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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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.

My longtime obsession with Agatha Christie.

There was a time when I had grown out of Nancy Drew.  This happened because I had read most of the books and soon the ‘18 year old sleuth’ as she is called had become predictable. I would know who the culprit is halfway through the book and I would still hope that I’m blown off my feet by the end…but unfortunately that would not happen. Disappointed, I started looking around for other books and someone recommended Agatha Christie so I decided to give it a shot. And yes! One of the many things she has effectively done is blow me off my feet!

‘ A country house in a quiet English village, a little old lady sits knitting while discussing prescription drugs. In the garden shed there is a gap on the shelf where a packet of weed killer used to be. The gardener looks carefully at the plants in the herb garden. Are those sage leaves or something else? In the kitchen, colorless crystals are scattered on a tea tray. They are probably sugar, but maybe not? At the front door a man with an egg-shaped head brushes an invisible speck of dust from his patent leather shoes before ringing the doorbell

The fictional world that Agatha Christie creates is recognizable and familiar. Scenes are quickly set, characters are introduced in a few sentences and then comes the mysterious plot with misleading clues and of course, her favorite way of eliminating characters-POISON! She has used more than 30 different types of poisons in her boo
ks as a weapon for murder.  The funny thing is that when ya8f010cde9030434717afeffe9f2b261.jpgou say murder the first thing that comes to your mind is stabbing, knives and bloodshed. But very rarely has Christie used these methods. And I feel that’s where many modern murder mysteries go wrong- they engage in elaborate graphic descriptions of violence, shooting and bloodshed, which becomes too difficult to read. Poison is horrific but much more cleaner than stabbing or slashing the throat.

At first you might feel that Christie’s writing style is simplistic, but a great deal of research goes into it. Her training as a pharmacist gave her knowledge about the different kinds of poisons and chemicals, which has brought a great deal of versatility in her plots. No other crime writer has exploited poison as much and as effectively as Christie has.

When talking about Agatha Christie its unfair to not mention the old and wise Miss. Marple and the egoistic Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I was so much in love with Poirot that I decided to take up French in college, which ended up not working in my favor by the way because I struggled to scrape through and pass but that’s beside the point. I read somewhere that in the nineteen sixties a lot of fans wrote to Christie saying she should write a novel where Miss.Marple and Poirot came together to solve a murder. She cheekily replied to these requests saying that “ Hercule Poirot is an egoistic maniac who will never ever listen to a wise woman.” And I must say that I couldn’t agree more. In fact it is well known that even though fans loved Poirot, Agatha Christie herself absolutely hated him to the extent that she decided to kill him off.

Another unique element in Christie’s books is that she never shies away from depicting a woman as a murderer. Most mystery writers end up playing to the stereotype of a woman being nurturing and kind and incapable of violence or murder.

And by this I don’t mean to say that murder is some great achievement, all I am saying is that Christie couldn’t be further away from stereotyping.

Agatha Christie still continues to be the most published and famous crime writer. In fact writer Sophie Hannah, a devoted Agatha Christie fan recently wrote a new Hercule Poirot mystery, and I having read it I must say that she knows her Agatha Christie well! Its crazy that Christie is still so popular because her books are not the slightest bit ahead of their time, in fact they are very firmly set in the time they were written.

But, it’s the puzzlers that bring in new readers. Every plot device, murder weapon and twist has been used and reused by the Dame. And after all these stories, after all these years you would think that there is an easier way to figure out ‘who done it’ than jumping out of your skin in the last chapter, but thanks to Agatha Christie’s great power to deceive, there isn’t!