Back on the Road to Success – Part I

Cover of Tainted Justice

Success represents different things to different people. An example of this in my life can be found in the writing of my first novel, Tainted Justice, and in its eventual publication. It was a very long journey, taking over forty years, with many twists and turns. When I held the very first copy in my hand, a whirlwind of emotions swept over my whole being. I was filled with joy, relief and satisfaction.

I had the idea that saying “I am a writer” was like wearing a badge of honor, commanding respect and signifying success. This notion was so seductive that I could never erase it from my mind. Writing a novel would have been rewarding enough, let alone having it published.

This particular journey was also about dreaming, then coming down to reality. It was about taking account of my capacities and, depending on how passionate I felt about this project, never giving up in facing the many hurdles that lay ahead of me. In my life there have been many roads to success, and I have often times taken two or more simultaneously. This is true for most of us. Our lives are like multi-faceted diamonds: relationships, career, prosperity, education, health, spirituality and many more. Each aspect is a journey on its own.

When did this dream start? I was born and grew up in Mauritius, a small tropical island in the Indian Ocean. In high school my favorite subjects were mathematics and physics, which I excelled at. One day my late uncle Vinod Gungah, an English teacher and writer, suggested that I study English literature. I wondered why he requested this of me. The high school I attended did not offer this subject. In Mauritius, based on the British education program, all high school students took the same School Certification exams. Adding an extra subject was allowed, though this also meant studying on one’s own without any help from the school.

Already carrying a load of eight subjects, one more would be over the top. Besides, learning a new subject on my own seemed impossible. Scores in the final exams were important and if I didn’t do well in this extra subject, it would bring my average down. At the same time, it would have been disrespectful to refuse my uncle’s request. As the only member who had graduated with a degree, his stature in the family was very high. In 1963, Vinod left Mauritius to study in India. I recall my family accompanying my grandparents, uncles and cousins to the harbor, where Vinod would sail away on the Pierre Loti (this was before we had access to jet planes and the Internet). It was a special event, the very first one among the relatives to travel overseas. We followed him all the way to the ship’s boarding stairs before saying goodbye. I remember him waving a handkerchief to us once he got on the deck. Then he disappeared. We were all sad and proud. Many eyes were filled with tears. He returned in 1965, after acquiring a bachelor’s degree in English literature.

After carefully weighing on Vinod’s idea, I told him, “I don’t think I can learn English Literature on my own.”

He replied, “Don’t you worry. I will teach you.” He was already teaching at a high school.

On weekends, I went to my grandfather’s place where Vinod lived for weekly tutorials. I studied poetry (such as Woodworth’s “Daffodils”), Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night and Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. When I took the School Certificate Examinations, I barely passed the English language course, which was compulsory, and did slightly better in the English Literature course. While studying for the literature exam, I was particularly fascinated by characters and plot. I decided to one day write my own novel.

I did well enough in mathematics and physics that in 1969 I gained a Commonwealth scholarship to study engineering in Pakistan. During my adolescence my family was struggling financially and this scholarship was my only ticket to leave Mauritius and discover the world.

In 1971 my adventures took me to Canada where I pursued a career in electronics and later in software. I set aside my desire to write a novel, but I never forgot it. Every now and then, during moments of reflection on life, my hopes and passions, the urge to become a writer would rear its head. Yet I did not want to abandon my computer career for the sake of becoming a writer. I had a very good job in the University of Toronto’s Computer Research Department. At that time, interest in computer technology was just starting to flourish.

My desire to become a writer was creating a tension in me. If I pursued both writing and computer technology, it would be like riding two horses at once. It seemed like a risky proposition. Consequently, I kept my day job and resorted to dreaming of becoming a landlord, owning a few houses, collecting rent and making enough profit to live comfortably. With plenty of time on my hands I could devote my energy to creating plots, characters and a magical work of fiction.

Dreaming alone can never result in any real accomplishment. However, our imagination is the start of many things. In 1981, I jumped into the rental business with both feet. I purchased an old three-story building with a one bedroom apartment in the basement and five rooms in the upper floors. I soon I discovered I was very shy. Because of this, I was lenient with my tenants and they came to recognize this. When it came time to collect rent, some often had excuses for not paying. I had to make many trips to the building to collect the rent, which consumed a lot of my time. For a discount in the rent, I appointed the woman living in the basement as the building supervisor, assigning her the task of dealing with the tenants. After few months of this arrangement, I realized that no one was paying any rent at all and that my expenses (such as taxes and utilities) were coming out of my own pocket. (To be continued)