Category Archives: fiction

2019 is done.

I realize I have become reluctant at extemporizing what I used to call my paltry accomplishments, joys, desires, failures. I am becoming an expert at leaving things unsaid, and saying things in hinted ways. Is this what happens as one gets older? I was never for performing sociability, yet I find it helps to be just a bit more discrete, a bit more careful in my wording. But I also take shit less, and stand up for myself more. And something I thought I would never think, or say out loud, but thank god for those mercury retrogrades!

I started 2019 with no resolutions, except to keep working at my craft, keep doing my stuff, keep being lit in my own way. 2019 has been about working on my personal growth, and taking rejections in stride. When year nine of my blog’s anniversary approached in late April, I had nothing to report. I had made it to the longlist of an international short fiction contest, and had managed to submit a new dissertation chapter that I was somewhat proud of. But I wasn’t in a state of mind to write about writing. I was interviewing authors/creators on the side for Invisible Publishing, and had finished a lone book review here, two theater reviews there. But the year felt like it was moving in slow motion, while somehow, I also kept losing time.

 

Banff_2019

Back in 2018, after an experience that was meant to help me write more became the reason for my inability to write fiction, I had given up on the hope of ever completing my short fiction manuscript. The past year, the two week Banff residency with Electric Literature came out of nowhere, a gift I did not know I needed. I wrote and read and slept and talked and talked and talked. The 19 other fellow writers (now, friends) + 2 very intuitive editors from Electric Lit + the supportive Banff folks that I encountered in August reinvigorated the fiction writer in me. In those two weeks, I finished 4 short stories, bringing me ever close to finishing that manuscript draft. And how can I forget Dionne Brand’s two day sojourn as a visiting faculty; her lecture and post-lecture conversations turned out to be a major highlight of the residency! After, I returned to life, and school, and my very first term teaching my very own designed course with a freshness I did not think was possible.

Of course, not everything ran to plan. I did not anticipate the toll unbidden anxiety would take on my mind, inducing sleepless nights, or the trigger one passive-aggressive communication could become leading to that anxiety, or how eventually that anxiety would break my body down. Now that that year is done, I am glad I survived. And how!

My dissertation is on course (again), and yet, I cannot help but think, how nice it must be for those who do not have to live on crip time. After all, I didn’t choose this for myself. It could very well be my internalized ableism speaking, but I cannot help but be a little jealous. I have lost time in this process, in the past few years. There are folks in my life that I seem to have no control over getting rid of, at least not yet, who have been triggers for my anxiety. And yet, I continue to survive. I know it’s not realistic to expect compassion from every single person, and especially from those who enjoy a little bit of power, but surely it’s alright to tighten those self boundaries? Surely, I can put my mental health and well being first? I choose to believe so. And the past year has been all about that, self-drawing a rekha that has nothing to do with a mythological Lakshman, but the needs of my body. I don’t care how many people I anger in the process, or how many egos I bruise, and what narrative they choose to build about me as a result. In the end, I put my well-being and survival first.

 

with the bae_sanchari sur

Birthday dinner. CN Tower, Toronto. 21st November 2019.

 

I started writing non-fiction a lot in 2019. By “a lot” I mean, two essays (one published in Daily Extra in late June, and another that was accepted by Al Jazeera on the last day of 2019!), a flash cnf piece (currently longlisted for Room‘s Short Forms contest), and several concept notes. I have been thinking a lot about my grandparents, and their journeys, and how my own journey has been a culmination of those former journeys. Gratitude always to my partner who always seems to spot a narrative in my babbling. If it wasn’t for him, I would be writing less. If it wasn’t for him, I would have given up on the dissertation much earlier. If it wasn’t for him, surviving would be much harder. Each year I survive, I wonder how I made it. It is difficult, this surviving business. Very difficult.

No resolutions for 2020, except to keep working at my craft, keep doing my stuff, keep being lit in my own way. OH AND: TAKE NO BULLSHIT FROM ANYONE. That was always the plan anyway.

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Eight is my number

hlr_2018_fic_winners_fb-twitter_apr19

Early in 2017, an astrologer told me that 2018 would be my year. While 2017 would be filled with extraordinary luck (which it was), 2018 would be the year I would begin to reap the fruits of my labour, so to speak.

I laughed at the irony of this previous pronouncement as come day two of 2018, everything started going to shit. I had to leave Mumbai – and my partner – in the midst of a bandh situation (with a potential situation for riots). I had to also leave behind almost all of my belongings, and considered myself lucky to be able to catch the flight to Toronto (via Delhi). In Delhi, my flight was cancelled due to weather conditions (read: fog). There were other things too, like the overall shittiness of Air Canada for not rescheduling my flight without charging me an arm and a leg. It didn’t matter what the ground conditions were in Mumbai at the time, I had to catch the flight, or lose my money.

The memory doesn’t make me bristle anymore. But the tone of the new year seemed to say: you are fucked, my friend.

Oh, and I also got the dreaded viral flu, with a cough that nested in my chest for a month.

So, as I approached the 8 year anniversary of my writing blog, I did so with trepidation. This has been a prolific year so far, in terms of writing (I try and write creatively every weekend now). I had atleast ten things in the Submittable queue. The most I have ever had in my entire life! Two rejections came by. Then, an acceptance (of a poem) in a magazine I had been trying to break into for years. But no fiction; nothing fiction yet. I began to wonder about my credentials as a writer. Maybe, my writing was just not good enough. (I want to add here that these are self-destructive thoughts that many writers have in personal low moments, and indicates nothing of the writing itself).

Three days before the anniversary day hit, I got an email. One of my queer short stories had made it into the Honourable Mentions list in a fiction contest.

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“Toklas to your Stein” (which in retrospect is a pretentious short story name) was the first story I wrote this year. It came to me in fragments. It came to me in bursts of frustration. It came to me and didn’t reveal its purpose till the very end. It also took me a whole month to write. Weeks of agonizing over a story that seemed to make absolutely no sense to me. The sections were haphazard, at best. At worst, it was an experiment in what I thought to be avant garde.

I wanted to submit a story for a contest, and I submitted this one (it’s all I had at the time of the deadline). The judges were none other than the esteemed Cherie Dimaline and Ayelet Tsabari. I felt a little ashamed because it was a story I didn’t really believe in. The style seemed off, and unlike anything I had ever written. And then I indulged in a terrible habit that I have: continued editing even after submission, all the while berating myself for submitting what I considered to be a “lesser” version.

When the contest version actually made it to the honorable mentions list, I was a bit shocked. I expected a rejection. Really, that would have been okay. The email that morning from Humber Literary Review made me feel numb. I wondered in my half asleep state if I was still dreaming. And, because I wanted so very badly to be seen (as a writer of fiction), this was the logical conclusion of my nightmares.

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Imposter syndrome is real. It is far more real when you are a queer woman of colour writer, without the backing of an MFA, struggling to make sense of the worlds in your head, and the worlds you manage to put down on paper. And because the world of writing is so tiny, there is constant pressure of wanting to be seen, and not being seen, while everyone else seems to be far more visible.

Sometimes, what this writer needs is a boost. An acknowledgement. A head nod of sorts. It doesn’t matter where she stands at the moment, and how much she has achieved, it never seems to be enough (because on most days, it isn’t). On most days, she is invisible any way. On most days, the world is a shit hole, and she is just trying to exist. But there are days when she wants to be seen.

There are days when I do.

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Canisia Lubrin once told me contests are not measures of success. I know. I agree. Same goes for publications, or even visibility in general. Most times, it’s really about who you know, and how much cultural capital that person holds, and how much of that capital they are willing to share with you.

I am grateful however to Cherie Dimaline and Ayelet Tsabari – writers I admire and haven’t yet had the good fortune to talk to in person – for seeing something in my story.

Screenshot_2018-04-20-23-29-06

TFW

Happy 8 years to the blog! My story, “Toklas to your Stein,” along with five other stories from Humber Literary Review’s Emerging Writers Fiction contest (winners and other honorable mentions) will be in the June (print) issue of the magazine.

UPDATE April 29th 2018: I received a Lambda Literary Fellowship in Fiction this year. It will allow me to work on my fiction manuscript with Chinelo Okparanta in LA this August. Eight must really be my number!

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A November evening that led to The Unpublished City

The Unpublished City line-up

The Unpublished City (Toronto: BookThug, 2017).

Where to begin? Some things, I believe, happen for a purpose, a reason. Happenstance, I like to think. Se-ren-di-pi-ty.

Last November, I had the privilege of being a part of a small group of writers sharing living room space with Dionne Brand. Discussing our current projects, our aspirations, our roadblocks. It wasn’t the best time in my life, but I am glad I made space for that evening. Something about that evening and its conversations opened a floodgate in (the writer) me. I came away, alive.

Line-up

17 of us (minus Katheryn Wabegijig) being introduced by Dionne Brand, Harbourfront Centre, 22nd June 2017. Photo: Catherine Coreno/@cthrn_c, from Twitter.

A part of the privilege came with knowing Phoebe Wang, who has been/is/and possibly will be nothing short of invincible when it comes to creating a much needed community for BIPOC writers. I don’t say this lightly. I don’t say this because I have come to value her friendship. I say this because it’s true. Because very few can do as much as Phoebe does in filling the much needed gap in the Toronto lit scene when it comes to recognizing multiplicity of identities; or, as it’s more easily understood, creating a space for “diversity” to thrive.

And so it was my knowing of Phoebe that led to that evening in November, and that evening that led to an opportunity to submit to an anthology curated by Dionne Brand, The Unpublished City. The anthology is an initiative of IFOA (International Festival of Literary Authors)/ Toronto Lit Up to promote diverse writing in Toronto. The anthology features 18 writers from the Greater Toronto Area.

I have a short flash fiction piece in it, “Mars in Scorpio”, a piece just shy of 600 words. It was the first creative piece I wrote this year. It was the first piece I wrote in a long time. It was the first piece of fiction that poured out of me. I credit it to that evening in November. (I also credit it to my partner who suggested I use a personal story to write this one, and the more I say about how lucky I am to have someone like him, it will never be enough. It is also happenstance in so many ways, our meeting, our being together, but that’s another story for another time.)

5 questions with IFOA

Self explanatory.

Now, almost six months into this year, I have more such pieces since. Pieces that have similarly poured out me. My friend, Heather Olaveson, says, they were waiting. All I needed was a push.

Here’s a toast to that November evening.

My five questions about writing with IFOA can be read here.

A little something on the anthology in Quill and Quire can be read here.

The anthology is available through BookThug here.

Doyali and I.

Before the event at Harbourfront Centre. With Doyali Islam, whose poem “43rd Parallel” is also in The Unpublished City. June 22 2017.

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Becoming Chikni Chameli in 3 Steps

I encountered Chikni Chameli in the December of 2011, mid afternoon at the Calcutta airport, waiting to board a flight to Indore. I was on my way to a friend’s cousin’s wedding. The overhead televisions kept blaring the annoying music of the item song, in sync with its provocative lyrics and gestures. Men and women alike had their eyes glued to the rhythms of Katrina Kaif’s thumkas and chest thrusts.

Fast forward to December 2013. Calcutta, again. 2 am. I am hunched over my laptop, seeking inspiration to finish my final assignment for Carolyn Smart’s fiction workshop class. Write a flash fiction piece, under 500 words. There are no parameters, except for the word limit.

I finally find inspiration , through another writer I admire. And, a stream of unconsciousness. Who knows where inspiration really comes from?

Several drafts, and a few rejections later, my piece sees the light of day.

My short fiction, “Becoming Chikni Chameli in 3 Steps,” is up at Matrix Magazine. You can read it here. It is a part of their trans issue, edited by Lucas Crawford.

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up to date

It’s been 3 days ish since I submitted my comprehensive exam (3 short essays), a few hours since I finished with most of my teaching assistant duties (marking) – although grades need to be uploaded – and am a few days away from moving back home. I should be exhilarated, right? I should be relaxed… but like most of my life in action, the tinge of unfinished business graces the air around me, and until I am done (which I am never, usually, as there is always something unfinished), I cannot breathe.

It’s also the 6 year celebration of this blog. Happy birthday, us!

I have some news that I guess I should dispense with. I have my first ever publication forthcoming in a Canadian magazine this spring. Cause for (some) celebration, I suppose. It’s a short fiction piece from a collection of short stories that I have been working on for the past – 3? 4?  – years.  I performed the piece recently at Laurier. It’s one of my most difficult/best pieces till now (I say that every time, I know), and merde! I wasn’t stage shy at all… no shaking feet, or quivering heart. It seems I have conquered that godawful stage fright thing I always had.

matrix

Well, then.

I am so happy with what I have been writing in the past few months. I guess I have sort of been on a creative high considering I am in love with a writer; also, a dear friend; also, my partner; also, the person I am going to marry.

There, that’s it… for now.

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The Erotics of a Queer Fantastique

Source:

Source: “Hallucinations” http://xkcd.com/203/

This came to me in a dream.

Sometimes, dreams hold the keys to your creative innards, the threads of which you must then pull out and knit together, make a boutonniere of sorts, and make a peace offering.

To cleanse the self. And, to gather your innermost self.

Sometimes, it is the only way to release that part of you, to release what is inevitably you, and yours.

My short fiction piece (my most queer piece, and I do not say this lightly), “Regular,” is in the last issue (themed: The Erotics of a Queer Fantastique) of LIES/ISLE. You can read it here. And, trust me, there is nothing regular about this one.

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Nomination for Best of the Net

Cover image for the 2012 Best of the Net anthology, Sundress Publications.

“Adrienne’s Planetarium” by Rhonda Lott; Cover image for the 2012 Best of the Net anthology, Sundress Publications.

I am delighted to share that my short fiction piece, “Portrait of an Ex-Lover,” which appeared in the Spring issue of Rose Red Review, has been nominated for 2013 Best of the Net. This is my first nomination.

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