Category Archives: rant

When a Poem Expires

chickenlonelycoupon

There was – well, is. It still exists. – a poem that I wrote a little over two years ago. It was a reactionary poem to an event that sort of tilted my world at the time. Tilted it beyond a rose coloured view. It was a poem that made my insides squirm whenever I read it. It made me uncomfortable as it recalled the event in minute detail. Yes, it was a very uncomfortable poem and an extremely personal one.

The poem found a home in a magazine I admired. After four rejections at other places, this magazine agreed to take it in. I felt as if a poor lost puppy roaming around in the rain had suddenly been offered a home by kind patrons. It warmed my heart. The world would hear my pain.

The magazine sat on it. They sat and sat, and warmed their behinds on it. Other poems were published, but my accepted poem did not see the light of day.

The immediacy of my pain began to fade, as the poem slowly rotted.

I got over that two year old moment and started viewing the world through my kind of negotiated happiness. And even as I personally grew, the poem itself didn’t. It had been stalled before its unveiling. An aging debutante.

I sent several polite inquiries. Se-ve-ral. They were met with silence.

No white noise. No static. Just an unrelenting silence. A void, if you please.

And now, after all this time, the aging puppy has passed away, its memory a stranger.

I should just bury it and move on.

markanderson

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Writing an Awesomesauce Novel isn’t easy. Please understand. OkayThanksBye.

Sigh. Story of my Life.

Sigh. Story of my Life.

It’s no secret that I haven’t been writing my novel. Okay, maybe it has been. Kind of. The truth is I have been finding this novel writing very cumbersome. It has been coming to me in spurts, like tetris blocks that do not belong together. Or, broken jigsaw pieces.

It doesn’t help when people who know about this novel-in-progress, ask me, “So, how is that novel coming along?”

How about you shut the eff up? No offence, but really.

Aunties, uncles, friends, friends-of-friends, foes, random person I just met, mom, dad, sis etc… I apologize in advance, but I am in no mood to kowtow with you on my novel, okay? It’s my novel. I am writing it. I will finish it when I think it is finished. So, if you will please bugger off until then, it will be much appreciated.

To boost my inspiration, I have started working on my short story ideas. It is easier to tackle the short form. For the most part, my approach is very clinical (very similar to my academic essay writing tactics):

1. Make an outline

2. Detail the outline

3. Follow the outline

It works every time.

Well, almost every time.

When it comes to poetry or flash pieces, I have taken the free form route. You know,  just write? Unlikely narratives have emerged that way.

But this novel… it already has a structure- in my head. The details, however, come in bursts.

Yesterday, for example, while in that zone of half asleep, half wakefulness, I wrote an entire excerpt. In my head, of course. Then, I fell off the edge (not literally). In the afternoon, I forgot all about it, until something I was reading triggered the memory. I sat and jotted it down. A novel excerpt, complete! Ta-da! You may clap, now.

I suppose there’s no method to the madness. The modus operandi differs from person to person. So far, this cut-piece method seems to be working. I have written more in the past two months than I have since September.

I have even joined an intensive writing group in the hopes of beating my quarter written novel into a recognizable shape. A shapely mass. A shapely mess?

Anyway, just a word of caution in parting. The next time you are compelled to ask me, “How is the novel writing going?”, don’t be surprised if I ask you to mind your own beeswax. And not too sweetly, either.

And this.

And this (for you-know-who-you-are).

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Fasting and Feasting

I am slightly upset, but I am trying not to show it. Writers are supposed to have personas that are never upset, and ever smiling. If we are upset, we are supposed to pour out our upset-ness into our creativity.

Last week, three of my poems were accepted by the same publication. After I did a little jig around my bedroom, I realised my ghazal was going to be up first. I was happy. It had been written with a specific purpose in mind. Today would have been the perfect day for its inauguration.

But no, the editors decided for reasons of their own to publish one of my other poems. I would never argue with an editor unless they messed with my actual work (which thankfully, has happened only twice in my memory, and both of the editors I am afraid, were rather inept.). So, even though I love the publication and the very approachable editors, I am slightly upset. Slightly pouting. Slightly sulky.

What a start to a weekend, eh?

My poem, “Fasting and Feasting,” based on one of my photographs of the same name, is now in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure. You can read it here.

Two more of my poems and a short pulp fiction piece are forthcoming in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure. Watch this space.

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Good Indian Girls Do Not Waste Time Writing Books

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 24th May 2011.

*FYI: Beti = daughter, Samajdar = sensible, Thik hai = Alright, Jaldi = Hurry

“You want to do whaaat???!!”

Write a novel. Now calm the eff down.

Ever wonder how it would be to take a hiatus from life to follow that one niggling dream that dances on the edge of your consciousness day-in and day-out? I do. All the time. And, being an Indian girl let me tell you, it isn’t easy. An Indian girl is a ticking time bomb.

“Do you want to be the only thirty-something to marry the leftovers? Life isn’t Sex and the City.”

Jeez. Leftovers. That’s what my dad calls the baldies and the divorcees, since that’s who you will get if you decide to get married post-thirty. Why, thank you. That does mean I have a neat little bracket of five years left, right? Right?

Wrong. If you are a brown girl baby, you will know that we have two very neat choices (no, infanticide is not one of them): academics or marriage. Ever since I started my stint at grad school with my Master’s in English, daddy dearest laid off with all the “beti*, don’t you want to get married?” Now that my year is winding down, and I have to decide for either the PhD route, or the working girl route, there it is again. I am reminded of my expiry date, my limited shelf life, my doomed future as a single brown girl. See, Indian parents do not hand you a Kit Kat when you decide to take a break from life. A break from life is a luxury that does not exist in the Indian dictionary.

I don’t ask for much. Just want to be a Mistry or a Roy. Maybe, a Lahiri at least. Just not a contrived cow. “A contrived what?” you ask. A contrived c-o-w. Now what is a contrived cow? The market of fiction is filled with contrived cows. In other words, books that pass for literature but are instead filled with superficial plots driven by clichés and contrived platitudes. Books that are great for mass market sellouts, but won’t be remembered twenty years down the line.

There is nothing wrong with being a mass market writer. To each his own. The books sell. You make millions and then you are forgotten. If you like money and fifteen minutes of fame, you might consider the route of mass market. But some mass market writers know how to write and make money, while some are just contrived cows who end up making money by chance. Jeffery Archer and John Grisham belong to the former category. Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon also belong to the former category but to a lesser degree, while Twilight series writer Stephanie Meyer is a contrived cow who just got lucky.

I don’t want to become a non-contrived-cow mass market writer either. That is taking the easy way out. I want to create literature. Get short listed for a Booker, if not win one. I want people saying my name with a hushed reverence within literary circles. (Small dreams, sigh.) Or, atleast give it a try. See if I can. How on earth can I concentrate on creating history if I have small versions of myself crawling around me, tugging on my t-shirt and competing for my attention? So, here I am. Dreaming of taking off for a few months and writing my first novel. Yes, you read that right. I am still at the dreaming stage. But even that comes with restrictions.

“No, no. You can’t write on that… it’s too controversial!”

Err, dad. Are you a realist fiction expert? No? Didn’t think so. Back down, maybe?

“But, but, BUT! Can’t you write on something else?”

Hmm. Can I? Sure. Do I want to? Nope.

Now if I had said instead, “Daddy dearest, I want to get married. Here are some high resolution photos of me in an Indian and a Western outfit (you know, to show the purrrfect blend of Eastern and Western values. As if it can be discerned from some lousy pictures the high blends that I am made of!) that you can put on Shaadi.com. Jaldi!* I am so ready to give up my freedom and make babies,” I would have been rewarded with the aren’t-I-lucky-to-have-such-a-samajdar-beti* look. Now, who doesn’t want to be one of those samajdar betis? Do I see hands? No? Shy, are we?

Instead, this not-so-samajdar-beti decides to take a year off from academia, fly off to the city of her birth and start working on her first novel. Yes, he says finally. Thik hai, go. I am sure you will meet someone in India.

Indian parents, I tell you. Will never change.

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“Hello, I am a Missionary. I am here to convert You.”

An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 29th January 2011

It’s a quiet lazy Sunday morning. You are sleeping in on that one day of the week you can call your own. You are wearing your teddy bear t-shirt that you won’t be caught dead in when you are outside, but you keep it anyway because it’s comfortable and you can wear it on Sundays. Then the bell rings and shatters your temporary calm existence. 

You wait for a bit. You hope someone else will get it. But since they are also hoping for the same, there is no movement within the house. The bell rings again and you stumble groggily to open the door. Its cold and you are blind without your glasses. So, when you see two well-dressed strangers smiling widely at you, you smile back uncertainly, wishing that you had grabbed your glasses when you had woken up.

“Hello! How are you this morning?”

“Good, thanks.”

 You are secretly wishing that they would just come to the point instead of starting with pleasantries so that you can go back to your warm bed and maybe go back to that incredible dream you were having.

“Can we have a moment of your time?”

 Umm, no. Because you clearly woke me up and all I want to do is sleep!

“Yeah, sure” you say, because you have been brought up to be polite to perfect strangers.

 “We would like to invite you to our meeting this afternoon,” and they hand you a pamphlet with the word “God” on it.

Suddenly, you snap awake. You are faintly annoyed at being woken up to be invited to a religious meeting.

 “I am not really interested. I have my own faith,” you try to wriggle out of the situation without being rude.

“We understand, but why don’t you keep this and take a look?”

And, you take the pamphlet and throw it in the garbage right after you close the door.

Sound like a familiar Sunday morning scenario? See, I am not one to write about religion. To me, religion is too private to have any kind of conversation on. In fact, when there was a huge global debate going on about whether there should be a mosque on the former World Trade Center site, I kept my nose completely clean of the issue. If anyone asked me what my opinion was, I just smiled weakly and changed the topic.

So, when you come to my house and wake me up in the hopes of having me come to your meetings and in the faint anticipation that maybe you will be able to convert me to your religion, well, I don’t appreciate it. I am happy with my faith and if I needed to change my religion, I would come find you.

I understand that you get some kind of brownie points from God or something if you can convert one person in your lifetime, but I am sure God would not want people to go around disturbing the peace and quiet of people’s off days sending out invitations like pushy salesmen. To me, God is like a Tantra t-shirt I once saw that read: God is too big to fit into one religion. In fact, I am sure God is too busy with important matters to bother about keeping track of your supposed brownie points. But then again, this is one conversation I will not be having with you.

I would not even have written this blog post if it wasn’t for the incident that happened yesterday. There I was. Walking down the snow covered pavement, ignoring the world in order to catch a Go Bus to come home for the weekend, when I was accosted by a smiling undergrad with a holy book.

 “Hello!” he said, grinning at me.

I racked my brain hard, wondering if he was one of my students and I was somehow forgetting a face. And, if he was, how awful! Then, I noticed a name tag and a bunch of “God” pamphlets.

 “Uh… I am not interested,” I said and kept on walking.

“Do you know anyone who is?” he wondered aloud after me.

“No, I am sorry,” was my response. But perhaps what I should have said was, don’t you think if I knew someone I would have directed you to them to deflect attention from myself? Also, don’t you think it’s rude to accost people on a cold winter Friday afternoon in the hopes of garnering attention for whatever religious group you seem to be representing? And, don’t you think if grown up people that litter this university campus were interested in looking for God, they would come find you?

So, hello Missionary, I am not interested. And, please leave me alone.

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Breaking News: New Year Resolutions Fail… Once Again

Remember that scene in Alice in Wonderland (the Disney cartoon, not the Johnny Depp mish-mash) where the caterpillar suddenly metamorphoses into a butterfly? Is that what we hope for when we indulge into a deluge of New Year resolutions every year, before forgetting them a few days later?

Not that there is anything wrong with New Year resolutions. Some would argue they are good for you; they give you hope. I am not sure they give as much hope as they temporarily delude you into thinking that there is hope.

What if we, for a change, did not make any resolutions? What if we didn’t make promises of grandeur to ourselves only to fail once again? What if we stepped into the New Year accepting ourselves for who we are?

Changes do not happen overnight, and just a change from 2010 to 2011 should not automatically make you a whole different proactive person. I know I won’t stop procrastinating just because it’s a brand new year. Sure, I can promise myself; I can try not to give in; but like an elastic band that has been stretched too far, I will eventually snap back into place.

The New Year is supposed to be about hope, about joy, about getting drunk and forgetting your worries with simple delusions. But this year, I promise not to make any more resolutions. Since resisting the New Year tradition of resolutions is futile, this, my friend, is mine.

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All Work and No Play Makes Me a Grad Student

An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 4th November 2010.

I have been meaning to write this post for a while now. But I have been busy. With grad school. 

Life as a graduate student is overrated. For one, you are always over exhausted. 

Remember that day when you received that acceptance letter in the mail? That absolute joy that filled you when you realised that you would be joining the world of academic elites, something you had deemed impossible? Remember that smugness you experienced when you announced proudly to all those waiting in the wings to judge you by your future prospects? Remember? 

Well, this “joy” is short-lived. It is squashed out of you through over work.

“Now, what is a little over work when a degree with a coveted Master or Doctorate next to your name on an official sheet of paper awaits you at the end of your journey?” you ask belligerently.

I would say nothing, except for the fact that I:

  1. Plan my life around naps: Yes, naps. An undisturbed all night’s sleep is out of the question when you are a grad student. Sleep is an inconvenience. There is just always too much to read, too much to write, too much to do!
  2. Read books with names like Dangerous Liaisons*, except they are books on feminist theory on gender and politics.
  3. Live from weekend to weekend: Weekends mean longer naps.
  4. Dream of the day when I could wake up and go back to being a carefree undergrad student: Sometimes, these dreams can become nightmares when you wake up and realise that they are nothing but dreams.
  5. Want to kill myself when I have to read endless badly written first year papers: You conveniently forget that you used to be one of them.
  6. Marvel at the lack of creativity of excuses on the part of first year students: Yes, you have been there and done ALL of that. So, when a student comes to you and says he couldn’t hand in an essay on time because he accidentally hit a deer on the way to school and then his car broke down, after which he lost his way to the university from the car repair store, you raise a sceptical eyebrow and go “Huh! Really?”
  7. Wish that I had a life beyond naps and endless reading, and then remind myself that I should be lucky to be in grad school, and then wish I had a life… all over again.
  8. Silently plot to kill my students when they hand in unstapled papers and justify themselves by saying, “but I folded the corners”. No shit.
  9. Attend 8:30 morning lectures of first year classes that I don’t belong to, but I am a TA (teaching assistant) for: You have forgotten what 8:30 classes used to be like, especially after you vowed in your first year never to take one again. Karma can be quite a bitch, huh?
  10. Nap in my office in between classes: How else do you think I get through the day?

 Ok, back to my books now.

*Dangerous Liaisons is a 1997 collection of essays on politics of gender, race and identity, edited by Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti and Ella Shohat.

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