Recently in one of my writing group, someone brought the prompt “Having a conversation with Raavan”. In the beginning of the session, they talked about how bad they felt about burning of Ravana’s effigy, year after year, and how we shouldn’t be celebrating Dussehra in this fashion. We talked about the evil that recided within all of us. How we all have our dark side. So in the beginning I wrote about evil that resides within all of us. The shadow side of mine and how it looks from others’ eyes. But when it came to the Raavan prompt I couldn’t write it. No actually I did, it looked as dead on the page as dead it looked in my head. So in the end I read the evil inside me, piece. The session got over, but I was left with an unease, a feeling that you get when you don’t speak your truth, or unease that you get when you disagree with a bunch of people and are not able to put your point forth due to your incompatibility to speak objectively. Surely, it must have hit me in some ways, because here I am writing about it after two weeks. I have been pondering and wondering in my subconscious mind, how to bring my truth to the surface in the least objectionable manner for others. And here is my attempt to bring light to the things that have been disturbing me.
For me Ram and Raavan, both are the same person. They both reside in us, if you look closely you will find so many similarities between the two. Like Ram was a duty bound king, he did what he did because as Sita’s husband it was his duty to protect her. Similarly Raavan did what he did, to protect his sister, his sister’s honor was at stake. They both were duty bound, the difference is the sides or people they were supporting. Sita on one hand was living her life, and was kidnapped from her house because of something Ram did, technically laxman did on Ram’s order. Soopnakha did what she did following her heart, and she took it a bit far or maybe Ram took it too far by cutting her nose. Now as someone of this age, if we see a man lusting after a woman, we might send him to Jail, here the gender was reversed and there was no one legal system for all. They did what they deemed fit for that atrocious behavior. I think they went a little overboard with castrating her nose. But I don’t know what other options they have to push her away. Now, Ram was fighting for someone he loved and someone who was innocent. While Raavan was supporting someone he loved but someone who had done some wrong deed. Now looking at it objectively, how many people even in this day and age will forfeit their own blood, in order to be righteous. Will you abandon your son if he accidentally kills someone? Or will you leave your partner if they threatened your neighbor in a fit of anger, and that neighbor reported you to the police. Think about it !!
So Ravan and Ram both did what they did out of duty, but then who took it to extremes? I ask you that very question? Let me share a recent incident, where a 14 year old boy fell in love with a 20 year old girl, but the girl rejected the boy’s advances. The boy threw himself at the railway track and died. The boy’s family started harassing the girl and her family, until one day, they kidnapped the girl, raped her, and then shaved her head, blackened her face and made her walk in their vicinity. Now this my friends happened in this very century, just a week ago. Where someone avenged their dead by killing someone while being alive. Now if you look deeply at what Ravan did, he kidnapped Sita, knowing that in a society how the life of women can go ashtray, if she is Kidnapped by other men. Of Course there are flaws, Ram did her wrong and blah blah, I know that too, and yes I agree Ram should have stood by her. But in a way Ram lost even after winning the war. He lost his wife forever, the society took it away from him. But who brought it on him, Raavan did. Like what do you think will happen to this young girl, how long will it take her to recover from the trauma that she had suffered. Even if the boy’s whole family rot in jail, will it bring back what the girl has lost. So ask yourself, we are not questioning right and wrong, we are questioning the decision and from the place it came from, for each individual.
In this way Ram and Ravan are two sides of us, one who takes decisions from a place of objectivity even in times of crisis, while Ravan is the other side of us which in anger take decisions whose repercussions we don’t understand at that very moment. Don’t we all love people who are objective and think about repercussions of their actions. Isn’t this why Dhoni was the most loved captain of our National Cricket Team. We all strive to be there, at least I do, and if you start working on yourself, you will too. No it doesn’t make you immune or less empathetic but it teaches you to step back from your emotions, understand the situation and then act upon it. As the great spiritual saying goes, “In times of anger, be proactive instead of being reactive”. And by abiding by this very saying, you will just not save yourself but a lot of other people too. This brings me to my point, why burning Ravana’s effigy is important. It’s a reminder to burn the evil inside of us, and use those ashes to recreate a soaring phoenix out of it. We are not burning a person, we are burning the evil that is represented by a person.
PS: If you are a mythological music buff, look at the way these two prayers, one sung by Ram and other by Raavan, in praise of Lord Shiva, before the war. And if you understand music, you will understand what I am saying here, if my words didn’t say it.
“Tu jaanta nahi hai, mera baap kaun hai”, is one phrase you grow up on if you were born in India. Oftenly used by not-so-good-for-nothing sons of politicians, businessmen, celebrities to escape the law or mostly to get their way in any complicated situation. If Shakespeare was born in India he would never have written “What’s in the name”, because in our country a name is everything, especially the surname. In Fact, if he would have written: “Everything is in the name.” Lame I know but what can I say, it’s still true, know.
But then I have a question for these men or boys, why they didn’t say anything about their mother. How would it sound, “Tu jaanta nahi mera maa kaun hai”, in our patriarchal world. Unmanly, right, a man hiding behind a woman even if that woman is his mother, even though it was she, behind whom he hid whenever his dad tried to beat the shit out of him. Now don’t roll your eyes, every Indian child does get a slap or two. A little beating does everyone a little good. The man who would ever dare to do it would have to walk, the walk of cuss shame. So in our country you can swear on your mothers and sisters, but you can’t throw their name around in a stitch.
But then if I think a little more, there is another reason for these YOLO kids not calling up on momma. Because Indian mothers, unlike their counterparts, care differently. They will definitely turn up at the place and would get you released too. But the moment you will be left alone with her , she will use all her homely weapons, from rolling pin to broom to the wiper for causing such a mess. But if that mom is anything like mine, then there are high chances that she will leave you in the officer’s care to teach you a lesson. Strange but that’s how our mother’s function and somehow we do too.
Now you might be wondering after being gone from blogging for months, why I am bombarding you with such lame stuff. The reason is simple, the recent events have poked me to rise enough from my comfy chair of short story writer to don the hat of a blogger.
Few days ago, NCB(National Narcotics Bureau) arrested a famous Indian Actor’s son for drug consumption and possession. In India it is a legal offence, and the punishment is quite lethal. And Indian media has gone all crazy on it. So now, every single move of either the parent or the child is showcased as something out of ordinary. Every few minutes I see a new pop up from my news app regarding him. At times it’s like he was seen smiling in the Police van, but then seconds later another claim would come that he wasn’t smiling but laughing. And there would be this zoomed-out picture of him, to prove their claim. Another time the news claimed the child was crying inconsolably on seeing his father for the first time after his arrest. Now is that a wonder, he is a twenty-something kid, in police custody for the first time. He wasn’t brought up to end up there, and yet he did, of course by doing some wrong shit. But it’s human nature to break down in times of crisis, it’s a human reaction, what’s the news about it? The parents aren’t spared either, five days after his arrest when the child was denied bail, a zoomed-out video of the mother crying in her car was released. Now which mother won’t cry in such a fucked up situation. It’s not strange, is it? Every time I fucked up I cried and along with me my mother would cry, at times yelling and at times consoling, so what’s the news here ??
Never before have I wondered if there is another side to “Who my famous father is.” There were other kids arrested along with him, their father’s rich, true but not famous. Fame always surpasses the money in the media. The proceedings are still going on, and so we should too hold our judgements. But no, there is the whole circus going on about it. Sometimes media houses forget that to the other side of the news, are people, human beings with emotions, and allowing them some privacy in such times would be a human act. We often feel that as a famous person they are liable to such kind of indecency. But I often feel it talks more about us than them. Our idea of news, our addiction to consumption, our judgment on others, and our words piercing the hearts. I often at times disconnect with the news until a clear verdict is given out. And after it, if I feel like I might talk preferably write about it. Today I felt like writing about it because I feel that our media houses need to be a little more sensitive towards what they are pushing down our throats. A little sensitivity, a little niceness, a little kindness, goes a long way. And as Maya Angelou says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The book opens up with a scene where four college friends, JB, a painter, Malcolm, an architect, Willem, an actor, and Jude, a litigator, are having lunch on a bright sunny afternoon in New York City. They are laughing, bantering, and eating like all other friends, but as you move up in the story, the breezy life of attending parties, finding apartments, going on dates, and gossip diminishes. The writer has very intelligently made you comfortable in your reader seat only to stir discomfort in the book’s latter pages. The prose is written in an eternal present day by scrubbing away references to any historical events. The effect is that it brings the character’s emotional lives to the foreground rendering the political and cultural Zeitgeist into vague scenery. As the pages turn, the ensemble recedes; with it, Jude comes to the fore and remains at the center.
Jude, who’s 16 when he arrives at an affluent New England college with only a backpack of baggy clothes, parentless and horribly scarred. His legs disfigured in an incident whose details he guards as closely as everything else about his past, he’s profoundly aware of his “extreme otherness.” The book slowly discloses luridly gothic episodes from his life before college. “You were made for this, Jude,” he’s told by the only adult he loves, a monk who betrays his trust. Consequently, Jude comes to believe that his suffering is the result of his abandonment “He had been born, and left, and found, and used as he had been intended to be used.”
The book is scaled to the intensity of Jude’s inner life. The cutting becomes a leitmotif. Every fifty pages or so, we get a scene in which Jude mutilates his own flesh with a razor blade. It forces the reader to squirm with a queasy experience of the brutal world. Jude’s suffering is so extensively documented because it is the foundation of his character. His sense of self comes in waves of elaborating metaphors: he is “a scrap of bloodied, muddied cloth,”“a blank, faceless prairie under whose yellow surface earthworms and beetles wriggled,” “a scooped out husk.” His memories are “hyenas,” his fear, “a flock of flapping bats,” his self-hatred a “beast.”
“A Little Life” keeps the queer suffering at the heart of the book. It uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on abandonment, horrifying physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, abduction, and the difficulties of recovery. The collective traumas like sickness and discrimination, which have deeply shaped the modern gay identity, are approached obliquely. The writer has avoided the conventional narrative of coming out or the AIDS issues.
For Jude, the relief comes in the form of career success and friendship. In addition to his law degree, Jude pursues a master’s in pure mathematics. At one point, he explains to his friends that he is drawn to math because it offers the possibility of “a wholly provable, unshakable absolute in a constructed world with very few unshakable absolutes.” Yanagihara has balanced ruthlessness by swashing us with the warmth and sunshine of friendship. Each friend of Jude’s tries to make innumerable accommodations to his daily needs. Malcolm, by designing spaces that will accommodate his disability; JB by painting kinder portraits that the eye alone would see; Willem by being the one person to whom he can tell his entire history. Willem and Jude invent their own type of relationship, which isn’t officially recognized or immortalized through words, but is truer and less constraining than legalized ones.
“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.” The prose beautifully depicts how friendship can be the primary relationship for some people. I loved how the book portrays the lives that are rarely depicted in popular art – a life without marriage and children. How, in periods of crisis, Jude’s friends monitor him like hawks, taking turns to feed him and keep a close eye on his self-harm.
For Jude, his friends are his only refuge and savior in this toxic world. Yet the ending makes you realize that in the end, you are really left on your own. Even though so many friends come in and out of Jude’s life, nobody is really able to save him. And that part is a very accurate reflection of, lot of adult lives.
This beautiful book was recommended to me by a dear friend @Sabah who has introduced me to so many new aspects of life, the journey within is one of them. The Untethered Soul is written by Michael A.Singer. The book comes from Michael’s years of spiritual experience. The book is divided into five sections: Awakening Consciousness, Experiencing Energy, Freeing Yourself, Going Beyond, and Living Life. Each section has three to five chapters under it from The voice in your head to Infinite Energy to Stealing freedom from your Soul to Contemplating Death.
“This above all: to thine own self be true,/ And it must follow, as the night the day,/ Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
The above lines from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet are the lines that the author uses to give you a glimpse of what the book has in store for you. The deciphering of the above lines by the greatest playwright goes like this: To maintain an honest relationship with others we must be true to ourselves. And from here the author leads you into the first question room of the book. Which “self” is the great author talking about? The one which comes surging high when someone throws dirt on us and we contemplate on taking revenge or the one who gets humbled by the outpouring love of strangers when we speak up the truth. So with this, you begin your journey in the book.
The author doesn’t pour you with statistical data nor does he call upon psychology experts. There aren’t any religious views or philosopher quotes. He in fact turns to a single source that has phenomenal direct knowledge on the subject that is you.
In the first few chapters I had a lot of questions but as I moved in the question receded and the understanding of the author’s words started playing its magic on me. I was reading this book along with my cousin @prashant with whom I had a long discussion on the initial section. But then I remembered my friend’s advice to always go with open arms into a subject, the more you open yourself the more wisdom you will find. So after the initial hiccup in the first section, I found myself finding peace and some workable advice on improving myself. There are things that you might already know and there are things that you might have no idea about, this book is an amalgamation of the known and the unknown and bringing it to the forefront. Once it hangs in front of you, you can’t escape to Netflix and chill. You will want to implore and work on yourself.
The last chapter of the book is “The loving eyes of God” where he talks about our deep direct connection with the Divine which is beyond the personal self. And Michael gives a beautiful analogy here saying that the connection with God is just like your connection with the sun, you might hide from it and live in dark corridors for years but it doesn’t stop from shining and the moment you decide to look for it, you will see it’s there, shining for you.
The writing is very simple and very connectable and the chapters are small, each giving insights on different aspects of self. The book doesn’t boggle you down with information about what generally happens when you are reading spiritual books. I have been recommending this book to everyone who has asked me about a reading suggestion in the past week. More than ever the time requires you to go deeper within, and once you do so you will see the ecstasy you have been searching outside has been there all along.
PS: Please buy the hardcover especially if you are buying from Amazon India a lot of spell check-off in the paperback version. Also as per me, this book is a keeper, so it’s good to buy a Hardcover.
Some days are just disappointing as a writer, and you will have to accept these days when nothing comes out of you. There will be thoughts, maybe too many of them or only one, but they won’t strike you hard, and you will be left with a blank paper. And on those days you will have to accept that writing too needs patience. A lot of patience, first to think, then to unleash those thoughts on paper, then to edit that work a thousand times, before it becomes publishable. You as a writer try to cling to your work until it reaches the intended readers. But just as a drop freely falling in the ocean, your story too falls in the pool of other published stories. You become one with other writers and their work. Yet we know some drop fills the empty shells with pearls while others just remain as water drops. So, so many factors will decide what becomes of you. But then why do we write or should we write?
The journey begins with the craving to create something of your own. Imagine millions of words floating in the wide universe. You sit on your desk, and slowly pick these words one by one and gently thread them together into beautiful jewelry pieces. Sometimes some patterns will not make sense and you will have to remove a few or all of them from the thread and start anew. While other times while in making you will realize that the design is taking a new shape, very different from what you intended, and you let it be. It’s then the magic of storytelling begins, when a story starts moving you instead of you moving it. The writing becomes instinctive, only the thread basics remain constant. It is for this very moment where you are fully immersed in the act, not worrying about the what-ifs, that you write or should write.
I think our writing just like us evolves over the period. A lot of it has to do with the outer world. The world around us changes, and slowly this outer change seeps deep within and we start changing first subtly but then evolutionarily. The evolutionary changes shift the lens of our inner eye, And these changes of our inner self are reflected in our writing. Isn’t the main aspect of human life is to evolve every single day? Each day should bring something new in you, beautiful, ugly whatever it may be but it should lead you towards a better version of yourself. Our writings are reflections to our soul. A writer has to be truest to oneself when writing, otherwise, you are no longer serving the very purpose of writing. It is for this you write or should write.
Like a wallflower you listen to the humdrums of the world. You soak all that surrounds you and slowly in the form of a fictional world you unreel the real world. You warmly showcase the truth, and give voice to voiceless or the misheard ones. In your own way you are able to touch the lives of those who can decipher the truth from your writing. By writing you bring focus to the unseen and the invisible ones. And this act of yours might give them the courage to have a voice of their own. So there might come a moment when someone would walk up to you with a copy of your story and say “Your words healed me” and it is for this you write or should write.
They say not everyone can write and be a writer. And I say they are not fully correct, everyone can write and be a writer only if the reasons to pursue are well framed and correct.
First and foremost a huge thank you to Damyanti Biswas for recommending this beautiful book to me. Once or twice I have reached out to her for writing advice and she remembered that, so thank you for keeping me in mind.
I haven’t read many books on writing, in fact, I can count them on the fingers of my one hand. Not because I don’t like them but because there is too much information out there and half of it is repetitive. But this book, it’s different, trust me. It comes from a long experience of being a writer and a professor of Creative Writing.
George Saunders gives you a sneak peek of his classroom at Syracuse in this book. Here through the stalwarts of Russian literature Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, and Turgenev, and their stories. The book has seven stories from these great writers and each story has been deciphered by Saunders for you, both as a writer and an attentive reader. But at the crux of it is more like listening to a great lecture by a passionate reader who has spent decades understanding these masters of storytelling. You might have read these stories before but somehow when you read Saunders’s assessment of these stories, you sometimes nod your head in agreement, and other times you “Oh!” with wonderment. But for me the highlight of the book was the “Afterthoughts”, after each assessment, Saunders shares his thoughts regarding the story more as a person rather than a professor, and here is where the goldmine is.
The major themes that the book covers are what is storytelling, what is the base of a story, what as a writer you should be looking out for when writing, how to edit your own story, and to what level. But it also talks about our inner instincts as a writer, how there is no story until we start writing it and how the story becomes its own person, and how it comes alive when you begin writing. The book is more concentrated on the art of short stories where you don’t have a framework like a novel, you have an idea or thought which turns into a story. I think all the writers will agree that most of the time your story ends up being far too different from their initial idea of it. And that’s the beauty of writing, it not only evolves your story but it also evolves you as a person.
The book ends with a chapter “We End” where George modestly talks about why fiction exists and why we write it but most importantly why we read it. Because our journey of being a reader started way much before being a writer. As Saunder said “So, if something in this book lit you up, that wasn’t me “teaching you something,” that was you remembering or recognizing something that I was, let’s say, “validating.” If something, uh, anti—lit you up? That feeling of disagreeing with me was your artistic will asserting itself.”I have too many highlights from the book, don’t worry I will not share all those here, but if you want to read those, check my Goodreads 😉 But I would like to end the post with one quote that I really liked as a student of writing.
“Randall Jarrell said about stories holds true for the writers of stories: they “don’t want to know, don’t want to care, they just want to do as they please.” It really is true: doing what you please (i.e., what pleases you), with energy, will lead you to everything—to your particular obsessions and the ways in which you’ll indulge them, to your particular challenges and the forms in which they’ll convert into beauty, to your particular obstructions and your highly individualized obstruction breakers. We can’t know what our writing problems will be until we write our way into them, and then we can only write our way out.”
PS: Highly recommended for budding writers and for readers who want to delve deep into the art of storytelling, or those who want to hone their skills on writing better book reviews.
PPS: The book has some writing exercises at the end, though I haven’t done mine yet but I am hoping they are helpful.
Sometimes I have nothing to say or maybe too much to say but everything is so scattered so incoherent that nothing comes out on the paper. Yet I have promised myself that I will write every single day canceling the cacophony of the world around me. I try to dig within to find something to say here. In my country, the most common phrase after how are you is, How’s the weather? And then people do talk about the weather at a stretch, sharing trivial to the most recent upheavals. The most common being rains in the scorching heat of Indian summer. The arid desert winds getting calmly caressed by the tiny tip-tap of the raindrops. The petrichor brings people out of their air-conditioned rooms, forcing them to feel the gentle breeze. The thunder and lightning exciting young kids, who run out of their homes to enjoy the showers. You look around and everyone is standing or sitting in their balconies enjoying this beautiful change. There was a time in my life I used to feel very melancholic during the rain. I think the company has a huge impact on how you perceive things. Here at my home, I embrace the rains as they embrace me. I no longer indulge in nostalgia instead I enjoy the gentle breeze and let it sway me with the molecules of happiness. I look at the birds who are searching for hiding places. Then a pigeon dives and settles himself on my balcony’s sunshade. He then flutters his wings in an attempt to dry himself. And I wonder what an amazing technique, how much cloth we would save if we too like them, could flutter and dry ourselves. No need for fancy towels or changing apparel, just flutter and you are ready for the day or night. I wonder what led us all towards these inventions which have turned our life so complicated. Fashion in itself is an industry of trillion and from making it to selling to wearing it, you name it and you will find people indulged in the business of it.
And then voila, after all this jibber-jabber of nothing but weather, I finally feel I have something interesting to share with you.
A few months ago I read a French book called Ladies Paradise by famous French author Emile Zola. The book takes you back into the lanes of Paris of the mid 19th century and to the time where departmental stores begin their journey. In today’s world, it is hard to think of a market without giant Malls but there was a time when the world ran with small stores, it still does in developing nations but there too slowly the rampant development is paving way for the malls. So this novel comes alive where a man opens a store but his desire to be the richest and the most powerful giant in the world of fashion leads him to open the first department store. The protagonist Octave Mouret comes up with brilliant ideas of giant advertisement hoardings to no return policy to home deliveries and the world of fashion rapidly changes, leading to shutting down of smaller shops, eventually turning them bankrupt.
The story showcases how Paris, the capital of Fashion led us all to the present-day Fashion culture. Why was the department store created? Mouret taps on women’s desire to have more, so he places sections in a particular order. So that if a woman enters his store, she leaves without a penny in her purse. His giant appetite to eat up other men’s money through the females of their family makes men vary off him. And amongst this giant world of Fashion unfolds an unusual love story. Mouret who constantly talks about women as commodities and his desire to make them all his slaves is warned by other men that there will be one who will take the revenge of all. And then enters Denise Badu, an orphaned girl of nineteen from a provincial place with her two younger brothers. And things start shifting in Mouret’s world slowly.
Denise’s character is my absolute favorite, how she is first scorned in the department store for her background and her looks and how slowly with her sheer hard work and her ideas to run the business she turns into a department head. How unlike other girls she never let herself waver and how she kept supporting her younger brothers like a mother. How she is noticed by Mouret and how she resists his advances, refusing to become another notch on his belt; refusing, in essence, to be commodified.
The high points of the book are brilliant comparisons between the new Department store and the traditional ones. The showcasing of the demise of the independent trader by rampant consumerism. The mechanisms of seduction Mouret uses to transform everything for sale into an object of desire. The store leads women, driven by the euphoria of the sheer range of delights on offers and the bargains, into buying what they don’t need, spending far beyond their reach, and in the end resort to shoplifting. They lose their heads, even when they know they are out of control, they cannot stop.
But the weakest part of the book is its love story, where you will continually question the attraction between Mourat and Denise. Especially Denise’s feelings for Mouret. If like me you want to pick it up for the sheer adventure of discovering the footing of a department store and to see the Paris of mid-nineties, I would surely say go ahead.
Just a bit of warning, it’s a slow read but an interesting one.
On this note, I will end my chitter-chatter here. Rendez-vous demain, until then Au revoir.