Years back, when I was 17 and had just dropped out of Presidency College in the hope of making a career in writing, I met P. Lal. He was The Professor. I, a collector of rejection slips – dreaming of the Great Break.
Of course the Great Break never came. It never does, in that sense. But in Lal I found my first publisher, the first person in my life who actually went out of his way to encourage a novice poet and, instead of lecturing him on the pitfalls of the iambic, told him that he was doing the right thing by chucking up his studies and getting down to the business of writing straightaway.
In that sense, he gave me the confidence no one else was willing to offer.
I still remember how fastidiously he published my first book of poems, in a small flatbed treadle in the garage next door. How he published so many others, who would have never appeared in print but for Lal’s fierce dedication to making available the work of Indian writers in English. Many of those he published for the first time are major writers today and most of them – like me – have moved so far away from Lal and his WRITERS WORKSHOP that people don’t even remember it was The Professor who had discovered them.
We were, of course, almost uniformly ungrateful to him. For we never respect those who give us a leg up. It embarrasses us.
Editor: The Illustrated Weekly of India (1989)