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Why bother to write?

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“Tell me another story, or I wont speak to you. Tell me another story fast.” My six-year-old self slightly moved on the bed, turning towards my mother as these words flowed out of me. After a five-minute silence in the dark, my mother began speaking. My eyes were wide open, occasionally blinking in awe. I dozed off towards the end and dreamt of English farms and high tea on the mountains with ham sandwiches. I didn’t know what ham exactly was. My father told me it was a kind of meat, like chicken, but different. It sounded tasty; everyone in the story had enjoyed it. So I dreamt of ham as well, ham and cheese.

Everyday I got up and went to school, partially living in a fictional world. In school, where I would awkwardly sit scrawling words at the back of my book in a huge straggling handwriting. To write almost became an obligation, a necessity. I was surprised to see others struggle with essay writing, while I manage to swim through it faster than the goldfish in my fish tank mated. Did everyone else not dream of ham and cheese sandwiches? Apparently not. So I pretended to squiggle words in my book, until everyone had finished because I didn’t want to walk up to the teacher alone.

Slowly and steadily, writing became an inherent part of everything. I didn’t write to reflect, I wrote to escape. To escape what? Nothing in particular. But why live in the real world and be a socially acceptable person, when you can delve into the inclusivity and quirks of fiction.

I grew to love writing, to create, to enhance and to destroy. It became an compulsion to write about the life of the girl in a pink sweater who furtively breaks dolls, the woman who accidently dropped a strand of hair in the fish stew and the man who peeped into his children’s room every night before sleeping. To write beautiful descriptions and heart wrenching stories of these people who probably didn’t know they existed, to give them a beating heart, flesh and blood.

 

Usually, this is followed by a trickle of hope. A hope, that some day someone might just read it. Writing comes for the heart; it pulls the strings of your brain like that strand of spaghetti that is so long that it can never be fully wound around the fork. Maybe no one writes to please, to entice, to involve. But it’s always a pleasure when your writing does manage to do any of it. You run a knife through your heart and cut a slice out, almost like cutting a piece of cake and offering it to someone to consume. To understand you, to understand your story and decide whether or not they like you, based on a bunch of words you wrote.

Except that it isn’t just a bunch of few words, it is a feeling, a desire, an anger that makes you obligated to pick up a pen. An essence that only those large sprawling words can describe. A vulnerability that couldn’t be caged for much longer. Once the thoughts are set in motion, they flow lyrically, like a bird circling around the sky.

What makes writing so important for me, is the power I poses. The power to create what I want, and the power to destroy what I’ve created. To quote my favorite book and author, writing fiction is when “ the unthinkable becomes thinkable, and the impossible really happens.”

Over the years, I have questioned my writing over and over again. What is the purpose of writing if you want to know what others think of it? Am I just an oddity who is looking for a socially acceptable way to escape? Or am I prude who writes for the sake of it? Or is it really everything that I’ve mentioned in the above essay that drives me? After a lot of contemplation, sleepless nights and very few answers I came to a conclusion that the simplest of answers is usually the truth.
So why do I write? To make sure I continue dreaming of ham and cheese sandwiches, and maybe make a few other people dream of it too.

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Liquid Wisdom

I see myself, immersed in a mystical brown liquid that shimmers brightly. While looking at my shaky wobbly self, I see that the ends of my messy hair that slightly block my eyesight; have tangled themselves into a knotty maze. Every time I straighten them, in a fraction of a second they spiral back into the maze. As I go closer and sense the complex aroma of this beverage, a new layer of fog develops over my glasses. The faint chirps of a faraway bird have now joined my senses and bring in a new dilemma. The dilemma of deciding if these chirps are a source of delight or annoyance. I look up at the grey cloudy sky, its barely four in the afternoon. It’s definitely going to rain, sooner or later. I can already hear the crashing sounds of things falling from my study table because of the strong winds gushing in through the widow. I should probably shut the windows and take off the clothes hanging in the balcony. But I’d rather just sit here and take a sip of my tea.

This tactile liquid has a pure and refreshing quality. It travels deeper into my body and leaves a lasting taste on my tongue that makes me obligated to take another sip of bliss.

With each sip, the cluster of fibers in my brain that were wound around each other and stuck together tightly, begin to unwind and spread out with ease. A sense of tranquil runs through the body and strikes a perfect chord with the swaying wind that smells of the garbage can far way, cigarettes, paint, lemons and everything I can think of.

The emotion in “emotionless.”

If I were to ask my friends or family to describe me in a paragraph, words like detached, aloof, disconnected would be used more often than I drink tea. Knowing myself, I would probably be the last person to disagree with these observations. I like keeping myself away from the part in my brain where emotions reside. It feels like a  slimy, sticky, disorganised and chaotic kitchen where spiders and cockroaches crawl about like kings, knowing the power they have over me. And all the power I am left with is squealing and running as fast and as far as I can. Of course, the trap here is that the slimy kitchen is a part of my slimy brain. The slimy brain that creates so many illusions that I have lost count. It makes me think that the spiders are beautiful daises basking in the sun. My stupid heart filled with hope turns around to look at the spiders more closely, only to have it jump in my face and make me squeal louder than the first time. Sitting on the sticky floor of this scruffy kitchen, I seriously consider training my cat to make tea for the times like these  when I really need it but am too jaded to make it myself. Clearly, it’s a bad day.

I thought that bad days are as worse as it gets. But the human inside me is more unreasonable than I thought. For someone who spent the first paragraph comparing emotions to spiders and cockroaches, I feel like a hypocrite to be saying that the days filled with an emotionless turmoil are more disturbing. Now, I have been told a number times by a number of  different people that ’emotionless’ is also a very prominent emotion. But that explanation feels like a pair of clothes you buy because it looks pretty and classy, but never wear because just doesn’t look right when you do.  After dealing with many such days, I have come to realise that the most annoying part is that  there is no response or feeling to such days. On the happy days, I feel as bubbly as Jessica Day.  On the dark and broody ones I radiate Meredith Grey vibes. But what on earth am I supposed to do on a day when my emotions have disappeared to a point where I cannot even decide which T.V show to binge watch.

The emotionless days come most unexpectedly and bring a huge bag full of laziness with it. Just a while ago I was happily chewing on mint and deciding on the list of people I hate and now just in a day all the hate and the bit of love has hidden behind a huge rock that is too heavy for me to move. And here I am, sipping on my fourth cup of tea, with a laptop to my right and a half finished novel to the left wondering where all the spiders went.

Instead of just admitting that ’emotionless’ is also an emotion, my brain of course had to go through and extensive phase of denial about being human. I made tremendously unsuccessful attempts at  describing and categorising my emotions in the most logical and meticulous way possible only to resort to a Google search. The Google search was most definitely a bad idea, because it told me that I was suffering through a dozen mental illnesses simultaneously. My brain, still unconvinced decided to extensively read about every one of them before finally giving in. And I had my moment of epiphany, just like Sherlock Holmes, I told myself softly,  “It’s not a pleasant thought, but I have this terrible feeling from time to time, that we might all just be human.”

My ‘leaking’ mind.

Bloop Bloop. And another water droplet has made its way from the ceiling to the floor. I turn to avoid the small puddle that has now formed on the floor. It has become a very familiar action, to slightly tilt while walking and then go straight just to avoid a tiny droplet of water from falling on you. It is something that everyone did in the Churchgate pedestrian subway until recently, when the leakage was fixed.

But during the two years I travelled to Churchgate, the leak stayed.  As soon as you got off the train, the station would be filled with the booming noise of footsteps, vendors and trains. After waking for about two minutes the platform ends and flight of stairs going down leads you to the subway.  From miles apart, I can point out exactly where the leak was. It was right in the middle of the subway with messy food stalls on both sides that were always covered in a huddle of people.  As soon as you see the steps you mentally start preparing to avoid the leak. Sometimes you are unlucky because the person right in front of you is walking at a very slow pace, and you can’t turn in any other direction because there are people everywhere. If you do anything but walk straight, you will collide into another person and  their sweaty body will rub against yours. So you might as well keep walking straight and let the water drip on you.  It was something that put you off. When you came rushing in at 10 AM after a long journey and that tiny little water droplet fell on you.  It felt like the day had started off on a bad note.

But on the other hand, the leak had its perks too. When  I usually left from college at 3 pm in the afternoon, a time when Churchgate station is the emptiest, it was easy to avoid the leak. You could walk 2 inches away from it and nobody would bump into you. It gave an odd sense of satisfaction and hope. Every time someone passed through the subway, they would look at the leak and mutter a complaint about how the leakage would never be fixed . I know that I have done it almost every single day.  Throughout  those two years, the leakage was probably the most irrelevant aspect of my life, but I still wanted it fixed.

Recently, after living in Bangalore for a year, I am back in Bombay for two months.  About a week ago I went to Churchgate for some work. As soon as I got off the train and reached the end of the platform, I thought of the leak.  But there was something different about the steps I could see ahead of me. They were polished, clean new steps. The subway was completely different. There was a flashy white ceiling with equally flashy and slippery white floor tiles. I kept walking and and stopped right in between. The food stalls were still there, just as messy, covered in a huddle. Then I looked up, but there was no leak.  They fixed it, I thought to my self. They finally fixed it. I looked around at the people who were walking. Nobody was turning around out of habit. There were no mutters about the leak that was once there. It was almost as if the leak had never existed. I kept walking and took a cab once I reached outside. After about two hours, I was now walking back to the station and I couldn’t help but stop between those two food stalls and look up again. Just to be a hundred percent sure.

On my one hour journey back home, I could think of nothing but the leakage. At some point I felt stupid for wasting my time thinking about some random leak in a subway. But I couldn’t get over it. I missed the leak. I was feeling extremely nostalgic. Because this is the first time I realised that I had been away for a year. I was now in a completely different city, a city that I definitely liked more. But there is always something unusually blissful about coming home. The trains, the leak, the end of the lane near my house where I tell the auto driver to take a right, the bookstore, the library. All of it gave me a sense of familiarity. There were no secrets here, there was nothing to discover, there was nothing to explore. It was all familiar, it was a routine. I knew exactly what to do, I knew exactly what I felt. And now a part of it was gone, for the better.

Its funny how an irrelevant leak in a random station got my mind full of so many thoughts. It kind of reassures me in the fact, that no matter how irrelevant you think you are, you do have an impact on this crazy world.

 

A random chain of thoughts

Tick tock goes the clock. That is the only sound I hear as I sit in my living room staring at the fish tank in front of me, desperately trying to write something. I have hidden behind writers block for too long now, I told myself. So I just picked up the laptop and started typing words, completely clueless of where this was going. It is funny how used to I am to this feeling of not knowing what I am writing. What makes it worse is that I don’t get along very well with the unknown. I like being in the know, I like to be aware of what I feel and want. Considering how detached I am, most people find it difficult to believe that I am aware of what I feel. That is what perceptions do. They restrict us from having our own identities. And before you know it, you might just be trying to live up to a perception that you didn’t even agree with in the first place. Am I ranting? Yes I think I am ranting.

Now the clock’s ticking seems to have been overpowered by the high pitched singing of the alcoholic who stays in the apartment above mine. He does that a lot. The signing is still fine. What is bothering sometimes is the noise of vessels being thrown around in his house while he is having a drunk argument with his wife. No one knows if he is just throwing these vessels or is he aiming at his wife. She seems to be a pretty normal lady when I see her, usually on Sundays as she walks back home from Church. But can you really be normal if you are married to an alcoholic? I wonder. The singing has stopped now. Luckily for me, they didn’t fight today.

By now I am no longer thinking about this couple that should definitely get a divorce. I am now contemplating my existence. Not in a bad way. In a good way. In a “I love myself” way. Because I do love myself, a lot actually. I am thinking of the things I like, the people in my life. The ones I love, the ones I like and  the ones I absolutely hate.  And then there is this mysterious category of people who don’t fall in any of the above categories.  They just exist. They are  not making any valuable contribution to my life, but for some reason they are still there.

And I start thinking of everything and anything in my life.  How back in school me and my best friend used to sit on the old wooden desks with our lunch boxes and conveniently ignore the rest of the class and be asocial together. The times me and my sister went crazy over a Bollywood movie. The stories that my mother told me every night. The time my father taught me how to ride a bike. The amusing conversations I have had with my housemate this year. Just to give you an idea, they go something like this-   ” Are you sure that I can’t kill him?” ” You can, but he might not die, so blow up his house instead.” The ‘him’ here is , well.. a lot of people actually, so never mind.

But in a nutshell, I thought everything that has led to this moment. This moment where I am not really doing anything revolutionary, just staring into my mirthless fish tank and trying to think of something to write. Which brings me to my point ( and yes I do have a point ) that you don’t need much to thrive. You already have everything you need to survive within you. So the drunk guy will keep singing, the fish in my tank will keep dying, the people around me will continue to exist despite what I feel about them and my life will basically go on.  But the problem  is-   thoughts.  This overflowing sea of thoughts that brings in anxiety, nerves and complications just seconds after I tell myself I don’t need much to thrive. They take me right back to where I started and I no longer think that I have a point. And I kind of agree with what Silvya Path once said-” If I didn’t think, I’d be much happier.”

PS-  After this very random post, another random confession- while reading what I had written, I read it in Meredith Grey’s voice for some reason;)

Sorrow is Overrated.

A few hours after I have finished reading ‘The Illicit happiness of other people,’ here I am, trying to pen down what I think. I know the book has changed something in me. I could definitely feel the trigger, now it is just a matter of finding out where the impact truly lies. My mind is still partially a part of the melancholy that lies in the Chacko house in the muddy Balaji Lane in the heart of  Madras. In the real world, I am still trying to figure out what I want to write. I start wondering if  it is even important to pen down what I think? I don’t know. Maybe.

I was introduced to an excerpt of this book about a month ago at an event that I attended. As I was hearing the woman on the stage read out the excerpt, I knew that I was going to end up reading this book, it was just a matter of when. Honestly speaking, how long can you resist a book that is titled ‘The Illicit Happiness of Others’ and that opens with this unforgettable line-

“Ousep Chacko, according to Mariamma Chacko is the kind of man who has to be killed at the end of every story.”

Even with the little knowledge that I had about the book, there was something  about it that reminded me of ‘The God of Small Things.’ I could not place my finger on what exactly it was, but I would know soon enough.  The most obvious connection that one can make of course is  the name of the character. Or maybe the fact that both books talk about a Malayalee Christian family. But, none of these answers felt right. There was some hidden feature that instantly reminded me of the former book.  It took me quite a while to realise that this aspect was far from hidden. It was the simple honesty that lies in every word of the book. Having established this similarity, let me say that the two books are very different in terms of the story, the characters and the writing style. The only similarity lies in its raw portrayal of a setting.

The Honesty of the book, like I said intrigued me. Fiction, I have told myself a thousand times is my escape from the sometimes crude  reality. It is meant to distract myself. But even in fiction, why do I thrive for an honest depiction? Honesty and truth are harsh most of the times, we all know that.  Yet,why am I lying on the bed and reading a book about the mirthless  life of the Chacko family  rather than being enamoured by a Harry Potter? As you might have guessed, I myself don’t have the answers to these questions.

Maybe we read such books because their candour spiritually cleans us. For me, this book felt like stumbling upon something small and sparkling in a wreckage. By the end of it we know the horrors that have come to the characters, but why do we still chose to hold on to the vision of happiness? The answer is very simple. Sorrow is highly overrated. In a world where the wise men tell us that sorrow is a part and parcel of life, the truth is something else. In the words of Unni Chacko,

In this world, it is very hard to escape happiness”

We are never as sad as we think we are. Happiness is not a pursuit, but a state of being.  That was the trigger, that is what I learnt. There is more than one  tragedy at the heart of this story, but it still gives you a bit of joy. That is the inevitability of happiness, the persistence of happiness, the inescapable fate of happiness.

It is genuinely tough to be unhappy after reading this book. It is the kind of book that makes you believe that you know the family. It is the kind of book where you have to pick sides. It is very easy to love Mariamma Chacko, an economics postgraduate whose degree is as useless as decaffeinated coffee in the Chacko house.  At times it is easier to hate Ousep Chacko, who is a journalist  by day and a drunk menace for the neighbourhood at night. Sometimes you have an uncontrollable sympathy for Thoma Chacko, a teenager who is afraid of nearly everything. Unni Chacko on the other hand is the one who is tough to describe. As I am trying to describe him, I start agreeing with the displeasure he has for language.

“Language was created by nature to guard its secrets, not reveal them. We are trapped in language. Even thought has become language. That is what nature wants. It has given us language because it has hidden the truth somewhere else.”

-Unni Chacko, The Illicit Happiness of Other People.

In this dark gloomy setting, Manu Joseph with his witty writing manages to create a space filled with dark humour and sprinkled aphoristic wisdom like-

” A Scooter in Madras  is a man’s promise that he won’t return home drunk.” 

“The most foolish description of the young is that they are rebellious, the truth is that they are a fellowship of cowards.”

With such powerful witty statements, lot of humour, tragedy and honesty, the book leaves you with a strange kind of happiness. A happiness that almost feels, should I say Illicit?

 

 

 

 

The book that changed my Life.

About three years ago I was walking through a bookstore and a copy of the ‘The God of Small Things’ caught my eye. I had obviously heard a lot about the book. I had already heard my sister ramble on for hours about how amazing the book was. But to be honest, nothing made me want to read the book because ever since I read Chetan Bhagat I became very skeptical about Indian authors. And also, the book’s title misled me to believe that it was some sort of spiritual self-help book.

But in a sudden impulsive moment I brought the book. And for quite some time it just sat on my bookshelf collecting dust until another impulsive moment when I decided to read it. And that  was when it crept into my bones.

The book set in Ayemenem (a small town in Kerala) is about the childhood experiences of Fraternal twins Estha and Rahel. The setting shifts back and forth from when the twins are seven years old to when they are reunited at the age of thirty one. Although the narrative is omnipresent it is loosely grounded in Rahel’s perspective and the book moves towards the key moments in Rahel’s life.

What I love most about the book is the style of writing.’The God of small Things’ is not written in a way where events unfold in a chronological order, instead it is a patchwork of flashbacks and lengthy sidetracks that weaves the Ipe family together. Along with the style of narration, Arundhati Roy creates her own lucid language which has rhythmical analogies to every situation and is lyrical till the end. She manages to sometimes even unwillingly drag you to the place and time she wills. She keeps you engrossed with her power of not letting you know the unknown which very few writers can do.

The book showed India raw, and it hurts a lot to read about child abuse and outrageous rules that crush developing children. But it spiritually cleans you. The book is not about one specific concept or idea. It shows how cold and calculative people can be, it talks about male chauvinism, it shows to the extent people swear on their beliefs and punish those violating the archaic social norms. And along with the storyline, the book also manages to cover all the important events of Kerala. The temples, the elephants and the rise of communism.

The story kind of reassures me in human vulnerability to be loved and to be happy. The characters touch your soul and melancholy washes over you as you cry bitterly when the characters laugh hard. From what could have been just another tragic incident, Arundhati Roy creates a poignant story about the loss of innocence. She explores every character with warmth, their ideas, opinions, desires and their unfulfilled dreams-the definitive human tragedy.

The book made me feel a deeper connection with the world. So be warned, this is no feel good book. It can get really emotional and even crude at times. But it is the most honest book I have read. Arundhati Roy manages to cut through the clothes of caste, religion, race and nationality to reveal the bare bones of humanity. The book managed to make me think in ways I never thought I could. It made me read every scrap that Arundhati Roy has written, only to get more inspired. And it gave me the gift of empathy. So let me end with the great lines. The God of Love. The God of Loss. The God of Small Things.