Friday, July 18, 2014

Writing and Kindness

I dabbled into literature almost since, well, forever. I would read thick books and doodle on the last pages of my engineering notebooks as a college boy and in the last pages math notebooks with neat blocks printed over the pages. Some felt it was poetry, but to my young mind which I always refer to a troubled soul which knew little and felt much, it was the only relief which my troubled soul could find. When I dig deeper into my soul and look at myself twenty year younger, searching for answers in written words, my own and of the greats whom I read with great sense of admiration and hope, I tend to believe my early reading could have sowed the seeds of my own discomfort with the world around me. Literature made me believe in the possibility of ideals. I guess that is a danger that every serious reader carries. That, and the possibility of eventually turning into a writer himself.

I went through both, belief in the possibility of a life which we read that it has a possibility of becoming and turning into a struggling writer myself, struggling not to earn the bread by writing, rather struggling to write. I would not vouch for others but for me, writing has always been a very private affair. I have always found it rather embarrassing to admit in public that I write. I wonder if I would ever be able to do a reading session of my writing in public, even as small as constituting two people, one of them being me. I wrote, I published, I told people about what I wrote with shy hesitation and difficulty. Writing it out was such a relief. Writing would wipe out tears, and lend a smile on grayest of the dawns. But the biggest and most satisfying thing was that it put me in the know of amazing people, fellow writers and poets. I came to know amazing people who would pat on my shoulders on foggiest nights and urge me to keep writing.

The general bonhomie and generosity which I found in writers and artisans is so different from any of the people in any walks of profession. That could be because all writers and artisans are essentially child from inside. We believe in hope and we live in the innocence of hope. Even the writers who wrote dark stories believe in a world which doesn't hesitate in taking sides. Don’t get me wrong, it is not that all writers work in perfect consonance with each other, forming a mutual admiration club. There are not-very-nice remarks which Hemingway made about Fitzgerald, but that never kept him away from holding the other in appreciation of talent of the other. That is the innocence of child and that is the courage of a learned man which allows him to treat conflicting views with dignity. Writing is talking to oneself put on paper. Writing is a writer’s private search for answers for he is dissatisfied with the idea of living the life in a way, merely because that is the way it has always been done. This capacity to self-analyze, to deliberate, to argue with one’s own intellect and to devote oneself to a life of perpetual suffering and eternal liberation is what a writer work on. That makes a writer kinder soul. In fact, without a kind, forgiving soul one cannot be a good writer. One may argue that there are many writings which are written in anger. But I would then contest that in anger one can do many things, shout, scold, bad-mouth, fight and kill (if one has the courage), what for the life of me would prompt a man to pick a piece of paper or a ream, if one is really very, very mad and start writing with bad writing in furious strokes. It is an attempt to understand the anger and the source of it, an attempt to thereby forgive. It is bad for a bad person to be a writer and vice-versa. The purpose of art is to help us be kinder from inside.

There ought to be a sense of inner decency which should rise when you step into the realm of art, even if you want to become a loner like Salinger because you want to devote time to your craft or even because you feel that kindness you find growing on you, makes you vulnerable to the harsher world around you. I feel privileged to have found my calling in Arts, because it makes me a better person (well, my daughter is another reason, but I’ll let writing share the credit), and more than that I feel so happy to have found people so kind in this common calling. If you tend to write, do write even if it feels killing on some days for you discover your potential for grace and decency, your real station in life through art. If you do not write, and read, do find time for it. Kurt Vonnegut wrote,” Don’t give up on books. They feel so good- their friendly heft. ..Any Brain worth a nickel knows books are good for us.” Writing makes us a better man, helping us discover old values which we long thought dead like courage and grace.


PS. What prompted this post was a rather undeserved act of friendship by Marta who has always been kind to my literary pursuit and recently sent across two wonderful children’s book for my daughter, Innocence and Wonder and Dinky's Quest- The Journey Begins. Both the books are amazing gift for little kids with brilliant poetry and simple yet forward looking language, engaging any child. But for me it was the gesture which set me thinking and therefore, this post. It was sudden, it was extraordinary and it was overwhelming. I wish Marta best for her writing and sincere gratitude. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Making A Statement- The Absurdity of Being Tapas Paul

A man (and Woman) is known by the words he or she uses. We rise in words and we fail, falter and decay in the squalor of words. There isn’t only an ornamental appeal to right words spoken at the right moment for the right reasons. They are the ambassadors of the king that they serve, the ambassadors to the minds and souls they represent. Words people speak tell us about the moral leanings of people and station they occupy in their own social evolution.

Our leaders ought to represent the best in us. When they fail us, their failure ought to shake us. The passivity of our reaction to the misdemeanor of our leaders define the future we are setting up for our kids. We are thereby creating the world for them. Tapas Pal of TMC has made utterances of late, on three occasions which ought to wake us up out of our slumbers. Intellectuals of Kolkata sided with TMC against the communists in the recent elections. But then, the reign of Communists was no better. The number of goons and anti-socials has not changed in the political scenario of Bengal. They have merely changed their political affiliations. TMC did not invent a new kind of politics as everyone hoped. They merely appropriated the politics of communist violence. It is often surprising to me as to how could the intellectuals of Bengal tolerate such violent politics. But then, intellectuals are often through history tried to create and run their own society of violent aggression. Those who fought and spilled blood were provided the provided cover of legitimacy by the power of arguments created by the intellectuals. Intellectuals lived happily in the control they had over less intellectual and more aggressive souls over the larger populace which had neither the intellect nor the strength of violent aggression. That is until the time when they realized that they have been all the time riding the tiger that they cannot get up of.

The violent one, the one without moral scruples, rose and thundered to kill and maim and rape the voices of dissent. The intellectuals realize the tiger that they rode on and to their dismay, realize that the power now was flowing in the reverse direction. They had to live with a pretense of their control. They need to come out on television and offer tepid defenses with glorious words. The tiger on which they were riding cannot be disembarked from. So Derek O’Brian at first avoids the Television to announce the grand apology. For the party chief, the matter gets closed with the apology. For the nation, it is a time to introspect.

Is this the kind of leaders we deserve? The leaders who incite the followers to kill and rape the opposition serves some strange sense of absurd machismo and invites applause in the close circles, much before it brings criticism on wider stage. Who are the people that applaud? Who are the people that tolerate this indecency of words? Do we realize the monsters we are creating as we allow it to go unpunished. Even violence, in a purer form speaks of righteousness and some glory as long as the cause is just and opponent is worthy. To propose violence against those who need to be defended is biggest cowardice. A man ought to know that. They are sorely aware of their own deficiency of ideology and they try to fill the gap which stares at their smallness with rhetoric. Noise, for them is only cover of their mental bankruptcy. 

They are the orphans of democracy, the errant child of a nation hungry for leadership of the righteous. But then, the applause to such stupid comments tells us about our own deficiency as a citizen. Worshipers of words are ridiculed and those with lack of words and lack of thoughts are hailed as heroes. They have no courage in their own ideas and therefore violence is their only argument. That is what plagues our society at large. Debates end in expletives. We can’t articulate because we cannot think. We are failing as a nation. Where the libraries are burnt, inflammatory words flow in the air. I have a problem in the statement- it’s only words. Words define who we are. We need the leaders who respect words and speak words which can be respected. Then only they can be guardians of our thoughts and only then can they teach us to rise in our collective minds. Every act of violence kills a word in the dictionary and every violent word marks the birth of an animal, which hisses with poisonous whiffs. They are the people who ought to be suffocated out of public space, they ought to be shunned out of public offices. They are lesser men, for they neither have thoughts glorious enough, nor words graceful enough to cover them. 

The numbers are shifty and they move. In Bengal, they moved from CPI-M to TMC and they will again. That is their nature. Mob is shifty. A mob is never loyal, they move to the side of power. Till the time, the intellectual with righteous indignation strikes again and creates a new axis of evil. We must be careful of the culture we build. It defines the nation. Intellectual movements must not try to hide behind brute force and must fight to create space on intellectual platform. The fight will be longer, but you will not be deceived in believing in a false change where one villain is replaced by another one. If you create to monster to fight another, you will end up with monsters ruling the world with humanity, feeble and outnumbered. Sanity is only logical counter-point to insanity. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review- My Salinger Year- By Joanna Rakoff

This is a beautiful, beautiful book. I came across this book through a review on The Guardian. The book is Memoirs of Joanna Rakoff, taking the reader into her life in “The Agency” - a literary agency which represented J D Salinger, standing on the cusp of a change as the Agency moves from the age of Typewriters and Dictaphones to Computer.  The perspective of the story is very new. It doesn’t rely on the typecast characters where the young woman is either a world-changing activist or a hopeless romantic or a soul-less woman. She is as real as a woman (or a man, for that matter) can be. She has many things to do, to build a career, to write poetry, to fall in love. Not one of the things, not many of the things, all of the things which engage the mind of young people. She joins the Agency expecting to slowly slip into a literary career. She writes poems in the morning and like an ill-paid apprentice deliberates about the lunch to be had. Her sense of description and observation is profound. The descriptions are not clichéd, which could be probably because Joanna as she tells Salinger over phone, She writes poetry “in the morning” much to the pleasure of Jerry. She describes her boss in such an enchanting manner when she writes that “My boss, as far as I knew, had no children, and she like a certain breed of adult- appeared to have never been a child herself, but rather to have materialized on earth fully formed, in a taupe-hued pantsuit, cigarette in her hand “  when she tries to rationalize her inability to appreciate the work of Judy Blume.  Who would not get charmed by that and who would not identify the hurt of being reminded of the money parents spent on raising us, something which always felt we had a divine right to.

She is given Form letters to respond to people who try to reach out to Salinger, the brilliant, legendary and still, asocial writer. But then, there are tremendous demand greatness impose on legends. She explains the mild directions which her colleagues take, in terms of being friendly and not. But always very careful of not to fall in the trap of typecasting her characters, she always leave them at the point where they come across as very real people, thriving through their grays. As per very explicit instructions, she writes form letters, bears with Don, her current boyfriend, holding out on her own, without becoming a gender fanatic. She drives clear of the clichés, balancing her work, her bills and her mental calculation before each meal she has. On account of a mishap in her boss’s life, she ends up being in the thick of discussion of Salinger with a lesser-known publisher- The “Hapworth affair” as they call it in the agency. Much to the dismay of her boss, the matter proceed towards almost certain publication of a Novella of Salinger, after a gap of close to a decade, till the time when the news becomes public on account of an, hopefully, innocent leak by the publisher which saddens Jerry who considers him as a friend. Joanna sells a story, and is finally accepted as one of the Agency’s own. The romanticism and the desire to change the world is slowly subdued in splashes of realism as she gets angry responses to the deviation of the form-letter, wherein she tried to be kind to people writing mails to Salinger.

Joanna reminds one of the poetic style of Scott Fitzgerald, and one cannot but disbelieve her when she laments not having read Dickens, or Dostoevsky, Or Proust. The poetry lingers sweetly through the prose with sentences like, “My voice had fallen to almost a whisper and the wind picked up, whipping my hair and skirt around.” She contemplates her own place in Don’s life and in the world in general with such disarming honesty when she write about Don, “He surrounded himself with fools – the broken, the failed or failing, the sad and confused – so that he might be their king. Which, obviously, made him nothing but king of fools. But what did that make me?”  In utter humility, she doesn’t even believe herself to be extra-ordinary or uniquely placed when she writes that “the city was full of boys and girls like me, clamoring at the gates of literature.” Anyone who has read this book wouldn’t agree, however. She is not one of those boys and girls. She is one with the eye for details, a heart that could feel those details as they form contours of her own life and a pen to write. She ends the story with a sad note with “a family in mourning, the world in mourning” as her father prepares to die.


If you love a sweet story which doesn’t pretend to be world changing, which does not clamor for attention; if you love poetry which doesn’t intrude the prose, if you love being young and being naïve and truthful, this is a book you will love. While those who are intrigued by writing and publishing will like it, anyone who has ever done the first job will not be able to escape the charm of innocent, honest story. One doesn’t come across such stories always. It is a fresh, morning breeze, as feeble and as gentle and as refreshing. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Writer's Secret Pleasure of Ruffling Feathers

Image courtesy of winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I write. I blog, write poetry, tell stories, in essence, I write. When I sit down and watch the world around me, I try to interpret it in words. When I am sad, I recoil into words and when I am happy, I soar high into the sky on the beautiful wings of words.

Words follow the emotions and sometimes fall short of them. But, I try to ensure that they never lie. The beauty of a word is not in its sound, nor on its hallowed origin. The beauty of a word lies in the truth it represents. The truth is always an uncomfortable thing, for the writer and for the reader. It always ruffles the feathers. In fact, the discomfort that the word brings is the measure of the truth it contains. A tame, timid truth serves no one and is merely a camouflage of the truth. Truth is outrageous by its very nature, primarily because we are so conditioned to ignore it and secondarily, on account of its tendency to stick to its shape, ignorant of any pressure to mold it out of form. We are so well conditioned to ignore the truth that we ignore it even when we do not have any reason for it, say, for instance when we feel utter gratitude towards someone but hold ourselves back from expressing it. We are trained into lies all our life. When we decide to write, we unlearn that.

The decision to write is a decision to get naked in public, and to be open about our thoughts. We write and tell the world where we stand and open ourselves to a very public rebuke and a very real possibility of public humiliation. But that is the fun of it. We emerge better person out of the trials and tribulation of public writing. We bleed ourselves to be able to write and having written, we bleed some more, every time we are read. Every writer needs to have that little eccentricity, little brinkmanship in himself. A writer is a turtle which turns on its back and exposes its vulnerable middle to the world. We sometimes pretend to write humor, but truth lingers through the satire we write. Do not think that the stones which are thrown at the writer do not hurt. A writer is the saddest clown that exists and he laughs at every wound he gets. When we write, we open ourselves to be stabbed. But then, there is no other way to write. Any other kind of writing is merely a play of words, the artistry of a skillful trickster. It is timid, devoid of life, like a withered autumn leave which fell to the dust and knows not where it is destined to. 

The truthful, purposeful word doesn't adorn ridiculous clothes to shock us, nor does it shout in high decibel to attract attention. It whispers in a thunderous voice from the cloudiest skies and hits the Earth like a thunderbolt, lightening the same ground which it shudders and hits. The light which accompanies it, the pristine, truthful, momentous light, justifies the pain and agony of the strike of the thunderbolt. It ruffles feather, and through that ruffling of feathers, life turns out of the dead and smiles in splendid beauty. I love ruffling feathers. I love writing. I write for myself, but you find yourself in those words. I can almost see your face changing from an shock to anger to an unhindered smile at discovering the person inside your own being who you long thought gone. He is the only friend you have in this world- the truthful you and he comes to life by the ruffling of feathers which as a writer I tend to do.

Short Poem I wrote while thinking on this:
"When I write I grow tall and Walk with long legs, Crossing the abyss, And facing heavenwards I laugh like a thunder."

Cheeky Quotes

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