“It doesn’t cost anything to dream. So why not dream big?”

Aspiration vs. Inspiration: Why and How I wrote a novel?

All human beings have a story to tell. So, the natural question that begs to be asked is: Why do only some people choose to write the story while others don’t. Is it vanity? Well, I’ll address that later. If you ask me, I believe people write because of aspiration or inspiration. It is akin to the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture.

Coming from the land of Bollywood where around 1500-2000 films are released every year, it was no surprise I like watching movies. Even though Hollywood pales in comparison with its meager 600 movies a year, it reigns supreme in glamour and glitz not to mention gross revenue. Hollywood is always looked up to for special effects, latest technology, summer blockbusters but I am more attracted to romantic comedy and courtroom drama. Don’t get me wrong. I would happily indulge in a good action, or thriller or a superhero movie just as much but if given a choice, I would happily settle for a romantic comedy or as my friends call it, a chick flick.

Needless to say, my favorite movies include Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Good Will Hunting, As Good as It Gets, Definitely Maybe, Leap Year, The American President, The Holiday, well you get the picture. I am also a sucker for courtroom dramas like A Time to Kill, A Few Good Men, Primal Fear, Kramer vs. Kramer, Presumed Innocent, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and My Cousin Vinny, just to name a few.

Pardon the interlude, let me come back to the question of aspiration vs. inspiration to write a novel. In my case, I would say it was both. Oscars are to me what Superbowl is to a football fan. Since coming to America in 1994, I have been watching it religiously. Billy Crystal is my all-time favorite host. From just watching the Oscars in awe to having an aspiration to be up there was during the 70th Annual Academy Awards on March 23, 1998, when I saw Matt Damon and Ben Affleck win an Oscar for Original Screenplay for the movie Good Will Hunting. I still vividly remember their acceptance speech. I was naïve, but their movie and their acceptance speech planted an aspiration to someday achieve what they did that night. (You can watch their speech at https://youtu.be/d8RIS5GJqAg.

While life took its course, I promised myself not to let this aspiration become a pipe dream. Luckily, several incidents followed to keep that dream alive. During the 84th Annual Academy Awards, also hosted by Billy Crystal, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo won five Oscars. I was working with Dr. Lee Selznick who was a neurosurgery resident at that time. His brother Brian Selznick was the author of the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret that was adapted for the movie. This was the closest I have been to a celebrity, albeit by the association which rekindled the aspiration to write a story.

However, the inspiration to eventually sit and write a story dawned on 3/12/2012 when Ms. Judy Flynn, a patient I had the privilege to take care of when she had her brain surgery gave me a book: Cutting for Stone by Dr. Abraham Verghese. Reading that book had not only taught me how to write but also inspired me to write a story of my own.

As soon as I finished reading that book, I typed the words “It’s a long shot.” As a fortunate stroke of serendipity, that phrase served as the opening line for my book.

I took my time and barely had written a few chapters when after three years, as fate would have it, on September 25, 2015, I came across a YouTube video of The Graham Norton Show that featured Matt Damon. Matt Damon remembers the night of winning the Oscar for Good Will Hunting, and he recalls his favorite line from a movie: Robert Redford’s The Natural. (You can watch that clip here: https://youtu.be/Jf4hSjUNInU. It was like a shot of adrenaline, just what I needed, my second dose of inspiration; my second wind. For the next three years, in spite of averaging close to 70-72 hours a week as a neurosurgical physician assistant, I started to write at a steady pace. Following two events of aspiration and two events of inspiration and 3 years later I am proud to say I finished writing an original story.

Finally, for the vanity part of writing a story: After struggling to come up with a name, I lent my name to the protagonist of my novel. In the end, I asked myself: Would my novel become a bestseller? Would Hollywood or Bollywood come knocking? I am my worst critic, but I didn’t want to be too negative, and the only honest answer I could come up with was I Have No Earthly Idea. That answer became the title of the novel.

I Have No Earthly Idea may not become a bestseller. Hollywood or Bollywood would never come knocking, and only a few copies would make it off the shelves and that too due to the generosity and kindness of my friends. If that is the reality, I am okay with that. I may be a dreamer but not delusional. Since it doesn’t cost anything to dream, why not dream big.

To paraphrase Matt Damon quoting Robert Redford from The Natural:

“All I want is to walk down the street someday and have people say, there he goes, the best there ever was.”

That is the part of dreaming big. To all my friends who did not laugh when I said, “I am writing a novel”, “it’s going to make it to the New York’s Best Sellers List”, and then “be made into an Oscar-winning movie”; I humbly submit my sincere gratitude and thanks for all your encouragement and support. Thanks to Ms. Judy Flynn for giving me the book Cutting for Stone. Last but not the least, thanks to the unwitting partners in crime for their aspirations and inspirations: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Brian Selznick, and Dr. Abraham Verghese- my manaseega guru who taught me how to write a story.

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