Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Now it's my turn

The meme effort threw up interesting ideas. Ruth said, talking about one's 'waekness' as a writer wasn't part of the original meme. But strengths go hand-in-hand with weaknesses, don't they? Perhaps one's greatest strength would be to face those weaknesses and overcome them.

Zafar said, "I wish you had written more about your writing process, your publications and how you deal with publishing successes and failures."

So here's my take. The writing process, especially with creative writing, is something that happens. It's like a little brown seed which lies dormant and unnoticed for months until raindrops urge it out of its slumber. Wonderful things happen inside it, things which transcend the dry scientific facts of chemistry and botany. The tiny green sprout, tender leaves unfurling, it's a miracle each time.

I take the delicate, unique new ideas and examine them. Then, they are nurtured until they are strong enough to be transplanted into well-manured flower beds. It's hard work tending, pruning, weeding and nurturing each seedling. While i daydream of beautiful flowers, some of them wilt in my hands before even producing a bud. But when some live on and thrive, the final burst of blooms compensates for everything.

A bouquet of stories or poems are ready at last. They lie in a corner of my home. I love them, but nobody else stops by to admire them. If anyone happens to chance upon them, they're brushed aside, or not noticed at all. Can they compete with the georgeous, exotic blooms behind the florist's plate glass window and neon lit signboard? The hybrid roses with imposing names, the lush, expensive orchids, the flowers which only grow in controlled conditions in glass houses.

I offer mine to passers by, hoping someone will stop to smell my simple, nameless flowers and want to hold them close. They rush off, or if they pause, they quickly turn up their noses and rush off.

Then, a lady smiles and takes one, thanking me sweetly. She never offers to pay, and my flower vanishes with her into the crowded city streets. But I'm happy my flower found a home, someone who cared, appreciated its beauty, if even for a moment.

When the rejections come, as they do for most creative writers, experienced friends from writers workshops tell me they've all faced rejections and survived.
"It's not you, or your story; move on with your life. You're a good person; you're a competent writer; chin up and remember Robert Bruce's spider."

It's happened to me a few times, four to be exact, when people have read my stories in workshops and asked me to send something for their journal. The folks at
took one of my stories this way for their fifth print issue. Their editorial suggestions were most thought-provoking, as they worked with me to make the story the best it could be.
I am proud of this publication, just as I'm happy with all my stories which made it through the 'slush pile.'

The feeling of elation is fleeting, though; the joy of holding the magazine, leafing through the thick, white pages intersperped with rich photographs and artwork, neatly printed stories with whom I'm proud to keep company. The greatest joy was the process of putting the idea on to the page. Thinking, imagining many possibilities before settling down with the one I loved best. The creative journey itself is the greatest joy.

Then, it's time to move on and plant more seedlings. I wonder how many will sprout and blossom at last, and what sort of flowers they will be.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

meme! I've been tagged

I just got tagged! Life is an eternal learning process and I've learnt a new word. Meme; propaging a series of related blog posts by asking blogger friends to write on a common topic. Writer friend
Ruth dropped by with words of encouragement. Then Bob Sanchez tagged me.

So here's the challenge. They've asked me what are my writing strengths and weakensses. For strengths, the first thing that comes to mind is encouraging friends, fellow writers who have been through it all and understand just what you are facing. Writing is a lonely profession, if its a profession at all. It's exhilarating to find like-minded people, even if one has to troll the Internet and seek them out from far-flung corners.
Especially when one is into creative writing, it takes a long time to find openings and acceptance. That's when writer friends pitch in, offering suggestions on how to tweak that story or poem into near-perfection, locating literary journals, and dealing with rejections. And oh yes, writer friends prod you into getting back to writing when inertia seems overwhelming. That happens to me often, and it's my biggest weakness.

My other strengths? I'm good with descriptions, bringing scenes, colours to life.

Hmm,then come the many weakness. I'm a slow writer, taking much time over a story and its numerous drafts.

another major weakness is that I don't 'look' like a writer. I'm not exactly sure how a writer is supposed to look or behave. But I know several who can command a fan following on the strength of much less actual writing compared with many others. It probably helps to give the impression of being 'august' or 'imposing', whatever that may mean to people who matter.

I don't want to dwell on more weakness because there are so many. Now I have to pass on the baton and hope someone will continue the chain of posts.
Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah),
Suzan, and
are you ready?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I'm still around

I haven't been posting much of late, but I'm still around. Will be back soon :-)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rainy evening

When I went to attend a meeting of media women in Bangalore's Press Club, I didn't think that I'd see scenes which may have inspired old Indian miniature paintings or William Morriss' foliage designs.

As expected, the journalists discussed their writings on developmental issues, new publications, a member's trip abroad and other sensible talk. Outside the conference room, dark clouds weighed down upon the trees of Cubbon Park. The trees looked menacing, with almost black limbs raised up to challenge the impending rain. Or perhaps they celebrated, their glossy leaves waving in the chill evening breeze. In that dark, wild greenery, a shock of pink bougainvillea defied the impending downpour.
Rain flooded the pathways, swirling around parked cars and blurring the trees in a veil of mist.

The rain was expected, yet not the natural scene in the heart of this big city.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Independence Day 1999, looking back

As the nation gears up to celebrate it's sixtieth birthday, I wonder what my fellow Indians are really thinking. Are they too preoccupied with the drudgery and desires of daily living? Or are there the dreamers and thinkers who try to rise above this? I had written the piece below in 1999. It was exhilarating to disocover so much thoughtfulness in the playful boys and girls next door.

OH! TO BE YOUNG AND FREE (published in Times of India, Aug 15,1999)

The future of free India holds many promises. Acknowledging substantial progress in technology and the standard of living, young Bangaloreans are concerned about patriotism's new avatar in the current commercialized and westernized atmosphere. Corruption in modern public life, direct external threats to our security, and the invasion by foreign industry and culture, emerge as major areas of concern.

The transformation of the world into a global village has surely broadened our outlook. Freedom for Sanjukta Haside, 14 yrs, Std.X, Innisfree House School, is expanding her horizons far wider than earlier generations. Elders are becoming more broad minded, and offering more freedom to youngsters, she feels.

Our own heritage seems to recede into the background. Preserving our culture and integrity is a motivating force for the young. Earlier generations had lived through the freedom struggle. But for today's youngsters, "it's something remote" as Deepak P. 15 yrs, Std XI, National Public School, notes. "Freedom is definitely important. Especially because of the present threats to our country, we must maintain our integrity and culture."

Is hyped up patriotic fervour replacing the sincerity of earlier generations? Piyali Chakravarty, 18 years and doing C.A. articleship, feels that " we too are sincere, but there's a lot of commercialism, as in the response to the Kargil war. Now, the media is playing a bigger role and hyping up patriotism. Western cultural influences are increasing. It can affect your patriotism. How you deal with it depends upon your values and upbringing."

Today's fun loving youngsters are aware of their duties and responsibilities. Ranjit Kumar, 22 years, software professional, feels that "freedom is important, but so is control and discipline. Some rules pertaining to conduct within the family, society, and the country, are important. As the son of a serving Air Force officer, my upbringing means a lot to me. Patriotism is ingrained in my blood. At home, we frequently discuss about war and related matters. Maybe I am not contributing at the moment, but the desire and motivation to do something for my country is there."

The gap between the promise of 1947, and the disappointments of 1999, is keenly felt. Youngsters like Dr. Ahmed Hussain, 24 years, and doctor, are concerned and wish to improve the situation. "Our grandparents were very optimistic about the future of India as a free country. I'm sure we have achieved a lot, but that innate pride and patriotism is sometimes missing in us. There's a lot of superficial hype, but are we truly convinced of our patriotism? In the past, educated people entered politics and inspired confidence. Now, it's the domain of criminals and ruffians. Moneyed people with manipulative ability are accepted and respected. Seeing recent political and social trends, and given the disappointment, I am tempted to wonder how things could have been better. But in spite of the disappointments, I feel there's light at the end of the tunnel."

After half a century of freedom, why are we still lagging behind? Mudit Agarwal, 25 years, software professional, feels bad that "Indian enterprise is being sidelined while MNCs are capturing the market. I am worried that foreign money may control us some years down the line. Indian experts are developing advanced technologies outside India. What prevents them from achieving their potential here? What is causing the brain drain? Overpopulation and illiteracy are our biggest problems, which must be overcome."

Proud to be born in free India, our young friends are asking many questions. Perhaps their intelligent, inquisitive, and sincere minds will come up with solutions for a better tomorrow. Meanwhile, it's fun to be young and free. Some glamorous gals and cool dudes are busy organizing a fun 'n fashion extravaganza to celebrate Independence Day in their friendly neighbourhood. They haven't a moment to spare to offer their comments. Another public holiday means freedom to freak out on another jamboree. Yippee!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

drive to freedom, or be driven?

Ads on TV and gigantic roadside hoardings clamour for attention. Milling crowds, human beings losing their unique identities as they rush to chase money. They say one needs drive and ambition to get ahead. In the scramble to reach that elusive place where you can get even more and even better, do we in fact lose our true selves?

On rare moments, work can combine with true inner satisfaction. I got such a chance when an editor asked me to interview some young professionals who volunteer for social causes. This was for the India's sixtieth Independence Day special feature, and while interacting with my interviewees, I realized the true import of independence.

I listened to highly educated young people who have worked and studied abroad. They've been exposed to the best the world has to offer, and they're now quietly at work. They aren't talkers, but real doers who work for the betterment of the world without even thinking that they're doing anything special.

I saw the will, the caring heart that wants to give;
"I wanted to help, to give back what I have received from my country and society," said Vikas.
"I want to see a developed India right now," said Vijay. "I want to encourage others and speed up the process in my own small way."

I saw the clear thinking which can lead to progress and growth:
" With a systematic approach," said Vikram, "we can see better and more effective results."

The clear thinking that urges these altruistic young people to "be comfortalbe with who I am." The willpower and strong character that makes Nanditha say,"I don't understand why we look for excuses to chase money. We don't need to blindly follow others. I want to stick to my roots and think for myself."

And oh yes, that saving grace of modesty was there too. "Why do you want my picture?" Anitha asked. "I'm such an ordinary person doing my small bit."

Through their eyes, I saw a world far removed the rat race of modern life. These youngsters are in it, yet have risen above their fellow mortals rushing to nowhere on their treadmills.

I am getting an idea of what true independence means. It's jsut that I can't find words to describe it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

swinging into the sixties

Life begins at 60 for veteran journalist and author Kalpana Sharma. A widely respected senior journalist with The Hindu, Kalpana's column on gender issues has a nationwide fan following. Kalpana is looking forward to a life of new freedom as she retires as the Mumbai bureau chief of The Hindu at the end of

This fiesty lady, who looks not a day over forty says," I'm not retiring from journalism. I'll always remain a
journalist. And am looking forward to starting my career as an independent

She shared her thoughts in a friendly get-together with twenty of us Network of Women in Media Bangalore members on
Tuesday, May 22, at a cozy little cafe. "Being sixty is a landmark but also just another year
in the life of a journalist who can't stop being one!" she told us amid rounds of applause.

It was a cozy and cheerful affair, the gang of ladies wishing Kalpana a happy birthday and a long innings ahead.

We had a lot to learn as we listened to Kalpana's recollections of a 34-year-old
career that began at 'Himmat' That small but respected magazine stood up to the Emergency of the Seventies and press censorship. And in those dark days of modern Indian history, even major, "mainstream" newspapers
bent before the powers that be.

"We experienced first hand the pressures and pulls
of State oppression," she reminisced.

Kalpana is a born mentor, and she aims to have more time to spare for budding scribes in the days ahead. "When we
started out at Himmat, our seniors took time out to train us," she said,
She also plans to update her book on Dharavi and quite naturally has more
book ideas in the pipeline. Interestingly, she also wants to catch up with the people about whom she wrote in her famous 'Gender Perspective'column, and follow up the case studies.

Best of all, this eminent journalist is a well-rounded personality with a cheery smile and a hearty laugh. Age can never wither this evergreen lady. She's off on a lecture tour in berkley before returning to

"Now skepticism is reducing," Kalpana said. She feels that routine news reports are becoming more common these days. People don't always stop to ask deeper questions. She encourages young journalists to probe further, do full justice to the subject and refrain from sensational reporting. "Even the camera can be manipulated...sensational old footage can be shown." She is totally against "opinion being manufactured."

Things like SMS polls, so popular with the media today, gives the opinons of a small, unrepresentative section of society, she feels.

We celebrate this lady's 'coming of age' as an independent journalist. While infusing her circle with life and verve, may she continue to keep an eagle eye on the media and see that it fulfils its role as watchdog.

Monday, April 16, 2007

returning to an old friend

Some books form a personal connection with me. One of these is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I picked up my copy after several years and remembered my dear friend Maria from Spain, who had sung praises of this bible for Spanish readers. The dog-eared bookmark with Maria's fading handwriting, exchanging personal impressions as we discussed my progress through the book, the soft focus sepia tinted memories returned.

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." Thus begins One Hundred Years of Solitude, from a terrifying point in the distant future, where the firing squad is preparing to shoot to kill. Dream and memory whirl into a heady mix to draw the reader into a narrative where time moves in many directions at once. This matter of fact yet incredibly farfetched note typifies the essence of Magic Realism.

I entered Macondo again. Staying awake till the early hours, I joined the villagers of Macondo as an insomnia epidemic threatened to erase all layers of culture and identity. I witnessed "the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forevermore, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth."

One of the world’s most famous modern-day classics, One Hundred Years of Solitude encompasses in its epic sweep the history of the Buendia family. A mix of the political, emotional and magical, this novel is among the best known and most popular novels in the tradition of Magic Realism. This novel has been translated into many languages including English, and has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. It portrays the history of Macondo on a larger-than-life level, tracing events from its mythic foundation to its final disappearance. A middle-class family chronicle set against the backdrop of Latin American history, this novel tests the boundaries of narrative fiction. Garcia Marquez once said that he seeks to bring out “the magic in commonplace events.” The events in the novel may seem fantastic, but much of it has a solid grounding in reality. The massacre of hundreds of banana plantation workers in the novel is based upon an actual strike by workers against the United Fruit Company in 1928.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

pearls in writers' groups

My writer friend Behlor Santi says, "I returned to my old stomping grounds...There's a lot more coffeeshops and bars and boutiques there. There's plenty for the tourists. Yet I felt that I'm returned to the same bullshit,...looking the exact same way they did in 2002. Back then, I was in a more fragile emotional state, and I yearned for these hipsters' approval. Not, I laugh at them. I notice how pathetically they lie, how cheesy and classless they are. ...To artists everywhere else--I ask you this: do you feel alone in a sea of poseurs? Or have you found solidarity with fellow artists who create the real deal?"

Yes, I also feel alone in a sea of poseurs sometimes. And then I see that I, too, am a poseur, pretending not to care about so many things like rejection slips, comments in shrill voices punctuated with raised eyebrows like "Oh, so YOU wrote that article in yesterday's paper? I read the one next to it and it was really interesting. But yours, ..." Or, "You sure do have a lot of idle time on your hands."

And I pretend not to care when someone welcomes me in a new on-line writer's group and the thread is immediately hijacked to a completely unconnected topic. (That's happened to me thrice)

But then I do find solidarity in this sea of, well maybe not poseurs but but people who couldn't give a damn. Because of people like you who drop by at this blog. Because we sift through the sand and eventually do find lovely sea shells and even pearls.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Fooling around

It's April Fool's Day. What better way to celebrate than fool around on my blog? Fooling isn't something to be lightly dismissed. It's serious business, the breeding ground for creative thought. Would Issac Newton have thought of gravity while chopping wood, labouring in the farm or getting traumatised at the dentists? Quite unlikely. If an apple fell on his head while he was washing his car, he would probably have cussed,kicked the apple into the gutter, and gone to put an ice pack on his aching head.

For those professional fools, the clowns, fooling around is serious business. Their comic style varies, from witty, loaded quips to being just plain slapstick silly. There are sad clowns and there are scary clowns just as there are enough people who are afraid to laugh and unwind.

And me? I laugh most to combat stress. When overwhelmed by adversities, I've seen people take a brief, lighthearted break. Laush in privacy at the things and situations that seem msot daunting, and you've made them surmoutnable and won half the battle. A hearty laugh helps put things in perspective before getting down to business again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Not yet dead

'Lost for words, blog craze dying' cried out the headline inside today's Times of India. An estimated 200 million (whoa!) blogs have been started and then abandoned, creating the internet's fastest growing graveyard. Millions of bloggers have nothing left to say.

But hey, I'm not yet dead. If I've been away for a few weeks, its not because of lack of ideas. Sometimes life overwhelms us. Running around in circles to untangle growing messes has left me little time to express myself here.

I'm still full of ideas as is the serious blogging world. Bloggers can and do continue to make a difference. Do check out the Wandering Author's blog. His latest post is a call to help children who cannot speak. And he offers an innovative and interesting way to raise funds to help victims of apraxia, which deprives sufferers of the ability to speak.

And that's the best way to lift yourself out of self pity and self-indulgence. Get out there and lend a helping hand.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bitter or Timid?

It's uncanny how heartfelt words from a great writer can guide one's thoughts away from musty, cobweb-infested niches toward fresh air and clear skies.

Some years ago, Salman Rushdie's detractors set a price upon his head and forced him into hiding. In continuing to write, Rushdie has overcome "two traps set by the fatwa: writing timid novels and writing bitter ones." He says, “If somebody's trying to shut you up, sing louder and, if possible, better. My experience just made me all the more determined to write the very best books I could find it in myself to write." Rushdie continues to strive for greater literary heights, and he draws us into his world of consummate artistry.

Few can hope to match Rushdie's intellect and talent. But we too can try to face setbacks and overcome them. When a nameless little stream is stopped by a row of boulders, it can sink into a stagnant pool and let slime and insects breed in its once clear water. Or it can gush over the barrier and flow on, bubbling over and singing its cheerful song on the way.