How do writers write? The journey of an idea from conception to completion

billywilder

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it. – Harlan Ellison.

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Of books and blurbs – poem written 18 years ago!

I do not apologize for this “naive” poem I wrote in 1996……came across this when I was cleaning my desk at work. Nothing thrills (or embarrasses) me more than coming across an old piece of writing! This comes across as so cliched and trite (“merry brook”?), but I am still smiling after reading it half an hour ago….

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Image courtesy: theadvocate.com

Of books and blurbs

Reading a book is like no other,

Even space travel goes no further

I explore within a single page

The entire earth, Man’s bonded cage.

Books are my passion. My addiction.

A never-ending world of fascination.

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The Freedom to Write. Responsibly.

Responsibility is the price of freedom” – Elbert Hubbard

People demand freedom of speech as compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use” – Soren Kierkgaard

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes” – Mahatma Gandhi

As I celebrate India’s 67th Independence Day, I am amazed at the freedom kids and adults have, to speak what is on their minds. And text, tweet and email it. Even before a thought appears on their tongue, it seems to have appeared in their social media accounts.

So when engagements get broken and friendships take a back seat due to free speech, what is our responsibility as a free society that gets to gab all we want, online and offline? Can we say the first thing that comes to our mind? Or should we think through, calculate the pros and cons and then message it out? Sure, some thoughts don’t need any filter (“Good morning! How are you?”), but what about the ones that hurt, assume, implicate, exploit or anger?

Hmm, tough one, isn’t it? How do we know what will cause negative emotions, and what will not? How do I know if a simple message like “these politicians are morons” will not cause a state-wide bandh and an arrest? How do I know if what I sincerely feel does not set off a ticking bomb? Does this mean I do not voice my angst and my anguish? Does this mean I keep quiet when injustice happens? How else can I share and support the good things happening around me?

Questions are endless. So probably are the answers. The only person who can answer this honestly is you. The freedom to write brings with it the bondage of responsibility. We are accountable for what we write, and every word we write has to be weighed against facts and common sense.

Write every word as if it reflects your integrity. Therein is the true freedom of expression. And probably why great men’s words continue to be spoken time and again.

Wishing you all a year filled with love, freedom and mistakes! And the floor is now open for responsible discussions!!!

 

 

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The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis

Warning: This blog may offend those who were offended by the book and/or the movie

I do not know the nature of the controversy surrounding the movie or the book. Probably not knowing really helped as I read this book with an open mind. But having read it, I can see why it may have generated controversy!

The Last Temptation is an extraordinary depiction of the inner struggles and temptations Jesus goes through before he succeeds in answering his true calling – that of the Messiah. Not just any other Messiah who leads on Earth through preaching, but the Son of God who has to give up his Life so others can believe.
Nikos Kazantzakis writes simply and elegantly of the harsh life of the Jews under Roman rule, especially in the country side. This fictitious account seems to arise from his own search for inner truth which led him from Freud to Nietczhe to Buddha. One cannot but sympathize with Jesus (and the author too) as he tries to make sense of his visions and inner voices and reconcile them with what his disciples yearn for.
In one of the most telling conversations where the Disciples struggle to come to terms with Jesus’ preachings, John asks in response to his Masters exhortations that the old commandments are no longer large enough – “Does God’s will change then, rabbi?”

Jesus’ reply – “No, John beloved. But man’s heart widens and is able to contain more of God’s will.”

This widening of heart to contain more of God’s will is, to me, the essence of spiritual growth, no matter what religion, faith or dogma we believe in. As human beings, we constantly struggle to understand what God expects (Sometimes demands) of us. God does not ask for a lot – He simply asks we open our hearts to His love.

All in all, a must read for those of you who are looking to expand their horizons, and widen their heart!

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God’s Own Country indeed

During the last 3 weeks I visited three unique tourist spots in Kerala, my home state. Family and friends accompanied me as our road trip took us across the length and breadth of Kerala. For those of you who think I have way too much time on my hand (my boss for example!), these trips happened over 3 different week-ends.

And for those of you who have never visited this state shelved between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in the southern tip of India, this blog will not make any sense whatsoever! Kerala’s Tourism Department touts it as God’s Own Country and has successfully marketed it to the world. And to give the devil it’s due, they have been endorsed even by National Geographic. The National Geographic Traveler Magazine has named it “one of the top ten paradises of world” and “one of the fifty must see destinations of lifetime”.

Now for the places I visited – Kumarakom (backwaters), Kuttikanam (hill range), and Guruvayur (temple town). Kumarakom is verdant land surrounded by the backwaters near Kottayam. Famous for its bird sanctuary, Kumarakom is touted as the Venice of the East. Row boats, motor boats and house boats – I let life slide by as I watched the coconut trees and the paddy fields disappear from view. 

An hour to the south of Kottayam is Kuttikanam. We stayed in a resort at the top of one of the hillocks and the view was absolutely divine. The mist that surrounded us muted the tribal drums that came from the temple at the base of the hill and gave it an eerie and other-worldly feel. As the power outages were frequent, we were as close to nature we could wish for.

I literally came back to terra firma with a bump as we jolted across the real bad roads of Kerala (Detroit was heaven compared to this) to see my Guruvayurappan. For Krishna devotees, Guruvayur is one of the divine shrines that vies only with Tirupathi for its sanctity. In fact I think this is the only temple for Krishna devotees, but i have to admit I am biased and you may beg to differ. This temple town, with its roadside vendors and vegetarian eateries will delight any tourist, devotee or not. The four entrances to the temple is lined with shops that you have to pass through to see the Lord and many a time you end up spending more time (and money!) at these shops than inside the temple itself. I know my kids did!

How in God’s name did Kerala get such a wide and diverse greenery? What did we do to deserve this nature? Now the monsoon is upon us, and if you want to see nature in her overpowering glory, you have to visit the clean and scrubbed Kerala that the monsoon unveils during the next 3 months. 

What sheer joy to see the heavens open up, the earth soak up the water, and give off a unique smell (“manvasanai” in Tamil) that evokes memories of childhood when you willingly jumped in puddles of dirty water in your new shoes and uniforms on your way to school. I always loved the first day of school (usually during the first week of June) which coincided almost always with the first rains of the monsoon.

Mountains, hilly terrains, rivers, waterfalls, backwaters, temple towns, beaches – all in one State, all reachable within 6 hours of car travel. Yes, God’s Own Country indeed.

PS: If you have not heard of these places, go ahead and google them. And then visit them. You will thank me, right after you have danced in the monsoon showers, cruised slowly  in a houseboat, polished off  crispy vadas and cardamom tea, and counted 15 hues and shades of green.

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On Alchemists and Lost Symbols

It was sheer coincidence that I read both the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown over the same weekend. I had 2 dental, 1 x-ray, 1 blood test, 2 pediatrician visits, and 2 gynec visits all in the space of 4 days and had plenty of time while waiting for the Doctor to read both of them end to end! No, we are all fine, but it was time for our annual family medical check-ups.

Now for the similarities – both are about searching for a treasure on a physical level and searching for inner meaning and happiness on a metaphysical level. Both dip into the vast wisdom of the ages – the Koran, the Gita, the Bible, the Vedas for infinite wisdom and to explain why things are the way they are. And finally both the books try to explain a complex and complicated concept in simple terms.

This is where the similarity ends. The Alchemist is pure wisdom, while The Lost Symbol is pure drivel! Dan Brown seems to have lost his creativity, his innovative research, and his power of persuasion. I have read every book he has written and while Deception Point and Digital Fortress appeal to me the most, some credit has to be given to Demons and Angels, and to the Da Vinci Code. But what in horror’s name is the Lost Symbol?

On the other hand, the Alchemist survives the test of time even after 25 years. The story is simple, the characters  human, the hero is heroic without any major antics or idiosyncracies, and the story setting is elemental. Each word leads to the next with nothing lost “in translation” and the story moves powerfully and magnetically to the right climax without any false moves. Everything is explained simply and correctly. The conclusion – if you have a dream or the power to dream, everything in the Universe will conspire to help you achieve it.

Wow. Double Wow. Sure, thousands of self-help books and gurus are telling us the same thing. But the Alchemist says it in a way that is deeply touching. And compelling. So go ahead and buy this book and start reading it. Often. It ranks up there in the “Top 100 books to have in your book shelf when you retire” list. As for the Lost Symbol, I would recommend you sell it along with your bunch of old newspapers and at least recover some of the money you wasted buying it.

Keep dreaming and stay the course.

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