Intriguing few hours the other day. It started with a friend, A, I haven't spoken to in many months, possibly years. (We live in the same city, we like each other, but A and I meet so rarely. One more of those Bombay mysteries). Called to say hello and ask something, and A says, "Congratulations on the Outlook award! I liked your essay. I've been reading your other recent writings too, and I'm so glad you're writing like this, about these things. Many people look forward to what you write. We need your voice out there, just remember that OK?"
Thrilled with this, of course. Who doesn't mind a stroke of the old ego? Not me, for sure. Still thrilled just a few hours later, I find B, someone I've never met, sitting down beside me. Without much of a preamble, B says: "You're Dilip, right? You're the guy who wrote me several notes about my recent article on God and atheism and string theory, and told me about some other interesting article I should read about all this ..."
This rings no bell at all, so I say so, and also say "I'm not really familiar with string theory anyway." Not the right reply, because B looks perturbed: "What, you don't know about string theory? Haven't you read Stephen Hawking?" Me: "Yes, I've read Hawking, but a while ago, and I don't remember the details, and anyway, I really think you have the wrong guy." B carries on, very friendly and chatty: "No, it was you! Anyway, this is what my article was about ..." and for the next 20 minutes, B treats me to a detailed exposition of what God means, and what it has to do with string theory, and where atheism fits in, and I'm starting to feel mildly woozy, not least because B keeps saying I'm supposed to have read all this and reacted to it, and none of it rings bells still.
So I say so one last time, weakly, and B tells me where to go look at "my" notes about his article so I'll know what I wrote. (Later, I looked. Wasn't me).
I'm just recovering from this when C, somebody else I've never met, sits down beside me. The first thing C says to me is: "Are you a socialist?" While I'm wondering what I should say to this, C says, "Don't mind me asking, OK? But I just wanted to tell you, the things you write about, nobody wants to read them. Really, nobody reads your articles. People are just not interested in those things." While I'm wondering what I should say to this, C goes on, very friendly and chatty, "Don't mind me telling you, OK? But I was just wondering, how do you make a living then?" (i.e. how do you make a living when nobody wants to read what you write?)
And while I'm wondering what I should say to this, C gets up and moves on; last seen, C and B are in animated conversation.
Much later, I'm home. Home, and somehow grateful for the certainties of books and towels and family.