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

Saturday, February 09, 2008

why do we tell stories?

Why do we tell stories? In this busy world where nobody has time to stop and listen, why do we continue writing stories, hoping someone will read till the end?

For me, stories are roundabout ways to arrive at the roots of reality. If we dig straight and directly, we are more likely to destroy the fine, delicate roots which nourish life itself. Life's mysteries and the sense of wonderment they engender, cannot always be filed away and conveniently categorized as dry data. That's where the storyteller enters, to breathe life into words and emotions, and evoke all the nuances that make up life.

Let's take a question which many of us face. What does it mean to be an Indian? It isn't easy to define the sense of identity we feel in a land of many cultures and languages. I'm a Bengali (Bong), but folks in Karnataka, where I live, take me for a Coorgi or a Mangalorean. Some have even taken it for granted and tried to converse with me in their totally incomprehensible to me dialects. I've given up trying to explain to people that I'm a Bong (noo, not from Kolkata, only rarely visit there, never lived in those parts, no roots there. but I know the language well enough to translate a Bangla story or two into English) I'm a Bong born in Delhi because my father settled in Delhi after Independence/Partition (1946, to be exact). Ancestors are East Bengalis. And now I live in Karnataka and speak passable Kannada. I've given up explaining to people and just say, I'm Indian.

I wrote a short story which has a reference to this feeling of being different, but also being totally Indian. The link to 'A Royal Tour' is on the right sidebar.

I have always wondered how much of one's personal experience can go into a story and still be considered fiction? This particular story of mine is based on my true life experiences. My only child is named Siddhartha, and he is a newly emerged from the chrysalis doctor. This piece started out as creative non fiction. But somewhere along the way, it evolved into fiction. As the real life Siddhartha observed,"The character evolves into someone like me towards the end, but at the beginning of the story, he is quite different."

I put this question to Indian author and actor Tom Alter, who despite his markedly Caucasian looks, is 100% Indian, right down to peppering his English speech with untranslateable Hindi and Urdu colloquialisms. Here's his reply;
"As for putting personal truth in our writing? -- it is the only thing to do -- all writers do -- they must -- we must -- in both of my novels, I am everywhere -- but not always as 'I' "

I hope some readers of this blog will pause to enlighten me. How much of your own experiences and emotions do you put into your fiction?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Kafka in today's Bangalore

Why do folks read books? Reading works for me because books give me interesting and unusual perspectives on reality. I was mulling over the term 'Kafkaesque' when reality overtook me. Recent revision of electoral rolls in Karnataka threw up huge anomalies. Many names, including those of me and my family members, vanished in a stroke of inscruitable, elusive authority. While I struggled to get it rectified, my son gave me an idea. Why not write a fun piece on my predicament? I did, and here's what was published on the Editorial page of Deccan Herald on the 30th of Jan.

Reading Kafka and reconnecting to life can produce interesting results :-) I'm not quite sure how the Easter Island guys fit in except that to me, they're rather Kafkaesque, too.


On a chill January morning, I woke from troubled dreams in a cold sweat. No demon slithered out from the toothpaste tube, and the kitchen sink did not suck me into a bottomless vortex. The morning routine continued without disasters more dire than the milk boiling over. Deceived into complacency, I dug into a reassuring plate of idlis.

The doorbell clanged, nearly jolting my breakfast off my lap. A lanky, dour-faced man peered in through the door and barked, “Voters’ list check.”
“Four voters here,” I said, proudly flashing our photo identity cards.
“No voters enrolled from this door number,” said Dour-face.
The nightmare of a struggle for identity, understanding and security had begun.

I pored over his lists, checking every page. Our numbers, our names, our very existence had vanished in a stroke of bureaucratic whim and authority. “We’ve lived here since 1995, and voted in every election,” I pleaded. “Please correct the list.”
“Proof of identity and residence?” Dour-face growled.
“If I didn’t live here, I wouldn’t be opening the door dressed like this. And that’s undoubtedly my mug on the card,” I said, waving our photo identity cards again.

“As per my list, you don’t exist. Register again with valid proof of residence.” Dour-face thrust a Form 6 into my hand and marched off to negate the identities of the folks next door.

Unable to comprehend my fate, I searched websites and directories for an elusive supreme authority that could restore my true selfhood. The name and contact number of an official offered hope of redemption.
“My family members are registered as voters from this address since 1995, but your enumerator says our names are not included.”
“What is your problem?”
Feeling more preposterous than a cockroach in a clown suit, I repeated my query.
“Where do you stay?”
I told him.
“Gregor Samsa…,” I almost blurted out, remembering Franz Kafka’s hero who lost his identity and was transformed into a gigantic insect. But I stopped myself, pleased that I could still remember my name.
“I don’t attend to your area,” the official said, although the website stated otherwise. No, he didn’t know whom I should contact.

I am now struggling against hope and fear, reason and inanity, in a confusing world where I just might find an intangible truth about the human condition