31 Dec 2006

Wishing You Well

When the sun shines on the mountain
And the night is on the run
It's a new day
It's a new way
And I fly up to the sun


23 Dec 2006

Guest Blog - Lisa Jordan

Christmas is upon us. As the festivities and merry-making envelop our senses, Lisa Jordan, Christian fiction writer, reflects on her genre, and how her faith has shaped her writing. Let us join her as she brings us closer to...

A Cradle for a King

Travel over two thousand years ago with me to a little town called Bethlehem. Our imaginary journey takes us to a stable where a tired husband and his wife, heavy with child, had been denied room at the inn. An ordinary woman has given birth to an Extraordinary Child. Instead of being surrounded by family and well-wishers, she and her carpenter husband have been greeted by noisy, smelly livestock. A feeding trough cradled their newborn Child. A cradle for a King. Such lowly surroundings for the Prince of Peace. Mary’s life has changed dramatically since the day the angel proclaimed her destiny. What went through her mind as she hugged this tiny infant to her breast? She was an ordinary woman whom God used for His extraordinary Purpose.

I’m honored to be a guest on Bhaswati’s wonderful blog. She invited me to share with her readers what it means to be a Christian fiction writer. The Christmas season is a glorious time for Christians, but as a Christian writer, it is also a wonderful time of reflection for me. God’s gift of His Son is the root of Christianity. Without His birth, my faith as I know it wouldn’t exist. Because of that faith, I have chosen to write Christian fiction.

Christian fiction glorifies God and promotes Biblical principles. The characters in Christian fiction stories are Christians or they have come to accept Christ as their Savior by the book’s end. Christian fiction novels and stories have a spiritual element woven into the plot. The characters rely on God to help them through their situations. The books are wholesome with no swearing, no premarital sex, or graphic content.

Christian fiction characters endure real life situations and writers of Christian fiction novels use realistic, and sometimes, edgy themes, such as abuse, adultery, addiction, child pornography, prostitution, rape. Christian fiction genres are broken into many of the sub-genres as secular fiction, such as romantic suspense, chick-lit, romantic comedy, women’s fiction, thrillers, science fiction/fantasy.

Some of my favorite Christian authors include Susan May Warren, Colleen Coble, Deborah Raney, Kristen Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, Trish Perry, Dee Henderson, Judy Baer, Allie Pleiter, Debra Clopton. There are many more. These women write in different genres, but they share the love of Jesus and their novels reflect their faith.

I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was sixteen years old. Through the years, I’ve penned stories that will never see the light of day. However, each of those stories has taught me valuable lessons about how to develop three dimensional characters, setting, plot, conflict, etc. Even published writers will say they never stop learning. By listening to constructive criticism and accepting advice from other knowledgeable writers, I’m striving to write a novel that will catch an editor’s attention.

Belonging to reputable writing organizations has helped me hone my craft. I’m a proud member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the premiere organization for Christian fiction, and Faith, Hope & Love, the inspirational chapter of Romance Writers of America. I’ve had the opportunity to attend two ACFW conferences. Both have been vital in helping me understand the complex craft of writing.

Writing Christian fiction is a ministry. It is my desire to combine my faith with stories of my heart to touch the hearts of women who may read my future novels. I write Christian women’s fiction novels about ordinary women who are extraordinary in God’s eyes. After all, I have years of experience of being an ordinary woman, but I believe in an extraordinary God. I invite you to visit my website.

As the holidays approach, take a break from the shopping, the baking, the parties, the gifts, and remember Jesus is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas. May God’s blessings be abundant throughout the New Year!

12 Dec 2006

Morning Marvels

Every morning, I go for a walk on my terrace. The stretch of open space has proven to be the most hassle-free exercising venue for an undisciplined soul like me. I don’t need to sport special attires since technically it’s part of my house. I usually climb my way up when the morning manifests itself fully. This means I don’t start my day with the first rays of the sun, but only when the soft rays mature into a generous splash of tropical sunshine spread across at least a section of the terrace land.

My mornings on the terrace have introduced me to a whole bunch of friends and events.

The All-India Avian Congress is hard to ignore, what with the volume of its esteemed members’ throats. Crows clearly appear to dominate the proceedings, even as pigeons prefer playing the part of silent board members. They leisurely take up their positions atop building roofs or electric poles, barely putting up with their cacophonic counterparts.

At times the meetings don’t end on a peaceful note, leading to a show of strength with regard to territorial rights. Again, the agile crows take the lead, often scaring me with their ominously low flights, marked by agitated wind flapping. Are these birds known to have higher blood pressures? I suspect so; especially since a couple of them attacked me during a park walk around a year ago.

The crowing supremacy cowers into a resigned defeat, however, when kites appear on the horizon. Where the crows and pigeons vie for slices of the sky, the kite claims the entire pie with a single sweep of its magnificent flight. My walk stops momentarily as I look up, transfixed to see this breathtaking stretched-wings wonder spanning across the blue canvas.

Soon the chirpy parakeets rush in, restless to get on with business as soon as possible. The business being picking on the fresh guavas off our tree in the backyard. They do get some competition from the home mynas, who are already found soaking in the comfort of a cozy nest amid the foliage of the guava tree. Although the parakeets are almost always too swift for my reflexes with the camera, they make me smile. Not just for their alacrity, but also because folklore tells me guavas bitten off by a parakeet turn out to be the sweetest of the lot.

Then there are the canine friends who are the kings and queens of the park behind our house. Seeing them send out vociferous warning messages to any outsider dog is being witness to the act of maintaining the security of one’s sovereign regime.

My walks have also unraveled to me an ancient scientific understanding. Just as the sunlight ambles over to the spot where the homemade pickle jars are kept, I can tell it’s 11 am (did I not tell you I walk really late in the morning?). Amazing to know how accurate the earliest experts in astrophysics had been.

This morning, as I was ready to climb down the stair, the flight of two pigeons caught my glance. I couldn’t help stopping for a moment and be in awe. On more than one occasion I’ve suddenly noticed my footsteps gathering momentum automatically the second a catchy song is played on the phone radio I carry during my terrace jaunts. As the pigeons flew overhead this morning, I found their flight to be effortlessly synchronized to the song that was playing.

Pure joy.

5 Dec 2006

Abiding Characters - I

Characters who live. Whose breath conjoins ours from the printed pages on which they appear. Who stay with us long after the book is closed, the story is forgotten. Abiding Characters. A new series.


From Khokababu’s Return by Rabindranath Tagore

First Signs: Hardly anything strikes about Raicharan at first. He enters the household of his masters as a servant boy of twelve. His job is to look after a one-year-old baby. When this baby boy, Anukul, grows up into a man, Raicharan still remains his servant. Although his rights over his master wane once the latter gets married, the space for his unreserved affection is filled in by Anukul’s little son.

What Endures: Even though he is the quintessential servant, ever devoted to his master’s family, Raicharan's unwavering love for Anukul’s toddler, marked by rustic simplicity and endearing awe tugs at the reader’s heart again and again. There is no end to Raicharan’s marvel when the little boy learns to cross the threshold of his room even as he crawls. The servant is even more amazed when the baby utters his first words calling his ma "Ma", his pishi "Pichi" and Raicharan, "Channa". He had in fact declared within months of the little boy’s birth that upon growing up, he will be a judge for sure.

The decisive turn in Raicharan’s life and indeed in the short story comes when the servant accompanies his little master astride his stroller for a late-afternoon promenade. A clear day turns murky as the little child is lost to lure of the Padma River even as Raicharan is busy picking up flowers as demanded by his young boss.

When the child’s mother sends people to look for the child-servant duo the same evening, they find a hapless Raicharan’s yowl—calling out for his junior commandant—tearing through the monsoon winds. However, the judge-to-be isn’t found, his mother accuses Raicharan of stealing her son, and the old servant leaves the household, unable to bear the burden of his guilt of leaving the child alone while plucking flowers.

Soon after his return to his village home, Raicharan is blessed (or cursed as the perspective may be) with a son. Even though his wife dies during childbirth, Raicharan pays no attention to the newborn baby. As a reader, I was at once incredulous and shocked to read this part of the story. For who could think the affectionate man, who went out of his way to fulfill the tantrums of Anukul’s son, could be so dispassionate toward his own child? However, that’s exactly the cause of Raicharan's indifference; to him the child epitomizes deception, trying to claim the love that was the birthright of his previous master.

Only when his son, named Phelna (meaning “rejected”) by his sister, starts crawling across the room’s threshold and demonstrates other signs of intelligence, does Raicharan take note of him. From this point, he begins seeing striking parallels between Phelna and Anukul’s dead son. Convinced that his son is a reincarnation of the dead child, he starts bringing up his son in grand style—buying him expensive clothes and toys and preventing him from befriending other village boys. As the boy grows up, Raicharan takes him to the city and enrolls him into a good school, while taking up a measly job himself. All this while, he raises his son like a prince. The boy takes a liking to Raicharan as well, but not quite in a son-like way. For, as Tagore writes in the story, “In his affection Raicharan was a father and in his service, a servant.”

Years later, when Phelna reaches the age of twelve, Raicharan takes him to Anukul’s home. There, to everyone’s astonishment, he admits to having stolen Anukul’s son and presents Phelna as that stolen child. This dramatic revelation, while delighting the parents of the dead child, turns Anukul hostile toward Raicharan. The most ironic point in the story comes when Anukul orders his old servant to get out of their household and young Phelna, standing proudly along side his ‘parents’, asks his ‘father’ to forgive Raicharan. The boy’s suggestion to keep sending a modest stipend to the former servant is upheld by Anukul. Only, the money comes back from Raicharan’s village address. Nobody is found to live there any longer.

I like Raicharan despite: his obsessive commitment to his master’s family, his near exasperating spirit of sacrifice, and his invitation to emptiness in his own life in order to fill the vacuum in his master’s household. I like him for the humanity he represents. Even if it remains unsung in the end.

Khokababu = Term of endearment for little boy.
Pishi = Aunt (Father's sister).

23 Nov 2006

Salil Chowdhury: Awakening Strains

Last Sunday (19th November) was Salil Chowdhury’s birth anniversary. Although this multi-layered artist passed away eleven years ago, his stamp of exclusivity continues to sustain his livingness. A majority of Indians know Salil (popular among his admirers as Salilda) as a virtuoso music composer. So did I, for a good many years, leading into my college life. Salil’s music was hard to ignore for any lover of vintage-era Hindi film music. The earthy notes in Do Beegha Zameen or the Indianised version of a Hungarian folk tune in Madhumati; the poignancy of a day wearing down in Anand’s Kahin dur jab din dhal jaye or the strains of Middle Eastern music in Kabuliwallah—music, which didn’t slot Salil Chowdhury into any musician’s club, but established a separate league for him. For me, he was a genius. His versatility, the ability to make music that was internationally-influenced yet India-rooted, and his knack for getting the very best out of his singers easily made him stand out among his peers.

One day, during my college years, Salil Chowdhury stunned me again. This time, with a side of his that had remained unknown to me all this while—as a poet-composer of songs of protest and mass awakening.

Bicharpoti tomar bichar korbe jara
Aaj jegechhe shei jonota…

The public who will judge you
Has woken up today, Your Honour.
Your guns, your hangings, your prison tortures
Will be crushed by their weight.

Salil wrote this song in 1945, two years before India’s independence. It was a diatribe against the farce that was often carried out in the name of judicial hearing of Indian freedom fighters. The 1940s was also the decade when Salil Chowdhury joined the Indian Peoples Theatre Association or IPTA, an organisation of artistes and writers, born to address the conscientious role of the artistic community. As part of IPTA, Salil wrote many songs, beseeching his fellow countrymen to take power into their hands and rebel against exploitation by those in power. He wrote in simple Bengali, using words village folk spoke and voicing issues that concerned them.

O aayre, o aayere
Bhai bondhu, chal jaire…

Come o brother,
Let’s cut the paddy and
Stock the harvest in our granaries.

Thus went his anthem for poor peasants who were perennially robbed off the rewards of their toil by shrewd, profit-minded landlords. The poet-composer didn’t stop at his creation, though. He took these songs to villages and soon these became people’s songs in the truest sense.

It’s easy to see what inspired Salil to feel for the disadvantaged members of his community. As a young boy, he grew up in the tea gardens of Assam, where his father was a doctor. Chowdhury senior would routinely rope in the poorly paid coolies of the tea gardens to organise and stage plays against British exploitation. He also took part in many anti-British rallies, quite an audacious feat when the British were still ruling India.

Although in the mid-fifties this brilliant song-writer-musician matured into an exceptional self-taught composer with the onset of his professional career in film music, he never lost touch with the man within who hoped for a classless society and envisioned an India that wasn’t touched by religious differences. He wrote his last mass song in the early 1990s, shortly after the demolition of the Babri Mosque by Hindu fundamentalist forces.

O aalor potho jatri, E je ratri
Ekhane themo na
E balur chore ashar
Toroni tomar jeno bendho na

O traveller of the light path
It is night; don’t stop here.
Don’t anchor your boat of hope
On this sand shore.

For more information and recordings of Salil Chowdhury’s brilliant compositions, visit The World of Salil Chowdhury.


The World of Salil Chowdhury
People's Democracy

18 Nov 2006

Good Reads...

Dotara, the instrument Bauls play while singing

...I stumbled upon online over the past few days.

Writing Palestine at Words Without Borders, my window to contemporary world literature ('wish I would visit the site more often). The WWB feature showcases the writings of nine Palestinian writers, reflecting the many hues of the conflict-ridden desertscape. Some great writing, brought to us through sensitive translation. My favourite is The Shoes by Nassar Ibrahim:

Time passes slowly, hot and dusty: Barriers, guns, soldiers, identity card checks, long waits, curses and humiliations. Everything mixes with everything else; the advance and the retreat both have the same measure of suffering. In the back, the barriers and the humiliations; ahead, the same thing. So, forward he went. Isn’t arrival, isn’t the surmounting of suffering, the defiance of being broken down a simple, clear parity? An entire nation finds byroads, steps over logic and reason to maintain for itself the logic which says, Persistence first, or death.
Bhupinder Singh's most inspired tribute to India's firebrand socialist poet, Kaifi Azmi. The quality of the post is made better by Bhupinder's wonderful translation of Kaifi's poetry. A great read.

To look for Kaifi, is to keep on searching the for new, better, more egalitarian worlds. And heavens that are more just. To remove this search from his poetry would be to take away its soul.

William Dalrymple's feature article on Bauls or Bengali minstrels. The essay is
engagingly heartfelt, yet at the same time marked by a traveller's objective recounting and a historian's passion for research. Besides being a treat in itself, the article brought back great reminiscences. The mention of Bhaskar Bhattacharya, a former colleague, and of his association with the Bauls of West Bengal, revived some wonderful memories. My brother happened to be a part of Bhaskar's team working on a film on the lives of these minstrels, and some of them even came to our house during their Delhi visits. I don't know how I missed this superb article for so long.

Throughout their 500-year history, the Bauls have refused to conform to the social or religious conventions of conservative and caste-conscious Bengali society...The goal is to discover the "Man of the Heart" - Moner Manush - the ideal that lives within every man...

Happy weekend reading to all. :)

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12 Nov 2006

Writing as Resistance: The indomitable Art of Mahasweta Devi

This post was written as a guest entry for a reader's words, the blog of the perceptive and literary-inclined Bhupinder Singh.

Writers are often cited as perceptive observers of the prevailing human condition. Some of the greatest writers have used the power of their written word to bring across the struggles and sufferings of the exploited before a wider audience. There exists a small section of writers, however, which feels compelled to act as more than mere spectators and reporters of the human condition. They throw themselves into the fight, as it were, of deprived people.

This trailblazer of a writer is arguably the finest example of activist writers in India. For more than a quarter of a century now, she has been actively working with tribals in certain Indian states. She fights for their basic rights, helps them unite and become self-reliant, and writes about their life, often reduced to a sub-human level by the rich and powerful. A prolific writer, most of her recent work draws from her association with these marginalized communities.

The Person:

Mahasweta was born in undivided India in 1926, about two decades before India’s independence. The daughter of Manish Ghatak, a poet and novelist, and Dharitri Devi, a writer and social worker, Mahasweta probably had literary activism in her genes. It was community service that emerged on the scene before writing, though. As a college student, Mahasweta joined her friends for providing relief to the victims of the infamous man-made Bengal famine (1942-44). They would distribute food, check through dead bodies lying in street to reach out to those still alive, feed them and take them to relief centres. This direct, raw brush with suffering became the seed of Mahasweta’s empathizing disposition.

Marriage came early, at the age of 20, when she tied the knot with Bijon Bhattacharya, a renowned Bengali playwright. Her husband was also a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI), and at the time the couple was establishing its marital life, communists often became the targets of persecution. As a result, it became tough for Bhattacharya to support his family, extended with the birth of their son, Nabarun, two years after their marriage. Mahasweta did several odd jobs to keep the hearth burning—selling dye powder, supplying monkeys for research to the U.S., teaching at a school, private tuitions—before she finally got a government job at the Post and Telegraph department. But this job was not to last for too long either. Someone dropped a few books of Marx, Lenin, and Engels in her office drawer, and Mahasweta was terminated on the charge of being a communist.

The Writer:

This is when she took to the pen—mainly to supplement family income. She started with light fiction for literary magazines. Her first book-length work appeared in 1956. Jhansir Rani or The Queen of Jhansi was a fictional account of the life of Lakshmi Bai, an Indian woman ruler who valiantly led her forces to fight the British, before being killed by them at age 22. Even as a first-time author, Mahasweta showed the impractical sincerity that distinguishes true writers of historical fiction. She borrowed money from family and friends to travel to the Bundelkhand region in north India, where Lakshmi Bai ruled, and walked her way through remote villages and deserts, collecting oral history, folklores, and ballads. Interestingly, this same seriousness of approach in collecting data for her stories would be seen years later, during the activist phase of her life.

The debut book brought Mahasweta recognition as a writer, and thus started her ascent in the world of Bengali literature. She authored several books, adding the pennies toward sustaining her family, while at the same time mirroring the prevailing social atmosphere. This promising writer went through a period of personal turmoil, during which time her marriage broke apart, and she suffered from acute depression. Bouncing back soon, she completed her master’s degree in English and served as a lecturer of English literature for two decades. This was also the period when she came up with her seminal novel, Hajar Churashir Ma (The Mother of 1084), which deals with the Naxalite movement in West Bengal that saw many young lives ending before their prime. The book captures the sad realities of the movement through the eyes of the mother of one such young boy. In her attempt to understand the violent movement, this mother comes face to face with her sense of estrangement from the double standard-ridden bourgeois society to which she belongs. Poignant, yet shorn of overt sentimental elements, the novel made a big impact on readers across India and was recently taken to the silver screen by director Govind Nihlani.

The Activist:

Over the next few years, Mahasweta’s pen took a decisive turn. She started integrating history into her storytelling. This wasn’t the conventionally disseminated history though; this was forgotten history, a part of the past that had been conveniently kept under the wraps. She wielded the power of narrative to document as well as spread stories of tribal resistances against the British and other social exploitations in books such as Aranyer Adhikar (Right to the Forest), and Chotti Munda O Tar Teer (Chotti Munda and his Arrow), among others. Here was a writer who truly wrote what she knew. Her vocation wasn’t divorced from her writing. She is amongst the foremost activists working for a better life for India’s tribals. Not content to stay cosy within her writing room, she ventured deep into the forests to live and work with tribal people.

She founded India’s first bonded-labour organization in 1980, bringing together thousands of bonded labourers to give them an organised platform for raising their voice against forced labour. A year before this, she turned Bortika, a literary periodical edited by her, into an open forum in which tribal people, peasants, factory workers, and rickshaw pullers wrote about their day-to-day experiences and problems.
This effort of hers is groundbreaking, since it records the issues of the underprivileged in their own words, unadulterated and unadorned. She went on to create a tribal welfare society for the Kheria and Shabar tribes, which are among the poorest in India. In 1986, this untiring champion of the voiceless founded the Adim Jaati Aikya Parishad or Ancient Tribes Union, a forum of 38 West Bengal tribal groups.

Nine years ago, at 71, Mahasweta received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for “her compassionate crusade through art and activism to claim for tribal peoples a just and honorable place in India's national life.” While accepting the award, she said, “I will have a sense of fulfillment if more and more young writers took to unbeaten tracks. My India still lives behind a curtain of darkness. A curtain that separates the mainstream society from the poor and the deprived. But then why my India alone? Cannot one say the same for so many countries and societies today? As the century comes to an end, it is important that we all make an attempt to tear the curtain of darkness, see the reality that lies beyond and see our own true faces in the process."

The Hindu
Sunil Janah's Site

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1 Nov 2006

Guest Blog - Cesar Puch

Cesar Puch dons numerous hats and does so with élan. Horror writer, programmer, webmaster, art director, and very recently, editor. Shadow Regions, an anthology of twilight zone-ish horror tales, edited by Puch, is now available. In this post, Cesar takes us on…

A Stroll Down the Dark Path of Horror Writing

A short while ago my good friend Bhaswati mentioned she wanted to invite a few of her acquaintances to write some guest posts in her blog and that she wanted me to do one of those. I told her I was definitely interested and I asked her if there were any “guidelines” before I went ahead with my post. “Actually, there is something,” she said then, and mentioned her interest in a theme that’s very close to me, a theme that brought some questions to her mind.

I write horror. As many of you might know, our Sury’s (Bhaswati's) writing goes in a totally different direction, yet she always wonders… We’re the best of friends, even when she is in India and I’m in Peru, we share a lot together and one thing she commented once was how someone she considers to be “so nice” (her judgement, lol) could come up with stuff that can be pretty dark.

I don’t know if I’m nice or not, and I do believe everyone has a shade of darkness within, huge or tiny that varies. It is what makes us humans after all. I do like to think of myself as “a good person”, I stick to myself, I try to be respectful to others, and I try to play devil’s advocate whenever there’s a discussion just to try to grab all the dimensions in a problem… But yes, darkness is familiar to me. So why choose that? Why write horror? How can an apparently happy, nice, good person by society’s standards come up with stuff that makes us cringe? Does it take a toll? Let’s try to answer these questions.

Many years ago horror novelist Stephen King wrote a book called “The Dark Half”. In it, Thad Beaumont, a literary writer makes money and fans on the side by writing gore with the byline of George Stark. Stark is not only a name on a page, but has been even given a “past” as a violent ex-con now living in a self-imposed exile. When Thad makes the decision of “killing off Stark,” the fictitious Stark materializes and comes “back from the death” to claim vengeance on the editor, the publisher, and ultimately on Thad—the people responsible for his death. In doing so, Stark appears as murderous as the characters in his gory novels.

Are all horror writers like George Stark? OK, forget the murders (or not … :-s) but are all horror writers dark people who dwell on violence and blood, who have a twisted view of the world, who surround themselves with the goriest props and who have a shrine at home for Friday the 13ths Jason Voorhies? The answer is… ok, maybe some, in greater or lesser degree. But for the most part, we are talking about family people, very respectful, very friendly. I’ve had the chance to meet a few horror authors who turn out to be really nice people to deal with. I recently started reading a novel called The Rising, a very gory, very acclaimed book about zombies by author Brian Keene. The first thing I read was the dedication: “For David, Daddy loves you more than infinity”. Not quite the axe-wielding lunatic, huh?

Personally I’m not a big fan of gore (for those who don’t know gore implies stuff like running blood, spilling bowels, decapitations, and other gruesome stuff, the more gruesome the better, at least for fans). I am a true fan of The Twilight Zone and stories that, as I said in the introduction to my anthology Shadow Regions, scare you in the mind, not in the gut. I like the psychological aspect of horror, the supernatural part of it. However, during my experience as a writer, I inevitably dealt with pretty hard stuff: rape, violence, child abuse, pedophilia, death of loved ones, teenage sex and drug use, murder, etc. You see, before writing about sadistic killings, I prefer writing about (sadly) very real stuff. Is that hard to do? Yes, sometimes it is. But when you write horror you just do it.

I’m sure writing tough subjects are a part of every genre in fiction. Does it keep us away from going back to the keyboard? Not really. Why? Hard to tell. One thing is clear though. Our writing, at least mine, is in no way a celebration of these terrible things, but they are inevitable for the plot moving forward.

And what about the not so real but oh so terrible other stuff? The supernatural bit? Why that? I can’t answer for other authors and their choice of the amount of gore and supernatural elements they put in their work. For me, the supernatural has a charm of its own. It pokes at my sense of wonder. It takes me away from a world where things are bound to happen into another where even more things are bound to happen, in ways I never thought possible.

I used to be a scaredy-cat when I was little. I don’t know when that changed, when I took a step inside that darkness. But I believe I didn’t go in without a few lifelines. I do like to think I keep a solid line traced between what’s fiction and what’s real, even if one mirrors the other. I do like to think that the horror I write is not a direct reflection of me, but a sort of catharsis. Once I talked to a friend of mine—who happens to be a psychologist—about eros and thanatos (good and evil), how we all have some of both within ourselves. She said, in my case I was sort of recycling thanatos and turning it into eros, creation.

So why do I write these hard things? Here’s a simple-minded answer: I’d rather see them on page than in the real world.

I write creepy stuff, I generate scares for people who want to be scared, excited, chilled for a bit before returning to their everyday lives. Readers come in all shades and colors. Some want that jolt, be it just a little shock or a massive discharge. And for those readers there will always be the authors who provide those jolts. Those people are not the potential serial killers some would think. They just approach fiction in a different way.

27 Oct 2006

Kabir: Timeless Tapestry


Alakh Elahi ek hai, nam darya do
Ram Rahim ek hai, naam darya do
Krishna Karim ek hai, naam darya do
Kashi Kaba ek hai, ek Ram Rahim

Alakh (the Invisible) and Elahi (the Lord) are one, with two names
Ram and Rahim are one, with two names
Krishna and Karim are one, with two names
Kashi and Kaaba are but one, with two names.

As a child, little did I know that the strains of this song, emanating from the voice of my mother, were actually an inconspicuous entry of Kabir in my life. In the years to follow, this 15th-century poet-seer has remained a constant, always in the background, but permeating the spirit even as unobtrusively as the air around me. The unconstrained Kabir weaved himself in quite easily into the open, boundary-less fabric of our house, forged by two progressive and people-loving grandparents.

At a time when the traditional Indian society was largely conservative when it came to mainstream Hindu and Muslim faiths, Kabir, an unlettered weaver, declared Kashi and Kaaba, the two holiest pilgrimages for the Hindus and Muslims respectively, were actually one, only called by different names. So were Ram and Rahim, Krishna and Karim—Hindu and Islamic deities.

The refrain continued through school, only the wordings changed, like in the case of Ram and Rahim.

Tum Ram kaho, woh Rahim kahen
Dono ki garaz Allah se hai

You say Ram, they say Rahim
Both are concerned with Allah

The reason Kabir, despite erasing the man-made lines between different religions and sects (he denounces most of them in his songs and couplets or dohas), continues to make his presence felt is precisely because of that. Deep within we all realize we are one, free, unbound. We realize there’s no sense to all the carnage that goes on in the name of religion. We understand organized religion has done more to divide than unify.


Is ghat antar baag bagiche
Isi mein sirjanhara

WITHIN this earthen vessel are bowers and groves, and within it is the Creator.
(Translation: Rabindranath Tagore)

This beautiful song about everything being encompassed inside this physical shell of our bodies came to me in my college years. I heard it in a cassette produced by Sahmet, an organization working against communal forces through creative expressions such as song, visual arts, theater, and dance. The rest of the song translates to:

Within this vessel are the seven oceans and the unnumbered stars.
The touchstone and the jewel-appraiser are within;
And within this vessel the Eternal soundeth, and the spring wells up.
Kabîr says: "Listen tome, my Friend! My beloved Lord is within."

Kabir is not just about breaking the shackles of religious fanaticism; Kabir is a whole way of life. When Kabir breaks free, he does so totally:

Haman hai ishq mastana
Haman ko hoshiyari kya
Rahen azad ya jag mein
Haman duniya se yaari kya

I am bursting with love,
Why do I need to be careful?
Being free in the world,
What of the world’s friendship do I need?

This song became an anthem for me the moment I listened to it. What terrific expression of being whole and free without needing any of the “stuff” we keep clinging on to! Liberation in its truest sense.

Ud Jayega Huns Akela,
Jug Darshan Ka Mela
Jaise Paat Gire Taruvar Se,
Milna Bahut Duhela
Naa Jane Kidhar Girega,
Lageya Pawan Ka Rela
Jub Howe Umur Puri,
Jab Chute Ga Hukum Huzuri
Jum Ke Doot Bade Mazboot,
Jum Se Pada Jhamela
Das Kabir Har Ke Gun Gawe,
Wah Har Ko Paran Pawe
Guru Ki Karni Guru Jayega,
Chele Ki Karni Chela

The Swan will fly away all alone,
Spectacle of the world will be a mere fair
As the leaf that falls from the tree
Is difficult to find
Who knows where it will fall
Once it is struck with a gust of wind
When life span is complete
Then listening to orders, following others will be over
The messengers of Yama are very strong
It's an entanglement with Yama
Servant Kabir Praises the attributes of the Lord
He finds the Lord soon
Guru will go according to his doings
The disciple according to his.

Yama = The God of death in Hindu mythology.

(Courtesy: http://groups.google.com/group/rec.music.indian.classical)


5 Oct 2006

At Home, Working

The pending post-it list never lets up.

Words get written, exploding on the screen in gazillions; not one of them is for my Work In Progress (WIP).

The cell phone rings intermittently--morning,
noon, night. Regular work briefings. Emergency calls to "please accommodate" new work within tight deadlines.

The calendar polar bear gives me quiet, understanding company.

Work doesn't suck. It brings in money, much needed for survival. But...

In trying to resuscitate my bank account, I seldom find time for the joys that filled my inside. I miss visiting my blog pals. The mind yearns for those daily doses of laconic, exquisite, epigrammatic cyber inscriptions. The heart longs to go and say a hello to the authors of those inscriptions, dear friends, all.

The WIP unassumingly positions itself at the bottom of the "work" heap, not pestering to be paid attention to. "I will wait," it says "for the moment you are ready to pick me up with love, not because you have to, but because it will bring joy to the spirit. I know you will, no worries. Do tend to the ailing coffers first."

Here is someone trying to find her feet in the land of freelancers. That's all that keeps me away from here lately. Trust me, I am still...

At Home, Writing.

26 Sept 2006

Holiday Preparations by Rabindranath Tagore

Kaash Flowers

Puja holidays come near.

Sunshine is draped in the colour of Champa flower.

The air ripples with dew,

Shiuli's fragrance touches

like the delicate caress of someone's cool hands.

The sky is lazy with white clouds—

seeing which, the mind doesn't feel like working.

Mastermoshai continues to teach

the primitive story of coal.

Sitting on the bench, the boy paddles his feet,

sees images in his mind—

The cracked ghat of Kamal pond,

And the fruit laden custard apple tree of the Bhanjas.

And he sees in his mind's eyes, the zigzag path

that leads from the milkmen's neighbourhood

by the side of the haat,

into the tishi fields, next to the river.

In the economics class at college

the bespectacled, medal-winning student

jots down a list

which recent novel to buy

which shop will give in credit—

the sari with the "Do Remember" border,

shakha washed in gold,

a pair of red velvet chappals, handcrafted in Dilli

and a silk cloth-bound poetry book,

printed on antique paper—

can't remember its name yet.

At the three-storied house in Bhabanipur

a menagerie of shrill hoarse voices talk—

This time will it be Mount Abu or Madurai,

Dalhousie or Puri,

or that ever familiar Darjiling?

And I see, on the red path that leads to the station

five or six lambs tied with ropes,

their helpless cry spreads across

the calm autumn sky that lilts with the brushing kaash flowers.

How do they understand

their puja holidays are nearby?

Mastermoshai = Respectful term for teacher (Bengali)

Ghat = Bank

Haat = Weekly village market

Tishi = Linseed

Shakha = White bangle made of a particular stone. Is worn by married Bengali women.

Chappal = Footwear

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh

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21 Sept 2006

Pujo Manei...

That Bengali phrase translates to "the very meaning of pujo." Pujo here refers to Durga Puja, the biggest festival for Bengalis. It marks goddess Durga's descent to earth for ten days every year. This year, Durga Puja officially begins on September 23. It's a special time of the year. A time when religion and worship become the venerated background. The foreground is the Bengalis' love for culture, cuisine, and most of all, celebration.

Shiuli Flower

For me,

the very meaning of Pujo is:

the unmistakable slight chill in the air that indicates the enervating summer days are history. The sky looks bright, the air feels fresh, the heart sings with the first autumn notes.

the scent of shiuli flower floating in from the tree outside the house every evening, signaling the coming of Durga.

waking up at 4 am on Mahalaya, the invocation that seeks Durga's descent on earth. Even before dawn cracks through the sky on this day, All India Radio broadcasts a special audio programme, featuring scriptural chants, classical songs, and the story of how Durga annihilated Mahisasura, the demon king.

the memories of taking part in pre-pujo competitions all over the neighbourhood. Recitation, music, art, sports, fancy dress...the competitions that introduced me to Rabindranath, Nazrul, Sukumar Ray, Sukanto. The competitions that brought me books in the form of prizes.

gorging on the most delectable food at various pandals. From spicy jhalmuri to egg-rolls dripping with oil to biryani and kababs. And of course the traditional, delicious bhog.

the inimitable sound of Dhak overtaking the entire atmosphere, silencing the crass automobile horns with its nostalgic beats.

the staying up late in the night at pandals, watching cultural shows. The shows that brought folk theatre like Jatra, folk music like baul and bhatiyali as well as "modern" songs to urban Bengalis. The nights that wrapped you in the cozy aura of black and white Bengali films featuring the never-fading, ever-endeared Uttam Kumar.

coming across friends and acquaintances you haven't met in ages. Like your social studies teacher from middle school whom all the students loved. Or the physics teacher you would have done anything to avoid back when you were her student.

that inexplicable happiness and widespread camaraderie that mingles with the crisp autumn air.

17 Sept 2006

The Book Meme

I have been tagged by the erudite and universally-linked [;)] John Baker for a meme. Thanks, John. It was fun doing this. :)

1. One book that changed your life?
As a high school teenager it was Charles Chaplin's My Autobiography. To me, his story was a testimony of the triumph of human spirit, and the book served as an inspiration for many years.

A few years back, I read A Fine Balance and was jolted out of my complacency. The book made me think for days and made me more conscious about the lives outside my insulated sphere of existence.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Rabindranath Tagore's Sanchaita (collected poems). It's been a constant friend.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Gitabitan, Rabindranath Tagore's book of songs. It has some of the finest of this sage poet's poetry, sweeping the entire spectrum of the universe. Since I also sing Rabindrasangeet (Tagore songs), this book will be a perfect companion at a deserted island.

4. One book that made you cry?

Most recently it was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

5. One book that made you laugh?

Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring. The book also made me cry in places. Terrific read.

6. One book you wish you had been written?

The Kite Runner. I wish I could like as lyrically, create a setting as enchanting and atmospheric, and evoke emotions as strong as Hosseini did.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Am yet to come across a book like that.

8. One book you are currently reading?

The Plague by Albert Camus.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

SO many. My immediate priority is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Now for my victims, er, friends to tag. Here they are: Shadow Writer, Lotus Reads, Bernita, Susan, Amin, and Simran. Can't wait to see your answers!

PS: I just noticed I read one of the questions incorrectly. Q 6 asks about "one book I wish had been written," and my response is for a book I wish I had written. LOL. You can expect that from this daft reader/writer. So instead of answering the original question, I am tweaking it here so my answer fits. Yes, I am lazy too.


13 Sept 2006

Reel-istically Funny

AW Chain 6 is here. An event I am getting addicted to. It's amazing to see how one subject leads to the other, leaving you enriched and entertained by the end of the process. Before me, Kelly spoke about some comedy flicks that featured muscular action heroes trying their best to manage little babies. Now, that instantly makes me smile. The proposition of tough men at their clumsiest worst when it comes to babysitting is intrinsically funny, isn't it?

So what is it that makes a good comedy film? If I had to nail it down, I would say it just takes an intelligently crafted story that taps in to the foibles of human nature and gives them a lighter spin. How do you measure a comedy film as good or trash? Again, the yardstick for me is a simple and time-tested one. If the film manages to make your stomach hurt with laughter even after you've seen it 58 times, it has to be good.

Let me share with you five of my all-time favourite Hindi comedy films. I am not rating them, since they all make your belly explode equally well. On to the laughter pills then:

1. GOLMAAL (Topsy-turvy): Ram Prasad is a middle-class chartered accountant, desperately looking for a job to support himself and his sister. He is thrilled to learn about a vacancy at a firm owned and run an eccentric old man called Bhavani Shankar. However, there is a catch. The old man believes the youth of the country should focus only on their jobs, and not waste time on other interests like sports or entertainment. Ram Prasad, a soccer and hockey lover goes prepared for an interview with this quirky gentleman. He impresses Bhavani Shankar when the latter asks him a question on Pele, and he apparently fails to recognize the soccer maestro. He gets the job.

Trouble starts when the boss spots Ram Prasad on the spectator stand at a soccer match he goes to attend. When called in for explanation, Ram Prasad fabricates an impeccable (and imaginary) tale of his younger brother, Lakshman Prasad, who he says is a wayward young man, wasting his youth on sports and music. He convinces his boss that it was Lakshman whom the old man had seen at the stadium. He further claims the younger brother doesn't sport a moustache. What follows is a rollercoaster of uproarious situations, in which Ram Prasad has to switch between the roles of his own self and that of his sans-moustache fictional brother, forever at the risk of his boss stumbling upon the truth.

2. CHUPKE CHUPKE (Stealthily): A well-plotted story of how a couple decides to dupe their relatives for some harmless fun. A newly-married couple--a botany professor and his wife--plan to play a prank on the wife's brother-in-law, a judge who is very particular about the use of pure Hindi. The professor, hitherto unseen by these relatives, takes up a driver's job at the judge's house, exhibiting his unadulterated Hindi-speaking tendencies.

Things get suspicious for the older couple when the judge's sister-in-law is seen to openly flirt with the new driver. The situation gets out of control when the duo actually elopes and another (planted) character emerges, claiming to be the botany professor. Imagine the older couple’s embarrassment, even as the man claiming to be the botany professor is actually a scholar of English literature and has a hard time teaching botany to a young girl he begins to fancy while still posing as the married professor.

3. JAANE BHI DO YAARON (Let it be, Friends): A remarkable film that was a blend of black comedy and slapstick. Two photographer friends set up shop in the busy Mumbai city. Their first assignment comes from a newspaper editor, and accidentally the two friends photograph a murder scene. They are dragged increasingly into the dark and deceitful world of corrupt administrators and businessmen. A brilliant satire enacted by some of the finest actors of the Hindi film industry, this flick was marked by witty dialogues, hilariously absurd sequences, and an unmistakable dig at urban ugliness (not just the physical part of it).

4. RANG BIRANGI (Colourful): A riotous comedy on a bachelor friend's attempt at rekindling the spark in the marital life of another friend. His script turns the lives of the married friend, his secretary, her boyfriend, and a whole lot of other people in the film into a complicated labyrinth of circumstances. The plot hatched by the bachelor friend is the backbone of the film's plot. Fantastic plotting and rib-tickling scenarios conspire together to produce an explosively funny film.

5. KATHA (Tale): Yet another social comedy, reflecting the dilemmas of urban life. Rajaram is an honest middle-class clerk living in a densely-populated locality of Mumbai. He secretly loves his neighbour, Sandhya, but can't profess his feelings to her. Soon, he is joined by his smooth-talking-but-idle friend, Bashudev. The latter wastes no time in courting Sandhya, even while living in Rajaram's flat at the nice guy's expense. A classic hare-tortoise story, in which, thankfully, the tortoise wins the battle after almost losing it. Bashudev takes the cake, though, entertaining and disgusting the audience at the same time.

All of those sparkling funny bubbles, filled with natural laughing gas are stories of ordinary people caught in the daily grind. They make for healthy, wholesome family entertainment. All of them deserve separate entries. Maybe some other time. For now, let me navigate you to the Indian-movie-loving Simran at Writing From Within.

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10 Sept 2006

In Memoriam: Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006)

With the passing away of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's Nobel laureate, the literary world has lost an entire epoch. This 94-year-old writer wasn't only a pillar of Arabic literature, but the central figure who brought this literature on to the world stage. Someone influenced as much by his Islamic mother's tolerance for all humanity as by the ancient history of his country, his writing corpus matches the vastness of Egypt's heritage. From the reigns of pharaohs to the socio-political state of modern-day Egypt, Mahfouz's writing captured the entire gamut of this ancient and vibrant culture. A writer who deeply loved his land and never stepped out of it, not even to attend the Nobel ceremony in 1988, his vision was never constrained by any man-made boundaries—geographical or otherwise.

My position on everything I have read throughout my life -- and my readings include the Ancient Egyptian and Arabic heritage as well as English and French creative works -- was, as far as possible, a neutral, unbiased, one. This in the sense that all these cultures are, in the last analysis, human cultures, produced by man, and I am as entitled to the English [literary] heritage as I am to the Pharaonic heritage. In other words, all these cultures belong to me in my capacity as a human being. And if you were to ask me to enumerate my favourite works in order, you might find among them an Ancient Egyptian work, a French one, a third that is Arabic and a fourth that is English. When I read I allow my self to love what seems worthy of love, regardless of nationality.

~ Naguib Mahfouz, in an interview with Ibrahim Mansour

More on Mahfouz in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly.


6 Sept 2006

PAGLA DASHU (Crazy Dashu) -- II, By Sukumar Ray

Missed Part I? Read it here.

The Deeds of Dashu (continued)

On one occasion, just after the vacations, Dashu came to the school with an intriguing box. Master Mashai asked him, "What's in that box, Dashu?" He replied, "My things, sir." A little debate ensued among us regarding the nature of his "things." We noticed Dashu had all the essential school items with him--books, notebooks, pencil, blade. Then what "things" was he talking about? When we asked him, he didn't give a direct reply. Instead, he clutched the box to his chest and said, "I am warning you all. Don't ever mess with my box." Then, he opened the lid slightly with a key and peeked inside while mumbling some calculations. The moment I tried to lean over to catch a glimpse, Dashu locked it up.

Soon, this became a hot topic of discussion for the rest of us. Someone said, "It's his lunch box. He must be hiding food inside it." But I never saw him opening the box during lunch time to eat anything. Some suggested, "It could be his money bag. It must contain a lot of cash. That is why he never parts with it." To this, another boy said, "Why such a big box to keep money? Is he planning to open a money-lending business in the school?"

During lunch one day, Dashu hastily gave me the key to the box and said, "Keep this with yourself, make sure you don't lose it. If I get a little late in returning, please hand over the key to the watchman before you all go to the classroom." With that he went away, leaving the box with the watchman.

We were thrilled! After so long, we had an opportunity; now only the watchman needed to move away for a while. Shortly, the watchman lit his stove to make rotis* and went to the water tap with a few utensils. This was just the moment we were waiting for. Five-seven of us boys bent over the box. I opened it and saw a fat bundle of papers rolled tightly with tattered cloth strings. Quickly opening the knot, we found another paper box inside, which in turn carried yet another small paper bundle. On opening that, a card popped out. One side of the card said, "Eat a green banana,"^ while the other side had the words "Excessive curiosity is not good." We started exchanging stupefied glances with each other. At last someone said, "The lad sure took us for a ride." Another boy said, "Let's tie it up exactly the way it was, so he doesn't have any inkling that we'd opened it. That would teach him a lesson, all right." I said, "Fine. When he returns, you all politely request him to open the box and show what it contains." We quickly wrapped up all the papers with strings and dropped the bundle inside the box.

I was just about to lock the box when we heard a thunderous guffaw. That's when we saw Dashu, seated atop the boundary wall, laughing insanely. The buffoon was actually watching the whole show from a vantage point. We realised the entire chain of events--giving me the key, keeping the box with the watchman, making an excuse of going out at lunch--all these were part of Dashu's prank scheme. He had been carrying that box for all these days just to make us appear like idiots.

Is it without any reason that we call him Crazy Dashu?

* Roti = Indian flat bread
^ Eat a green banana = In Bengal, this phrase is used to mildly snide effect, after fooling someone or to indiacate that a person's wish isn't going to be granted.

[The End]

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh

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