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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Moisture Trapped in a Stone, Book Review

MOISTURE TRAPPED IN A STONE: An Anthology of Modern Telugu Short Stories
Translated from the Telugu by K.N.Rao      Thornbird/Niyogi Books         Rs..595/- 

This is a richly varied collection of 29 stories translated from Telugu. Social issues predominate in many of these stories. There are some twist-in the-tale stories, tales of expatriates chasing the American dream, and a couple of love stories, too. It's like a box of assorted chocolates. Each story has a different tone and flavour, and you don't know what will come next. All the stories will not appeal to every reader, but there's something in this collection for everyone.
The Citadel in Disrepair by Kethu Viswanatha Reddy struck me with its effective treatment of the themes of grief, loss of a son, and the senseless destruction resulting from the Naxalite movement. Jasmine on a Lattice by Kolipaka Ramamani is a beautiful story with heart-rending emotions skilfully portrayed through an exchange of letters.
Some of the stories are on contemporary themes in the urban Indian context, bringing out the intricacies of human relationships. D Kameswari's Bumblebee is a strong and nuanced story about the contemporary reality of adultery. Vasundhara's Yet Another Love Story is an interesting take on the relationship of an elderly couple who seem to endlessly bicker and complain on the surface. Yet when their son decides to take his mother along with him to the big city to give her some peace and rest, the mother begins to miss her husband. The husband too longs for her companionship and comes to the city to take her home. J Ramalakshmi's Outsourcing is a witty take on today's commercial reality. Mohammed Khadeer Babu's The Cover effectively portrays the communal tensions flowing as an undercurrent beneath the apparently placid social fabric of city life.
The impact of foreign culture on home-grown visitors from the hinterland is the theme of several stories. Madhurantakam Rajaram's Galiveedu to New York depicts an elderly landlord used to a culture of feuds, rivalries and murderous attacks on opponents. On a visit to his son in America, he sees how "these boys had no use for terrorism and stories of vengeance… Bomb bursts, murders in broad daylight, rivers of blood, setting fire to homes and such other acts do not seem to drive them to action. Then what do they want to know from him?"
Madhurantakam Rajaram's The Homing Pigeon is a beautiful and nuanced story. Young Ravi comes from America to search for grandparents he has never met, who live in an obscure village too insignificant to merit even a bus stop. The hinterland, with its beauty as well as festering social injustices, is portrayed effectively in many of these stories.
Madhurantakam Rajaram's Moisture Trapped in a Stone is a deliciously complex story with lovely stylistic flourishes. "Time wrought other changes too, bringing to the town a character of diversity. Men, dark-skinned, looking like the trunk of a babul tree which grown unmindful of the hot sun, the inconvenience of dust storms and the sewage waters that lash them and having lashed, flow past them as if they made a mistake initially; men who do not have memories of days gone by…"
B Geetika's Misappropriated Moonlight is about a government official whose work involves the welfare of backward tribes. She arrives from the big city wondering: "These men in the forest, how do we wake them up? They seem totally ignorant of the world… How can we let them grow wise to issues like nutritious food, family planning etc.?" As she befriends Girija, a young tribal girl, the official gets emotionally involved and her attitude changes. She experiences firsthand the tragic plight of innocent forest people. "Girija is my friend, I'll use every resource at my command to save her. But what about the tribe as a whole? These fellows who pass for civilised men, are they any better than those animals in the forest?"
The variances in style and treatment differ from story to story. Several stories deal with social issues with a heavy hand. Her Very Own Rubicon by Vasundhara has the point/moral of the story spelled out a little too bluntly at the end.
"Now to questions that stare at me: here is a lady who lives a cocooned life, straitjacketed by the age old caste system. But she is also tender hearted, kind and considerate… She is a slave of the tradition into which she is born… but kind, loving, generous… One needs to understand such personalities properly."
Vasireddy Seetadevi's Darkness to Light ­ ­- A Journey to Nowhere is mainly a tedious and lengthy Q&A session on spiritual questions. The patient reader is rewarded at the end of this tedium with a heart-rending ending. Rentala Nageswara Rao's A Gift of Gingelly Seeds also has a lengthy Q&A section from page 29 to page 40. The topic is socialist revolution, the Naxalite movement etc.
The Case by Olga is yet another example of a story relying heavily on Q&A sessions on the theme of women's rights.
Overall, this collection is an interesting read which brings out the many facets of contemporary Telugu short stories.
This was published in Sunday Herald

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Juggling Writing for Children and Adults

Juggling writing for children and for adults

Children are as different from adults as chalk and, umm… ascorbic acid. Right? Everyone knows that adults are practical, business-like, preoccupied with solving all the troubles of the world. Adults sensibly work to advance their position in life, and hope their children will do the same. And kids? Well they’re silly and playful and have to be constantly ordered what to do. Children need those same practical, sensible and mature adults to constantly prod them to study and learn moral lessons, so that they in turn can grow into practical and insufferably boring adults. 

If you’re among the few who disagree with the above premises, shake hands. Because I think children and adults all have the potential for rational and practical thought as well as imagination and the capacity to innovate. Children are as human as adults, as intelligent but more fresh in their thinking because they haven’t been hardened into the tried and tested practical and sensible rut yet. Children work just as hard as adults to tackle life’s problems.

The main difference between children and adults is that their situations in life are different. Therefore, the issues that concern them most are also different. So, we find kids deeply concerned about dealing with challenges such as sibling rivalry or playground bullies, while adults are busy dealing with dragon bosses or carefully considering which political party to support. Whatever it is they need to deal with, children and adults equally apply thought and intelligence to achieve their aims.
Another difference between children and adults is that children are more fresh in their approach. They are more open-minded to new ideas and people, and they have a natural capacity for imaginative thinking. Writing for children is vital for keeping this freshness and imagination alive. Good children’s books open them to new ideas in an interesting way. Children who love to read learn a lot more than what is taught in textbooks and the school curriculum. They also improve their vocabulary, comprehension and linguistic skills while having fun. Best of all, good books 
 are cheaper than the junk food we love to spend our money on. And books are healthier for both body and mind.

That’s why I juggle writing for children and for adults. I think both genres are equally important. I put as much thought and work just as hard at my craft for both categories. It’s just that when I write for kids, I think like them and put myself in their shoes. And of course I do the same when it comes to writing for adults. Simple, yet a challenge which many writers never take up.
Genre jugglers aren’t regular people. They have even stranger streaks of eccentricity than the usual eccentric writer. Most sensible people approach me, sniff and evaluate, and then run for their lives. I write what comes to me rather than writing what appears most publishable and market worthy at the time. For me, spontaneity is the key.

Writing happens best for me when I’m engrossed by the story and characters I’m creating. These stories, in turn, are shaped by the thoughts and concerns uppermost in mind at any particular time. When I started writing my first book, Riddle of the Seventh Stone, a fantasy adventure novel for young people, it wasn’t because I had deliberate plans of becoming a children’s writer. In those days, I was enjoying growing up with my son.

They say the best children’s books are created out of the stories parents share with their children. In Riddle of the Seventh Stone, my son had many suggestions. A much appreciated touch suggested by my son, is the description of Geeta, the classmate for whom Rishabh has a massive crush.
To Rishabh, the rat-turned boy, Geeta’s eyes are round and black like manhole covers. Her hair flows like algae and her skin glows like nuclear waste. It was my son who had suggested these similes because he felt that Rishabh, wouldn’t have the same notions of beauty as regular boys. In the novel, Rishabh often thinks and behaves  like the rat that he was born as. So this unusual description of Geeta’s beauty fits in perfectly with Rishabh's character,

In this way, I try to think like the character whose story I’m writing at any given time. The process is the same even when I’m writing a story for adults. In my short story Flowers and Paper Boats, (Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories),the protagonist is a young man. I remember when I shared this story in the Internet Writing Workshop, an international writing community I swear by. An American writer read it and asked me whether the young man was gay, because a passage describing flowers seemed to him to be too feminine in style. He hadn’t deduced my gender from my name, so he was surprised to learn that I was an older woman writing from the point of view of a young man. The character was otherwise portrayed in a way that made him assume that the writer was also a man.
Everyone is good at certain things. I’m pretty good at empathising with others. So I’m a natural at juggling the requirements of the two genres. It all depends on which group I’m more drawn to at any given time.

Read this column in Read Write Inspire