For the last few years I have had a familiar routine that repeats itself every fortnight. I get an email on Thursday from Susamma at THE WEEK, reminding me that my column is due Monday evening. Tuesday morning I am scrambling for a topic to write on, and desperately rescheduling meetings or sneaking in writing time between shots on set while staving off polite reminders from the team at the magazine. When I send the column off, I bcc my father and my best friend (a journalist) who act as my ‘rant filter’ ensuring I don’t get carried away in my often rather polemical writing on politics and the state of affairs in our country. Lately my husband has joined this group of unofficial behind-the-scenes editors. Typically, in the next 12 hours, a playback is emailed to me and always I’m dissatisfied with the editorial tinkering of my writing. A short argument, mostly with Anirudha, follows. It is a set template. I complain about the edit and then lament the word limit. Anirudha patiently explains to me the policy of the magazine regarding opinion pieces. He makes some allowances and finally I type a thumbs up emoji and that version goes to press. This routine has now gone on for a few years!
I never really saw feedback except the fortnightly review notes in the reminder email and the occasional message from an acquaintance who would read my piece. My father sometimes forwarded feedback his friends sent him. Once I was at an event where the then governor of Maharashtra B.S. Koshyari announced that he read my columns regularly in THE WEEK, and while he disagreed with my viewpoint he appreciated my writing skills. I was both flattered and humbled and admitted to myself that the longtime RSS member was a more gracious and magnanimous person than I was! It also made me aware of the platform that this column gave me. I wondered whether I should write more ‘positive’ opinion pieces, but my columns continued to reflect in a fairly unadulterated manner my thoughts as a ‘dissenting citizen’ of ‘New India’.
Then, a few weeks ago, as I was in the very last weeks of my pregnancy I received a polite email from the editor-in-charge. After some kind words it read, “This has been one of our longest running columns, and Bitter Chocolate will score a century after two more columns. Two years is too long a period for any writer, however brilliant, to sustain reader interest so we feel that your 100th column can be the last Bitter Chocolate.” While the words were flattering, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I think a part of me had come to assume that this one-way conversation with unknown readers would be a long-term privilege I would continue to enjoy. Were my last few pieces too critical of the government, I wondered. Was my choice of topics too monotonous? “You focused too much on Hindu-Muslim issues,” offered my husband as I scowled at him and hissed that it was after all a current affairs magazine and it was not my fault that Indian politics was obsessed with Hindu-Muslim conflict.
In preparation of my last column I decided to re-read all the pieces I had written, and noted with a sense of pride that my first submission was on August 21, 2019, four years ago! Four years is a substantial time to write a regular column. I was struck by how candid some of the pieces were; more than once hinting at painful personal truths and bearing some significant soul. It made me recall a passage by the legendary Rabindranath Tagore about his writing. As I remember he said that he had told many untruths in his life but if readers wanted to know his truth, they should look for it in his writing. Because he had never lied in his writing. What was recorded in his written word was his unabashed truth. That passage has since been my marker for integrity of the written word.
And, so, as I type out this farewell piece for Bitter Chocolate, I thank you dear readers and the ever-patient editorial team for bearing with me and my truth for these past few years. If I seemed a bit too passionate or a bit too polemical, forgive me for my heart was in the right place. And as I honour the word limit for the first time in a hundred times, and type over the little head of my suckling newborn daughter, I think it was in fact time for me to say au revoir to you. Until we meet again in another column, please accept my pen salute!
The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.