Aug 30, 2011

Why Write?

A.L Kennedy is that type of writer who always leaves me feeling drained. She enjoys a certain critical acclaim, but isn't really a literary heavyweight in the sense of a Martin Amis or Ian McEwan. There's barely much plot in her stories. Her's are stories exploring the sad inevitability of everyday life.

Anyway, was reading a few of her columns in the Guardian today where she explores the reasons why a writer writes. Really, despite the loneliness, the doubts, the turmoil of repeated rejections, why does one write? While the fears plaguing all writers may be similar, I'd like to think there are hundreds out there who never taste success at the end of this painful process. What about them? Do they stop writing? How do you stop doing something after you have been repeatedly rejected  when you haven't figured out how to stop doing it? That's the question she explores here. It's a question all of us face.

Writing a book is supposed to be simultaneously traumatic as well as cathartic. In the end it's worth it. Here's what she says in another piece:
And yet: you're a writer. You have written. There's a book out there with your name on it. Imagine that. You did imagine that. Every word of that. And in the moments when you're undistracted, you can feel that the other books are waiting, the ideas that will come to you to be expressed. This is a vocation – it called to you and you answered and now it calls in you. If you are quiet enough to hear, it always will. You have that and you are lucky, beyond lucky. Which is – I often have to remind myself – nothing to complain about. Onwards.


Aug 26, 2011


Despite my love for mush and poetry, I’m a tough nut and nothing fazes me much these days. So it was a wonder of sorts when I was badly rattled by the way the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair ended. Of course, it was unthinkable at any point that DSK would face rigorous imprisonment but I did believe that he would pay – right through his fat fucking French nose. Out of court settlements are known to have set up victims for life and I thought at least it would entitle Nafissatou Diallo and her daughter to a lifetime of security and comfort.
For a woman who is an immigrant housekeeper in a NY hotel and one who’d escaped from a life of gruesome poverty, civil war and genital mutilation, you couldn’t ask for more. But it was not to be. And no, I don’t think Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is at fault in this case. Vance is absolutely right in dropping the charges when he knows they would be difficult (more likely impossible) to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in front of a jury. Nowhere has he stated that Diallo was not the victim of a wrongful sexual assault; no, he’s simply saying that certain omissions and lies in her past behavior would unduly influence a jury’s decision and make it impossible for them to convict DSK.

So, who the hell am I mad at, you may ask? Certainly not DSK who was seen smiling as he emerged with his wife and daughter after dinner on Wednesday. He is a predator and acted according to his nature – prey upon those who are most likely to keep silent. Nothing out of the ordinary, if you ask me. I am mad, indeed exhausted, at the truth Vance points at – the jury’s verdict, the truth about us. The jury is made up of people like you and me, people who demand that a victim of rape have an impeccable history, who demand that a victim of rape should be a model citizen, who think a victim of rape is sure to be lying if she has lived with multiple partners, who swap a person’s past with her living present. Because dear reader, when you think about it, that’s what Vance’s decision is saying. He writes that she lied on her application for asylum in the US. Ok, so she made up a story of having been raped by the militia in Somalia. How many of us would consider fleeing to an alien land, whose language we don’t speak, unless there are compelling circumstances? And if the circumstances are compelling, wouldn’t all of us lie? Hell, we lie even when it is not required! How could her lie be any greater than ours?

The second blot against Diallo is her association with Amara Tarawally, an illegal immigrant now behind bars on drug charges. I am sure, given a choice, the poor woman would no doubt have preferred lighting cigars for the likes of Bill Clinton but choice is not something that’s the prerogative of a penniless, black, immigrant single mother.  Whew! As I was writing this I became aware of the number of things Diallo was actually guilty of: 5 counts to be precise. Poor/Colored/Immigrant/Single/Woman. How could any jury on earth have believed her story?

Justice has been done. 

Aug 25, 2011

Click the Shutter

To be a good writer,

you must never be satisfied loving only those who loved you in return,
you must learn to paint beyond red and sing beyond the seventh note,
you must learn to balance hopeless fatalism and fragile hope as you burn,
you must click the shutter when people reveal themselves,
you must be ready to grant forgiveness when the wounds turn scabrous,
you must learn to stand tall in the midst of lies and dead leaves,
you must enjoy the power you wield,
to quicken the pulse as Cinderella returns,
to wipe unshed tears as Othello learns, 
to unshackle dystopian myths,
to teach them that we are the breakers of our own hearts,
to help them find words for all the things they left unsaid.

Aug 19, 2011


I've been following Bruce Weber for the past 5 years. In the beginning I'd no idea the man who had the tone & verve of a college graduate in his 20's was actually pushing 50! He understands the necessity, the thirst, for occasionally venturing out alone. I corresponded with him briefly when we started our 5-state 4000 miles carathon in sweltering July. I remember him as extremely gracious and polite, generously sharing suggestions and advice. This piece is dear to me for a special reason.

He speaks about a part of the US that I've always dreamed of exploring but haven't managed yet. He says something which i completely agree with: wonderful as NY is, (even Chicago and SFO for that matter), it's not representative of the country. These cities are vertical while the US is horizontal. You need to touch the ground as you travel, with your feet or hands, while you're camping in Yosemite, or while you're trying your best to avoid your tent from being uprooted as cyclone Ike attempts to rip you from the ground in West Virginia. The feeling is visceral, almost something that ripples through you.

A perfect day spent reading Bruce's anecdotes from his earlier '93 adventure, listening to Thomas Newman, and wondering why people find it so hard to believe that I do eat well. 

Aug 17, 2011


Those of you who follow this blog even sporadically will be aware that I’m facing issues at work and have been looking for a change. It’s been about 2.5 months that I’ve been actively applying, scheduling calls with recruiters and meeting HR resources from different industry. In this time, I have attended 2 interviews, 1 of which I failed to crack after dual rounds. There are things which I said and issues which I responded to in a manner that, several people told me later, may not have gone v.well with people looking at a prospective employee. I accepted their word and resolved to learn from the experiences. The second interview was with a famous infrastructure development company & the first round must have been more than 45 days ago. After 3 rounds – during which I have made presentations to their entire marketing & communications team, travelled to their office thrice, even presented a plan to their key sales director – I was informed that I was finally through & was to come to collect the offer letter as well as complete a final round of formalities with their HR.

Early in the morning I trekked halfway across town for this meeting where I was informed that ever body worked 6 days a week in this company. Of late, more and more companies are embracing the working-Saturday culture and I have always made it clear that I will not consider such corporations. I remember clearly stating this to their head of Corp Comm. during my initial interview where he’d assured me that only the ‘Operations’ team worked on Saturdays. When I mentioned this to their HR today, they said that since he (GM, Corp Comm) was a new joinee, he may have been unaware of the company’s policy! Now I’m thinking -does that mean he has been working on Saturdays without being aware of it? Or has their policy changed since the time my first interview took place? Had I suddenly developed herpes or grown a second nose that they'd changed their minds? ! I am still lost.

For a few minutes, I felt everything go cold. I was afraid I would burst into tears right there. After a while he trooped down from his cabin on the 6th floor and apologized for the misunderstanding explaining "these things happen you know, I have so many things on my mind since we are trying to develop many new modules together with the marketing team. Anyway, during our conversations you have assured me that you possess a deep emotional connect with your work so I would say give this a shot.” I realized that this man who had wasted so much of my time over the last 45 days was being absolutely flippant, was not even aware that he had behaved irresponsibly, either through misinformation or some other reason. The realization of right and wrong is a deeply personal one and one of my oddities is that despite my temper and sharp tongue, the times when i am really disappointed or stunned by someone's callousness, i am unable to retort. There wasn’t much to be said after that & I left.

As I sat in the car, I don’t know if I was more livid or sad or just indignant. Yday had been a hell of a day as well. I’d had a huge argument with someone I’ve unconditionally supported over the years. Let’s just say that she said things & behaved in a manner which I would never have thought her capable of. I felt let down and I’d been trying my best to keep that incident at bay since I knew I’d to get the offer letter today. In the car it all came back – her words, other’s words, some lies, people leaving without a goodbye, as also the fact that I hadn’t collected the offer letter finally. After giving it some thought, I decided, “Let me see how I can get through today without thinking about these things?”

I had almost the whole day ahead and it’s evening as I sit writing this. I am not sure if I succeeded entirely, but it was better than what it would have been in the past, that I know. I came back to office and worked steadily most of the day. In between, kept recalling a friend's advice regarding what I should wear for the final meeting. I was very touched when he'd offered his views and in an odd way, it felt like I'd let him down too by returning empty handed. 
Maybe what they say is true - the people who are born to let you down, will always let you down – at home, outside, in the workplace, everywhere. While others will stand by you. The trick is to not to care too much about such things.

Aug 9, 2011

Random Thoughts on Reading Nordic Crime Fiction

Erlendur. Gestur. Sigurdur Oli. Finnur. Arnaldur:  I am in love with these Icelandic names. I had heard that there are  words which when they roll off the tongue, arouse an almost sensual pleasure. These names arouse similar feelings. I love the repeated rhyme of the 'ur', as also the fact that they are far removed from the Kay Scarpetta or Inspector Rebus or Dagliesh or Dan or Adrian-like names I have grown accustomed to. Like the cold, barren, sparsely populated country they inhabit, these names are also a mystery to me. When you have read any crime fiction writer's books, you get to know their pet inspector or detective or lieutenant closely. You know Kay Scarpetta relaxes by cooking elaborate Italian dishes just like you know Inspector Dagliesh writes poetry in his spare time. But because this is the first book by celebrated Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason that I'm reading, I have no idea about his stock characters. Part of the thrill of reading his book is the finely plotted mystery as well as the novelty of discovering life and geography, politics and culture about a nation I know little about.

There is another thing I notice these days, rather I should say I first noticed it when i read PD James. It is that the action in crime fiction has become largely 'internalised' and there's less of the random serial killer or drug peddling imbroglio like in the earlier novels. Rather, the premise of the basic crime is used as a tool to dig deep into those conflicts that we prefer to keep under wraps - racism, the reformed paedophile, unhappy marriages, abused childhoods, prejudice, irrational phobias, etc. These may or may not be connected to the main crime but they pose morally imperative questions about right and wrong. In fact, to read certain passages from PD James is akin to reading a meditation on religion.

As I write this post, I also realise that i love flawed characters - the inspector who wages a secret battle with the bottle, the past-his-prime wrestler who tries to make amends with his estranged daughter, the obsessively reclusive forensic medical examiner, the Edinburgh inspector who tries hard to stifle his loathing for criminals so that he can give them a fair hearing. Point is, we are all like that; battling our private demons. Some succeed better than others, that's all. I find it easier to identify with one who is 'striving to do right' than one who 'is always right'. Perhaps that's one reason why Wodehouse's immortal Jeeves never appealed to me. In life, as in fiction, I find myself imperceptibly but surely disengaging from the perfect models.

Aug 8, 2011

Time To Go Home

Late and starting to rain,
it's time to go home,
We've wandered long enough, 
in empty buildings.
I know its tempting to stay
and meet those new people.
I know its even more sensible
to spend the night here with them
but I want to go home.

We've seen enough beautiful places
with signs on them saying
This is His house. That's seeing the
grain like the ants do,
without the work of harvesting.
Let's leave grazing to cows and go,
where we know what everyone really intends,
where we can walk around without clothes on.

by Rumi

Aug 4, 2011

Reading, Writing

Read GB’s splendid exposition on God and a Godless state and all week thoughts have been in a scramble. There is nothing new or unknown that he reveals but I like his usual lucid style, the staid, rational way his mind tracks the logic of what the piece eventually leads up to – that there is no answer or causality to the things that happen to us; it is futile to seek such answers; all that matters is how we condition our responses to such events and what we can do to lessen its impact when it befalls others.

It is on reading his essay and later mentally masticating it that I became aware of two things – why we read books and what does it take to be a gifted author. This post is about these two questions.

First, we have all been schooled to believe in justice and fairness - in academics, on the playground, in politics, in matters of gender, wages, and opportunities. These are just verbal constructs we use and discard as per our convenience. But real life is something different altogether. Fact is, the moment you try to explain human life through these worthy constructs, you’ll fall flat on your face. That’s when you catch your first glimpse of ‘nothingness’ – the same nothingness that Josef K experiences in Kafka’s Trial, the same nothingness that drove Kurtz crazy in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the same nothingness that kills Joan of Arc in Shaw’s celebrated play. To accept this nothingness is impossible, unless you are an enlightened soul like the Buddha. Books are the only way to tackle this dark and threatening nothingness.

Because tragedy is universal, we dismiss each others’ misfortunes; we are impatient with those who grieve long and hard; we advise them to ‘move on.’ Stalin said, "The death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of millions is only statistics." This death can be physical, perhaps more painful is the gradual perishing of the soul. As you grow older and witness such decay, you wonder: is there anything I can do, is there any way, by which I will be counted as an individual and not a mere statistic?” Again, the answer lies in books. The only times we matter and are counted is when we see people similar to us struggling through the same or different odds and lending dignity to their lives. Mind you, I’m not talking of emerging victorious – neither King Lear, nor Josef K nor the Whisky Priest can be called victorious in the end of their individual narratives. But they all manage something that others cannot – they rise from being a statistic to being a name with a unique identity. In doing so, they show us small ways in which we can be the same – not necessarily by leading a revolution or being burned at the stake – but simply by a stubborn refusal to give in to the hideous machine whose only intention seems to be to crush that which is uniquely and intrinsically mine – my spirit, my dreams, hope.

I guess that’s why we read books.  

Let’s come to the second question – who is a gifted author or what does it take to be one? I’d say anyone who does not forget easily, who respects the memory of things and events, who hasn’t known what it is to ‘move on’, who believes that human beings with their complexities and aspirations and ordinariness, are worth writing about, can be a gifted author. I still remember Pamukh’s haunting words about how the writer is writing about his life and memories and thus connecting disparate people who may or may not share those memories. In this, I’d also say, gifted authors prepare us for events that we are yet to encounter. You don’t need to be part of a merciless civil war to feel the anguish in Half of  a Yellow Sun, you don’t need to be a pet owner to feel the loss of one in My Dog Tulip, you don’t have to be a jealous lover to understand Othello’s demons. We are and become all these characters because they are the creations of these gifted authors. 

A reverence for the sacredness of memory, be it happy or sad; a willingness to sit quietly and engage in the deeply personal experience of putting down that memory in words; an ability to look beyond memory and imagine alternate endings; a stubborn refusal to imagine defeat - these must be what makes a gifted writer.