Tag Archives: storytelling

story of a single brown canadian woman’s body

 

If you have been following the last few posts, then you are aware of the fact that I have been working on some new stuff. Rather, this “new stuff” has become a marker of everything that I now produce, creatively.

I am not sure what opened up the floodgates, but somehow, all the inhibitions I had as a writer have been shed. I am unafraid to be vocal.

And the words… they just keep on coming.

My poem, “story of a single brown canadian woman’s body,” is a part of Media Diversified’s newly launched Tumblr Poetry Series. Some of the issues I extrapolate in the talk in my previous post are evident in this poem, as well. Go see.

Leave a comment

Filed under poetry

The Man, the Artist… my Dadu

Dadu and I

It’s five years to the day. That’s how long it has been since he left.

I remember the day I got the news. I was in Professor Ruth Knechtel’s satire class. I received a call from dad, and ignored it. Later, when I called back, mom gave me the news. Dadu had passed away the night before.

A lot of people don’t know this. But it was Dadu who  instilled in me the love of storytelling. The earliest stories I can remember were told to me by Dadu. They were tales of his childhood in his ancestral village, located in current Bangladesh, formerly a part of British India.

Dadu is the reason I am who I am. He dared to follow his dreams, and broke away from the family business. My ancestors were traditionally traders of paan, a leaf that is popular in India as a mouth freshener post-meals. He came to Calcutta as a young man to become an artist. And today, I can dare to follow my dreams of becoming a writer, thanks to him.

Paan

He worked for Bombay Photos, and perhaps, his most popular art piece is the Nirma Washing Powder dancing girl.

Nirma Washing Powder dancing girl

I was his favourite grandchild. And, I am not even the youngest. He had an unshakeable belief that I was his mother, reincarnated. Sure, it’s true that my face shape and bone structure bear an uncanny resemblance to my great-grandmother, but that could very well be because we share the same genes. That is what I tried to tell him. He brushed it off. Apparently, when my mother was pregnant with me, my great granny came into Dadu’s dreams and told him, “Son, I am coming to your family.” That’s the story he firmly stuck to.

We were close. I dreamt of him often after he passed away. He would come into my dreams and impart bits of wisdom to me. I wonder whether those dreams were a projection of my own desires, or whether it was Dadu coming to give me a sort of closure. I would like to believe the latter.

But he hasn’t been coming into my dreams for over two years now. I think he has either passed into that place where all souls go to, or if there is reincarnation, then he has been reborn already.

I know I will feel a familiar vacuum when I visit Calcutta this year.

I miss you, Dadu. A lot.

7 Comments

Filed under anecdote

Of Short Stories and Urban Sho(r)ts

Obviously, this cartoon has nothing to do with this post. Obviously.

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 15th August 2011.

[Cue in Eminem song] One Shot… One Opportunity 

Back in Feb, I chanced upon an announcement on Asia Writes. A competition. One chance, one opportunity… to be published*. I teetered on indecision. Face it, my inner demon said. Don’t be such a ninny. If you are good, you are good. If not, you can resign yourself to being an academician.

Well, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being an academician. I mean, no one can point fingers and call you pedestrian. But writing- the only reason I even started this blog– was what I was meant for. Right?

If I have to ask you that question, then I guess I am still not sure as of yet.

So, anyway, there I was back in Feb. On the brink of indecision. Oscillating between end term papers and an idea for a story for a competition. Jeebs. Not like I was actually going to win, I told myself. Break and enter. No one gets hurt. At worst, there will be disappointment.  And, a short story to take the edge off.

With assurances and reassurances, I held my breath. And, jumped in. Sent in my story within the deadline. The story was titled “The Crows’ Feast” (No, that is not a typo. Yes, there are definitely a lot of crows!). The story was based upon an incident I had heard about from my father on a repeat loop over the years. It was about a child’s single burning desire that … (for the rest, you have to read the story). The images from the story had been jammed into places in my brain that I could not- and did not want to – get rid of. It was a personal story, and the emotion in the retelling always caught me off guard. Not the emotion of the storyteller. Oh no, sir! Rather, my own emotion. The anger I felt. Somehow, I identified with the child protagonist of the tale. Not having experienced abject poverty ever, this was all in my head, of course. But each time, without fail, I wanted to grab the villain’s (in my opinion) beard, and rip it off with pleasure. Don’t be alarmed. Sometimes, writers can have violent tendencies that they turn into profit. Or, die in anger. Whichever comes first, I suppose. Well, regardless, I had a story that was sent in to the competition. Fingers crossed, I relaxed. And, went back to academia.

A second shot? W.T.F?!

A month after my submission, around mid May, I received an email from one of the judges. Before you start jumping to conclusions, like I inevitably did, let me add that he was not writing to me in the capacity of a judge. Rather, he had chanced upon my articles on Helter Skelter, and from there, onto my blog. He was writing to offer me the opportunity to contribute a story to one of the anthologies that were ultimately going to publish the stories- hold your breath- shortlisted in the competition I had submitted to a month ago! So, to break it down for you slow ones, he had no inkling about the fact that I had even submitted a story. He was basically offering me a chance to jump the line and head straight to the VIP area.

You know when you are about to board one of those long 22 hour flights, and the lady at the counter goes “we would like to upgrade you to business class. Have a nice flight!”?  You know how you rejoice inside to know that you won’t be flying economic class afterall, and can get drunk on champagne as  many times as you want even though you hate the stuff? Yes, that was me. On the inside.

But how could he do that? Well, he was the Founder and Managing Director of the publishing house that was holding this competition. He was handing me an opportunity to submit another story. So, whether I won the “Urban Shots Short Stories Competition” or not, I was getting a second shot at Urban Shots.

Here is some of what he wrote:

I’ve read some of your essays/ posts on your blog and on Helter Skelter (I like a lot of what I’ve read)… I also head a newly set up publishing firm – Grey Oak Publishers. I’m wondering if you would like to do a piece on the urban woman or the urban identity for an anthology titled, Urban Shots – Crossroads. Do let me know…

This time I dipped into my memory bank for another story that often haunted me. Again, my father had played the storyteller. A warning tale, I think. Atleast, I assume that’s why this story was told to me over and over again. But something in it had kept me from forgetting it. It was the story of a Dalit woman who had to pay for love with love. After five revisions, I sent “She Got Off Easy” in. This time the response was prompt. As it turns out, I made the cut. With the contract signed within the next week, the pressure of the competition eased off. I could lose, and I would still have a story published.

Of Longlists and Shortlists

And then, the long list made its appearance on July 10th 2011. I had made it. Ironically, the story had been short listed for the same anthology where “She’s Got Off Easy” was going to see the light of day. Was this a sign? Would my first story make it to the short list too?

When dreams come true…

Since this story has a happy ending… yes, it did. I will be a proud published almost-writer with two short stories in one anthology. Je-sus. There is hope for me… yet.

*Technically, two chances. We were allowed to submit two short stories per entry per person. Due to the lack of time in my life at that time, I ended up submitting only one. I guess everything worked out for the best.

Titled Urban Shots – Crossroads (Grey Oak/Westland, 2012), the book is available for order on Flipkart.

3 Comments

Filed under anecdote, fiction, Writing about writing

Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Arabian Night(mare)s

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 27th June 2011.

Once upon a time, in a book rife with lies, Princess Scheherazade spent one thousand and one nights in bed with Prince Shahriyar… talking.

Poor child. Not a single glass of cool sherbet was offered to soothe that lovely throat that may have gone hoarse as she spoke to save her life.

Princess Scheherazade. Of noble birth and noble poise. She gladly gave herself up to satisfy the prince’s twisted sense of humour where he took virgin brides to bed one night, and had them beheaded the next. His reason was fuelled by a fear of infidelity on their part. Notice how he sacrificed virgin brides after he had deflowered them. Ironic. No one ever questioned the prince’s virginity. Or, sanity, for that matter (I wonder if he was afraid that he wouldn’t get his seventy-two virgins after death, and was trying to make up an equivalent in human numbers).

But Scheherazade? Did her heart pulsate wildly as she made a careful note to appeal to the prince’s mental libido, while keeping his physical libido at bay? Did the imagined swish of a sword at the guillotine haunt her dreams, as she struggled to maintain the veneer of an artful storyteller, with apt tincture pauses at the exact moments in order to create an illusion of drama and mystery? Or, did she just inwardly maintain a running record of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” as a talisman against fear?

Was it perhaps a girlish infatuation that led her to his bedroom of doom? Did she secretly hold a special place for the prince, to willingly walk into a death trap? Or, were her motives more selfish and lay in her desire to be immortalised in history? Perhaps, she lost herself in the somnolence of a utopic fantasy where her tormentor would fall hopelessly in love with her storytelling skills (and… other things).

I wonder if even once in those one thousand and one nights, she regretted her decision. Did she ever daydream of taking the prince by his beard and shaking his face, out of frustration and rage?  Or, was she one of a perverse mentality whose kink lay in a masochistic self-torture where she fed off from the dread evident in the flutter of her heart? Did she ever in those long, long nights mistake that flutter for… love?

Love, indeed. The bane of life. Look at Sita. She insisted that Ram come save her from Raavan, and what did she get? Two counts of fire acrobatics to prove her chastity.

Look at Europa. Ovid’s Metamorphoses etched her “rape” by Jupiter for centuries to come. But if Jupiter’s fulfillment lay in plain ravishing, then why make Europa his queen? Why choose her to rule Crete, with a special place right next to him? What if “love” was all they really had?

Tabitha Vevers' "When We Talk About Rape" (1992), based on the myth of Europa's rape by Jupiter

But Scheherazade and love? Was she in love with a murderer who had a trail of massacred damsels on his hands?

Myths and historical myths are often interpreted (and misinterpreted) at will. I could give you a lecture on the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi controversy manipulated by political parties that led to unnecessary bloody communal riots. But let’s stick to simple things.

Think. For once.

If just like Ovid’s possible misinterpretation of a possible love story, there had been no pointy sword hanging over Scheherazade’s neck? Maybe, her stories were just sweet nothings between two lovers after a very “sexy time” in bed (a commonplace substitute for the modern-day post-coital cigarette, perhaps?). Then, the massacres could have been a lie. A cover-up made up over time to spice up the origin of the one thousand and one stories. Spice sells. And, love stories are trite and common, anyway.

But let’s ask an expert on relationships. Freud, darling? What do you think?

He takes a long drag of his pipe, strokes his beard, and says, “Love, shove, nothing! What really happened was: once upon a time, a woman fell in love with an infantile man, and told him bed time stories to fulfill an unfulfilled Oedipal complex. By being able to do so, his love for her was unshakeable. And, tell me this, how could he let go of that mother figure, once he had her?”

Maybe, the guy has a point.

So Scheherazade, forgive me. But your tales are all you have. The rest will be reworked again and again in an infinite loop, till we have exhausted
the possibilities of your life. Truth comes in many versions, and maybe some day, we will hit upon the right one.

6 Comments

Filed under article, Thinking Aloud

Once upon a time…

 

 … in a congested city far, far away, there lived a little girl. She was brought up on a healthy dose of stories. Ghost stories, tales about groups of friends (Dil Chahta Hai style), childhood stories, narratives of adventure, mystery and magic. And of course, Disney manufactured fairytales. The stories came from very different sources, as different as the storytellers.

She heard them from her grandfather, her mother, her grand-aunt, her building’s watchman, and even the maid who came to clean the house twice a day. Elaborate plots with princes and princesses, about evil step mothers and flying horses, about crows that could talk, and dragons with kind hearts.

As she grew up, she realised that she could make up stories too. She could fly away to fantastic lands, get the man of her dreams, have incredible adventures— all through her imagination.

Then came a time when she started writing these stories down. From single lined notebooks in between classes, she graduated to word documents on her laptop. What started as timid meanderings gradually became a strong, confident voice.

These days she writes when she isn’t studying, or marking essays, or working on papers of her own.

Will she make it? She nods confidently. Failure is not an option. Never was, she says.

1 Comment

Filed under Thinking Aloud, Writing about writing