I first laid my eyes on Andy in 1992. I remember the day I saw him at the regional grammar office (RGO) when we were applying for our writer’s license. I must admit, I did not think much of Andy when I saw him. While the rest of us were revising our past participles and pronouns, he was doodling on the application form for the writer’s license.
While the rest of us walked into the examination hall with a prayer in our hearts and crouched shoulders, he walked in with a carefree stride that was alien to the strict environment of RGO. The grammar nazi officers had not failed to notice this walking anomaly amongst us.
More than half of us failed that day. Unceremoniously, we were put into the central government’s grammar correction facility and Andy became my cellmate. Yes, grammar correction facility is a fancy name but it is just a prison for those who break the holy rules of grammar and sophisticated writing.
The fact that escape from grammar prison would be impossible was made clear to the new inmates when the prison warden gave us a copy of the holy scripture along with a one sentence induction speech. “Put your trust in Wren and Martin. Your alphabets belong to me.”
None of this seemed to touch Andy who seemed to have this invisible shield around him that he believed separated him from the rest of us common grammar criminals.
It has been 7 months but Andy has the same quite defiant look in his eyes and his body language today. The only difference is, today, Andy was caught red handed. Not just red handed but with overwhelming evidence that made Andy’s conviction a near certainty.
The warden held the unfinished manuscript that Andy was working on last night in his hands. The warden said “Just admit to your crime Andy. You know very well that drinking and writing is a crime punishable by law. Admit to drinking and writing and get on with your punishment of writing subtitles.”
Andy did not flinch an eyelash. He just said, “I want a phone call and I have the right to remain silent till I speak to my lawyer”.
We all held a quiet admiration for Andy’s defiance. 9 out of 10 people would have just admitted to their crime and buckled. The punishment would be community service of writing subtitles for six movies. It sounds like the punishment is not harsh. But, they don’t tell you the unwritten part about the punishment. They ask you to write subtitles for B grade Bollywood movies and they make sure they give credits to the person who wrote the subtitles. In this age of the internet, all it takes is one video uploaded on youtube to make your Bollywood song subtitles and your identity go viral. Once you have the stain of being a Bollywood subtitle writer in your resume, there is no saving your writing career. One misplaced metaphor is all it takes to end your writing career. Yes, it sounds harsh when I put it that way doesn’t it? The alternative is worse. In case you get a lawyer to fight for you in court and lose the case, you have your writer’s license revoked for life and are handed a lifetime sentence of serving as a high school teacher in a government school in Balia district of Uttar Pradesh.
The warden sighed and said “I was hoping you wouldn’t take it that far Andy. The evidence against you is clear-cut. It is an open and shut case in an institute of grammar law like ours.”
He continued, “It is a clear case of drinking and writing. Your tenses are all over the place, the number of adjectives is twice the number rightfully allowed by law, even for heavy-duty descriptive writing, and the most childish crime of all, the dots of your I’s are smileys and the dashes of your t’s have men hanging from them. I pray to God that you were not sober when you wrote this Andy.”
Andy just walked away from the from the warden and walked back into our cell like nothing had happened and went to his phone book to look for his lawyer’s number.
I saw him wake up at the usual time the next day. There was no change in his mannerisms. He did not look like a man who was about to be sentenced to a lifetime as an English high school teacher in Uttar Pradesh.
It was an open court. I sat two rows behind Andy and his lawyer. The charges were laid out in court. It seemed impossible for Andy to escape from spending a lifetime in Uttar Pradesh. There seemed like there would be nothing to counter the heap of evidence in the form of Andy’s rough drafts and unfinished novels that the prosecution had dug up. They had dug up everything from his blog to his personal diary. Every single law of grammar and sentence construction syntax seemed to have been brazenly broken or at least immodestly molested.
There seemed to be no hope for escape and the courtroom waited for the judge’s announcement of Andy’s lifetime exile to Uttar Pradesh.
That was only until Andy’s lawyer presented his evidence. Andy’s lawyer fought the mountain of manuscripts presented with one and only evidence. Who would have thought that one tiny piece of evidence would get Andy out of this grammar nazi prison. Call it a loop hole if you will.
But Andy escaped the clutches of the grammar nazi justice by the skin of his teeth. The skin of Andy’s teeth in this case, consisted of a laminated card. A poetic license card. Once the poetic license card was presented to the judge, all the prosecution had to do was verify the authenticity of the card. Yes, to the surprise of everyone present there, the poetic license was authentic. Andy had written a poem for his school magazine in high school and had applied for a poetic license, which was granted to him 5 years ago. It absolved him from the rules that bind us prose writers.
Andy proudly flashed his poetic license card at the media that swarmed around him as he made his successful escape from the jaws of the grammar nazi.
He had told me he would send me the first book he published once he was out of grammar prison. I wasn’t very surprised when I received a package wrapped in green shiny paper one month after Andy’s release from prison. But was surprised to see that Andy had taken on a pen name to write his first book. He had taken on the name Chetan Bhagat.
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