Tag Archives: academia

How, then, to begin, to begin?

If the subject – here, the writer of colour – is unaware of the absence of speech, then where does he/she begin? Or, as Roy Miki asks, “How, then, to begin, to begin?” – an excerpt from the final essay I wrote for Dr. Smaro Kamboureli’s graduate English class at University of Toronto end April 2015.

On 24th November 2015, I was invited by Dr. Jing Jing Chang to give a short talk to her undergrad class on Bollywood films at Wilfrid Laurier University. The talk addresses my existence as a South Asian person/academic/artist in Canada, and negotiating that identity through creative writing and academia.

The talk ends with a performance of my most recent work of poetry, “elephant in the room.”

Since I don’t completely despise how I sound, here is the talk in its entirety:

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under event, poetry, Thinking Aloud, Writing about writing

W.T.F.

book

Disclaimer: This one got a little personal.

I have been questioning my life choices lately.

Here I am. Finishing up my first year as a doctoral candidate in English. On the cusp of thirty.

Not that age should be a factor. I am not worried about getting older. Hell, I am actually ready for the big 3-0 (still several months away). Nor am I in a rush to get married, having recently extricated myself from a relationship that wasn’t really working that well.

No, I am just wondering why I haven’t done it yet. Written the book, you know? There was a time when I saw myself a published author by the time I hit my thirties.

A joke really, considering that one only gets one chance at that first book. Fuck up, and you are fucked.

Pardon the language, but really, W.T.F?

A writer friend who is also as engaged in academia as I am states that she is unable – unable – to be both a creative writer, and an academician.

I beg to differ. I can be both. For me, it’s not about the switching between the academician and the creative writer that’s the problem. But the mental space. The time one gives oneself to become both – not necessarily at the same time – and do it well.

Well, well. That is the key word, isn’t it?

How does one do it well? How does one know that one is doing it well? And, how does one do it and know that one is not fucking up?

I have realized these are questions that have their own answers, depending on who you are asking.

Me? I am still searching for my own versions of truth.

But I feel them shimmering. Hovering just out of reach.

But there they are. Right there. See?

2 Comments

Filed under Thinking Aloud, Writing about writing

Breakfast with Teju* (Cole)

Teju Cole, author of Open City (2011)

*Because we are on a first name basis now. 

Yes, it’s true. I had breakfast with Teju Cole.

But of course, like every life changing event (because yes, it is indeed a life changing event for an aspiring writer to have a meal with a world famous writer), this one had a series of causalities that led up to it.

For one, I happened to be in Kingston this year because I am a student at Queen’s University.

Two, I am at Queen’s because I decided to do a second Master’s. I mean, how many people do you know who willingly signs up for a second Master’s? Exactly.

Three, I am friends with Bilan Hashi, whom I had met with as a consequence of her being a student in my program at Queen’s.

Four, Teju Cole happened to be in Kingston this particular year for the Kingston Writers Fest.

And five, both Teju Cole and Bilan happen to follow each other on Twitter.

Of course, Bilan may have never actually messaged Mr. Cole to meet with aspiring writers like herself and her friends (like me) if one of her acquaintances hadn’t done the same with Junot Diaz. Which had worked. Because not all famous writers were stuck up people and actually cared about meeting other writers-in-progress. Hmmm. Who knew?

So, this was the morning of 27th September. Bilan and I are in the lobby of Holiday Inn on the waterfront. We have a breakfast appointment. With Teju Cole.

It’s 9:30. We are on time. I haven’t had more than an hour’s sleep the night before on account of Foucault but had dragged myself out of bed at 8:00 because you didn’t miss these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities unless you were stupid.

We are contemplating whether to approach the lady at the reception, who is eyeing us suspiciously anyway, when the elevator doors open and Bilan goes, “There he is!”

Teju is all smiles.

There is a round of hellos and handshaking and introductions.

We are about to head into the hotel restaurant when we are stopped by none other than Michael Ondaatje.

Was that a sharp intake of breath? Hold on. There’s more to come.

“Teju. We are leaving at ten,” he says. He is talking of their drive to Toronto that morning. Teju leaves on a plane to New York later that day.

“Ten? Can we leave at 10:10? Or, 10:15? I was going to have breakfast with my friends,” and here, Teju introduces us, “Sanchari and Bilan”.

We shake hands with Mr. Ondaatje (while slightly in awe, if I may add).

“You can have 10:20,” Mr. Ondaatje smiles.

We walk into the restaurant, take our seats, and order coffee and breakfast. While Bilan goes for pancakes and I for a garden omelette with fries, Teju settles for a croissant.

The conversation is organic. We discuss our research interests. Bilan talks of her experience of living the underground life in Jeddah, to which Teju makes up a first line of a possible short story where the narrator finds herself snorting coke with a mother of three in Jeddah. We laugh. He shows us Variations on the Body by Michel Serres, a book he is reading at the moment. He tells us about how he quit his doctoral degree halfway through just to finish his novel. We talk of (Jhumpa) Lahiri, who he’s friends with, and whom I admire.

Then he follows me on Twitter right in front of me. And soon, the half an hour is up and I have forgotten the questions I had planned to ask him. He had not at all been what I had expected. Friendly but not superficial. Intellectual without being pretentious.

Before we can protest, he has paid for our breakfast and scampered away with an impish smile.

For a few seconds, Bilan and I are in a daze.

We solemnly agree that yes, we can now successfully cross ‘having breakfast with Teju Cole’ off of our bucket lists. Like it’s no big deal. Yup, none at all.

4 Comments

Filed under anecdote

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.

7 Comments

Filed under article, rant, Writing about writing