Category Archives: Writing about writing

seven years strong: an ode to survival

On April 22nd of this year, WordPress kindly sent me a notification reminding me of completing seven years of this blog business. Little did it know (or, acknowledge) my intermittent growing silence. I have been quiet, most often than not, on and off in the past two and a half years. My closest friends, allies, even some foes, know why. The past two and a half years have been spent in a cloud of anxiety and depression, both triggering the other, more often than not.

My tongue has been in exile in the process. I kept telling myself if only I could convince myself to survive, I could conquer anything. Isn’t it sad how much more difficult it is to admit our fallibilities?

Finding my writing (and political) voice took letting go, took recognizing my limits, took giving up in order to move forward. The desire to sprint hasn’t left me, but the older, wiser, survived-a-battle (both inner and outer) me knows better. This reborn me knows that recognizing limits is not failure, that recognizing failure is not giving up.

It took me seven years to find my writing voice. For the first time in my life, when anyone asks me, “are you a writer?” I hesitate a little at first, and then say, yes.

I started this year with a flash fiction piece that poured out of me, “Mars in Scorpio,” which will be published in Toronto Lit Up’s The Unpublished City anthology; a project curated and launched by Dionne Brand. I will be reading this piece with 17 other brilliant writers on June 22nd at Harbourfront in Toronto. These are big deals for me. Giant leaps for little me.

I also had a provocative essay that questioned the problematic and debatable canon of Canlit published in FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity)‘s Program in early May. The essay was accepted almost two years ago by a big publication in Canada and then revised a million times, and then rejected on some dubious reason (they wanted me to rewrite the whole thing minus the discussion of Writing Thru Race conference held in early 2015 in Toronto). It was largely a “white” publication, as their editorial board seemed to indicate. I never responded and instead submitted it to FOLD when I saw their call. It was a good decision. It was the universe sending me a message.

Finally, I have been writing a lot this year. I wrote a short story in February which is currently under consideration at a Canadian magazine. I am also working on a short story at the moment (which is taking on the length of a novella). And, I am inundated with story ideas, one of them as a children’s book. I am buzzing with creative energy, a thing that was not possible as recently as December. I hear voices that speak to me, that tell me their stories, that lead me to unknown places. I am no longer questioning whether I am a writer. I just know.

There is another part of me that is excited for the academic project I have undertaken, my big fat dissertation. My own idea, developed by me alone, with necessary input from a fine committee. The best possible committee I can have for the project I have undertaken. I am blessed. So very blessed. Sometimes, there is a negotiation, a conflict between my two worlds, but that is a negotiation I have to engage with as I go forward.

And finally, there has been this new desire in me to give back to the community. Curating and running Balderdash Reading Series has been a part of that desire. I was fortunate enough to receive a Graduate Enhancement Fund for the next year to run the series. There are other initiatives I am looking into as well that will allow me to engage with the larger community outside, perhaps even build a bridge between those in school and storytelling? I don’t know. I am exploring possibilities.

A large part of this has been possible because of a few generous people in my life. To name a few: Doyali Islam. Phoebe Wang. Jing Jing Chang. Beth Marie. Bilan Hashi. Heather Olaveson. Samah Katerji. Maggie Clark. My mother, Jharna Sur. And my love, my heart of hearts, Krishnakumar Sankaran. Thank you for giving me so much, and asking for nothing in return. Thank you for helping me survive.

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no more pretending

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“The March” by Abigail Gray Swartz for The New Yorker; Source: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/cover-story-2017-02-06

 

It’s been 2017 for a while, and a good year at that. So far. I can’t help but caution myself against changing winds that often, if not always, upset what we call our “positive outlook”.

Last year was – how shall I put it? – adversarial, at best. Yet, it was also the year I learnt the most, the most important lesson being, no more pretending. And, that is also my resolution this year, just being true to who I am, and being self-aware of my limitations. Just because I have become an expert at keeping a low profile, people automatically assume I have my shit together.

Well, bullshit.

I am still getting there, and I have been blessed with a strong community of people around me, sometimes like godsend in a single moment, sometimes always there, like an invisible umbilical cord. Yes, definitely lucky and blessed. Friends in unlikely places, a partner who has helped me survive, family who always support (although with doses of reprimands mixed in), and a community of writers I am just beginning to know.

This year is going to be a game-changer, and not just because I am getting married. As a writer too, I know things will happen, and happen for the best. I can feel it in my gut.

For now, there’s academia. There’s life (and Krishna, my life). There’s the reading series I have curated (it deserves its own blog post), and other little nuggets of opportunities that will slowly unfold as the year goes on. For now, I brace myself. For now, I am ready.

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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 also have a poetry manuscript in progress. 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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Words are all I have

repressed mem

I never quite understand the process of writing, what connections I make in my unconscious mind, and how (or, why) these connections show up in a particular story. Isn’t it strange that I am a stranger to my modus operandi as a writer of fiction?

Take last month, for example. There I was alone in my parents’ house, in the middle of the night, in bed with the cat, stroking it absently while it shuddered as it dreamt, taking me back to a memory of someone shuddering in the exact same way a long time ago. And even as I lay there in the dark, words started forming in my mind, leading to a story I knew I wanted to write.

I think what it boils down to is this: I remember all kinds of shit. Random details about people I do not talk to anymore, people who are not even indirectly connected to my life in any way, and yet, memories of little moments stay with me, their quirkiest habits, their deepest confessions, their most obscure fears.

I think it’s the way my mind is trained – as a writer – to observe and record. That even if I want to escape, I am a prisoner of my mind.

All of this is fodder for my work, of course. That even when I am not thinking of these randomnesses consciously, they slip through into my words, jolting me back to a vivid past, making me relive a moment I thought I had long forgotten.

I used to think it was a curse. But not anymore.

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Notes from a Wannabe Novelist

inspiration

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. – Matthew 7:7

There are days I wait for inspiration to strike me, knowing fully well that true writers can grab inspiration out of thin air, and make words up from even the most mundane. And then, I remind myself that what I imagine to be a true writer is really an idealization of what a “true” writer looks like.

In reality, all writers experience the void of self-doubt ever so often, and that self-doubt itself is a part of the process.

So, I stretch my hands out, my palms open, waiting for an offering. A sign of sorts.

And there you are, handing me exactly what I need, your question telling me what I need to know, the only affirmation I need in myself:

Don’t you want to become a novelist?

Don’t I?

I accept, holding your question close to me, reveling in the lightness it brings to my writer’s being, that indescribable feeling of contentment, that unnameable vital energy I have been running after, hoping that it will solve the puzzle of me being who I think I am. And accepting that conviction isn’t enough. The “doing” is also important.

Or else, how am I supposed to become a goddamn novelist? How else am I going to say that, yes, yes, I am! I am a writer.

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When Poems come to Roost

venn

I rarely write poetry nowadays.

The last time I wrote a poem, it was for a boy I had just met. He was leaving, I wanted him to have something of me to remember by etc. You know how that story goes. Especially if you are a poet, then you have definitely been in that boat at some point.

Most of my poems are personal. Some of them are political. While others are healing.

And then, there are those that are all three, like that sweet spot in a beautiful Venn diagram.

Two of my poems, “Badaun Sisters” and “Origa-me,” are in The Feminist Wire. You can read them here.

Also(!), The Feminist Wire happens to be one of the publications on my Top 30 list!

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Filed under poetry, Writing about writing