I was never destined to meet him. Yet, oddly enough, it was he who taught me the basics of freelance writing. In the early 1970s Maurice Japheth was the editor of The Mirror, an English monthly (now defunct) published from Bombay by the Eve’s Weekly group. I was an avid reader of the magazine whose contents were provided by freelancers.
Soon, bitten by the writing bug, I wanted to write for The Mirror but just lacked the confidence to do so. A bumbling novice, I hardly knew how to go about it. Moreover, working in a remote tea plantation near Munnar in Kerala, there was none I could approach for guidance.
Despondent, I decided to seek Mr Japheth’s assistance. I wrote to him introducing myself and enclosing a few samples of my work which I requested him to assess at his convenience. I also sent a stamped and self-addressed envelope, expecting my journalistic efforts to be promptly returned with a curt note that it wasn’t his job to vet the work of beginners.
Six weeks passed and my hopes of hearing from Mr Japheth began to fade. Had my manuscripts been consigned to the wastepaper basket or had he simply decided to ignore them? I was beginning to despair when my bulging envelope returned.
With feverish excitement I opened it to find my articles and a single-page letter written in Mr Japheth’s flowing hand on the The Mirror’s letterhead. The kind-hearted editor had actually taken the trouble to reply personally!
My work showed promise, he said, but needed to be polished further. He went on to give me some very useful tips on style, presentation and the need for brevity and focus. Most heartening of all, he magnanimously offered to consider my contributions provided they met his magazine’s requirements and standards.
Overjoyed, I wrote back profusely thanking Mr Japheth for his kindness. Then, with the over-enthusiasm of a tyro, I sent him three articles for his consideration. They winged back soon enough with a politely worded, printed rejection slip on which Mr Japheth had penned, “You have to do much better than this!”
I was to receive many more rejection slips from Mr Japheth — each bearing a specific handwritten piece of journalistic advice — before he finally accepted a Christmas-based short story which appeared in the December 1973 issue of The Mirror. I was elated. It was my first contribution ever to be published.
In due course, as I learnt the tricks of the trade from Mr Japheth, no less than 12 of my articles and short stories were published in The Mirror and scores in other magazines and newspapers after The Mirror ceased publication. Needless to say, I remain indebted to my helpful guide and mentor whose photograph, sadly enough, I saw for the first time along with his obituary in The Mirror. Thank you, Mr Japheth, for helping me find my feet.