The Itch


As I work and toil, like real everyday people do, I can’t help but let my mind wander sometimes.

I’m back in a routine. I’m getting things done, the class I work in is working well, until management tells me it is not (which I hope won’t happen in the near future.) And I still can’t help but wonder if I would have been happier doing something else? Is creativity lost to me? Was it actually mine to begin with? What about philosophy, literature and academia? I wish I carried on, but was I really any good at any of that stuff?

And then that there’s that itch. I really really want to write, but when I get home, the last thing I want to do is open up a laptop. On the plus side, I’m going to bed ridiculously early and I’m reading and it’s making me so happy. There really is nothing like a good book.

In fact, I am happy. I am content. Sometimes, when I’m on playground duty, keeping that ever watchful teacher eye on the children in my charge, I see other things. Things I would not have noticed were it not for the time I had in Calcutta, and I am grateful.

Did you know, and I’m sure you did, that children will take the opportunity to play football with any object they find? I saw a few boys playing with a discarded bit of plastic from a kinder egg a couple of weeks ago. They’re not allowed to play with a ball on the playground, it’s too dangerous. They have to use the field, but that would mean changing their shoes. The children compromise and play with bottle tops and discarded plastic. I’ve seen the joy on their faces. Street children in Calcutta do the same. I imagine children are the same everywhere. They just need to play.

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But then I need to write about it and the itch returns. Do you remember Suva and Kyto? I think about them too. Kyto is stranded with his andro and Suva is about to discover something amazing.

For the first time in months, I visited them again this morning and I have to say that I was so relieved. They are just as I remember them, innocent, bright and eager. Their stories will continue.

I have an itch to scratch, after all.

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Rohinton Mistry-A Master Craftsman


Hands up, anyone who has ever read a book by this man!

What did you think?

Were you blown away or was it just ‘blah’ ?

I’ve just recently finished ‘A fine balance,’ which is a novel set in 1984, in Mumbai.

Now, I stay away from writing book reviews, and this isn’t really a book review, but I will talk about the book, the author and tell you how wonderful they both are!

The man is a genius and knows how to tell a story! He crafts his characters meticulously from the fertile depths of his observations and imagination. He weaves their lives together like Dina Aunty’s quilt and uses imagery and symbolism to further make his novel into something extraordinary.

I came across Mistry, one Sunday morning, whilst having a coffee with a friend in Costa’s, above Waterstones (A bookstore) I can’t remember which book it was, but I remember being intrigued by his name. I was amused at the Indian-Englishness of it; after all, Rohinton sounds a lot like, Rohit, Rohin and Remington, all rolled into one. Anyway, I didn’t have enough money to spare for the book so I left it, thinking I’d look him up when I was back in India, where books are considerably cheaper!

A few days before my flight, I came across him again, in an Oxfam Bookshop. There were 3 copies of the same book, ‘A fine balance’ and I knew I had to pick one up; price was not the issue this time.

And he did it, he had me hooked and reeled me in with his very first line, “The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward, as though to resume full speed. The train’s brief deception jolted its riders…”

The book has the quality of grimness paired with light…It’s funny, hopeful but oh, so tragic! I’m not sure how that’s even possible! The man’s a genius!

I have learnt so much from reading this 613 page book, which I devoured quickly and without chewing, that I feel that Mistry must be called my unofficial mentor, from now on. Lahiri and I on a par, I’d say. (I’m not being facetious!) But Rohinton Mistry is on another level entirely! There is so much depth in every single page, with the actual harrowing happenings of the time painted clearly in neat meaningful brush strokes; so much raw emotion without the need for frivolous sentimentality that I just feel humbled to have discovered a great, from whom I could learn so much. This is an important novel in so many sad ways that I feel an injustice has been done to the man who has been nominated for the ‘Booker’ 3 times. Why haven’t I seen or heard of him before?!

I suppose being a writer can also mean being invisible. But for me, right now, he is a shining beacon of brilliance. I bow to you, Rohinton Mistry…You are my guru, my guide through this journey of mine. And unlike Bal Baba, I know you can show me the way!

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Crashed Out and Crazed in Calcutta


To whomever it may concern,

I am sitting here, typing away at something of an anticlimax. I am in Kolkata, the city of dreams and rubble. I have absorbed the sights, the sounds, the drama and poetry of the place and in return the city has given me a novel. It’s caked with dirt and dried blood and tears and it’s screaming and demanding my attention

I’m waiting now, in the dark, where writers go clutching tightly to their hope as if it were a ring with sinister powers of immortality. Our eyes are wide and our features drawn from hours of sitting at a computer, staring at nothing but a screen. We haven’t eaten or slept properly since an idea took root in the depths of our minds and we have become obsessed. All we want is perfection. So we polish and rub and polish until we are left with nothing but an impression of what we began with. 

I barely know what I’m writing at the moment. I’m so sleepy. My novel is complete, not perfect but resting. I’ve begun the process of approaching publishers in India and tomorrow I’ll start approaching agents in the UK. Things work differently from one place to the next.

Oh well…it’s just a waiting game now. In the meantime I suppose I could be looking at editing and stuff.

Many Thanks,

Crashed Out and Crazed in Calcutta!

PS: The insects and the weddings and NOISE are getting to me now! It’s everywhere! HELP! I need the cold sterile sameness of the UK. I’m missing the silence, the quiet, the DO NOT DISTURB that people respect and adhere to over there! I’m missing it so much, you have no idea. ‘Can I go home now?’ I ask. But ‘where’s that?’ they laugh in reply. 

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Eyes wide, features drawn…

 

My Evening with Jhumpa


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The Venue, Victoria Memorial, Calcutta

We stood there, excitement coursing through our veins, too hyped up, even for the coffee being offered for a mere 10 Rupees (10 pence), by a vendor by the gate. We were going to meet our idol, our inspiration for turning to pen and paper in a bid to unravel and interpret our very existence.

We had arrived early, in the hope to grab the best seats, but they, the security, would not let us enter for another half an hour. “What to do?” as they say here. We were right opposite St Paul’s Cathedral and we could see the tip of the hallowed Victoria Memorial, which was to be our backdrop for the evening and we could see men in white polo shirts milling around, with a certain air of authority awarded to them by the badge they wore along with their scowl. We had no choice but to wait for permission to enter.

And eventually enter, we did. Near the front of the line, we made a mad dash for the seating area, a good 5 minutes and a round about route through the Park. We got there, ahead of the crowd we had left behind. We were triumphant and puffed up with success until, ALAS! Not only were there people there before us, but there was also VIP reserved seating for the first three rows. Never mind, we thought, the fourth best seats in the house were good enough for us, Aam Aadmi or ordinary folk. We seated ourselves, a good thirty minutes before the event was due to start and we chatted and learned a bit more about each other.

At the entrance, whilst waiting to be allowed in, I met two girls, who were to be my bosom buddies for the evening. We had made the mad dash together and we, all three of us wrote, or attempted to write. This made for a pretty special bond, in itself. We swore to wait for each other and pull each other along and save seats for whatever the evening had in store. One of the girls was a ‘guest’ lecturer in English Literature, in a Calcutta College another was a third year graduate student in Presidency, an institution mentioned in Lahiri’s latest novel, The Lowlands.

Each one of us felt a connection with this literary luminary. For me, it was the fact that her stories centre on the lives of Indian families straddling two different cultures. She has seen what I have seen, experienced what I have experienced. She has seen the longing in her father’s eyes when he related the tales of his youth or the sudden breathlessness in her mother’s voice when she remembers that time at her father’s feet, learning to sing. It was the broken Bengali in English accents the embarrassment at not being able to pick out the bones from fish on a steel thali or the fact that we were neither here nor there.

They call it Diasporic Literature. I call it ‘my life in writing.’

When this beautiful woman finally emerged from the shadows of the enclave, not quite American, not quite Indian, I held my breath. A part, that really vain, ambitious part, that likes to dream, wondered if that could ever be me up there. And when she spoke, it was my life she spoke of. It was a profound experience. The fact that she took books to gatherings so she would not have to interact with those around her, the fact that when she visited India she longed to have a little water bottle to take with her to school, like her cousins. It was those things that suddenly made me yearn to meet her. I needed to tell her, “I know! I’ve faced it too! This exact same thing is what I feel! I too want to write! You are me!” How stupid and weird and darn right crazy!

But then the veil fell away. She was not accessible. I’ll be honest here, because, I can write what I like, it’s my blog and I’m entitled to an opinion and I doubt she cares anyway. She seemed socially awkward. She seemed offended easily and unable to take an objective stance on her own writings. When I asked which was her favourite piece of work she looked horrified. “I don’t have one, I can’t answer that. That would be like which one of my children do I love the best!”

But I know, as a writer, there are some pieces, I have put out there that I can say are definitely better than others. Some I would do differently, some I would print out and frame and keep just as it is. That’s what makes you a better writer right? That’s how you grow, surely? But hey, who am I to make such judgements, I’m not the published author, around here!

She did not want to interact with her fans, and I hasten to add, for the Namesake, her short stories and not The Lowlands, I will always be her fan! She did not want to sign any books, although she was forced to, I think, and she seemed too damned serious! But that’s writers for you, I guess! Who knows! I haven’t met enough of them.

However, it was a magical evening! The Victoria Memorial was the perfect location! I met some wonderful people and best of all, my father was there to experience it with me.

This is why I’m in Calcutta. This is what my life is all about! And here’s to many, many more such wondrous events to come!

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courtesy of http://www.npr.org

Much like that great god, Janus…


2014INSIDE1This passed year has been arguably one of the most significant in my life, so far. It has seen me grow and transform into something closer to what I should be. I’m calmer, kinder, softer, wiser. I appreciate my parents more, I appreciate my Britishness more, I appreciate my Indianness more. I’ve made real friends and I’ve learnt to appreciate more the real friends I have left behind. I have been hurt but I have learnt to move on from that, carrying less pain than I probably would have done in the past and I have risen stronger, surer of myself.

Do you know the biggest thing this year is that I’ve re-identified myself? A paradigm shift has occurred inside me. I’m not a teacher anymore. I’m a writer. I am a writer. A sentence so significant, I had to say it twice. And this is what I was meant to do.

The reason I say this is because I find myself lost in a moment when in a gathering. I cease to exist except to observe, I find myself mentally searching for a notepad to write down whatever it is that I am immersed in. I have no conversation to add, nothing intelligent or apt to say. No experiences of any worth to share and that’s perfectly fine. I am like a phantom; you will see me only if you look, and believe me, that’s just the way I like it.

Everyone else is far more interesting. I like the way they sing their hearts out to songs that have touched their souls, dancing away the workday, in their suits and their blazers. I love the way they lick their fingers as they relish that last momo, wiping away the red sauce, smearing their thali clean. I love the way, hand on heart, gestures and smiles and assertions, they make, as they dance with their husbands, pleading for ‘five more minutes, please, I love this song!

The rattan stools, the golden Buddha on the wall, the children running, laughing, busy with one thing or another until their parents, happily embarrass them with their flamboyant vocals and total disregard for the rules of adulthood.

So looking ahead, I pray that 2014 is as kind as 2013. I pray the conviction to achieve remains with me long into the year and beyond. I pray that I never lose sight of what is truly important and that ambition does not overshadow kindness. I pray for the wisdom to know how to pick myself up when I fall and the strength to be the strength for those who ask it of me.

May 2014 bring dreams to fruition and gladness to our hearts.

Basking in the after glow of “I DID IT!”


Well, I did it! I wrote a novel in the month of November and I’m still basking in the afterglow of success. 

This is huge for me, I’ve actually completed a task despite the odds. I’m going to brag and boast my heart out until everyone’s sick of listening and then I’ll brag some more just because I CAN!

You see, it wasn’t easy. 

First there was Diwali (6 days of preparations and festivities in Hyderabad), right at the beginning of the month, which every Indian knows, is a complete drain on mental and physical resources and then my mum and dad landed in India and stayed a weekend (2 days of being an indulged daughter after, just too long) and then my cat died (3 days I allowed myself to mourn). That was the toughest thing I had to go through in a long time, and I don’t think I’m still over it, but do you know what? Nibbles has an entire chapter dedicated to him. I wrote my feelings into my book and mourned for him within pages of my personal triumph.

Anyway, enough! 

I just wanted to say, that I actually did it and it would not have been possible were it not for my dear friends in Calcutta who told me I could and I absolutely should, my husband who never once complained that what I was doing was a waste of time and my parents who locked me in my room for the last two days of November so I would reach the 50k mark before the midnight deadline. (I got there at 11.45pm exactly, by the way!)

So, as I shamelessly brag, I’m also shamelessly telling you, that if you want, you could do it too. I am probably the world’s greatest procrastinator, but I needed to do this. Just to say that I can! 

And as I do this I am reminded that I need to keep on doing it, because now, is just the beginning. I’ve still got to amend and edit and redraft and rejig and rehash and probably scrap and maybe add to my little baby. Watch her grow and evolve into something even more beautiful than just a symbol of my passion. It needs to grow to be worthy of being read and that is now my mission. For although it’s okay, I believe it has the potential to be great! Yes, I’ve said it out loud! It has the potential to be much more than just a forgotten tome sitting on my shelf. One day it will be worthy of readers who will love it enough to let it grow and take root into their own wonderful imaginings of events depicted in the lines and letters of my creation.

So a final thank you to Calcutta…it wouldn’t have happened without you!

 

 

 

The humdrum and angst of mediocrity


This weekend I read a few more pages of The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri and I watched the movie Brick Lane, based on the novel by Monica Ali. I was hit by a gloom, a darkness that rendered me paralysed from the eyes up. What was I doing, trying to write a novel? How could I bring anything new to a genre that had already been explored so beautifully by such talented authors? What was I trying to achieve?

I thought my life in Calcutta, my move, my experiences, the stories that I had heard qualified me to write. But how wrong I was. I kept telling myself, throughout the whole process, that the outcome was not important. At this stage, it was more important that I finish what I had started. If I could do that, that was more of an achievement than anything else that would or would not follow. This weekend, however, I realised I was ‘kidding myself’. What I actually wanted was to write something amazing, something thought provoking and deep. I wanted to create characters with depth and with complex emotions  playing  on their very faces. I wanted the reader to be able to uncover the layers of meaning and be left breathless and crying out for more.

But…

I CAN’T DO IT!

I AM RUBBISH!

I HAVE NOTHING NEW TO OFFER!

These are the affirmations I was left with, this weekend.

Calcutta has a lot of things, but it doesn’t have a magical wand to turn me into an award winning novelist. It has allowed me to dream and dream big. It has introduced me to amazing people who are encouraging me to keep going, who tell me I CAN DO IT! Then why can’t I?

I guess I just don’t have the talent. There are a lot of people out there who’ll read this and be nodding, saying, “who was she trying to fool?” and I’ll tell them, for a brief moment in time, “myself.”

But, do you know what? Let me reassess my goal. I’m not writing an award winning novel. I won’t get any prizes and the book may not even get to print, but by 30th November 2013, IT WILL BE FINISHED! and if I can do that, I will have done something amazing! Besides, I’ve been promised a holiday if I reach that goal, at least! :))

Wish me luck, comrades and well wishers, as I send up a prayer to Mother Saraswati to offer thanks and to lay down my pride at her feet.

Here’s to finishing what I have started!

(And here’s to NaNoWriMo for getting me started in the first place!)

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