Archive for February, 2011

I accept

Posted: February 27, 2011 in Life and Living

There are no happy endings.
Memory is fickle.
Love does not endure.

There is only the self,
Striding against the sands of eternity.

Brief, Brave, heroic.
Dreaming, dying, becoming.

Satiated not in passionate coming togethers of we,
But in painstakingly uncovering me, buried within we.

I accept I am I.
I am not we.


Another book, another story

Posted: February 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Each book is a different journey and another story. So too it has been with Ginger Soda Lemon Pop and Mind Blogs 1.0.

Ginger Soda Lemon Pop was my first book, and with it came the joy of being published for the first time. It had a wonderful launch, and literary appreciation for the book also followed. There were so many firsts with this book… My first launch. The first article on my work in a newspaper. The first interview. The first book review. The joy of seeing my book in a store window.

I saw too that all of these were fleeting and transient.

With Mind Blogs 1.0 it’s been a different journey, but no less rewarding. Here there’s been the reward of three writers coming together and then creating a platform that other writers could use as well. So that’s a different kind of high for a writer and an idealist.

There was the joy of bringing out your book in the way that you wanted, without any creative compromises. We made our own marketing choices, and took our chances. So we’ve sold more copies of this book in the first few months than an established publisher could have done. In this way, it’s also been a book that has given us an insider’s understanding of both the publishing industry and the distribution process.

But most importantly, looking at this as Bangaloreans, it’s also been a book that has been read by people whose literary opinion counts to us as writers. All this without the support of the distribution network that would go with a bigger publisher. So, just like with entrepreneurship, one needs to work harder, but the final rewards are also higher.

I’ve also learnt to look at my manuscript in new ways – It no longer just has the potential to be a paperback in the real world. It is also an e-book, an audio book or even a play.

Yet one could argue that the knowledge and success that comes with all of this is also fleeting and transient.

So what is it that matters most for a writer to be taken seriously? How does one survive that never ending dance of time that consigns yesterday’s musings to a footnote in a page on literary history.

One approach is to write that one great literary piece that gets noticed and defies time. (Wuthering Heights dances in my mind.)

The other is to write much, well and consistently. (Perhaps in the tradition of the great William Shakespeare.) Then in the collection of work that you leave behind, you just might have peeped into every vice and virtue that the human mind has imagined and the heart has felt.

I remember quoting Erich Segal to a friend a couple of days over coffee at Koshy’s, “The fear of death is universal. But beyond is the terror of insignificance, the fear of not being remembered, not counting.”

That perhaps is why we write.

I am who I am

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Life and Living

I’ve always been a last minute person.

At my boarding school in Mussoorie, I was always the last person in the dormitory to get ready and I’d inevitably be the one lone faraway figure running down the hill to catch up with the orderly row of school girls walking down the hill to the senior school on the other side.

My dormitory matron re-christened me “slow boat to China”.

“You’ll be late for your wedding as well,” she warned.

 Was I late for my wedding too? I don’t remember. But then I guess most brides are late to their weddings. So that doesn’t really count for much.

I do re-collect though that in college I was always the last person in the class to submit my assignments. If the lecturer gave us 10 hours, you could trust me to extend the deadline to the eleventh hour.

I mean I can’t think of another person who possibly lost their chance of a Distinction for their dissertation submitted to the London School of Economics because it was submitted more than one month late. (It matters not that I was under tremendous personal turmoil at that time and the degree itself no longer mattered)

At work too, I hate to admit it, but I’ve always been a last minute person. It’s as if I reach my full potential only at the eleventh hour.

At the same time, I am a tremendously hard working and committed person. So this is a side to me that I’ve been tremendously ashamed about and am keene to avoid discussing.

Till a couple of weeks ago.

That was when I met my college English lecturer at a book launch that I was compeering. Ma’am Shantha has always been one of those great intellectuals who I have admired, both for her tremendous grace and learning. A woman in whom the mind and the heart both meet perfectly. The kind of woman that every girl aspires to be.

I mention all of this only because I lived through college always believing that Ma’am Shantha disapproved of my scatterbrain like ways. I always tried to leave my “last minute” self outside her class, and yet I inevitably failed.

Even at the book launch I remained my usual “last minute” self. I tried to explain it away as a temporary lapse to Ma’am Shantha saying, “It’s been a crazy day”.

But she who has observed me from close quarters when I was a student and understood the qualities that make me better than I do, simply replied, “Some people work best under pressure.”

It was then that the realization hit me. Ma’am Shantha had always accepted me. It was I who had never accepted myself.

So let me say it  to myself today, “I am the person that I am”. No excuses. No explanations. Just me.

My little brother S

Posted: February 5, 2011 in Life and Living

I am an only child.

But a couple of days ago I discovered I had a brother.

Well, a cousin brother, if you look at how we are related. But this is as real to having a brother as it’s ever going to get.

My uncle was here last week, and with him was his son, who I last saw over a decade ago, before he had even turned 15.

I come from a family that is not very traditional in the Indian sense. There are no strong ties that bind brothers and sisters here, and they hardly meet. Yet by virtue of having spent a lot of my childhood with my grandmother, I am probably the grandchild who has spent the most time with all her children, and there is a bit of all of them in the woman that I have become.

So though my uncle and I didn’t meet much till the time I was 16, the occasional meetings at my grandmother’s home always had a huge impact on me. Then came two years that I spent under his care till the time I turned 18, which I would always look back upon as being life defining. So there was nothing unusual about the huge connect that I have always made with my uncle, but I was completely unprepared for the bond that I felt with my little brother S.

Yes, he was a wonderful twenty-four-year-old. Very well mannered. Wise, innocent, strong, vulnerable.

But it wasn’t this that I found slight overpowering. It had more to do with that wonderful luxury of not having to explain the context of where you were coming from every time, and just being understood.

Most siblings share it. Yet I had never experienced it before in my entire life, and so it was an unusual feeling.

For the first time in my life, I was meeting someone who in a sense I hardly knew, and yet I didn’t have to apologize for myself or explain to him about parents who had split, a father who lived with the woman he loved or about a mum who asked you to get out of the house and yet still loved you. He knew, he understood.

He didn’t have to explain to me about his mum and dad or being really scared of his dad. All the people involved were part of our shared history. So I understood about the deep love that went with all bonds. But I also knew about being really scared. I’d even stood in his shoes.

No questions asked. No apologies rendered. No explanations needed. Just understood. 

It was at this moment that I had a glimpse of what brother and sister feels like. It’s a beautiful bond, and I am blessed to have experienced it. After all, there’s just one person who’s going to call me Christina didi for life, and that’s my lil brother S.

Children and little brothers. They both have this very special way of entrenching themselves very firmly into your heart. Once hooked, you stay hooked for life.

It’s funny how very often in life you set out to help another person, but the person you usually end up helping in the end is yourself. This was exactly what happened when my friend of many years BS asked me to join a panel of writers launching David Thomas’ debut novel Rear Entrance in Bangalore.

I had heard of David over the years. He had been BS’ inspirational boss at IBM – her second job just after we had left college. Over the next 10 years BS continued to speak of David as a mentor, always with fond respect and admiration. So though I’d never David, I already felt like I knew him.

I picked up the book to get ready for the panel discussion, and extremely unusually (It’s no secret that I am not a reader who is very easily impressed), I found myself drawn in with the first chapter. As I later admitted on my Facebook status, it was a long time since I’ve read contemporary Indian writing in English that I liked so much.

Simple and direct. Well written, but never pseudo. A story cleverly crafted and well told. I hope that my next work of fiction comes even close to it. I am a better writer for having read this book.

The book tells the story of four Indians who meet in Brussels as they try for a visa to the UK. By virtue of its plot, Rear Entrance is a novel that reflects the art of our times, seen especially in the cinema of intersection points. Here one moment is an intersection point between the parallel lives that the story teller has given his/her protagonists. It is the intersection point that also gives the work of art its heightened meaning. A film that is perhaps one of the finest reflections of this approach in recent times is Crash. We of course have less perfect examples like Babel or Life in a Metro and Dhobi Ghat from Bollywood. For the cinema of intersection points to work it has to be well constructed. Every thread has to have meaning and a place for the scene to have credibility. One sees all of this in “Rear Entrance” too.

‘India’ in Indian writing in English is often about an India that it is difficult for most Indians to relate with. Especially when its India held up for the western eye. This is possibly because there are many ideas of India. So as soon as a writer places a book in one particular context, there are immediately the many other Indians who do not relate to the novel. Yet Rear Entrance overcomes that very interestingly, with its four characters who come from different contexts. So ever so often, you find yourself looking at a situation and saying, “yes, that may not be me but that’s an India I know alright.” And the feeling is one of recognition, not embarrassment.

In fact, especially as an Indian who has spent a year in London, the book was so real for me that there was a point where I sat down and just cried (and yes, it’s a long time since a book has done that to me). There was nothing extremely dramatic about the moment, and many readers will probably just pass by that point in the book. For me it was just the relatability at so many levels, and this apart from the other points that I’ve already mentioned is the book’s greatest strength.

So a rating of 3.5 on 5 for Rear Entrance (PS. That’s a very good rating. 3 = good book. 4 = masterpiece). Pick it up if you can. It’s a book that you can complete in less than half a day, and one that you won’t regret reading.

Little moments in time

Posted: February 5, 2011 in Life and Living

For some time now, I have been waking up on most mornings feeling a little sad. But yesterday morning was a little different.

As I completed the usual routine of getting ready for the day ahead, little Tim came running to the breakfast table. “Ammai, you are looking very beautiful”, he told me. “Just like Cinderella”.

Children. Our time with them is made up of moments. Little moments strung together that give us special days.