Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Ms. Blyton: The Lady who made me Write

The very first books I remember reading,after ruminating over fairy tales,were those by Enid Blyton.She was something like the J.K. Rowling for people who were children in the early nineties and before.While she brought out the silent sleuth in some of my friends,she brought out the writer in me.It was at the tender age of nine that I began writing what was intended to be my first book;a tale about a boarding school inspired by Ms. Blyton's 'Malory Towers' series.

Ms. Blyton's books had the quintessential quality of being unmistakably British.Little boys and tomboyish girls had faces covered with freckles and dainty pretty things were always pale English roses.Culinary feasts were described to the last delectable detail.There were always tables laden with sardines,potted meat,pies,scones,cucumber sandwiches and the works.Naughty boys always forgot to wash their 'grubby hands' and conceited girls brushed their hair till it shone.Enid Blyton,unlike several other writers,catered to a wide age group.It is quite rare to find someone who writes with equal panache for a five year old child as she does for an adolescent of twelve.Her characters climbed enchanted trees,flew around the world in chairs with wings,solved mysteries that left Scotland Yard red in the face,played tricks on each other in boarding school,suffered from pangs of guilt and envy and learned from their mistakes.Through her books she covered a gamut of experiences that every child either has or dreams of having.

One might accuse her of being a tad misconstrued and perhaps almost puritan in some of her views.Americans are described as shallow,narcissistic characters who need a little English 'sensibility' to be brought down to earth. In her books the perfect girl is one who wears no makeup,studies her lessons,never questions authority,shows no interest whatsoever in the opposite sex and is perpetually altruistic (we're talking about girls who are on the threshold of adulthood and about to enter college).She never ventured towards darker subjects like abject self doubt and the trials of conscience that plague angst ridden teenagers.It is unclear whether her female protagonists grow up to be pioneers or prefer to turn into Stepford wives.

Nevertheless,her work had this urging and inspiring quality that can goad a young girl into thinking,'What if I wrote like that?'.When we were children we saw ourselves as invincible creatures with an indomitable talent.Ms. Blyton helped fuel that presumption to the fullest extent.As a child I never moaned over the implications of my work,its desired impact on the present generation and its venerable quality for posterity.I simply wanted to write because Ms. Blyton showed me that she and I had something in common; we both loved telling stories.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Land Less Traveled

I envy writers who have pages brimming with accounts of travel and simmering visions of places and their people.I look over my work and see the dearth of a sense of belonging.If I were to write fiction,my characters would most likely be individuals without countries;the kind who dwell in mirages and lose all sense of possession once the mirage is dry.If writers are paid by the word then I stake my claim to bankruptcy even before I intend to bombard publishers with waif-thin manuscripts.

I see my own country as an alien would behold a foreign land.All that I have learned about India is through minute conclusions drawn over a series of observations made on life in Bangalore and Kolkata.The two cities represent two ends of an infinite spectrum and the void of all that is left in between haunts me.Nevertheless these pangs of self pity have brought to my notice that India is a land less traveled by its inhabitants.

Most Indians probably see the land as they see themselves,given the fact that many of them either live below poverty or are too busy chalking out a 'living'.We are a race that cannot feel pride as we're ignorant of what exists.There are some textbook writers who try to add a hint of romanticism to dreary descriptions of natural wealth.There must be some unspoken sentiment that hints that the average Indian stands still and wavers only occasionally to look beyond his/her immediate surroundings.

I am reminded of what Amitav Ghosh said about how one cannot feel like a writer unless one has seen the world.Drawing inspiration from a textbook is like plagiarizing a prescription and calling it science fiction.Little wonder then that the premise of the great Indian novel hangs precariously from the string that fastens the great Indian assumption.Those of us who don't like to assume,have nothing more to offer save anorexic stories of alienation.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Unsatisfactory Self Portrait

Last weekend I decided to while my time away by giving in to that faint artistic craving I feel when I look upon my untouched art supplies. I fished out a sheet of paper,a HB and a 2B pencil,a decrepit eraser and a drawing board.I sat facing my reflection in the mirror with not so much a sense of narcissism as with a sense of aesthetic censure.Self portraits are invariably deceptive.In this case it depicted the artist the way she wanted to be perceived; imperfect yet not quite herself.I seem to have got most of myself right.I wish I could boast of possessing a Parisian nose described by Victor Hugo as 'The despair of painters and the charm of poets'.My narcissism will only stop short of that kind of blatant gloating.Here's the fruit of my labor. I give you 'The Lost Diva'.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

For Eternal Memory

There are some who learn in a day what others may learn in a lifetime.There are events that memory won't allow you to erase.Someday in the future one might cast a cursory glance at one's reflection only to view an old,discarded version of themselves.So it dawned upon our protagonist 'X' after a certain day in his life that he would forge eternally to his very selective memory.

It was his first day of work.Six years of prayers muttered in resignation,mule like determination and one successful job interview had landed him there.As a teenager in Bangalore,he had gazed longingly at those buildings with darkened glass exteriors and the seemingly indomitable people who sauntered out of them with badges hanging round their necks.The building he entered was one of a multitude that swarmed the premises of a technology park.There was a prayer on his lips and a tie around his neck that occasionally suffocated him.He didn't care about asphyxiation.He remembered the tears in his mother's eyes and his father's grim blessing as they wished him well on this auspicious day.

He entered the lobby clutching a briefcase.He wore a crisp cotton shirt which would probably never crease,glistening black shoes and a tie that epitomized elegance.His hair was carefully oiled and combed painstakingly to one side.There were others waiting with him but the fact that he was the most dapper of them all gave him a sense of a competitive edge.What struck 'X' the most that day was what came next.

The 'freshers' were ushered into a board room designed to be aesthetically and acoustically pleasing.They were welcomed by a representative from human resources,a man without a tie.Of course there was no sin in not wearing a tie,perhaps this was the kind of place that was a little more relaxed.There were other employees who followed; directors,managers,a vice president and several others.'X' was now the most crestfallen with an impending sense of alienation.He imagined that they looked askance at him every time they saw him.Here they were; stalwarts in jeans and t-shirts and there he was, a fawning fresher in an uncomfortable outfit complete with a tie.

The lunch hour came quite soon as it usually does on the first day of work.'X' cringed every time he placed food on his plate.He wished he could pile food on his plate as inconspicuously as the veterans without looking like a conspicuous glutton.He was introduced to his new team after lunch.He felt like 'Forrest Gump' as he looked from his patent leather shoes to the sneakers his new manager was wearing.The informality put a bad taste in his mouth.He felt like he was culling himself one blow at a time every time he forgot to call his manager 'sir'. He could not recline in his new chair for it was too comfortable.He could not touch the bag of stationery he had been given,he wasn't accustomed to being given things without asking.He could not laugh at the jokes and participate in the afternoon banter between teammates,he wasn't familiar enough.All in all he felt like the caricature of an alien from a comic book nightmare.

Later that evening,he smiled blissfully when his parents asked him how his day was.He used the word 'awesome' to describe it to his college junior.He put his briefcase and patent leather shoes away.That night as he ran over the events of the day in his mind,it occurred to him that he wasn't alone.He finally rolled over to sleep and decided that perhaps the tie was a little too much.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

When Classic Literature meets Reality T.V.

I hold the belief that reality television would have spared classic writers the agony of starvation if it had come a couple of centuries earlier.Here's what reality T.V. would have done to some of my favorites.

Jane Austen- The undisputed queen of the love lorn.The witty producer behind the likes of 'The Bachelor'.There would have been a heavy demand for corsets,tea sets,pretty damsels and innuendos.

George Orwell- The mind behind 'Big Brother' and the relentless stalking camera.The contestants of Orwell's show wouldn't have felt the need to feign discomfort at the very blatant invasion of space.The necessity of having a celebrity version would have been close to nil as the regular version would have been invasive enough.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The relentless genius behind 'The Moment of Truth', with the exception that the questions would relate more to the strength human conviction than the wringing of filthy linen on T.V.

Franz Kafka- 'Existential Survivor'. Need I say more?

Ayn Rand- A force to reckon with.The lady who would make many a spine shudder with the ghastly 'you're fired' in the objectivist version of 'The Apprentice'.Donald Trump are you listening?

Oscar Wilde - Simon Cowell step aside you are nothing in front of Mr. Wilde! The judge on Idol who takes meanness to a whole new level.If you thought 'musical hara kiri' was a witty euphemism for bad singing, think again.It would have been the age of 'All good singers are good in the same way.Each bad singer is uniquely bad'.

It's a pity most writers live ahead of their time.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Multiplexes and the New Minority

The advent of the multiplex in India has condemned the friendly neighborhood movie hall to a slow and painful death.Gone are the days when school kids and college students queued up outside theaters to buy tickets well in advance.People wore their best outfits.While the traditional preferred to look immaculate with not a strand of hair out of place,the rest came with a carefully crafted 'bohemian' look.People bought modest little packets of popcorn and small cups of Coke.The ushers at the hall would check tickets with a practiced nonchalance as they admitted familiar and unfamiliar customers.People reclined in their seats and watched every advertisement and movie trailer with bated breath.An air conditioned hall was an added luxury and a balcony seat was considered truly elite.

Multiplexes are air conditioned by default.The concept of the balcony seat no longer exists.One can buy popcorn only in large buckets that never seem to finish and the coke glasses are also gigantic in comparison to their 'small hall' counterparts.There are no long queues outside multiplexes thanks to plastic credit and the internet.The ushers at multiplexes remind one of stern matrons in Enid Blyton stories; they stand with discerning expressions on their faces as they run metal detectors all over one's belongings.Most small time theaters have been torn down to make space for bigger multiplexes.The remainder of this dying breed are nevertheless valiant and standing unfazed.

The new minority are frequented by those who don't particularly enjoy watching movies at home and at the same time don't want to spend a fortune at a multiplex.The little halls are rarely full and it is possible to get balcony seats five minutes before a show.Audiences here lack the curt propriety of multiplex audiences.Screen heroes are greeted with standing ovations,comedians are treated to boisterous laughter and potential box office flops are subject to uncharitable banter and cat calls.Smaller movie halls also provide respite to secret lovers meeting incognito.

It is for us to see how many of these miniature stalwarts will withstand the ravages of time and intimidating theater chains.Here's to stuffy halls,unpretentious audiences and tiny helpings of popcorn.Long live the new minority!