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Eight is my number

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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.

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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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Filed under fiction, 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 because it was apparently “dated”). I didn’t respond 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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Filed under Thinking Aloud, Writing about writing