Calvino, Drabble, Happy, I & more

It has been two months since I typed my personal blog. Not that dilemmas surrounding me have vanished or I have become immune to them but for a handful of reasons/excuses:

  1. My numb state of mind: So numb that I gave up on my only hobby i.e. reading. Though it could be to do with the fact that I picked up a few wrong books in my quest to read new genres and authors. After having googled for the quirkiest books ever written I picked up Italo Calvino’s “If on a winter’s night a traveler’ and I just couldn’t read it beyond the second chapter!
  2. Drabbling: After having patched up with my writer-editor friend (yet again!) I was introduced to ‘drabble’. Drabble is writing a short story of exact 100 words. Easier said than done. I have written 5 out of 50 drabbles till now of which the last 3 were considered by my esteemed writer-editor friend to be below the mark! I hope to improve every day though I am not happy with this drabbling business. Cutting down a story (as if making a story is easy!) to 100 words is not creative. There is no way you can try to fit in as much as you would like to tell in sharp 100 words. You miss out on the essence of the story. And with all that heavy-duty pruning, most of the story ends up being in your own head.
  3. Is this blog ‘worth’ it?: After writing for a year, I am asked (yet again by my editor-writer friend) what have I gained? I could have replied with a list of abstract/intangible/philosophical merits like discipline, acute awareness of my surrounding, honing of my skill etc etc but I knew what he was driving at. Did I gain more followers, more ‘likes’? Honestly, only a handful readers read what I write but that’s exactly what the intention was. I have been genuinely satisfied. This blog was always meant for me and my friends who enjoy reading. Of course I always feel good when a stranger reads and likes my blog. But to get even a 100 plus ‘likes’ of my writing would mean I take a thorough professional route and get an agent or a celebrity connection!

So I am back to blogging (and I hope to retrospect and write here on a weekly basis).

And what all happened in the last two months that I can recollect:

  1. Pop’s disease relapsed. We all are still trying to cope up and not give up in times like this. It is so easy to breakdown when in crisis but we get up every morning all fixed up to face another day. It is not possible putting yourself in the shoes of the patient as it is only him/her who is going through the suffering but I hope it all works out in the end and it would be just a nightmare that we would be woken up from. People and relatives who know him very well keep coming over to our place to meet him and for once I don’t mind uninvited guests. I see my father being happy at their sight. Happier than seeing me and my mum daily!

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2. Happy,our street dog, is back! Lovely, pretty, Happy returned after 2 weeks as mysteriously as she had vanished. (See my last blog: Remembering Happy/Julie/Goldy) If only she could speak and tell about her adventures. I realised that not only my daughter and I were happy with her reappearance but so many of our other neighbours too. They were calling up their loved ones too informing about Happy. It did take Happy a few days to get back to her routine. She looked little lost initially. She didn’t spend much time with her mate Perky. But all seems ok now.

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3. We have a trampoline. I am glad we purchased it on mum’s saying and she is setting a good example of practicing before preaching by using it daily. Hopefully my daughter and I will get inspired and follow her soon. We are too lazy to even jump on a springy surface! I always thought mum had an excuse for not resuming her half-an-hour walk ever since papa returned for good from the city where he was working but this seems like a great option too.

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4. Saying ‘Namaste’ – meet and greet the ‘Indian’ way: I re-learnt to fold my hands to greet people especially those who fold their hands too while greeting me. Our community park gardener, who must be an octogenarian (or even a nonagenarian) does that every time I pass by him in the park. He joins his hands and raises it to his head to greet ‘Ram Ram’ with a toothless smile. So one day as he did it while I jogged I thought of the last time when I had folded my hands to greet people. After all, it is in our culture to do so. I couldn’t recall. I don’t ever remember having taught my daughter (who is 11) to do this. Has she ever greeted anyone a ‘Namaste’ with her hands joined? I don’t think so.

And on this note, I better switch on to drabbling my 6th one, lest my temperamental writer-editor friend resumes behaving like a pansy! :p


pic courtesies: all except the last one clicked by me. last one is from: thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/indian-hand-greeting-posture-easy-to-edit-vector-illustration-namaste-floral-design-41901074.jpg

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‘This is’ why I don’t click on ‘these’ news headlines

I had always thought that it was just my pre-teen daughter who needed to be told every time,usually when I drove the car and she sat at the back, to not to use ‘this’ and ‘that’ while starting a conversation. A pronoun is, after all, a noun replacer and one needs to know the noun in the first instance. It is yum. It is tangy. It is soft. Yes, but what is “it’?  It is a case of sheer laziness more than a weak vocabulary in her case. But what about so many online news headlines these days?

As you scroll down the news feed I invariably come across a headline or two and sometimes even more that reads something like:  ‘this is how the mother of 3 fought the tiger’, ‘this powerful herb cures depression’, ‘this is why the actor walked off the stage’ etc. What in the correct, traditional way should really have been written as a) Brave mother of 3 fights a tiger, b) XYZ cures depression and 3) Actor in anger walks off stage. Simple. This is how it is usually. Why would you add ‘this’ and ‘that’ and their plurals.  Is it not obvious that the body of the article will explain the headlines and in a good journalistic fashion report the whys, whats, wheres, ifs and hows. And if the subject is of reader’s interest he/she would anyway click on the headlines to read further on.

I figured out the reason and maybe I am the last one to do so! It all comes down to making the readers curious and encouraging them to click on the headlines so that it takes them to their website. Clicking on the link gets them the numbers after all and in the end it is all about numbers. So if it was something like : Green Tea Cures Depression you might move on to the next news and not bother to click the headline to read the details- who said it, why, where etc. However, if it was “this” cures you of depression, this this (yes 2 ‘this’) will make you click on the headline to at least grab the name of “this”. Clever. Though many times this ‘this’ makes you feel cheated. You have after all taken the bait! How predictable of you?! And if ‘this’ turns out to be nothing as spectacular as it was made to sound in the headlines (which happens most of the time) it is very annoying.

I choose not to read such articles at all now. It is more like a revolt. Revolt against being fooled. Revolt against being sold something by playing on a human weakness called curiosity. I might be missing out on some useful information but a gimmick like this is better suited for selling new products. Selling news? No way.

 

(image courtesy: http://www.monkimia.de/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Moebeltattoo_this_and_that.jpg)

 

 

Online Reviewing – the good and the bad of it

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In the world of Internet you are a somebody. A critic, a philosopher, a photographer, an actor, a movie producer, just about everything. I am a newbie food reviewer. I am so close to being a book reviewer as well considering that I read a book daily but it’s my 5-year stint as a student of English literature that stops me from being that.  I don’t want to relive those college moments. I am also so close to being a hotel reviewer with all my frequent random travels.

It is a good feeling when you see your reviews being read by hundreds of strangers and many of them who then ‘like’ and ‘follow’ you on those websites. You feel more responsible for your reviews. You feel empowered. There are times when the management of the joint replies to your review explaining why so and so had happened. Gone are the days when you would simply read and go by a professional critics’ review. They can be utterly biased. The place knows that a professional critic is there at its domain or possibly it has invited the critic. So that critic will be in all likelihood treated like a royalty.

However, the trouble with a just-about-any critic begins when the critic in you overtakes your normal being. So every time I enter a food joint, even if it’s just for a drink, it is at the back of my mind that I have to check the interiors out, possibly take pictures of the place and even of the sole drink and of course then upload it on the website along with my elaborate review.

I have gone past the stage where I simply stroll into a food joint just to have some good time. My eyes are scanning for every minute details that are happening in my surrounding. And God forbid if my coffee is rubbish! Somebody like me who would earlier have just had the drink politely or even left it with a demure comment made to the barista is now fuming internally about it and that politeness is turned to arrogance on the Internet as I know that unlike before where only a few would have known of my experience are now multiplied into hundreds and even thousands of viewers – those thousands that live far-far away from where I had experienced my tiny little episode that now seemed like a nightmare (well, some really are!), who would possibly never even show up to such a city leave alone the cafe!

So the other day when I went for a reunion with a couple of friends I actually rang up a friend of mine the next day to ask her experience with the dish she had ordered. Her simple reply of ” oh baby, it was so good” was not sufficient for me. I interrogated her further. Was the bread hard? Was the topping tasty? Fresh? Tangy?  Was it just enough hot or cold? Well, I don’t know what she made of me but from her voice she seemed nonplussed. Good means good!

Internet is a good place to share your awful and amazing experiences with the world. However, the days of simply enjoying a book or food or just anything and just sharing them with a few friends have seen their days.  The word of mouth is no longer just of the mouth.

(The above image is snapped by me of a local restaurant that I frequent often and yes, I recently reviewed it too!)

Painting cruelty with softness

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I have been at a loss of verbs (pun, yes!) looking for, as my client asked, a ‘softer’ replacement. I have been wondering what words can be soft for acts that are outright cruel. So if the villainous king kills babies by throwing them against the prison wall, how can you tone the sentence down without losing the essence of the story?

I was recently given a writing assignment where I had to rewrite Lord Krishna’s life story for the reading of children starting as young as five. And in times such as ours when even calling someone fat (who is naturally so) is formally incorrect, imagine writing on Krishna’s life without having to use all those forbidden words is next to impossible. Just like writing on any mythology from around the world. They are full of acts committed by good and bad people alike such as deceit, murder, rape and all that is agreeably heinous.

So how far should you really go to tone down a mythological story for an extremely young audience? Yes, Lord Krishna as a child loved to ‘steal’ buttermilk from his neighbours’ houses. As he grew up, he loved to ‘flirt’ with village girls and the other characters in his story line, like his uncle ‘killed’ babies upon babies by ‘bashing’ them against the prison walls searching for the correct baby. His adopted sister was ‘dragged’ to the royal court when her ‘5’ husbands lost her, along with their kingdom in ‘gambling’. They tried to ‘disrobe’ her. So in short, what you have here is stealing, flirting, killing, bashing, gambling, selling your spouse and a near-rape. Now all this makes an interesting read for story-lovers but toning it down for little children! Yes, you want them to read mythologies as early as possible and without telling them that the good characters too indulge in acts that are absolutely unacceptable. How do you do it?

I couldn’t. Yes stealing was replaced by ‘took’. But the softer verb ‘took’ changed the real meaning, right? I changed the word bashing to flinging though that was also not happily accepted by my client. I left it on him to find a softer word. My mum suggested an adverb to bring down the impact, ‘casually throw’.  I think it is as horrendous as merely flinging. The uncle was anyway throwing the babies in a fit of rage! And disrobing the dress was replaced by pulling. They all sound equally bad! Why would you want to pull someone’s dress!

Never having read on child psychology I find it difficult to apprehend on how a child gets affected while reading or watching something he or she really shouldn’t.  All of us, including children, are different. We react differently to a particular situation. My daughter, who is ten, read an article in the newspaper nearly a year ago on how two babies died in a car due to heat as their negligent parent locked them inside the car while he/she shopped for hours. Every time when she feels hot, she is STILL reminded of that incident and talks about it. Yester night, she remembered about it when she felt warm after she had taken the quilt! She just has that episode stuck in her head and no matter how hard I try,  I fail to explain things to her.  And this is factual news that she read in the newspaper, so I can’t even tell her that it is just a fabrication or she shouldn’t be reading such news.  This is how she is and not all other kids of her age are like her. Some will glance through the news, some will go deep and some won’t even bother reading! But who is learning what and when is a very subjective matter.

So my two bits, be truthful (ok, you don’t have to give vivid details) and have a disclaimer in the beginning. After all, a very young child is not expected to read/watch without his parent around! A parent is the best judge to tell if a specific story containing all these unacceptable episodes is fit for his or her child or not. But, leave the story alone. Especially mythology.

(image courtesy: http://www.cliparthut.com)

where are the new ideas?

writers_block                                  (Image courtesy: www.jenniferheath.com)

Although I have never submitted my work to online magazines (barring some for a few story competitions where the entry is free) I do make it a point to visit many such websites. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is the thought that I might submit my work to them in the near future. I even bookmark them and then rarely visit that site.

However, one site caught my attention recently and more for personal than literary reasons. Ironically, the homepage instead of having your usual articles or even a welcome page had a ‘au revoir’ message. The website was shutting down – technically, going from premium (paid) to free! Not that websites don’t shut down regularly (one of my favourite website has in the recent past and I do miss it) but the website owner of this site had given a low-down on why he (it could be a ‘she’ but I just imagined a man’s voice) was shutting it down. I expected him to talk about the usual financial reasons but no, it went beyond that. It had 3 main reasons and eerily, two of the three are the same reasons that dissuade me from writing or starting anything new online as much as I would like to. I could empathize with the author. We would have given each other a good company and discussed it over a nice bottle of wine. It somehow didn’t discourage me as much as it meant to but on the contrary stimulated me. It was as if I had seen a Tsunami closely and was happy to be alive and wanted to now make the most of my ephemeral life.  I don’t intend to shut down my website (metaphorically mentioning that is, not that I have a website but I believe that website was his dream to which he/she let it go) but would instead work harder.

One of the three reasons was the fact that how dangerous it had become these days to express your views on the Internet. I fear the same. I do remember how couple of years ago a girl who had merely pressed the ‘like’ button to a strong status message of a friend for being forthright on the Facebook about a local policy had her house broken in and was dragged to the police station along with that friend who wrote the status! She was not living in the middle east or any other conservative country but very much here  the largest democratic nation of the world! I do have few fearless people on my Facebook too who are so close to being termed as ‘communal’ but I fear liking or even commenting on any of their views would drag the police from somewhere to my house and that will be a traumatic experience. The very freedom of speech and expression that we should be enjoying in our democratic set up has been lost. Our celebrities have been retracting their views on Twitter for the fear of backlash by the trolls and by self-appointed moral police of the country. Imagine the plight of commoners then. Or maybe the commoners are better off as lesser number of people are reading their thoughts!

The final reason and the reason I could relate but not express well before was all summed up in this one..the author’s ‘esoteric reason’. He writes that he has been struggling with his writing and has nothing new to write. He asks, “is there something that can be written, which nobody knows already? ” I feel the same. And not just in the world of writing. Everywhere. You google just about anything and lo! it is there. You wonder if there is a YouTube channel that nobody else has thought of, and there it is.

But then why write something new then? We have seen and read them all yet we don’t mind the latest work. We don’t stop reading the latest books or watching latest movies. We enjoy them or even hate them yet we look forward to more. I met a friend recently and on this very topic he gave me a wonderful example. Both of us share a liking for health-related subject. He explained me by giving the example of  asanas (poses) of Yoga: they have remained the same through the centuries but you will find them in all kinds of packaging – some done by the babas, some by Hollywood and Bollywood actors and now even we have a soft-porn version by a wannabe Bollywood actress! It is the new packaging that piques your interest. You don’t stop making videos on yoga or stop writing about it just because it is not new. Rather, this is an ancient subject which is still churning new books and videos daily with some twist or the other. A head-stand will remain a head-stand but it could be the yoga teacher doing it by the beach or on the peak of a hill in Africa or it could be a little boy of seven doing it marvelously! Or may be the boy doing it with his pet animal (now that would create sensation on the Internet!)

Yes, so till you don’t have a ‘new’ idea germinating in your head which you are sure has not been done by anybody else on this planet (just don’t Google it!), why give up on something you like to do. Do it the way you want to do it and then move on to the next. Giving up is easy. Don’t.