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Tag Archives: writing

Men Without Women

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Title: Men Without Women

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Harvill Secker, London

Year: 2017

I just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women. It is a collection of stories. There are in all seven stories. Each one with a distinct flavour and a lot of mystery.

What a master storyteller Murakami is! This book is about men without women. Each character in the story has loved and lost a woman. He is an amazingly thoughtful storyteller. This comes across in the slow pace of his stories. His words and expressions are rhythmically attached to each other and form sentence after sentence carefully maintaining the pace he has set for the story.

But what I enjoyed most were his characters. Such layered characters are a treat for readers. You are actually not reading a story but getting to know each of these characters and his study of these characters. They make the story.

Finally, story always leaves you asking for more. It always makes you want to take it forward in your thoughts. Your engagement with it does not end with the book. After reading the story, you find yourself asking why was he in such a bad shape locked up in a house? Why did she commit suicide? or Why did her husband phoned him to inform about her suicide? Each story leaves you with a number of questions and you don’t want answers to them. You just want to live with them a little more.

Amazing book. A must read.

Success is Trending

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As I was growing up, my parents urged me to study harder. “Just be financially independent. I don’t want you to be a career-driven girl.”, my mother would remind me. She was worried if I got trapped in a bad marriage, I should have the financial stability to take my stand. She was also concerned about my wishes after marriage. She would say that although she earned but she gave all her earnings to my grandmother, who was very loving and gave everything to my mother before she even asked. That is mainly because she never asked. But my mother lived this pain of not being able to buy even trinkets when her peers could buy expensive saris and jewelry. She thought that my financial independence would let me fulfill my wishes.

She never desired me to be successful. In fact, she was very clear that I should not be successful. I should just be able to get by. Because I am a girl, you know. I have to get married and be a mother. Here, she set the bar very high. She trained me to be the best daughter-in-law and a self-sacrificing mother.

However, my commitment to my professional degree gave me a different perspective on my life. I worked and it got appreciated. This new found confidence in my skills encouraged me to walk on a path of creativity. My father used to say, do whatever you wish to do. But be the best in what you do. I found this desire to be the best at whatever I did. At some point, I was actually quite good.

My cousins and peers had the desire to be successful, which I could never develop. So, even today I am not successful but I am good at what I do. Success never attracted me.

However, success has become quite popular. Today, many people are discussing it. Successful people are talking about their success. They are not sharing success stories. They are telling you that they are successful. They are successful in spite of their educational failures.

This is new to me. I wonder what is the meaning of success for an academic who does not read well or write well. I found that a government job that pays well is the definition of success for an academic. Then I hear stories of humiliation by the hands of these successful people. I wonder what is this kind of success that is not creatively satisfying, that leaves you with a strange emptiness, which is filled by arrogance and violence.

Money and domination are the two ingredients of success. We got this definition of success from the colonial rule. We saw their success in the form of their ability to dominate us and acquire riches. This idea of success is not new. Empires were built and conquered for it. What is new is that my friend, my brother, my peer wants to be successful and dominate the world.

Can you see the implication of this success in our world today? Is this why grand old wisdom tried to show us the difference between happiness and success?

Happiness is so tacky and low standard. Success is trending.

 

Learning to Revise and Edit

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Ever since I plunged into the write everyday cycle, writing the first draft has become easier. In the past two years, I have written several first drafts. These drafts are based on hours of research. However, once the idea is on paper, I seem to find it painful to revise it.

Once I get to it, I keep revising it. This revision is directionless. I feel like I am lost in a jungle of words and don’t know where to go and how. I also continuously doubt my decisions. The process stretches to months and years and most first drafts never make it to the editing table.

Editing is less painful and there is some direction. I would know more about its pain if I get more papers to the table.

Dear Readers, do share your learning and experiences with me to achieve this milestone in my writing journey.

 

 

How To Read A Book

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I have been reading a book by Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read A Book. The book was first published in the early months of 1940. I am reading the revised version of the book that came out in 1972. This version is co-authored by Adler and Charles Van Doren.

A friend introduced me to a chapter from this book by a friend, How to Make a Book Your Own. In this text he advocates such a reading of a text that it enters your bloodstream and becomes a part of your self.

In my last post, I talked about my teacher’s teacher. An interaction with him informs you how well he has read the text that even after 40-50 years of reading it, he can quote from the book. I want to read a book like him. Adler discusses the steps to become such a reader. I read this chapter more than once. Inspired by his convincing and authoritative style of writing, I decided to buy the book.

This revised version of the book is even better. It is a fat book of 418 pages. It is a compelling read especially today when we are increasingly losing the capacity to read. I will write more about the book once I finish reading it.

My Teacher’s Teacher

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I went to see my teacher’s teacher yesterday. He taught my teacher during his graduation years. Now, he is 90 years old. He never fails to amaze me with his memory. Yet during every conversation, he complains that he forgets. I tried to tell him to see how much he remembers.¬†During our conversation, he narrated a long poem that he read in a newspaper in 1945. The poem was about an incident in which a student died during lathi charge.¬† He remembers the names, writers and even quotes from books. My teacher still consults him for books because he remembers nearly everything that he read even if he read it in a newspaper.

I wonder how well he must be reading. Yesterday, he shared an anecdote about his teacher, Dr. Dhirendra Tripathy. Dr. Tripathy was a D.Litt from Paris. Around 1945, as my teacher’s teacher graduated, he went to Dr. Tripathy for a testimonial. He had applied for a teaching position. Dr. Tripathy called his secretary and dictated a testimonial. One thing I valued most in the testimonial was that Dr. Tripathy described him as a student who almost always, “either adds something of subtract something from the lecture that was given to him. He chose what he liked. So, he is a man of independent ideas.”

So, after Dr. Tripathy gave him his testimonial, he asked, “Do you know how to teach?” He replied, “I know how to read.” The forever serious Dr. Tripathy smiled and said that you must take three counsels from me:

  1. Always be better than the best student of your class.
  2. Never enter a class unless you are fully satisfied with your preparation.
  3. Be honest. Tell your students with honesty that you do not have an answer to a particular question but will find out about it.

I have a feeling that my teacher’s teacher gave this counsel to my teacher too.

 

Time

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In one of our conversations before marriage, my husband said, “Relax. We all have a lot of time. We have to live a long life. It is not time that is less.”

His tone was so peaceful. His expression was so calming. I believed him. He believes in it too. He is never in a hurry. He works at his pace. He loves his work. He loves himself. He has a strong sense of ownership towards his work. He keeps re-doing it until he is convinced with it. Once, convinced, he looks at it admirably.

In case you are wondering, my husband is an artist. He paints. Water-colour is his preferred medium. From him, I am learning to do one thing at a time. Give it my best and keep at it till it is not the best I could do. From him, I am learning to understand time. I am learning to observe my pace. Most importantly, I am learning to understand myself.

Time is never less. We are not giving it its due. Every moment needs to be lived to the fullest. It should not be rushed or passed. I have to learn to make every moment my moment. It comes from a sense of security and calmness. The world I live in is one of my making. The time that I live is also of my making. Looking back, I should be able to say how well I have lived every moment of my time. I remember each moment touching me and leaving me.

Writing for Children

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As an editor of a children’s magazine, my primary job is to commission articles. There are many senior writers whose work I enjoy. Then there are writers I feel whose ideas, style of writing must enrich the body of children’s literature. Because of the purity of their expression. They are just writing what they think with such honesty that it seems they are talking to us. They are engaging us in a conversation.Such articles, stories are missing in children’s literature because the moment one talks about writing for children, they immediately assume the position of an adult. They write down to children.

E.B. White has famously said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

Then the basic rules of writing such as ‘Show, don’t tell’ are seriously flouted. The attempt is to explain every possible word used in the text is explain, which makes it an excruciating read.

Beverly Clearly says, “As a child, I disliked books in which children learned to be ‘better’ children.” Children’s literature in India is full of such texts.

More recently, a very dear friend of mine asked me to translate a story for children. Saying ‘No’ was not an option as she would then think of me as too high headed. The story writes down to children. Children are not unaware or silly beings who do not know what goes where. In fact, they are very observant of not just their natural surroundings but also of human behaviour. That’s how they learn the rules of society. It does not see children as reflective beings. It also tries to teach good behaviour to children. The story is on environment. Why do you have to write a story on it? Why can’t you just write about deforestation? The idea of deforestation used in the story is also dated. That is not how we are presently thinking about environment. We have moved way ahead. A text on Greta Thunberg and other (Indian) children environmentalists would have made an interesting read for 6 years-olds too. They would be able to identify with child activists and identify their agency to act.

How does one explain this to writers of children’s literature?

Self-acceptance through Writing

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I am stuck. I have been working on a short article for a popular magazine for three months. It has been drafted. Re-drafted. Re-drafted and re-drafting is seeming to be never-ending. It is missing something. What is not sitting well with me is its language. The sentences are not flowing into each other like a melody. Content-wise, the article has been reviewed by external reviewers. They seemed to have liked it. They think it is ready for publication. Yet, in my heart I feel it is not ready.
I am stuck for just one reason. I am not able to re-write it on paper with a pen. I know once I do it. I will begin to feel the writing. I have to re-write it with pen on paper a few times and it is done.
Now, my mind is procrastinating. It is procrastinating because it feels weak. Why? Because it needs nourishment in terms of reading. So, until I read some relevant texts, my mind will not support my hand to re-write.
Before re-writing, I need to feed my mind with reading. Like a cow, it will ruminate. When the mind has ruminated, it will be eager to serve the hand. In fact, it will send urgent signals to the hand.
Then the hand would pick up the pen, find paper and re-write. That’s when the article would be finished.
That is how my system works. I could be a slow-writer, who has lost a certain race. I want to accept my system and leisurely walk at its pace. I am with me. I accept myself unconditionally.

Pleasure does not come Easy

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I used to wonder when some writers said that their urge to write is so great and intense that they can’t sleep, eat or drink. A writer can write in the middle of a party. If you don’t have such an urge you are not a writer.
Experiencing such an urgency is essential to be a writer. However, this urgency is nurtured. No one is born with it. What we often struggle with is to nurture this urgency.
To be a writer, one has to live the life of a writer. You know when you are living that life. You know it because then you breathe it. You obsess about writing. You think about it all the time. Your mind stays engaged endlessly with developing just one idea. The idea that emerged as a tiny dot. You build it into a thread. The longer the thread gets the more it occupies you. Once you have entangled it, you know it is times to write.
A writer is constantly moving from this state of disequilibrium to equilibrium. Reading makes this engagement finer and nuanced. That’s when the fun really begins.
You eat, sleep and drink your writing.
Achieving this stage is no fun at all. You need to really focus and become it- your writing. You have to identify with it so strongly that it becomes you.
It requires an uncluttered and meditative mind.
Pleasure does not come easy in writing.

Be the Change you Want to See in the World

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Yes, we have all heard it. Mahatma Gandhi said it and advocated it. I have thought about it many times.
Now, I seem to grasp it a little. Just follow your heart or your truth. It will never lie to you. It will never suggest you to harm anyone. That is a huge change to make in your self, especially when the world is going a slightly different way. It does make you feel like a lone warrior. Sometimes, one feels cornered too for saying what they think is right. Especially, when the wrong doer is an authority figure. While your peers are afraid to even show support towards you, you have to stand up for yourself and be on the side of right.
Now, I realize this is satyagraha. A non-violent protest, where you are just trying to be yourself even when others are not in agreement. Following my heart has had a strangely calming effect one me. I feel it is so because I am not longer repressing my wishes and emotions. I feel free. It is also strengthening my will and desire to listen to self. With this, I am becoming more accepting, open and non-violent towards myself.
Instead of focusing on the person who is hurting me, I am learning to focus on strengthening my will, my intellect and my body.
This is the change I want to see in them too. Once they learn to find their inner strength and follow their heart, they will become non-violent.