The good, the bad and the dirty harry
By Shampa Dhar-Kamath | Published: 16th April 2017 04:00 AM |
It’s the sixth anniversary of our Delhi weekend paper, The Sunday Standard. It’s also six years since I began writing this column. Who would have thought it would last so long? As the name indicates, Unfaithfully Yours started life determined not to commit to any one subject but to have an on-again, off-again relationship with irreverence. How tough could it be? I’d been a journalist for almost two decades after all, I thought.
Within a month, I realised this was a very different ball game, a rather slippery one. In journalism, when you’re writing an article, you’ve researched and talked to half-a-dozen people. The story already exists in some form; you just need to structure it and write it up. With a column, especially one that is faithful to no one topic, you find yourself clutching thin air, and then frantically digging into your insides and clawing out an idea.
I started every week by drawing up a list of possible subjects for my column. Overflowing Toilets; Underwhelming Ideas; Irritating Parents; Murder-worthy Kids—I don’t limit the ideation. Once done, I tried to write a few lines about each topic. The one that I couldn’t stop writing about became the column of the week. Which was fine the weeks I was on fire. But some weeks, I had nothing but the list, and wheels doing a rail rook in my head. But there’s good in every bad, and I emerged with an Ideas List that’s four times the number of my Twitter followers.
What I didn’t expect was the reader reaction I got, then and now. My first two letters came in from people in Kottayam and Kochi—both became regular readers, and correspondents, bless them. Much of the initial reaction mail to my writing, in fact, emanated from Kerala (don’t know whether that means they read more, or write more). An elderly lady liked my referring to the Nighty as the ‘state dress of Kerala’ and wrote to tell me so—on her Kindle Fire. I found that most charming.
From her letters I knew she lived alone; I could almost see her, sitting in a starched white saree, carefully typing out her emails, on the Kindle presented to her by an offspring on a visit from overseas. (The last bit is my imagination, but doesn’t everyone need a back story?).
Odisha is another state I get a lot of letters from. Much like the people themselves, these are gentle letters, written to find out more about a topic, or to appreciate a certain line or sentiment. The Tamilians write, but not those residing in Chennai.
The pattern is repeated in Karnataka, where all my readers seem to live in Mysore. Andhra and Telangana have not deigned to write so far, but there’s always Year 7. But naturally, there have been lots of angry missives too. A gent, who made it a point to tell me he was 80-plus, was shocked that I’d written about Playboy magazine, “as a woman”. Another gent (age unknown) demanded I give up writing. “I really doubt whether you born in India or not; also if you are human being,” he said. (I hope the Editor is not reading this). But the pithiest message I’ve got (so far) is “You bad. You wrong.” Dirty Harry couldn’t have been more succinct.