T r e a d Softly... YOU MIGHT TRIP ON TEXT

Monday, July 23, 2007


Click on the title of the previous post to enter the
Man Asian announcement page.

Maria begins her journey....

So there, I'm back. With some good news, to boot. The reason why I wasn't here has now brought me back.

Polishing the final draft of MARIA'S ROOM for the Man Asian Literary Prize kept me away.

Now they've announced that Maria's in the race. We'll know her fate come October.

Until then it's a crazy fantasy trip for Penguin (Puffin, actually), a set of stories linked by this weird half-monster character (whose name I'll only disclose later). That has to be sent in by January. Another deadline is for a play that has lots of emotion and lots of dance (Bharathanatyam). Each work as different from the other as imagineable.

Here's an excerpt from the Man Asian website.

Hong Kong, 20 July 2007 – The Administrative Committee for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize
has today announced the longlist of works for this inaugural prize :

Tulsi Badrinath, The Living God
Sanjay Bahadur, The Sound Of Water
Kankana Basu, Cappuccino Dusk
Sanjiv Bhatla, Injustice
Shahbano Bilgrami, Without Dreams
Saikat Chakraborty, The Amnesiac
Jose Dalisay Jr., Soledad's Sister
Reeti Gadekar, Families at Home
Xiaolu Guo, 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
Ameena Hussein, The Moon in the Water
Nu Nu Yi Inwa, Smile As They Bow
Jiang Rong, Wolf Totem
Hitomi Kanehara, Autofiction
N S Madhavan, Litanies of Dutch Battery
Laxmi Narayan Mishra, The Little God
Mo Yan, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out
Nalini Rajan, The Pangolin's Tale
Chiew-Siah Tei, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes
Shreekumar Varma, Maria's Room
Anuradha Vijayakrishnan, Seeing The Girl
Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, Pichaikuppan
Xu Xi, Habit of a Foreign Sky
Egoyan Zheng, Fleeting Light

This longlist of 23 unpublished works of Asian fiction in English will be reviewed and evaluated by the 2007 ManAsian Literary Prize judges, who will announce a shortlist of works in October 2007. The winner will be announcedon Saturday, 10 November at an awards ceremony in Hong Kong.

The judging panel for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize is: Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General ofCanada (Chair); André Aciman, New York-based author and scholar, and Nicholas Jose, writer, scholar and formerCultural Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in China.

The 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist was chosen from among 243 submissions received from all over Asia.Approximately two thirds of the submissions came from South Asia ; the largest single group of submissions wasfrom India. The rest came from throughout East Asia. The Prize received submissions from well-established aswell as first-time authors, and entries included translated works as well as works originally in English.

[Some of the news reports that have appeared about the Long List talk about 23 Asians being selected, of which 11 are Indians--- I've counted 12!]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Did I say the man in specs in the previous post?
Wonder which man in specs it is....

Nonsense Pictures

And The
Nonsense Continues
These are pictures taken at the Chennai launch of The Tenth Rasa: An Anthology of Indian Nonsense edited by Michael Heyman who's the merry man in specs listening to my reading.....

Date: January 7, 2007. Place: Oxford Book Store.
Click on the title to see the source of these pictures which were purloined at about 8. 10 p.m. Indian Standard Time to grace this page.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Poems On A String

I thought I'd post a few poems this time. They are
on my website, but this seemed a good enough time.

when the sun dips as if forever,
when streaks of feeling
silver the horizon's brow
and the waves start up in excitement,
frothing and insatiable,
my thoughts betray me
and i can barely feel the world...

the red new bike, barely smaller than his eight year-old frame
totters in a straining arc of steel and young thigh,
the quick of possession has already settled to drudgery and fear,
and his rolling screams are repeating a pattern.
i can close my eyes and doodle away those days of sentiment
like fluorescent on virgin canvas.

my dreams are squeezed out in futile doses
let me pause and guide him on his way
and pat him for his speed, encourage him to take the curves
explain afresh the pleasures of dangerous riding
to race the steeps and dare the climb abetted by the wind.
there's no life in cruising, son, your father's hopes are done.
let's tell them no, the rules of championship aren't weakened yet:
on a summer's day, there's much to be said for a marathon.
(the bike too has grown, as you can see!)

touch me again
for you've proved beyond doubt
touch cures

all day we cry
without pain
and struggle to run
all day for the night--
let the cloud split
its gloomy swelling
and pour
for you've proved beyond doubt
rain cures.

and, finally, one of the few poems I've written born of thoughts
from reading a newspaper report.
(after the boat tragedy)
days after the drowning when companion villages
raised the memory of their various dead,
and boats and blame were re-examined,
and officials packed up, exhausted,
dredging out certificates and compensations;
one evening when the wails had stilled the sky
like ghost singers fading out, and the lamp
reached the threshold like any other evening,
the old woman hobbled out, muttering her prayers
and cursing each member of her family
for leaving her alone,
unaware of the reason
for the terrible silence in the house
that invaded even her deafness.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Words, words, words

The problem with writing something big--- like a novel, that is--- is that you have a carry case of "matter" wherever you go, and all sorts of impressions and ideas get collected in it, so that sometimes you feel tempted or even obliged to add all that stuff in your work.

It might present itself as an interesting possibility; only when you read through later or get a second opinion do you realise that you've been "hacking" into your own work through sly interpolation of peripheral detail. It takes such a long time, and you often get tired with words. If you read something really good in the meantime, there is a possibility that you can return fresh to your own work (without being too inspired by what you've read, hopefully). So the problem is Ideas & Words. I get into this obsession with words sometimes--- the sound and "feel" of a word; so much so that the meaning and the "fit" often suffer.

Freshness is all.

The word, its meaning and context have all to sharpen and live for you to be able to do the same for your reader. But when you're reading through large tracts of text you've written, you sometimes get fed up or alarmed or bored, and even good writing can appear stilted through over-reading. The best thing, I find, is to put it aside and return later.

But, still, re-reading is a must. Polishing your work when you're fresh is part of the craft. For me it is instinctual writing followed by craft. Which becomes the art! Having been a newspaper and magazine editor helps you to be precise and objective if not ruthless when confronted by favourite turns of phrases that don't really belong in your work. I have new writers sending me their work now and then to be evaluated, and the problem in most cases is that they've not read and re-read. And they just don't have it in them to cut out portions that don't belong.

Freshness is a mental state that is brought on by physical readiness. Walking, exercising and meeting people are "distractions" that become essential for a writer.

Which is why I wonder why I'm still sitting and staring into this screen day in and day out (sometimes, night-out too) ad losing all that freshness.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Great Stick Dance!!

By the way, in the previous blog....
Click on the little stickman to see
the Great Stick Dance!

Writers & Writing Buffs

I must tell you of my encounters with writers (and their wives, in some cases). I admire the writing of R. K. Narayan for the sheer life of his observations and his observations of life. His words are simple, but they live. I did my M.Phil thesis on

his works. It was called Inaction & The Hero in R. K. Narayan. I wanted to meet and discuss the thesis with him (more as an excuse to meet him, actually) but people dissuaded me saying that he didn't welcome students who came to him as part of their research. So I didn't. But one day he turned up at the Landmark bookshop in Chennai (Madras, actually) and sat there signing books. (The fact of the matter is, he too had been dragged into the Great Promotion Bandwagon.) Anyway, I waited impatiently in the queue and was determined to talk to him as soon as he took my book to sign. I didn't know what I'd say, but I would. Something. He did take my book. He did sign. As I opened my mouth to launch my question, some kind soul brought him a flask of water, and there was a moment of opening and pouring and drinking and a little comment from the water-bringer and a little reply from the great man and then the moment passed, and so did the queue.
I was luckier with Arundhati Roy. At that time she knew fame but not the Booker. There was a reading at the British Council. There were cocktails, and I noticed her standing all by herself near the steps. After her reading I'd asked her about her almost uncanny usage of words and she'd replied that it was just a matter of using the right word in the right place. When someone else mentioned her perky little nursery rhymes that are scattered all over her novel and asked her if she'd sing a couple of them for the audience, she said, "I generally do my routine after some time into a party!" I went up to her now and asked: "Is it time now to do your routine?" She laughed and shook her head and pointed to the number of people from Kottayam and thereabouts, some her relatives, who were present. Later when signing her book for me, a photographer clicked and the next day's Hindu had this huge picture of me and her-- in fact more of me than her! That morning I received phone calls congratulating me. I said, call me again when it's the other way around! (Ha, ha! Though I'm not saying that will never happen!)
Much before that was William Golding the Nobel Prize winner and author of The Lord Of The Flies. Those days I used to be invited to every literary do at the British Council since I'd won 2nd prize in their playscripts competition (not to mention a consolation prize for a play that's since been lost to posterity and me). Anyway, my wife was at a table with Golding and I was with Mrs Golding. A third person at the table, not knowing what to ask her since we knew next to nothing about her, laughed heartily and said, "And so, Mrs Golding, do you also write anything?" And she gave him a pleasant grin and said, "Yes, of course I do, I'm a writer too." This was news! We gawked at this delectable piece of information, and the man asked, "What do you write?" She replied gravely: "Oh, I write pornography!" A moment later, looking at our wide-open mouths, she burst into laughter, collapsing that frozen moment.
Another wife was Padma Lakshmi who came along with Salman Rushdie to a party. While the writer was holding forth about his writing and other matters literary, I was at the bar with her. After a while, she said, "I think things are getting a little too serious and boring over there, I wish someone would ask him something lighter." I obliged by asking him about his role as an "actor" in the film Bridget Jones's Diary where he'd played himself. He looked up with a grin and said, "Ah, now we come to the intellectual part of our discussion!" And the resultant laughter lightened the atmosphere. "There's nothing much to tell," he said but obviously it was something he'd enjoyed doing because he spent the next ten minutes talking about it.
There have been other writers like Shashi Deshpande (who regaled us with tales of her Paris trip at dinner during a Bangalore writers' conference), Han Suin, Amitav Ghosh, Tim Murari (who's become a friend though I don't meet him too often, but I've shared the dais with him on at least two occasions--- one of these was at the annual day of a cultural association where they were distributing plaques and shawls to all those who'd spoken or performed during the year. We were the only two who didn't get the shawls and Tim whispered to me, why aren't we getting a shawl; and I whispered back: maybe it's because we didn't perform for them, we only spoke, maybe we should perform the next time!)
Any other writers?
Can't remember at the moment. But I will. Next time.
What are blogs for anyway!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Whew, what blogs!

It's amazing but it must be said---- of all the blogs I've tried consuming during my last couple of blog-hopping days, the most consistently entertaining and consummately written one is Gounder Brownie, B.A, Englis Speaks. No second thoughts about that. And she's got a whole tail-load of fans commenting in awed and amused voices each time she does her thing.

Harking back to that Next Blog syndrome, it's tempting to leave aside everything and keep moving on the blogopath, skipping only the ones in Spanish, Japanese and other such popular languages one can't read. It's not just a question of moving worlds, it's a question of moving through minds. And some of them are hilarious, others teary-eyed, near tragic. And there are, of course, pictures that pop up along the way presenting prime visual props. And who would have thought writer Susan Hill's blog would be so passionate about horses and dogs.

Another blog of interest is a writer's domain called Writing Passions. The writer Susan Abraham has filled her pages with interesting and visually appealing links; and her prose and poetry are a great draw. She too has a trail of fans.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

When you go Next Blog...Next Blog...Next Blog, you come across so many interesting ones. Some of them are visually Wow, but in a language you can't follow which is a pity. There are so many people, both anonymous and not-so-anon, who make you want to meet them and talk to them and discuss what they've written and what they've seen and the people they flaunt around in their blogs, but they too pass by like faces on a railway platform, and you're left cold till the---you're right, the Next Blog.

But do visit Earbrass & Satlaj and Saritha when you can.

The first and the last have Blogs here. The second one will start her blog with enough encouragement like this, and then we could visit her too.

And here's another one.
An anthology of short stories from Bangalore published by Unisun. There are several interesting stories in this collection, and it's been edited and brought together by Meenakshi Varma.
I've got two stories in there: The Supervisor (my original title was Day And Night) and Jasmine For The Blue God.
It should be out in bookstores in no time at all.
Don't tell me you don't have time for a cup of chai!
Here's the nonsense I've always been fated to write!

When musey musician and eminent man of sheer nonsense, Michael Heyman, thought of putting together Indian nonsense, I must thank my friend (and Mike's co-editor) Anushka for leading him to me too among his travels to the many nonsense writers of this country.

Sukumar Roy enjoys Edward Lear-like cult status among aficionados of Nonsense here, and other well-known authors spout nonsense without being recognised for it. Even though there is a huge body of work available in India which can be reclassified under this new exciting genre, it hasn't been done. Now they've all been catalogued and hung out to dry by Mike who came all the way from the US to do this. Mike's become a friend now.

Another Yes-Yes about the book is that the illustrations including the ones on the cover are by Vinayak, my elder son. Do they say nonsense runs?

Especially in families?

My contributions are The Ghost Office (prose) & Grandmother's Tales (poem)


Rama: The literary avatars
The New Indian Express
Sunday March 11 2007

In the Milky Way of literature, planets and stars have a way of connecting. They collide, merge and submerge. Big stars consume smaller ones and a new planet may absorb an older star, forging an entirely new identity. It is indeed a promiscuous cosmic panorama where the reader has to travel miles of darkness to reach the light.

As for a writer navigating this vast outer space, it is virtually impossible to remain neutral and unimpressed, and to keep his hands to himself. The bright light of a star may lure, and the mystery of a distant planet may fascinate him into recreating just such a world for himself. Inspiration is a heady source for new ideas! It is also easier on the reader who gets a reference point. For instance, if I am inspired by RK Narayan, my reader is blessed with a double-entry system when he visits my world. Besides deriving inspiration, a writer can also use an archetypal work as a canvas on which to paint his own impression of contemporary society. The danger remains, however, that a writer may draw from a previous work - say an epic— and create a new world that could impinge on the reputation of the original work. Here’s the problem: Readers who aren’t too familiar with the epic may read the new work and imagine that they now know the epic.

I came upon such an instance recently. Invited to interact with the audience after watching a play based on a great epic, I found them deeply affected by the portrayals. A few of them obviously found no difference between the play’s puny protagonist and the epic’s mighty hero. This is a burden that literature must often bear. In fact, it’s a cross that any mythological hero has to carry. Having triumphed over (or succumbed to) the tricks and trysts of destiny all through the currents of an ancient story, he or she then falls prey to the plots and politics of every subsequent writer who needs an archetypal scenario to fit his theories in. Listen to this: “You are inventing a new interpretation for statecraft, you are putting it to test and making it practically usable … But I fear that this statecraft which breaks and smashes relationships of the soul is an eternal curse to this earth. Please allow me to depart … I do not wish to stay here any more…” And a little later: “Please permit me to leave…this is my last darshan of you … May the Lord who is all powerful bless you!” (Kanchana Sita, OUP, Eng. trans. Vasanthi Shankaranarayanan)

This is an excerpt from a dialogue in CN Sreekantan Nair’s Malayalam play based on the Uttara Kandam of the Ramayana. Surprisingly, the speaker is Hanuman, and this is part of his condemnation of Rama for abandoning Sita. That the eternal devotee Hanuman (generally visualised as being in deep meditation of Rama) should turn around and vent his bitterness on him accusing him of injustice and cruelty, and turn sarcastic to boot, obviously suggests the manipulation of a well-known story and its characters. The playwright was a pillar of Malayalam theatre (and established the modern theatre workshop, the Nataka Kalari). In his play Rama can do no right, there is virtually no other character who doesn’t revile or lampoon him, and he himself is shown as being regretful, stubborn, helpless, superstitious, under the yoke of Brahmin gurus, and not in clear control of any situation. It is a reversal of everything we have come to believe of the hero.

The Ramayana has undergone many forms and interpretations. Valmiki’s original version was literature, the poetic story of Raghuvamsam and its greatest hero. But there are two moments of inconsistency with its heroic depiction of Rama: when he kills Vali through subterfuge, and when he uses harsh words against Sita after reclaiming her from Ravana, prompting her to walk through fire to prove her chastity. These two incidents have puzzled ordinary readers through the centuries. Even Rajaji, reinterpreting the classic for children, expresses his dilemma; but they can probably be interpreted as a tragic flaw in the hero by those who enjoy the story as literature, or as the compulsions of a dispassionate ruler who cannot submit to a personal agenda by others. The story ends with his coronation. The Uttara Kandam, where Sita is banished to the forest, was added later. In subsequent versions, its literary character gave way to the spiritual, and Rama was deified. Tulasidas and Kamban, singing in the realm of pure bhakti, ironed out every wrinkle by seeing Rama as the incarnation of Vishnu come down to vanquish evil and protect mankind. Sita suffers no indignity, she is willing part and participator in the vast cosmic theatre being played out. The Adhyatma Ramayana (anonymous, but attributed to Vyasa, and part of the Brahmananda Purana), which is in the form of a doubt-ridding dialogue between Siva and Parvathi, is both intensely spiritual and high philosophy. Here Rama is a detached observer, he is witness-consciousness, able to transform without undergoing transformation himself. It is said that while Krishna all along realised his divinity, Rama was born and lived as Man and had to be educated by Brahma about his true divine identity. In the bhakti versions of the Ramayana, he is God himself and acts in the capacity of an omnipotent protector. There is no place for doubt or predicament in this persona. All this goes to show the hierarchy of interpretation that epics like the Ramayana enjoy.

And then at the tail end of the series comes Sreekantan Nair’s Rama. Praised in the earlier versions as Sita Rama, Raja Rama, Veera Raghava and Kosala Rama to highlight the perfection he achieved in every role he played, Rama is here reduced to playing Bourgeois Rama, a heartless king who exploits his position and who is in turn exploited by wily Brahmins. Sage Vasishta, an embodiment of love and compassion, is turned into a cunning advisor whose salacious purpose in life is to maintain the unfair ascendancy of the Brahmins.

There are two ways you can use the archetypal element in literature. You can tell a completely new story and hark back to elements in myth to point out parallels. Readers who are familiar with the old story can then relate easily to your story. This is what Madambu Kunjukkuttan does in his Malayalam novel Ashwathama. The reader, already familiar with the eternal angst of the legendary character, identifies immediately with the new protagonist. The second alternative is to retell an old story with all the original characters intact, presenting it in the light of a new authorial philosophy or insight. MT Vasudevan Nair did this with the Mahabharatha hero Bhima in his novel Randam Oozham. And it is what R. Manoharan did with Tamil theatre. You show up an aspect or angle that was neglected or irrelevant in the original text - that is, you proceed to stretch it to its natural conclusion, or investigate some interesting proposition, either character or plot potential, that remained unexplored in the original. The latent danger here is two-fold: one, you are altering the very fabric of an old story to accommodate your new theme; two, there is the possibility that the antiquity of your story may rob it of a contemporary impact and thus weaken the force of your message. Also, the strong, already ingrained image of the mythical characters in the reader’s mind may act as a deterrent to accepting fresh inputs.

Sreekantan Nair’s Rama is a personal Rama. In its own unique framework, his play works as a diatribe against the exploitation of women and the evil aspects of the caste system. But it needn’t be confused with the Ramayana.