It was a cold November night. The area outside my apartment complex was pretty dark (as it always was after sundown) in the quiet university town in Florida that I lived in. I quietly locked the door making sure that I did not wake my roommates and proceeded towards my rendezvous with a guy at 2:30 am.
No, he wasn’t a boyfriend or a dealer of illicit substances. He had a battered old car which was a luxury for us those days of early grad student life. Few of us had a means to move about town after 7:30pm in the evening here when the buses stopped. So it was either him or accepting being left behind.
I think that a lot of current attention on teaching and learning writing is focused on attempts at being successful and on how to write well. Not enough focus is given to understanding failure–why and how we fail to compose a piece properly. Continue reading How to fail better at writing (Part 2)→
Rupa is sixteen years old. Rupa has a lot of passion for life. Rupa thinks she is a writer. Rupa keeps a pocket book handy at all times in case her inspirations escape from the leaky recesses of her brain and she fails to catch them in flight.
So Rupa has been scribbling for a while, mostly about love, passion, roses. At social gatherings, her parents often urge her to read out her poetry. It’s probably her imagination but she’s been noticing a lot of people heading towards the food or feeling suddenly thirsty the moment her parents mention her most recent inspired moments. Continue reading How to fail better at writing (Part 1)→
A while ago I was trying to dream up a story. In the story, my young hero’s sister has an arranged marriage and moves to the United States from India. I could dream up the humdrum of the colourful wedding, of the bridal finery, of the perspective of the female protagonist’s reaction to the whole cacophonous affair. But as my mind travelled to the inside of this sister’s head, I drew a blank.
What was going through our sister’s head moving to a new country with a strange man? Did she feel powerless not being able to be the engine of her own destiny? Did she feel empowered by the social status that a good groom and a good marriage bestowed on her? Did she feel lost? Did she feel regret at not having pursued her studies or training further on her own? What would she do now? Continue reading Characters from the inside of your head→
As I noted yesterday, I’m not feeling particularly clever these days. Or as Americans would say, feeling particularly smart.
This was a source of great discomfort at first. Particularly since I’m here in the States now, where everything is so smart. You have smart phones. You have smart washing machines. You have smart apps for grocery lists. You might even see a smart car parallel park itself far outsmarting you very soon.
All this smartness makes a person feel rather dumb. But feeling dumb was not helping as I was trying to write. I was still the writer-frog staring at the big green leaf-blank page in expectation of the fly-words to come by when a thought struck me.
When everyone else is smart, perhaps the smart thing to aspire to is dumbness.
For the longest time, we were talking about how the internet was making us unsocial. Rather than socializing with our neighbours and “real” friends and family, we were running after people we hadn’t even met, talking to them, chatting and exchanging ideas neglecting our real social lives (if we had any).
Or if we had a roaring online life it was automatically assumed that we chose internet social as a kind of consolation prize to real social. People were afraid that spending a lot of time online would lead to depression and unsocial, even antisocial behaviour.
Stereotypes of nerds have abounded in our social imagination a long time, of course. Think of Chaucer’s clerk in the Canterbury Tales with his threadbare overcoat, not speaking a word more than he could help, bent down with the weight of his twenty leather-bound books, a very rare handmade commodity back then. Continue reading How reading has become more social→
The little blind lane on which my parents’ flat is located in Calcutta is very narrow but by no means sleepy. As you pass by the other flats you notice a mixture of old and new buildings. The new buildings rise up perpendicularly–straight from the road–while some of the older buildings have benches made of cement in small verandahs adjacent to the street beyond which the actual rooms start.
As I walk by my eyes glance over the verandahs, the curtains slightly ajar or the doors half open. A woman sweeps her balcony behind the metal “grill” of the railing. A green curtain is half closed behind which I see an elderly man sitting on a wooden bed in front of the TV, his head hidden from my view by the wooden shutter. A section of an old painting shows itself on the wall through a half open door. Voices float out of the homes in various different sharps and flats. I hear pots and pans clanging in the background as the domestics talk loudly to the women of the house as they clean the vessels. A voice floats out. Someone practising singing at dusk with the singing master. [Still has a rather long way to go, I think, that voice, as I pass.] A dog with four newly born puppies lies curled up on a cement bench on a verandah waiting for the domestic help to come out with a bowl of rice.
How is it that you tell a story?
What stories do you tell? What stories get left behind?
A myriad questions come to mind when I try to think of a story. Or stories. To tell.
Ultimately, I stand befuddled in tongue-tied confusion. Wanting to tell all and able to tell none.
All those stories in my head.
Recently, I’ve been able to figure out why. It all dawned on me in a single moment.
I’m getting out of the train at the World Trade Center PATH station. It’s waves of people rushing out the doors stepping out with me meeting waves of faces waiting to get in. It’s waves of arms, legs, backpacks, boots, elbows, yellow caution lines and discarded metro cards on the floor (being trampled on incessantly by boots), a confusion of emergency phones on pillars, maps and defibrillator boxes all rushing at me in the crowd as I move forward.
Then, the feeling of moving up flights of steps and ramps and wide concourses, rising with the tide of people all the while saving my feet and elbows from getting jammed against suitcases on wheels and pointy heels and sharp corners of cardboard boxes. Finally the lightness of being deposited like a cork with the tide at the turnstiles.
Then moving up, and up, and up on the great escalators towards the surface from the bowels of the earth.
How do we react to the following writers who might be trying to say they’re happy?
Person A:Awwwww. How sweet. That’s the best thing ever! Red roses are my favourite. Person B:The flowers made me so happy. Person C:My felicity was assured by your gesture of goodwill expressed by the earlier mentioned red roses at my doorstep.
Believe it or not, person C’s do still exist amongst us in the twenty-first century.
But usually, in the everyday world, C’s are really A’s or B’s rather insecure about what to write or trying to get an edge over A’s and B’s. What else can they do? It’s a competitive world.
But no matter what their intention, what do these styles make us assume about the people behind them?
This is my space for idle speculation. What’s cool about speculation in this space is that it can be really idle in the true sense. My thoughts don’t need to be developed beyond the heated coffee shop conversation stage, nor need be backed by too much evidence.
From that totally secure vantage point, I decided to rattle around randomly through literary history in my battered, quirky time-machine gathering patterns that might tell us which way our stories might go in the future. Continue reading Where will stories go?→
I’ve been waiting a long time for the PATH train at a station in Jersey City. The train will take me under the Hudson river to mid-town Manhattan. It arrives at last and I get in.
It’s not rush hour exactly though not everyone has got a seat. But it’s not so packed right now that someone will trample over your toes or elbow you out of their way to push themselves into or out of the train.
It was a rainy day yesterday. Gray sky as dark as slate, a gray river with boats in muted colours stuck solid on the gray, opaque water of the Hudson in the low light. The air smelt of wet vegetation. The balcony railing had drops of water clinging from it. I breathed in the fresh air and I thought, ahhh, a muri, telebhaja kind of day.
Oh wait. I’ll have to translate that.
A puffed-rice and assorted-vegetables-dipped-in-batter and deep fried kind of day.
Have you ever been in a situation from which you cannot see a way out? Sort of like Cinderella cleaning chimney soot and cleaning chimney soot and cleaning chimney soot all day waiting for either the fairy godmother or prince charming or least of all one of the seven dwarfs to materialize out of thin air?
None of the seven dwarfs arrive of course because you’ve mixed up stories. You are left staring at your sooty hands, thinking of all the chimney cleanings the next day, and the next day, and the next day. Besides, every time you’re done cleaning you have the wicked stepmom come over and take credit for the shiny grate and the spotless floor.
The internet is a nameless, faceless place if you want it to be. But all the same, it’s populated with people. Just like you or me. It’s like being on the road. Those cars seem to be trucks or sedans or tiny Beetles hurtling down the road but they’re really not.
There are people behind those big machines and just like people, they have natures of their own.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some people read my blogs recently. As I’ve interacted with some of them, explicitly through comments, or implicitly by observing their “likes,” or sensing their lack of interest through absence, I’ve been thinking of them as people (as I did in My Blog Audience).
Perhaps it’s because I’m still new to blogging that I haven’t lost the sense of wonder yet. It’s summer here and things are kind of nice late at night.
I was sitting at my computer in a room with a big glass window. The city skyline was spread out in front of me glittering like a long necklace across the empty river. Continue reading My Blog Audience→
The process of work seemed rather curious. It was a great big library in a great big school in a great big country where escalators went up and down a very spacious, gigantic room with a ceiling at least three floors high.
It was called, predictably, the library.
Therefore, most people seemed to be there for the wireless internet.
Some seemed to be waiting there for their next classes looking over printed course packs they’d obtained from a copy store nearby.
Some were concentrated on updating their locations on Facebook.