Columbus Stole My "American Visa"!
While working with a reputed company in New Delhi, I also passionately pursued my hobby for writing whenever the time permitted. I started with writing “Letters to the Editor” in Hindustan Times, which very soon became a regular feature of the column. At that time the paper used to publish writer's address too under his name, and I started receiving a lot of letters from the readers, some as rejoinders but generally in appreciation. One day I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from a publisher. He had been reading all my letters and was very much impressed by my style of writing, and offered to publish a book that I had already written or would like to write.
The publisher's letter proved the biggest motivation for me to write the book that was already in my mind. Ever since our son went to the U.S. to pursue higher studies, after going through tough grilling in the interview with the visa officer at the U.S. embassy, I had been wanting to write a book for the benefit of all, especially the students, who aspired to go to the U.S. for studies or economic advancement. I had sufficient material stored in my memory from our own travels to the U.S. and the talks I had with many Indians who had settled there. I started writing the book in right earnest, my wife helping me in the project with her recollection of interesting experiences and anecdotes in the U.S., which could provide a good source of guidance to the readers in coping with the cultural explosion and other initial difficulties they might be confronted with on arriving in the U.S. With both of us working overtime, we were able to complete the manuscript in two months, and ready to approach the publisher who had earlier offered to publish my book.
The publisher responded promptly and invited me to meet him with the manuscript. As he was glancing through the introductory pages, I could see an expression of appreciation and enthusiasm on his face.
“I'm sure it is going to be a great book when it is published. With millions of people aspiring to settle in the U.S. and students dreaming to go there for studies, the book will be like a bible for them, their best guide on Mission America. We would be only too happy to publish the book, but before committing or finalizing on the contract, I will have to send the manuscript to our acquisition editor for his approval. It is the normal procedure before accepting a book for publishing. I hope you will not mind leaving the manuscript with us for the purpose.”
I was more than thrilled to leave the manuscript of my book “American Visa” with the publisher. I was so overwhelmed after meeting the publisher that I started to fantasize my first book becoming a best seller after it was published. I even began dreaming of my next book, “My India”, based on my memories of travels throughout the Country. As time passed, days looked longer and month like many months, without a word from the publisher. I got worried and gave a call to the publisher.
“The manuscript is still with the editor. He has taken it with him to go through it while on vacation to a hill station. I will call you as soon as he returns.”
I was relieved by the publisher's response, but only momentarily, as even after three months had passed the editor did not return from his unusually long vacation. At last, after nearly four months the publisher called to convey that the editor had returned and I could come whenever convenient. He sounded so much different from when I met him first time. Definitely not as enthusiastic or encouraging. I decided to go immediately, as I could not wait to end my anxiety. I felt like the student who knew he must have failed, but went all the same to see his result, expecting a miracle to happen. But miracle was only a mirage, it did not happen. It did not happen with my manuscript too.
“I'm sorry to inform you that it would not be possible for us to publish your book. Our editor has returned the manuscript with the remarks that we had only recently published a book on a similar subject and it was not advisable to publish another book on the same topic so soon after the publication of the first book. I'll be only too pleased to publish any other book you write that is on a different subject, as I really admire your writing.”
On the way back I stopped by a book store to see if such a book was really published or the publisher had made it up as an excuse to reject and return my manuscript. I did not have to enquire about the book, as a book titled “How to go to America” was prominently displayed near the front desk amongst “New Arrivals”. The writer of the book was Columbus, obviously a fictitious name, and the publisher was the same, which proved he did not lie to me. I bought the book out of curiosity about its contents. As I went through the book before going to bed, I found to my utter disbelief that the book was nothing but the abridged version of my own manuscript. Same subject, same style and even the same text, only made shorter and simpler, like they turned lengthy text books into the so called “Keys” for students, which they found very helpful in preparing for their examinations. It was an outright theft from my manuscript. Fighting a long legal battle with the publisher was out of question, because of lack of time and resources. Though anguished and perturbed, I tried to pacify myself with the thought that after all it was no petty thief but Columbus himself, who stole my “American Visa”.