Friday, February 27, 2009

Mailer to Styron: Stop Being Neurotic!

The New York Review of Books is publishing a few letters of Norman Mailer to his friend William Styron and I quote here one such, which speaks of what writers go through, in the writing process, i.e., becoming quite neurotic. Norman Mailer (he who married Marilyn Monroe [see picture]), whose wit and sassiness I greatly admire, writes the following admonition to Styron to stop being neurotic. More of the letters appear here.

February 26, 1953

"Dear Bill,

"You certainly deserve a fan letter. As a matter of fact I've been meaning to write ever since I read "Long March" about a month ago. I think it's just terrific, how good I'm almost embarrassed to say, but as a modest estimate it's certainly as good an eighty pages as any American has written since the war, and really I think it's much more than that. You watch. It's going to last and last and last. And some day people will consider it as being close to the level of something as marvelous as The Heart of Darkness, which by the way, for no reason I know, it reminded me of.

"Barbara mentioned that you're without a book at the moment. No solace I can offer, except that crap about waiting and patience which is all true, but no consolation at all.

"I have only one humble criticism. I wonder if you realize how good you are. That tendency in you to invert your story and manner your prose just slightly, struck me—forgive the presumption—as coming possibly from a certain covert doubt of your strengths as a writer, and you're too good to doubt yourself. Which I suppose is like saying, "You, neurotic—stop being neurotic!""

Hope budding writers will take heed when writing their oeuvres full of angst and animus. Take it easy, let go, stop being neurotic, have fun writing!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Books, by hook, or by crook

I just came back from a visit to American Centre Library. It’s become like running an obstacle race. First the inscrutable guard behind the steel barricade, then the bag check, then an officious (meaning nasty) injunction by the sneering guard (he obviously resents book readers) to “switch off your mobile” and then a steep ascent into the library, again face-to-face with two uniformed guards at a door which looks as high-tech as the ones in Fort Knox. (You have to push a rod that unlocks a bolt while opening the door; you will stumble and fumble, and make a fool of yourself, which I did.) Once inside, I find the library deserted except for a few oldies sitting and reading, right, you guessed it, American newspapers.

All the days of my distant youth, I used to walk into this very library and borrow books with nobody even paying me a second look. Those days, it was so full of youngsters that it also was one of my favourite ogling spots. Nowadays I think readers are like smokers. They have been hunted, ostracised, pushed into the very inaccessible corners of the social circles by stupid laws. A bookseller I visited has this poster stuck on the walls “Not for browsing; only for buying.” A salesman followed me around, as if I was some thief who would snatch one of his precious volumes. Another library from where I used to borrow books closes at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, the day of the week on which I used to visit its hallowed precincts. Ergo, I stopped visiting.

And how can publishers say they can’t find a market for books when discerning readers are ostracised thus? Are readers the new outcastes, even the society looks down upon them as they curl with a book in a discrete corner in the house, or, try to read in a desperately crowded compartment in the 8 p.m. Panvel local? Is reading out of fashion? What happened to the intellectual ferment that accompanied the release of a book, the recognition, the adulation or the brickbats? As an author said recently an author is not discussed but if he generates controversy he becomes famous.

Now, books are expensive. They cost a bomb these days. So, do I give up reading? No way. There’s a bookshop I frequent in CBD Belapur where the kind and understanding bookshop owner lends me books for Rs 200 and gives me Rs 180 back when I return them in a good condition. Are they genuine, or pirated? I don’t know. I don’t care. If society looks down upon book readers (like me), I am justified in reading books, either by hook, or by crook.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Shobhaa Reports from Bomb-hit Colombo!

Writer, designer, socialite, columnist and blogger (phew!) Shobhaa De is in Sri Lanka and in the midst of the attack on Colombo by the LTTE. She writes thusly on her blog.

"Was I scared? Numb? Resigned to my fate? Ready to die?? A few hours after the aerial attack on Colombo, I am still reeling and confused. There we were in the rooftop ballroom of the Taj Samudra to attend The Colombo Fashion Week where my new line of relaxed clothing - Spiritual By Shobhaa De - was to debut. We were approvimately three minutes away from the first entry of the lovely model, wearing a garland of Sri Lanka's national flower, the blue water lilly ( nil mahanil), that I had picked as it is a symbol of peace, when the power was switched off, and we were told there was an imminent aerial attack expected and Colombo was instantly enveloped in an eerie black out. Seconds later, we heard the bombs drop and the night sky lit up with flares as the anti aircraft guns went into action!"

Hope and pray she, Avantika and Aditya are well and back in Aamchi Bombay, theek thak. Goes to show nobody is immune to terror/extremist/mercenary attacks anymore.

I Am a Star!

I am the star of the week on Shakespeare and Company. Go here to read what the word-worshipping, poetry-loving, raving, adoring fans of mine (mua, mua, mua...) have to say about, well, my writing!

En Passant...

Funny the names real estate developers give their projects. There's one that goes by the name of trinket, another is called tacket, another is named spaghetti. Wonder what the people living in these projects think of their builders' choice of names. "I live in spaghetti", and when everybody laughs, "Duh, really, what's so funny?"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

click "Forward" and Be Read

I know what's wrong, we ar so inured to mediocrity and to reading stolen material forwarded on the internet that we don't know what's an orginal thought, an original idea anymore. So it seems to me!

"Aaah, what forwards he sends no, my God!, such lovely forwards..."

Hmmmmmphhhhh! Oh, God! Have we descended into the absolute nadir of a literary, creative consciousness here?

And, poor us, struggling litterateurs, we would have loved to hear it thusly:

"What what cerebral poems he writes, what excellent soul-restoring stories, what a thought-altering article..."

Oh! misery! I feel like tying a rope around my neck and hanging myself on the next lamppost. "His forwards are all so nice and humourous, he is like Raju Srivastava" is a comment I recently heard about a guy who sends inane forwards and doesn't write a word of comment, criticism, even a miserly "how are you?" with his forwards. It's all "Wham, bham, click, and forward for him! Raju Srivastava? Is he some big and renowned writer? What have we writers, creative writers (farters) at that, have done to deserve all this? Isn't there at least an intellectual pretension in us? It is prevalent even in Mallus (to which community I belong) who are (like Bongs) culturally and literarily involved.

Srivastava, instead is a comedian who came on "The Great Indian Laughter challenge" and now performs in shows where he laughs at his own jokes. He is a favourite of mine though.

En Passant...

"Setting" is a word I hear mostly these days. I don't know about the rest of India, but I am talking of Bombay. "He has a lot of setting, he is an expert in setting, we have to do some setting, so on and so forth..."

What "setting" means is "bribe", "enticement", "filthy lucre", ad nauseum!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nandu Bhende Rocks Kala Ghoda!

(Nandu Bhende is a wonderful mix of stage presence and showmanship on stage, he had the audience begging for more. Here he is seen singing and performing while his band members give support. The lady to the right of me recording the show is his wife Usha Bhende.)

Nandu Bhende is always on my list of top rockers of the city, and indeed, the country. He belted out some songs that made my eyes mist and took me back several decades to the sixties and seventies (remember Elvis, Beatles, Doors, BeeGees, The Who, Elton John, etc.), to which I often repair to mull over how utopian those times were and go misty eyed by those familiar beats and rhythms. And it was "Come together" and "Five to One" at Kala Ghoda yesterday. We remember the past through the songs and books we read, don't we? Much the same we we remember the times gone by, by the spirit of its music, dance, literature, heroes and the effect it had on us.

Nostalgic, amn't I?

The Creative Process, According to Shekhar Kapoor

Shekhar Kapur (he of Masoom, Elizabeth and Mr. India fame, need I say?), of whose blog writings I am a great admirer, has written the following about the creative process, which I find elevating, nay, epiphanic.

"Paulo Coelho and I were looking at creativity from different points of view. I have a fairly spiritualistic view of creativity - which defines creativity as moments of harmony with a universe that is at constant creative play or Leela."

In reply I wrote on his Facebook Page:

"I too look at creativity as a divine or spiritual process. Epiphany strikes, there's a revelation, a story, a poem, a play, a song is born. What we need are several such epiphanies to strike at once for a full scale movie, a novel or an epic."

John Lennon also said something similar about the creative process. A poem, a short story, a novel is already there, all you need is to discover it through a process similar to prayer, meditation, and devotional singing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Dilemma: To Be or Not to Be a Vanity Author

This is me reading my poem "Welcome to Kala Ghoda" at the Kala Ghoda Festival. A journalist covering the festival, rather ingenuously named me "Middle-aged poet in a Nehru Jacket." (Photo: Gangadharan Menon)

The Kala Ghoda Festival is in full swing and there are discussions galore and not enough time to attend all of them, as most of them are going on continuously, co-terminously (pardon the use of this official word, but I like to sound serious.). So, I am confused as to what to listen to and participate, and what to leave aside.

My significant moments at the festival were spent in the company of writers, poets, friends, caferatii, and many familiar faces spring to life and offer a peek into their lives, their art, their views, even their politics.

In a discussion about "Literature and the Media" Vijay Nambisan asked if we have any right to expect the media to write about literature. True, the number of book reviews have been dwindling, there isn't coverage of literary events, and if at all there is some coverage, it arose from some controversy or the other.

Anil Wanvari of was vocal in that writers don't need the mainstream media but can get themselves published through online media. Of course, I know there exists online publishers who would publish your book for $ 200 for 10 copies, then you can sell them, make a profit or loss and go back for $ 200 worth of books, depending on whether you are making a profit or loss. But where would this lead the writer? How will he feed himself assuming he doesn't have a rich uncle who has given him millions of dollars to pour into such ventures. Will it bring him name? Will it bring him money? Will it bring the bitch goddess success to his doorsteps?

This is, sort of, misguiding young authors, I must say. Let's say they pay to get themselves published. What after that? Do they get any publicity? How do such novices market their books? How do they get into the mainstream media, considering that all the pundits would be sneering at them for being a vanity author (I have coined this phrase to mean all authors who pay for being published.). Authors in a hurry can become vanity authors but their books will be poorly edited, if at all and those friends who bought the books because "Mr. Vanity Author" is a friend won't read the book. Result: zilch!

So Anil Wanvari's rather revolutionary idea doesn't hold. Sorry, sir, but the idea of being read by fifty readers is not the idea that every writer has in mind. It's fifty million and not just fifty they have in mind, and the royalty should run into millions too. Is any writing effort worth it if not for the dream of millions and adulation from the society in general?

I found Vijay Nambisan's ideas more concrete. He said that literature should hold a mirror to society. I have firmly believed it should. A truthful mirror should reflect society as it is or at least should be a parody of it. Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels created wonderful characters who reflect sterotypes of society and weren't totally in the phantasmal realm.

Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre took a pro-establishment stance when she said that media did subsidise advertising for plays in their columns and that the government also took pains to promote arts. But is that enough? How many Indian authors can claim to live from writing alone, and not from moonlighting as writers? How many authors receive a grant like Yann Martel did to write a novel from the Canadian government?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Hurt in the Heart Has Started Showing on the Face

I attended some of the Urdu poetry reading sessions in the Kala Ghoda festival and came away impressed. Urdu is a really rich language and the “jubaani” is very rich and full of imagery.

One writer speaking against terrorism said “unlog aag lagatey jayenge, aur hum aag bujhate jayenge.” “If they go on lighting fires, we will go on putting them out.” The discussion was “Dashatgardi Ke Khilaf Urdu Ki Avaaz” and all the writers condemned terrorism and fundamentalism. I wonder why such moderates aren’t called to express their opinions on television when the terror attacks occurred. (I wonder why Indian television is so poorly organised when it comes to finding experts who can comment on issues. We only see the viewpoint of the anchor and the reporters, nothing else. Can we do something about it NDTV, India Television, Zee, Star, etc.?)

I think there’s a large section of the Muslim population who are against “terrorism” and “revenge by proxy” that the marauders from abroad wanted to propagate with the attack. Why aren’t their words heard? Who will throw some light on the fact that of the fifty-four who died at VT station around 29 were Muslims?

Another sher that was recited in the meet was “Aaine ke samne jaane se khatrane lagey/ Dil ke zakam chehre pe dikhne lagey”

Wah! Wah! Is all I can say. Translated it means:

“I have grown scared of going before the mirror/ The hurt in the heart has begun showing on the face.”

Isn’t that beautifully expressed?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Middle-aged Poet in a Nehru Jacket

This is funny, at least, I think so. But at least The Times of India took note of my efforts to croon a heavy metal number. Thank you Times. What the reporter wrote was as follows:

"The more spontaneous ones among the audience members took turns on rasping "Ground me/Ground me/Look at the world around me," including a middle-aged poet in a Nehru jacket."

Well this middle-aged poet in a Nehru Jacket happens to be me. And the scene is the songwriting workshop conducted by Jeet Thayil and Suman Sridhar. I tried my hand at heavy metal singing, not that I am a fan of heavy metal bands, but just to try out the genre, but failed miserably to catch the harsh grungy voice required to belt out those passionate lines. Then came this guy with shockingly thick and long hair and the look of Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden fame, and, boom, the song came alive with every possibly imaginable human angst, passion, infatuation, bitternesss, whatever....

I must thank The Times of India for calling me a poet when I am beginning to have serious doubts about this epithet. Seen above is a scanned copy of the news item.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Trains, More Trains, and Performance at Kala Ghoda

The train is thick with bodies swaying in motion. I think of the Kala Ghoda Festival yesterday and relish every minute of it. What’s a festival, you have to see it to believe it. In a script writing workshop I attended as a part of the festival the participants were asked to write a script and four of them ended up writing about trains: there was a girl travelling at 1 a.m. in the ladies compartment (mine), and another in the general ladies compartment selling something, and what else? I don’t remember.

The point I am making is: we are so pre-occupied with the train commute that we commuters have no time for anything else. What we discuss also comes around to trains: the new time table which is inconvenient, the seats that are lumpy and sagging, the windows that are layered with spit and vomit, the handholds that are missing, the suffocation one feels, the guy with the mane of reddish hair, some film historian, or, something, who is no longer to be seen.

I guess that’s what goes on in trains because we want to stop thinking about the sweating body that is pushing us, depriving us of our private space. It’s dangerous to be so close to people, many don’t have the luxury of a bath in the morning, many have communicable diseases. That’s the reason why I bathe twice every day. I am careful.

Today I am again playing Peacemaker and breaking up a fight. The eternally unanswered question, “Who pushed?” is being thrown back and forth. “Monday morning, so people are, sort of, in a weekend mood.” But he won’t relent, “So what does that mean he can push on Friday also because it is the weekend?” I can’t beat that logic, so I quit and close my eyes tight, try to focus, yes, focus, when will Kurla arrive? Oh, why doesn’t it arrive soon so those people of Andheri (or, darkness) can disembark?

Kurla arrives and I heave a sigh of relief. The mass of bodies are ejected. Sigh! Now I can breathe freely.

En Passant...

I performed my poem “Welcome to Kala Ghoda” at the Kala Ghoda Festival, literature section, I will put a picture here taken by my childhood friend, writer, photographer and wildlife enthusiast – Gangadharan Menon. I have a particular affinity for Kala Ghoda as I worked here for more than three years in the eighties, twenty years ago and I am a member of the David Sassoon Library where I performed.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Awards Are Sham, So Says Shobhaa!

I am a great fan of movie awards, all the glitz, glory and razzmatazz have me up till the wee hours catching a glimpse of my fave actors and actresses. And then I had to read this by Shobhaa De, and if Shobhaa writes it, it has to have substance, for she is a writer close to my heart and mind. And this is what she writes in her latest blog about the sham of awards.

All awards are essentially bogus. That’s the horrible truth. I should know. I have been on several juries and what do you know, even received the odd award . Most of them fully faltoo . Which is why I can say this authoritatively - I don’t know of a single award that is either fair or free. Genuine and legitimate. Strings attached?? You bet. It’s a toss up between manipulation and money – you need one or the other (both, preferably), to make those lists...

Don’t even ask about film awards – those depend on heavy duty ‘setting’ (how I love that word!). These days, with a film award happening on a weekly basis, the matter has been further simplified – the actor who shows up at the function gets the award – baat khatam. A no- show automatically means no award. Got it, bro?? Categories? Not an issue – those can always be created at the nth moment. Nobody cares, so long as there is a star on stage and a statuette to take home. Sometimes, actors are required to sing and dance for their supper, err, award. Actors who perform at these shows are ‘guaranteed’ an award – provided they dance for free, or reduce their killer rates. If they are also sporting enough to keep the organisers’ beds warm, that’s a bonus. No pain, no gain – that’s the Bollywood mantra. Merit, talent and other incidentals - well, such traditional attributes are add-ons.

This Blog Has Crossed the 1000 Post Mark, this Blog Is Five Years and Five Months Old!

Another milestone crossed, another goal achieved. This blog has crossed the 1000 post mark and I am now five years and five months old. What was a mere fancy is occupying a lot of my time and attention and not a day passes without me agonising over what I should write on this space. I don’t know if anyone has crossed the 1000 post mark yet in India, but definitely I am one of the first to start blogging, well, that was much before Amitabh, MJ Akbar, Shah Rukh, Aamir, Shobhaa, etc. started learning the blogging craft. So with a genuflection towards modesty, shall I, ladies and gentlemen, claim to be the earliest (I won’t say “oldest” for obvious greying and balding reasons) blogger in India. I certainly am also the most prolific. I post daily.

(click on picture to enlarge)

My blog shows up in number one position on a search of “writer poet” on the internet (try it on google and see for yourselves). See picture above. And the funny thing is I blog from everywhere including crowded train compartments, outdoor locales, and my gprs enabled mobile phone allows me to post pictures too from anywhere. I have done a live blog on the “terror attack” on November 26 for which search for the term “Bombay under siege” on my blog or on Google, it shows up on the very first page.

And there are miles to go before I sleep....

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

“Zero” Comfort “An Area of Darkness” and “Not an Issue”

I am standing at a 45 degree angle to the horizontal and my hands are holding on to the little hand holds to steady myself. The next moment I am at a 135 degree angle in the opposite direction and the only thing steadying me is the small handle to which there are five other claimants. “Not an issue, not an issue, please adjust.” Through a small opening in the crowd I can see several men with cheap rexine bags who have tried to squeeze in but are now standing with sour expressions on their faces.

A man, a puny-looking man, with a severe pinched sort of expression is trying to do the impossible – he is trying to read a newspaper. My face is slammed against the back of his head, one eye is peeping from beside his neck into the headlines:

“Job cuts, indices down, bankruptcy, scams, bombs, rogues, talibanisation, etc.” they stare at me. Talibanisation, nice word, a nice word with a dangerous intent, or religious bigotry, to be exact. It’s in churches, temples, viharas, masjids and gurdwaras in equal measure.

Nothing makes sense anymore. The compartment is dark, there’s only the sound of the fans, rumbling clatter of rails and whooshing wind, and stray lambent light from outside that creeps in from the windows. One man says, “It’s like a cattle transport, these trains.” The space to move around is rare and “zero” in here, and we all bear it with closed eyes and muttered obscene invectives.

I manage a weak smile and say, “No it’s worse. In a cattle bogie, there’s a rule that not more than x number of cows/sheep should be accommodated. Here, it’s the more the merrier.”

He nods and then his face disappears as the crowd pushes and churns, hands, feet do a dance, several curses follow, fat paunches shift and extricate themselves from secure “dovetailing” they had formed with other similar paunches and then proceed towards the door. What’s the hustle all about?

Kurla. The dirty and littered and grimy station crawls near in from the dense urban undergrowth of wires, railway tracks, stanchions and signals.

Kurla, in my childhood I would pass this station on the way to church, this decrepit station has assumed something of a star status with the coming of Andheri (meaning darkness), Mumbai’s own “area of darkness”. It’s a nightmare of grimy, badly maintained buildings accessed by bad roads, which have uncleared debris, gravel and sand dumped on them everyday. If you walk on one of these roads you would be struck down in seconds if you aren’t watchful and acrobatic enough to jump out of death’s swift progress. These roads aren’t cleaned, litter lies everywhere. Exactly the reason I call this “area of darkness”, because I used to work there. If it’s late in the evening you don’t get transport, it becomes something like an Indian village after 8 p.m., deserted roads, no taxis or rickshaws, and stray big shots in their safely air-conditioned cars.

Exactly why I call this an “area of darkness”. Get it?

It’s hard to imagine this churning flesh going to this “area of darkness” with such devotion, day after day after day. I am not wonderstruck or awed because I was one such person not long ago. But in this “area of darkness” are situated the sweatshops that churn out the developed world’s software systems, their seemingly faultless high-tech genetic research software (I wrote stuff for such a company). They are such bloody good programmers, their code is so systematic and free from bugs and syntactical errors, but when it comes to bring some order into the roads outside their office, they are a pretty big “zero.”

And “zero” is what they care for the roads in Andheri because they will be going and settling in the Yoonited States in a few years from now. So what do they care? They can stand at 45 degree and 135 degree angles for a few months, “not an issue” as they say in Bombay officialese. I won’t vouch for the grammatical correctness of this term which is in the mouth every office drone these days.

En Passant...

While I don’t know who is right or who is wrong in the beating up of women who drank liquor in a Mangalore bar, I know this and am making this request: Please don’t bring this rather tranquil town to disrepute. I like and love Mangalore as I have passed it several times on the way to Kerala and love its soft-spoken people and their sweet nature.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My Latest Short Story

My latest short story "Mr. Bandookwala, MBA, Harvard" appears here on Caferati and here on Shakespeare and Company. Do read, enjoy, and, if you think fit, comment. Would love to hear from you, mua, mua, mua...