Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 25 - Why I love writing fiction

I love writing fiction.   My world, my rules. 

No interviewing, no struggling to get quotes right.  Not much of fact-checking.  If I cannot confirm a fact, or if I don't find enough information about something that I want to use in my story, I can leave it out altogether, or tweak the story into doing what I want it to do.

I can make my characters listen to me.  Though some of my characters have a tendency to take off in the middle and do what they want to, I can bring them around to do my bidding, if I so wish.

The story on paper always, always, looks blander than the way it sounded in my head.  So I love spending time on my drafts, working with words, sentences, changing them to reflect the moods and the colours in my head.  I revel in the feeling of accomplishment that comes to me when I get a sentence, a phrase - as right as I possibly can at that moment.

Sometimes, a story or a scene doesn't sound quite right.  And then I leave it, and come back to it after a week. Then it strikes me what I need to do to change it.  If that means chopping, and hacking my precious story to pieces, then so be it.  If it means sentencing it to the Recycle Bin, so be it.

But the high of satisfaction that comes from a story well-written is addictive.

And every time I send a story out and it gets accepted for publication, I go back to it and read it immediately, and feel a surge of pride about my story - but it is a kind of detached pride - as if the work was done by my story, not by me.  Good job, kid, I tell my story.  And sit back.

But each time a story sees the light of day, the big pile of incomplete, half-finished, skeletal, first-draft-languishing-in-folder stories seem  to acquire a demonic dimension - as if challenging me, saying, "Oh yeah?  You think you're good?  Let me see how you'll shake me up into a publishable story."  The challenge seems insurmountable.

And every time I'm flushed with the success of one of my stories, I come across, as if by serendipity, stories written by writers who are infinitely more skilled than I am.  And then I withdraw, tail between my legs, into my personal space where I feel inadequate and sorry for myself for a while - and I wonder why I even bother writing - until I feel better enough to feel inspired to reach the next level in my writing.

And then the whole cycle begins again.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day 24 - Throwback to Puttachi's babyhood

Peevee's new-born has my eyebrows.  Ok, so now that I've gotten that recorded, I'll move on to other less important matters. 

The baby's pictures remind me a lot of Puttachi.  Must be the mop of hair.   Though my other niece, my brother-in-law's daughter, also reminded me of Puttachi when she was born, the resemblance wasn't as striking as it is with Peevee's daughter. Got to be the hair.  It even falls onto their foreheads in the same way.  For each picture Peevee sends, I'm digging out a similar picture of Puttachi's at that age.  It's fun.

And I'm still restless that I can't wrap her in my arms.  Well, I've made and sent a crochet shawl to do the wrapping for me until I get to her.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 23 - Lazy post

Every a-post-a-day marathon must have a Lazy Post.  This time, it arrived later than it did in the previous a-post-a-days.  I couldn't put up a post today because I was too busy being un-lazy all through the day.  So I don't have the energy to think up an insightful post this late in the night.

So, see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 22 - When your story touches a chord.

It is always lovely when people let me know that my story has touched them.  Different people are moved by different stories, and it is interesting to see who is touched by what, and why. It is also fascinating to see how people interpret the stories.

My recent published story, Interlude - was no different. Some liked the format, some interpreted it as saying that family comes first, and some assumed it was my own story.

But what was different about this story was that within hours of my posting it on FB and on this blog, at least a dozen women mailed me to tell me that it is the story of their life.   And with each mail, I felt a little less alone, but a little more depressed.

Yes, the story is entirely fictitious, but it is also true that several times during Puttachi's early childhood, I wished I could take a break.  Not much - I didn't want to go away on a vacation - but I would feel this urge to go and sit under a tree in Lalbagh for the entire day. (Never got to do it, though)  So the seed of the story is true - the urge to get away - but the rest is fiction. 

And many women identified with it.  Enough to tell me that it was as if I was writing about them.  That they felt I was looking into their heads. 

And though that flattered me as a writer, as a person, it saddened me - to think that there are so many women out there who are feeling bound and frustrated in their roles.  Some of the fortunate ones get over it, we find things to do that make us feel better - but think of the millions of women all across the world who feel this way and have nowhere to go!

And I wonder if the people around these women are even aware that they are feeling this way.  If they do know, would it be better for the women?  Would it make a difference?  Or not?
 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 21 - A little bit of nostalgia for the Mumbai monsoon

Eight years ago, I wrote about the Mumbai monsoon. 

Every monsoon, I remember Mumbai, mostly with fondness.  But one memory that keeps coming back to me is going to Pune from Mumbai during the monsoon.

The beginning of the journey wasn't pleasant.  Taking an auto to Andheri station, fighting the crowds to get on to the local, getting off at Dadar station, wading through water, and negotiating with the rains using a useless umbrella, getting to the Pune bus-stop.  And then once I was in the Volvo, it would be alright. The sights from the large windows weren't very pleasant till we got out of the city, but were interesting nevertheless.

And then once the bus reached the Mumbai-Pune expressway, it was like watching a movie.  The smooth roads, the rolling hills, the mist, the clouds - all through Lonavla and Khandala.  Those simple sights, comprising of green grassy hills and white mist and clouds are some of the most relaxing and pleasing sights I've seen.

Of course, mixed with it was the joy and anticipation of going "home" for the weekend.  "Home" in this case was my aunt's place, which was, for me, very close to actually going to my own home. I felt loved there, I could ask my aunt to make bendekaayi gojju and I could spend a fun, relaxed weekend with my cousins. 

Thinking of those Mumbai-Pune journeys now arouses in me, along with a tinge of nostalgia, a twinge of pain, because one of those cousins was her.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day 20 - Yakshagana - Girl power!

We'd been to a Yakshagana performance yesterday.  All the performers were children, below 15 years of age.

Yakshagana performances blow my mind.  The tremendous energy of the performers, the costumes, the makeup, the music, the drums, the dialogues, the dance, the facial expressions - the combination is enthralling - and it has to be experienced to be believed.

South Kanara (a coastal district of Karnataka) has long been the hub of Yakshagana, and it is good to see it thriving in the far-off city of Bangalore.  And it is lovely to see children going in for Yakshagana training, ensuring the sustenance of this folk art.

But there was another thing that made me immensely happy. 

Yakshagana was traditionally performed only by male artistes.  Even the female roles were performed by men.  But yesterday, the lead role of Krishna was performed by a 13-year-old girl.  She happens to be the daughter of the director of the academy in which the kids learn Yakshagana, but yet!  To see her on stage, so confident, so uninhibited, so skilled, performing with an abandon that most dancers can only dream of - her performance sent thrills down my spine.

Here are a couple of pics.  Please excuse the picture quality - by camera phone isn't the best.


 
I hope more girls break more barriers!
 
An aside: My story "The Awakening" made it to the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction shortlist.
 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 19 - Insects


A few weeks ago, I went to our apartment garden, and happened to catch this conversation.  A group of young girls, aged between 8 and 12, were excitedly calling to the mother of one of them, who was walking past.
 
"Aunty, aunty!" they said.  "Come quick, and look at this!"
 
"Look at what?" asked the lady.
 
"An insect!" said the girls.
 
The lady stood, feet apart, and put her hands on her hips.  "Insect?" she said, making a face.  "An INSECT?  You have nothing better to show me than - an insect?"  And she walked off. 
 
The poor girls - their faces fell.
 
Honestly, I hadn't given insects much thought or attention (except for grabbing a broom whenever I spotted a cockroach) - before Puttachi came into the picture.
 
Since little ones are so close to the ground, they see insects and other creepy-crawlies all the time, and when you see it through their eyes, you realize how fascinating they really are. Sure, some of them make my skin crawl, but I try not to show it openly, especially when Puttachi is so excited about it.
 
Puttachi spends hours sprinkling sugar near ant nests and watching them carry the sugar crystals away.  Once she came and told me how a fly and sugar had a fight over a sugar bit, and naturally that led to her own story!
 
A week ago, we spotted a slug lying on the path in our apartment complex.  It was alive, but ants were swarming around it.  Puttachi was disturbed.  She insisted that she had to move the slug away into the grass.  So she took a long stick and tried to prod it gently.  But she started worrying that she was going to  hurt it, and she handed the stick to me.  The slime of the slug makes me want to gag, and the last thing I wanted to do was touch it, even with a stick. 
 
But I didn't want to make faces and go ack-thoo and make a big deal out of it.  Puttachi saw me hesitating, and she asked me, "What happened, are you scared?"  So I said, "I'm not scared, but I'm feeling a little disgusted because of the slime.  But that's okay.  Let's see what we can do."
 
I pushed it, and it turned over on its back and exposed its underside to me, and didn't do anything to make me feel better.  But Puttachi was watching it so intently that I didn't have the heart to throw the stick away and run, which is what I wanted to do.  So I turned it over again, and pushed it slowly into the grass.   She was satisfied.  Then she told me, "Amma, thanks for helping it even though you were disgusted.  I was so worried about it."
 
Now for all my effort, she'd better not become like one of those annoying look-at-creepy-crawly-and-scream girls!
 
Btw, this is an insect we saw near Rishikesh.  It reminds me of Edward Munch's painting, The Scream.
 
 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 18 - Our children's safety

The news of a six-year-old who was raped 1) in school 2) by teachers 3) in broad daylight has driven parents crazy with fear and worry.   School, we always think, is absolutely safe - and suddenly we are not sure of that any longer. 

Day by day, the story is getting more horrifying.  This report made me cry.  To think that teachers, attendants, doctor, and the management - everybody knew about it, but sat on it for a week, and nobody thought of raising the alarm, telling the parents?

And the school is actually washing its hands off of all the responsibility?  How inhumane can we get?  While the rapists are direct perpetrators of the crime, the school, and all those people involved are equally culpable, and there is absolutely no excuse to let any of them walk away from this, unpunished.

Is there anything we can do other than feeling helpless?  The first step is to educate our children about CSA. If you haven't done this yet, please do.  There are several resources online to help you speak to your child in a way appropriate to his/her age. In this case, though, even if the child knew about CSA, she would've been helpless.

Rightfully, we should have strict security measures in all schools, and stringent background checks for the staff.  But that is easier said than done.  So we as parents have to do whatever we can to equip our children to be safe.

Also, tell your kids that it is okay to scream.  Loudly. And tell them that they don't owe blind obedience to teachers or anybody else in authority. And tell them that they should avoid going into any place alone.  And if anybody wants to take them away to a secluded place, they have to protest.  Again, loudly. 

I can't think too clearly right now, but this is what I thought of, off the top of my head. 

Please pitch in with comments, if any.
 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 17 - A course on music theory

I'm up to my neck in work and routine stuff. Sometimes it seems like I cannot manage everything.  There are several things around the house that need my attention.  And there are times when I feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the endless chores that I have to do everyday.

And so - I went and signed up for a course on Fundamentals of Music Theory on Coursera.

Yeah, I know, "mental."

I'm learnt Indian classical music, but for years, I've been wondering about the theory of western classical music.  I've listened to, and enjoyed it, just as music - but it always bothered me that there was something deeper out there that I didn't know.  Something that, I was sure, would help me appreciate the music better.

When my cousin V started learning western violin and saxophone, I tried to read up on the theory and notations, hoping that if I didn't understand anything, my aunt or V would help me.   But like with all my self-studying, this petered out due to lack of discipline.

I came across this course on the day it was supposed to start.  So I had no time to worry about how I have no time, and how I'll squeeze this into my schedule.  There was no time to change my mind.  I signed up, and jumped in.

I've finished the first week of lectures, and realized that it needs more work than I thought.  But it is not as difficult as I expected it to be.  I've already understood the very basics, and that itself makes me happy.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the course (only 5 weeks totally, thank goodness) and I'm hoping that I'll hang on and manage to finish it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 16 - My baby sister has a baby.

My little sister Peevee's daughter was born on the 14th.

When I got the news, I wanted to dance around and hug her and hold her, so - PJ Alert -  I hugged my knees.

I wasn't comfortable that Peevee wasn't around when Puttachi was born, and now I don't like it that I'm not around when her daughter is born. 

I have no idea when I'll be able to meet her, and it is sheer torture to look at her photos and videos and know that I can't hold that little bundle for several months more.

But yay anyway! 

 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 15 - A story in Earthen Lamp Journal

My story, Interlude, is in the latest issue of Earthen Lamp Journal.

"The lead story by Shruthi Rao is written is in the form of emails to a husband by a woman who has left home briefly in order to find herself again."

Did you hear that?  Mine is the lead story! :)  And I'm among writers I've enjoyed reading before - notably Madhulika Liddle of the Muzaffar Jang books.

It seems like a great collection - check out the whole issue when you can.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Day 14 - Finger puppets

Puttachi's finger puppets.  Except the two cloth ones, we made the rest ourselves, mainly with felt.  We made these two or three years ago,  and she's had hours of fun with them.  Really simple to make, too.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 13 - A pleasant change

We'd been to a six-year-old girl's birthday party today.  For a change, it wasn't a Disney princess or Barbie or Dora party.  There was no pink, no purple.  There was no cutesy stuff.  No frilly frocks.  No little girls wearing uncomfortable, shiny, toe-pinching, high-heeled shoes.

It was a football-themed party.  The kids were asked to go in comfortable shoes.  Which translated to comfortable clothes.  So the kids looked like they had come out to play in the park.  They kicked footballs, ran around, and jumped up and down, and scored goals.  Even the cake was a football-field cake.

And remember, it was a little girl's party. Such a pleasant change.  And the girls were behaving just like little girls, like this ad.

Come on, parents of little girls, get more creative in your choice of themes!  There is life beyond princesses and fairies and Barbies and Dora!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Day 12 - The role of critiquing in becoming a better writer

I'm part of a group of writers - we've been writing a story every month this year, and we submit it each month, and critique each other's stories.

Critiquing others' stories is a great way of learning the craft of writing. 

In the beginning, it seems difficult - how can you comment about others' writing when you are not so hot yourself?  But once you start, it gets easier, and you realize - it doesn't matter if you are a better writer than the other person or not.  What matters in critiquing is that unlike just reading a story and deciding whether you like it or not, critiquing forces you to recognize what you like and what you don't like in a story, and WHY. 

And the recognition of this WHY is essential because the next time you write a story, you subconsciously bear that in mind, and your story turns out to be better.

So, if you're looking to improve your writing technique, I highly recommend a critique group.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 11 - Movie adaptations of fantasy books

The thing about movie adaptations of fantasy books is that they tend to be darker.  A book is only as scary as your imagination is.  But in a movie, someone else's imagination is foisted upon you, and I think it tends to be darker and scarier than you've imagined. 

I noticed this first when I watched the Lord of the Rings movies.  I'd imagined the orcs as nasty creatures while reading the book, but the movie made them downright terrifying as well as nauseating, making me want to close my eyes whenever they appear on screen. 

Similarly, Harry Potter.  It's been a while since I read the books, but I keep watching glimpses of the movie now and then when I run into them on TV.  They are distinctly darker than I'd imagined while reading it.

So, while reading Septimus Heap, I naturally thought of Harry Potter, and I decided against reading it out to Puttachi, thinking that it will be too intense for her.  But there are some situations in Septimus Heap which are pretty scary, but Puttachi takes them in with equanimity.  That's because her imagination probably doesn't allow it to get that scary in her mind. 

That makes me think that I can probably let her read/read out to her the first book of Harry Potter pretty soon, perhaps immediately after we finish Septimus Heap. 

What has your experience been?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day 10 - The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage

Sometimes, something that seems insignificant just saunters into your life, and then, before you know it, takes it over completely.

During the summer holidays, we were at my mother's place, and Puttachi was, as usual looking for more reading material to devour.  My mother reminded me about four books that were lying in storage - books that my cousin V had read when he was a kid, and had left them at my mom's place.

I went upstairs, and came back with the books, the first four of the seven books in the Septimus Heap series written by Angie Sage.  I inspected them and said, "Hmm, two or three more years to go. The standard is a little high for Puttachi right now."

Just then, Puttachi came along, and looked at the books.  She saw the title of the first one, "Magyk" and was intrigued.  "Amma,, can you try reading it for me?" she asked.

I shrugged.  We've never been too much into reading.  I've always felt that Puttachi enjoys it better if I narrate stories, rather than read them out to her.  So until now, all that I've read to her are small stories and passages - not entire novels. 

But I thought, okay, let's give it a shot.  Two chapters and we'll know how it is going.

So I started.  Two chapters turned to four - and then ten, and then twenty - before we knew it, we were half way through the book, and Puttachi was totally obsessed with the story, characters, settings.  True, I had to stop and explain a few words, but she got the gist of most of it by my expressions while reading it.  So the story flowed seamlessly.  And I was surprised at how she understood certain situations and concepts - I hadn't thought she was capable of that, emotionally, or intellectually.

We are now into the second book - Flyte, and I'm being a wicked mom and using it for leverage to get things done smoothly around the house.  But, so far, it is working beautifully. 

But in the midst of being outright obsessed and eating, sleeping and breathing Septimus Heap, Puttachi was very bothered about what we'd do after we reach the end of the fourth book.  Are the other three available at the library?  Or can we buy them?  But her problem was solved - my parents presented the other three books to her. 

Now, even before we've finished the second book, she's started guessing what will happen next, and makes up her own tangential version of future events.  Today, she told me her idea of the histories of some of the characters before the start of the events in the books.  Her imagination is in overdrive - sometimes it s more than I can handle, but it is a new, wonderful experience for both of us, and though it is a lot of reading for me to do, I'm not regretting it one bit.  We're having a whole lot of fun.

And already, I'm wondering what we'll move on to after Septimus Heap.  Harry Potter, perhaps?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Day 9 - Five minutes on an evening on the eve of a Hindi test.

So Puttachi has a Hindi test tomorrow, and since Hindi is not familiar to her, I have to sit with her a bit to make her understand it.

But easier said than done.  This is what happened today.

Me: Ok, Puttachi, I'll quiz you on opposites now, and will ask you to write down difficult words.  Keep your pencil ready.

She:  Pencil ready!  See!  Hey Amma, look, this pencil has such a sharp tip.  But look how its shadow looks!  See?  So pretty, right?  I love shadows.  Do you too?  Amma, see, if I turn it like this, see?  Now it looks like a rocket.  And if I keep my hand like this, it looks like -

Me: Yes, I love shadows too! Can we come back to opposites?  What's the opposite of "dheere"?(slow)

She:  I won't tell you.

Me: Why?

She:  I'll show you!  *Gets up, starts running around the room full speed, nearly bumping into walls.  Her hair flops about, her laughter ricochets around the room, and it looks like she won't stop.*

Me:  Ok, ok, you're right, but what is the word for it?

She: I'll write it and show you!

Me: Ok...

She: Last time I wrote it as Ja-la-di, and I want to show you that I've learnt it now, and I know that it is half "la" and not full "la" and so I want to write it and show you.

Me: Ok

She:  *Starts writing*  Ayyo I wrote the line of Ja too slanting.

Me: It's okay, it's okay...

She: No it's not, where's the eraser?

Me: Aaaargh, just draw a line through it and write it again.  Don't waste time looking for the -

She: Found it!  *erases it, writes it again, correctly.*

Me: Good.  Next word -

She: *jumps up on her cycle/scooter - starts going around the room - round and round.* you keep asking, I'll keep telling, I'll come when I have to write something..

Me: *Head spinning*  Puttachi, you decide if you want to study now or not.  We can do it later if you want to play now, I cannot keep -

She: Hey Amma, let's recite the poem. Come, I know it.  Do you know? Try.

Me:  C'mon as long as you've learnt it -

She: You also learn it, Amma.  Our life skills teacher says we should keep learning all our lives.  It improves our brain.  Don't stop learning.  Now recite, I'll stop you if you go wrong.

Me: *Sighhhhhh*

But at the end, she does sit down and study, sometimes by herself, sometimes with a little intervention by me.

Same story at your place too, I'm guessing :)

Note:  I'd gone to bed, turned off the lights, huddled under my blanket before I realized I hadn't put up a post today.  So I got out of bed to write this long post.  *Patting myself on my back*

 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Day 8 - What Really Happened

My friend Madhu has taken the 100 Happy Days challenge on her blog - and she's started writing about what made her happy that day. Yeah, yeah, old stuff, you're thinking.  But she has got a USP, according to me.  Along with what happened, she's also writing about "What Really Happened."

Take a look at this to see what I mean.

One of my pet peeves is what people put up on social media.

All those lovely little moments we put up for the world to see are a few sparkling drops distilled and filtered from the huge cups of dirty water that our lives are all about.

Behind pics of idyllic beach holidays there might be lost luggage, missed connections, mosquito bites, skin-chafing sand, family flare-ups and indigestion.  Behind pics of cherubic babies are sleepless nights, endless diaper changes, post-partum blues.  Behind pictures of couples in love there possibly is mudslinging, name-calling, jealousy, all-night-crying.

Similarly, behind every publication that I brightly announce on my blog, there is endless rewriting, editing, disappointment, frustration, rejection.  And behind every aww-invoking incident of Puttachi that I write about, there are tantrums, and worries, and negotiating, and balancing...

The only thing we see about other people's lives are the bright, happy parts, and we feel miserable, wondering why our lives are not one big party.  So whenever we feel overwhelmed by looking at what seems like other people's good fortune, it'll do us good to remember that there is a "What really happened" story behind it. 

Monday, July 07, 2014

Day 7 - The ultimate irony

Superstitions and irrational beliefs should rightfully be fading by now.  But it seems to be on the rise. 

"Scientists" performing nonsense rituals.  Otherwise logical and intelligent people going totally blind when it comes to "culture" and "heritage" and following outdated customs.  Fake godmen, fake medicines, fake everything - tricksters capitalizing on the gullibility of people, and taking them for a ride, and people willingly going with them!   

Who was it that said, "You should have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out."

I just don't understand it, and it always fills me with dread and sorrow, to put it mildly.

But the ultimate irony was this piece of news I read yesterday. 

Dr.Narendra Dhabolkar, who was shot dead last year, was a rationalist.  His murder is still unsolved.  And now, the Pune police are resorting to séances to find out who his killers are. The very unproven mumbo-jumbo that Dhabolkar fought against.

I wish it is a joke.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Day 6 - Indophiles, Everest's house, and neglected heritage

I took a course on Coursera last year, "Archaeology's dirty little secrets," conducted by Brown University.  It opened up new worlds to me.  I started reading up about the history of archaeology in India, which led me to British Indophiles, who did so much to bring India's lost history to light.  
 
The measurement of the Great Indian Arc is one such stupendous story, in which crazy-genius Brits are involved.  I urge you to read The Great Arc by John Keay.  Or start by reading this article "The men who measured earth's curves." I bet you'll come back wondering how it is that we don't know more about all this.  
 
One of the Brits involved in the measurement of the Arc was Sir George Everest, so when we visited Everest's house in Mussoorie, which was the centre of activity during this phenomenal effort, I was terribly disappointed to see what a state it was in.  Yes, we are famous for not recognizing or appreciating or preserving our heritage, and this is one of the more appalling examples.
 

Here are some extra pics:
 
The other side of the house overlooks the doon valley. This side overlooks the mountains.

It lies on a grassy hilltop terrace.

The inside of the house.

One of the observatories near the house.

The view of the doon valley from the house.
 
 
If you thought the interior was bad, apparently it was worse.  If you have the stomach, see this video.  Don't know when it was taken though.  But I'm sure you can make out how it must have been in its heyday!
 In 1990, it had been announced that the State Govt was planning to acquire it and turn it into a tourist/excursion spot, but there is no sign of it.  A couple of friends I spoke to told me that INTACH is trying to get control over it to restore it, but I couldn't find any official confirmation on it.

Honestly, I wouldn't want it to become a "tourist" spot, but some care and maintenance, and steps to keep defecating cows out, wouldn't be amiss.
 
 




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