The nice thing about getting old is that you have so much to look back upon—people, places, events, chapters of history, personal triumphs and failures. I am now in my eightieth year, but I remember my eighteenth year quite clearly. I had been living in Jersey, in the Channel Islands, with relatives, working at odd jobs and trying to write a novel in my spare time. Fed up with the insularity of life in Jersey, I took off for London, found another dull job, and searched for a publisher.
Among my friends were a number of students from India, Thailand and Vietnam. One of them, a pretty Vietnamese girl called Vu, used to tell my fortune with tea leaves. When you finish drinking your tea, you let the tea leaves settle by themselves, and the pattern they form gives you an indication of what to expect in the future. This was great fun, because it meant sharing innumerable cups of tea with Vu, with whom I had fallen in love. But when I asked her to marry me, she said it was not in the tea leaves. A student from Thailand cultivated me because he wanted to improve his spoken English. He dropped me when he discovered that I spoke English with an Indian accent.
But my written English was good enough for the publishing firm of Andre Deutsch. My novel was accepted, I received an advance of £50, and a year later, I returned to India. My literary journey had only just begun.