to write, then put my work away for six months before returning to appraise it. I didn’t listen. I didn’t have the patience, or the required distance from my work to give me objectivity.
Do something, my parents implored. ‘You’re losing your self-esteem’, And they were right. Now a mother of two children, I was starting to lose my sense of self. When asked what I did, I furtively told people I was an unpublished author. They nodded pityingly before changing subjects. I was guilty of that social sin; giving an unanswerable reply to a casual question. I killed conversations.
Still, I didn’t listen.
I was determined to write. I wasn’t going to work in finance, and I would have to start at the bottom in any other field. I was in my thirties now, and just didn’t have the will to graft for something I didn’t believe in. I was going to write. Only now, time had become a rare commodity again. I had two very young children. A three year old son, and a six month old daughter.
Not now, I was told. It will be too hard. Wait till both the kids are in school. But I didn’t listen.
I wrote. The story came to me, and after years of rejections, I found an agent. Measured success.
There is still a mountain to climb. A publisher to find. And if I look at the years that have passed since I stopped listening, since I stopped working in banking, I find myself financially poorer. I find myself more emotionally fragile, more defensive about work. But I’m happier. I’m fulfilled. I love my family, and I love my work. I’m happy to wake up at three in the morning to write in a way I never uncomplainingly did when I worked in banking. And the mistakes I made, writing unsaleable stories and that early impossible novella, pressing the send button months too soon, well, they allowed me to hone my craft.
And so, despite the setbacks, despite the blows to my confidence, I’m glad, thrillingly, worshipfully grateful that I stopped listening. That I let myself do what I always was meant to do. That I’ve finally come home.