23 Jun 2006

At Home and Beyond

A nice little review of this blog greeted me as I opened my inbox this morning. Helena Jeffrey said in her review at RealBook.com:

While surfing through author blogs this one caught my eye simply because of the beautiful blooming sunflower up in the corner. It made me turn my head and look out into my garden and appreciate the amazing colorful flowers blooming so far this summer. The blog in question is the blog of Bhaswati Ghosh, a published non-fiction writer from New Delhi, India.

Bhaswati gives us a taste of another world in her blog as she writes about different culture issues such as Indian culture, Latin American culture and FOOD. Yes, that's right folks. Food. Seeing the delicious food Bhaswati posted about on June 1st is making my mouth water. For now, I'm off to get some lunch, but I urge you all to check out the blog of Bhaswati called At Home Writing on blogspot.

Thanks for the kind words and the mention, Helena. It's a moment of joy for At Home, Writing.

21 Jun 2006

Contest News: The Midnight Road

Jason is back at it. At hosting another great photo-inspired contest, I mean. Head over to The Clarity of Night to see the contest rules and prize details. There are as many as five to be won, so get writing.

The deadline is Midnight, EST, June 28.

18 Jun 2006

Author Profile: Ruskin Bond

The AW Chain continues into round two. Forbidden Snowflake wrote a post about ghosts and mentioned an experience of a slightly paranormal kind. Speaking of ghosts, whether we believe in them spirits or not, who doesn't enjoy a spell-binding ghost story told on a rainy night? And one has to give credit to the writers who make our hearts race and our pulse soar with such chilling tales. One such Indian author is Ruskin Bond. However, he is not just a ghost story writer. Rather, this versatile wordsmith has also penned some ghost stories, along with novels, short stories, travelogues, and poetry.

Image courtesy: Indian Saga

A writer of Anglo-Indian descent, Bond is the quintessential Indian writer in English and a lifelong lover of India. Born in pre-independence India, he has lived through more than seventy autumns. The love of books and writing started early for him, thanks to his father, himself a bibliophile. Young Ruskin or Rusty as he was called, found encouragement from his father to scribble along in a small note book. Bond senior would often take Ruskin on nature trails, and wild flowers, trees, birds and other nature’s wonders became a permanent part of Bond junior’s psyche. These elements would become inseparable from his writing, too.

In 1944, as the Second World War still raged on, Ruskin’s father passed away, succumbing, not to the war, but to malaria. Rusty, along with his siblings and mother, had to move to England. During the four years he was there, a terrible homesickness for India overtook him. Yet, there wasn’t any feasible means of crossing the sea once more. Young Ruskin continued writing, though.

He was seventeen when The Room on the Roof, his first novel came out. The book won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. The book’s advance, 50 pounds, helped him buy a ticket to return to India—his home forever.

Upon returning, Bond set up base in the hills in north India. He chose the charming landscape of Dehra Dun to begin his career as a freelance writer. Here was someone, who only wanted to write, refused to be bound by the dreariness of a nine-to-five job, and who dared to eke out a living off freelance writing at a day and age when such a vocation was risky, bordering on eccentricity. Yet, he did it successfully through all these years—long hand and a rickety typewriter aiding him loyally.

Any day now, I shall have to shut up shop and join the ranks of salaried clerks or teachers. Any day now, I shall find that I no longer make a living as a freelance. Any day now…

I’ve had this dread for the past five years, but somehow, just when the going gets really rough and my bank balance touches rock-bottom, something does in fact turn up…and if I can go on writing, not always in the way I want to—because, if cheques are to be received, deadlines and editorial preferences must be met—but pretty much as I want to.

Any day now…

[From My Notebook, Ruskin Bond]

The books continued getting published, too. Vagrants in the Valley picked up from where The Room on the Roof trailed off. A series of short stories came along too, most of them marked by a stunning simplicity of language and an innate intimacy with nature.

People often ask me why my style is so simple. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, for no two sentences are really alike. It is clarity that I am striving to attain, not simplicity…Of course some people want literature to be difficult. And there are writers who like to make their readers toil and sweat. They hope to be taken more seriously that way. I have always tried to achieve a prose that is easy and conversational. And those who think this is simple should try it for themselves.

[Introduction: The Best of Ruskin Bond]

His novella, A Flight of Pigeons, set against the backdrop of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, the first Indian rebellion against the British Empire portrays human emotions and passions with a sensitive touch. Adapted for the silver screen as Junoon by acclaimed director Shyam Benegal, the book recounts the story of a young British woman whose father, a clerk working for the British authority in India, is killed in the Sepoy Mutiny.

About half a dozen novels and novellas, hundreds of short stories and essays, and more than thirty children’s books later, Bond’s pen is far from retirement. Settled in the quiet charm of Landour, a hill station in the lap of Himalayas, he doesn’t have any dearth of story material. A lifelong bachelor, Ruskin Bond doesn’t live alone. He is surrounded by the mirth of his adopted family (he adopted a boy from the hills and has since graduated to become a proud foster grandfather). Indeed, he is more Indian than many of “pure” Indian descent can claim to be.

It must be the land itself that holds me. But so many of my fellow Indians have been born (and reborn) here, and yet they think nothing of leaving the land. They will leave the mountains for the plains; the villages for the cities; their country for another country…

But it’s more than the land that holds me. For India is more than a land. India is an atmosphere. Over thousands of years, the races and religions of the world have mingled here and produced that unique, indefinable phenomenon, the Indian; so terrifying in a crowd, so beautiful in himself…

Race did not make me an Indian. Religion did not make me an Indian. But history did. And in the long run, it’s history that counts.

[At Home In India, Ruskin Bond]

Ruskin Bond touches a cord in me the same way as Wordsworth and Tagore do. For, his heartwarming relationship with nature and the spectacular simplicity of his words never fail to remind me of the magnificent beauty a glistening dew drop or the song of a skylark hold.

And the natural thing for me to do now would be to lead you all to Matt, the next link in the AW chain. Follow the trail…

Loving Twilight
Forbidden Snowflake
At Home, Writing
Fireflies in the Cloud
The Road Less Traveled
Mad Scientist Matt's Lair
Jennifer Sando
Youth - Our Most Valuable Natural Resource
Peregrinas
Organized Chaos
Flying Shoes
Kappa no He
Untainted Enrapturement
The Secret Government Eggo Project

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13 Jun 2006

Latin America: A Journey Inside Out

The Duo Hits the Road

Two friends, bitten by the itinerant bug and armed with little more than a Norton 500 motorcycle and the carefree craze of youth, embark on a journey across a continent. Nothing exceedingly extraordinary about that. The human spirit of adventure has seen a lot of heroic trips being undertaken by daredevil travellers. Yet, what is it about the journey of these two Latin American friends that pulls curious onlookers like me to follow their trail to this day?

What is it about The Motorcycle Diaries that makes such a lasting impression on me and so many others? The fact that it isn’t just a travelogue, nor is it just another memoir of youthful impulsiveness; but that it’s a man’s inner journey happening hand in hand with the outer sojourn. It’s also your own journey—as a reader and as a person. A bit surreal to describe in words.

This is not a story of incredible heroism, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it be. It is a glimpse of two lives that ran parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.

[From The Motorcycle Diaries, by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara]

Indeed, Ernesto Guevara hits the nail on the head there, at the beginning of the book. When I first read The Motorcycle Diaries some three years ago, I knew little about Guevara. He was this t-shirt and poster figure, the epitome of “revolution.” I only knew him as a left-inclined man who stood and fought for the rights of the oppressed. In hindsight, it’s a good thing that The Motorcycle Diaries, and not one of his political pieces, was the first Guevara writing I came across. The book surprised me. For, here I saw a 23-year-old young man, going on 24, just like any other of his age—bursting with restless energy and the spirit of quest. I saw this young man poking fun at himself, his older pal, and their often unfriendly motorcycle. I found little or none of the political rhetoric that Ernesto Guevara came to be associated with, just a few years since making this defining road trip. And layer by layer, chapter by chapter, I saw the young man changing, until the end of the nine-month journey, when he seemed to have come of age and matured way beyond he could have imagined at the outset.

On Celluloid

And then last month, just like he had done three years ago with the book, my brother gave me the DVD of The Motorcycle Diaries. I had pestered him a lot to bring home the movie. Yet, when it finally arrived, I didn’t show any urgency to watch it. I let it lie until my brother rang an alarm bell saying the DVD was a friend’s and had to be returned. That’s when I finally watched it.

Why this lack of interest? Did I think the film would be boring? No. I just felt sceptical about the movie because I wasn’t so sure the book could be adapted for celluloid without a measure of documentary-like info-dumping. And even though the book is written chronologically, it still has this scattered and fragmented persona, which I thought would make a film made from it less cohesive.

And this is why they say, don’t think about it based on what you read. Go, watch the film.

The silver screen version of The Motorcycle Diaries moved me just as much as Guevara’s own words had. In fact, there couldn’t be a better rendition of the book in film format than the one we now have from Director Walter Salles. It stands out for all the elements that define fine filmmaking. Besides being technically slick, it impacts the viewer at a very human level. That is where it’s real victory lies. It entertains you wholeheartedly yet leaves you uneasy by posing difficult but nagging questions through young Ernesto’s observations.

http://www.motorcyclediariesmovie.com/home.html

The breathtaking scenery first. Guevara himself does a fantastic job of describing the spots he and Alberto Granado pass by and visit during their epic journey through five South American countries—Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. The manner in which he shows a human intimacy with the immediate landscape can put a lot of fiction writers to shame. He talks of the sea as his confidant and friend that can absorb all secrets and offers the best advice, if only you carefully listen to its various noises.

http://www.motorcyclediariesmovie.com/home.html

That the filmmakers chose to shoot the film at the exact locations where the journey took place doesn’t just enhance its credibility, but also makes for exhilarating visual treat. Cinematographer Eric Gautier superbly captures the scenic charm of the places on his camera, often giving the viewer the feeling of being there with Ernesto and Alberto. And the landscapes covered are magnificently diverse—from the green of Argentina, to the Atacama Desert in Chile, to Peru’s mountain tracks. I seriously want to see Latin America based on what the film portrays.

The Light Side

The Motorcycle Diaries is a testimony of Guevara’s brilliant sense of humour, something he is said to have possessed until the very end, even when he turned into a hard-boiled guerrilla fighter and a mass leader.

Alberto, unmovable, was resisting the morning sun’s attempt to disturb his deep sleep, while I dress slowly, a task we didn’t find particularly difficult because the difference between our night wear and day wear was made up, generally, of shoes.

[From The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara]

Toward the end of the book, Ernesto lays out a neatly chalked-out “anniversary” routine he and his friend had devised to manage some food off unsuspecting people. The five-step program started with the two friends talking loudly with some local twang thrown in to pique the curiosity of those around them. A conversation would ensue, and our peripatetic friends would subtly enumerate their hardships on the road and then one of them would ask what date it was. As soon as someone told them the date, the other friend would let out a massive sigh, saying softly it had been a year since they started their journey, and they couldn’t even celebrate, they were so broke. Their “victim” would then offer some money, which the duo would refuse, before finally accepting it with reluctance. Their host then treats them to drinks. After the first drink, Ernesto refuses another one. The host persists, asking why he wouldn’t have another one, and after much requesting, Ernesto confesses that according to a custom in Argentina, he can’t drink without eating alongside.

In the film, actors Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal (Ernesto) and Rodrigo de la Serna (Alberto) portray the “anniversary” act hilariously before a couple of Chilean girls, about their age. I was in splits watching the duo performing their antic, mischievous innocence and the desperation to fulfil their stomach’s cries leading them to stand-up comedy brilliance.

The Humanist Emerges

However, what set both the book and the film completely apart are the pertinent and often not-so-easy questions about the human condition. As Guevara and Granado travel farther and deeper, they have a close brush with the lives of the poor and exploited. This becomes possible because of the tramp-like nature of their journey for the greater part of the trip, since their bike breathes its last at a location in Chile. As they hitchhike their way through the Latin American landscape, a lot of times aboard trucks laden with indigenous people, Ernesto realises the tremendous humiliation meted out to poor people across the continent—whether it be a mining couple they meet in Chile who are persecuted for the man’s “communist” leanings, or the abject conditions to which Peru’s native mountain tribes are relegated, or the hapless state of leprosy patients they visit at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru. Every instance of coming across such injustice pains young Guevara and his anger and frustration is reflected throughout the book. Director Salles brings out this sense of pain very well in the film.

It isn’t unnatural for a human to feel moved or sad at the plight of a fellow human. Most of us would feel the same emotions that Ernesto does. However, there are a few human beings, for whom the pain becomes so intense they can’t remain silent about it. Even though the book is primarily a record of Guevara’s and Granado’s journey, you can see Ernesto belongs to that rare breed of empathising human beings.

The book carries tell-tale signs of the man he was to become later. The man who would galvanise poor peasants across Latin America to take up armed struggle for the life of dignity to which they had a birth right yet which was denied to them for lifetime after lifetime. And underlying the most violent of approaches he undertook as a guerrilla commandant was his deep love for human lives that had been rendered powerless through centuries of unjust subjugation. The Motorcycle Diaries—the book and the film--reveal this loving, soft-hearted man time and again. We see Ernesto’s vision of a United Latin America, when at a party thrown by the staff and patients of the San Pablo leper colony to celebrate his twenty-fourth birthday, he delivers a speech saying “the division of Latin America into unstable and illusory nations is completely fictional.”

Yet, the maturity doesn’t happen overnight. The self discovery happens layer by layer, and here, the filmmakers pull it off with great sensitivity, without the slightest trace of sensational exaggeration.

The symbolic nine-month journey is also a tale of immense physical grit. The two friends brave harsh blows of nature—from walking through a completely uninhabited stretch at pitch dark, to trekking their way through forests and the Atacama Desert, even as Ernesto falls prey to a series of asthma attacks (he was chronic asthmatic).

The Motorcycle Diaries includes a few letters Guevara wrote to his parents. These lend a fresh dimension to the book, reflecting his close bonding with family members with whom he freely shares his disenchantment with the appalling conditions of the poor across Latin America.

Chillingly Prophetic…

Although it’s difficult and unfair to pick sections of the book as favourite, the parts I found the most chilling were those in which Guevara envisions a future for himself exactly as it unfolds years later. Early in the book he says his destiny is to travel. Indeed, in the succeeding years, right up to his death, he travels and travels—across the world—from Russia to Asia and Africa. Only now he is shorn of youthful indulgence and is a champion for the voice of the proletariat.

And again at the end of the book, in the very last chapter, “A Note in the Margin,” Guevara gave me goose bumps, when he predicted his death.

“…I knew when the great guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves, I would be with the people…I see myself, immolated in the genuine revolution, the great equalizer of individual will, proclaiming the ultimate mea culpa.”

[From The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara]


As insensitive as it may sound, perhaps it was only fitting that Guevara died young. He remains a youth icon through generations, although it’s sadly ironical that the ideals he stood for are now mere footnotes in history for the very people who use merchandise bearing his image.

Ernesto Guevara would be 78 today (June 14). In my opinion, people like him don’t die. Only their bodies perish. Happy birthday, Che.

And a useless bit of trivia: Ernesto Guevara shares his birthday with yours truly. How old am I? Let’s hope like Che, forever young.

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9 Jun 2006

An AW Project and a Horror Mag

This post is part of an Absolute Write (AW) project, where certain AW members who signed up for the project are linked together in a chain. Every blogger in the chain takes a cue from the previous participant and writes a new post. Find more on this interesting event here.

My predecessor, Forbidden Snowflake, mentioned a fascination for horror films. Since the subject has come up, I thought I should introduce you to a terrific horror magazine that's receving rave reviews from critics and readers alike. It's Surreal I am talking about. This quarterly magazine is engrossing mind candy for those interested in dark tales. It features top notch fiction, incisive non-fiction, and is even publishing a serialised story in comic format for the past two issues now. Despite being new, Surreal has set high standards for itself and its peers when it comes to content.

Surreal isn't limited to being just a print magazine, though. It has two websites, one that gives you information about the magazine, authors guidelines, and advertising information; and another one called Surreal Interactive that gives you a peek into future issues, what with flash-powered trailers and minisites. Surreal has grown a dedicated community for itself, too, as can be inferred from the vibrant discussions on its forums, which even give you the chance to interact with the magazine's editors directly. I find that rather cool.

This year, Surreal goes a step further with the launch of Shadow Regions, an anthology of stories that reflect the supernatural. These 20 stories promise to be rivetting reads, as they throw a perfectly normal scheme of things out of order with the invasion of something weirdly extraordinary. The anthology even features a story by the horror maestro, Gary A. Braunbeck. Find more on this potentially gripping anthology here. Beware, it's due out very soon.

So what's stopping you from getting Surreal?


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5 Jun 2006

It Arrived

Wasn't it only yesterday when I posted a comment to Bernita's blog entry on the awaited, coveted call--of acceptance? Bernita talks about the occassions and ways in which she's reacted to this phenomenon and asked other writers how they would react. I told her I really can't say since I am yet to hear the call. Well, lady luck must have been evesdropping when we were talking. Just this morning my inbox greeted me with, what else? The call!

Translation of above obscurity:

My submission to Letters to My Mother, an anthology of true letters dedicated to mothers, has been accepted. I received the contract today. How did I react? Well, the heartbeat and pulse rate are still normal, my vocal cords haven't been injured yet, and no, I didn't send a large batch of emails to friends. I did post the news on the message board of a writing forum I visit, though.

And

I am here, sharing the moment with you all :)

Post Script: It would be inaccurate to say I didn't celebrate this news with any measure of oddness. I did clean my computer table with a liquid cleaner, extracting sedimented heaps of dust. The spotless marvel looks barely recognisable to my eyes.

1 Jun 2006

Of Food, Writing, and the Twain Together


Today is the first birthday of the food blog I write with my Peruvian buddy, Cesar. Admittedly, the blog taught me cooking. Really, it did. I had little interest in kitchen activities before we started the food blog. But once I connected with other, creative food bloggers, I was inspired. Soon enough, this uninterested yet curious neophyte was pulled inside the kitchen premises to try out fellow bloggers’ recipes. Before I knew, I was hooked. In a year’s time, I have grown from a novice to someone who can cook. Worry not; all my creations have been edible so far. Some even tasted scrumptious.

Have you ever pondered how similar the acts of writing and cooking are? It struck me one day as I dropped chopped onions and other ingredients into hot oil for frying. First you get all the ingredients together—the vegetables, the spices, the seasoning. The characters, the plot, the setting/s. Then you proceed to chopping and churning. Character style sheets, plot outlines (for those who do), setting details. And finally you begin cooking. The writing ensues. All this while, as the stew simmers and as the words flow off the keyboard, you are anticipating with anxiousness something good would emerge out of your efforts. Yet, you remain unaware of the final outcome. It is creative uncertainty at its nervous best, and for me, it's a childlike joy to go through the process. Finally, when your dish is ready and the story’s last word is typed, there’s a sense of relief. A breath of contentment at having created something from scattered, raw ingredients.

Next comes the critiques and tips from the experienced. Like when Lisa shared with me her trick to cooking al-dente pasta. "Just drop a strand on a plate and taste it. Don't use a timer." You bet, it's been working for me! Or when Cesar would suggest tweaks for my stories that rendered them smoother.

I guess the process is same for all creative pursuits. Food attracts me because of personal inclination, that’s all. And while we are at it, I will skip onto another note, while staying on the same octave. Food, being as vital a part of any culture as music or arts, has often found delicious expression in the words of writers. I would even go on to say that is one of the hallmarks of great writers—to successfully transfer the experience of the taste buds onto the writing page. I find that challenging myself, yet very inclined to attempt, too. For now, let’s savour some masterly literary relishes:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

“Bread, milk and butter are of venerable antiquity. They taste of the morning of the world.”

—Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), The Seer

“…and every Saturday we’d get a case of beer and fry up some fish. We’d fry it in meal and egg batter, you know, and when it was all brown and crisp — not hard, though — we’d break open that cold beer…” Marie’s eyes went soft as the memory of just such a meal sometime, somewhere transfixed her.

—Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

“Well loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes. And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.”

—Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

“Huge lemons, cut in slices, would sink like setting suns into the dusky sea, softly illuminating it with their radiating membranes, and its clear, smooth surface aquiver from the rising bitter essence.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

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