An Award and some Revelations

The lovely and humorous Gargi hononoured me with the Honest Scrap Award sometime back. As the recipient, I must tell you all ten things about myself.Disclaimer:

The author shall not be deemed responsible for any boredom this post may cause.

1) The first prize I ever won was for a recitation competition. I was in class (grade) I and bagged a consolation prize for reciting a poem by Swami Vivekananda.

2) In class VI when I had to give up one of the two extracurricular activities of dance and music, I let go of dance. Music has stayed with me, ever since.

3) It was in class VI only that any recognition of my writing came about. The perpetrator of this act was an essay I wrote about a trip to Appu Ghar, an amusement park in Delhi. Our English teacher, with whom I am still in touch, wrote “Good” at the end of it.

4) As a Bengali, I am crazy about fish–possibly in any and all forms. Unlike many Bengalis, I am not so crazy about sweets. There, I said it.

5) I wrote my first short story at age 14. It was in Bangla and was lucky enough to meet the approval of my immensely talented (and accomplished) author Grandma.

6) A place I return to (and must keep returning to) again and again is Santiniketan. I wasn’t born or raised there, but it’s a heart’s connection I haven’t been able to explain or eliminate.

7) The first trip I ever made outside my hometown was to the historic city of Agra. Fatehpur Sikri enchanted me even more than the world wonder, Taj Mahal.

8) My technologically challenged brain causes me eternal frustration…Sigh.

9) My first foreign trip happened in 2009, courtesy a translation Fellowship I won for my translation of a remarkable book on legendary sculptor-painter, Ramkinkar Baij. I was in the lovely city of Norwich, UK, for two months.

10) I met my husband through this very blog. He is even there on my blogroll. 🙂



When the moon and the stars loom up there
You glow on the universe of your foliage–
As the world goes to sleep.

Silently you come, without a fuss;
No announcement, no flaunting of beauty
Not any attempt to hold the passerby spellbound.

In the morning, before the world rubs its bleary eyes,
You silently drop down,
No clinging, no worrying
about getting crushed under walking feet.

Yet, you draw us–
By your plain scent,
Your unassuming beauty,
Your amazing way with stopping passersby,
Bringing them down to their knees,
To pick you up gently.

You just smile, silently.

Note: Every autumn, the Shiuli, a small flower with white petals and orange stalk, blooms in different parts of India. This delicate flower blooms in the dead of night and by morning, drops off the branches. It has a soft, mild fragrance and heralds the biggest Bengali festival, Durga Puja.

Writing Strengths Meme

Lately I had been thinking of writing a those-were-the-days post, reminiscing my days of youthful blogging—of learning from erudite fellow bloggers, of “wish-I-wrote-that” moments, of unconsciously smiling upon coming across a slice of a blogger friend’s life, of discovering new friends, and of being discovered. Of feeling humbled for coming across vastly more knowledgeable and perceptive bloggers who took the time to read my posts, and of keeping in touch with old pals splintered off a writing site that saw a sad demise.

Just when I was contemplating that post, Onipar, a gifted (I don’t say that lightly) horror writer and one of the most inspiring writing buddies I have seen spared me the sentimental outpour by tagging me for the Writing Strengths meme. The brief guideline for the meme is this:

Make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It’s not really bragging, it’s an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list. Tag four other writers or artists whom you’d like to see share their strengths.

I laughed at first. Like many other aspiring authors, I wondered if I had even three strong points as a writer. In the end, I could think of five, though. Here they are:

1) Faith: This isn’t just a strong sense of hope that I will be a published writer some day. This is deeper. It’s the heart’s connection with my writing itself. Faith in what I write and what it means to me. When I write drafts, the writing quality may be (and usually is) pathetic, the style stilted, the grammar unsure. But in the midst of all that I see a reflection of my inner world, merging at once with the world around me. I guess this is the most important element of my writing life.

2) Perseverance: Oni calls it courage. I will go with the more conventional term. All true writers persevere; it’s not really an option for them, it’s just part of the game. The odds are high and keep going higher, rejections come slamming on your face, finances play hide-n-seek with you, and you are in an arena even more uncertain than gambling or lottery. But you plug on, driven by a strange rush, aiming for a star many galaxies away.

3) Voice: Most of the feedback I have received on my writing has mentioned this facet. It’s a fusion of the social milieu I come from and the cultural sensibilities I have absorbed over the years. I write what I know; my lack of international experience makes my English writing a translated rendition of the Indian life I have known and seen.

4) Humanity: This isn’t to imply my writing is humane. It’s just to say my writing is mostly drawn from life—mine and of those falling within my immediate, extended, or distant environment. The best of writers, those who have told stories of ordinary people and their trials and triumphs are not preachers trying to teach the basics of a just society to the world at large. Nor are they messiahs, offering solutions for the repressions they witness. They are mirrors, reflecting us just the way we are—fair or ugly (not in the literal sense, of course).

5) Student: I am a lifelong learner when it comes to writing. Having a student’s outlook helps me remain open to advice and smart enough to glean benefit from even not-so-positive feedback. I have seen the results over the years; they aren’t too bad.

So there. I can now officially thank Oni for bringing me out of my self-imposed blog exile. Writing is the reason this blog is facing neglect. I am choking with freelance work and other assignments to the extent where I only find scraps of time to work on my personal writing projects. Since the blog is less demanding than those pesky projects, it waits patiently. Until a friend nudges me to return to it. 

Who do I tag? Lisa, Alicia, Bob, and John Baker.

Seven Writing Questions: A Meme

Good friend Lisa tagged me for this one. I enjoyed reading her answers and thought I’d have a go at it.

1. What’s the one book or writing project you haven’t yet written but still hope to?

A travel book that will combine food and journeying and will take me to hidden corners of India.

2. If you had one entire day in which to do nothing but read, what book would you start with?

The twelve volumes of Rabindranath Tagore’s writings. I look at them wistfully every day, but a dozen “important” tasks draw me away from them. On a day meant just for reading, a dozen tomes will draw me—to a lifetime’s feast.

3. What was your first writing “instrument” (besides pen and paper)?

That has to be my PC. Got it around five or six years back—a second hand machine. I was thrilled to have a computer of my own. By then I had good enough typing skills, thanks to years of writing-related jobs, like when I used to do the service of rewriting a paper. The PC was a godsend, not just because it boosted my writing efforts, but because it introduced me to fellow writers from all parts of the world. The internet led me to my first writing forum, enabling me to connect with writers—aspiring and published, while at the same time helping me hone my writing skills, discover my voice, and lend me new dreams.

4. What’s your best guess as to how many books you read in a month?

I am a painfully slow reader. At my best, I can finish two good-sized books (300 pages) in a month. This also explains why I am so ill-read.

5. What’s your favorite writing “machine” you’ve ever owned?

I will cheat here and say what Lisa said. My laptop, which isn’t even a year old (touch wood!). The light black notebook has given my writing life much-needed mobility—even if that only means being able to sit and work in the TV room when cricket matches are on. The laptop aided me well during my Bengal trip—I could download photos, take brief travel notes, check email, and generally didn’t feel internet deprived.

6. Think historical fiction: what’s your favorite time period in which to read?

My limited reading stock doesn’t include much historical fiction, but if given a chance to select a period, I would like to read books reflecting the British Raj and 20th-century India.

7. What’s the one book you remember most clearly from your youth (childhood or teens)?

Gone With the Wind. This book had a sweeping impact on me. Everything in it—the setting, the storyline, the unfamiliar (for me) speech patterns, AND Rhett Butler made the summer of my school-leaving year a hard-to-forget one.

As for tagging, let me at once tag any and every one who would like to do this. Do let me know, though, so I can read your responses. 🙂

Fresh Connections

Just when I thought my blog wasn’t living up enough to connect with readers (I am to blame for that in part–in recent times I have been at best a semi-active blogger), Sid Leavitt of Readers and writers blog, an interactive universe of the written word, as the subtitle says, came with a gentle reassurance. By selecting At Home, Writing as one of the featured blogs on his site, with a kind and affectionate review, Sid told me this blog is still touching a few heartstrings. Always a joy to know that.

Friends, in a blogosphere cramped by barely literate fans fawning over celebrities and barely literate celebrities pandering to fans, there’s a wide open world indeed waiting in weblogs like At Home, Writing.

Even more delightful was discovering the Readers and Writers blog itself, an excellent venue to bring readers and writers together. To have found a place in his blogroll–which features Bernita’s brilliant and classy An Innocent A-Blog–is indeed an honour for me.

Thank you, Sid. For taking At Home to the world.

Ready to Fly

In the course of becoming a bad-to-worse blogger, making turtle-rate progress with my WIP, trying to become a serious freelance writer, and nursing a sore knee, I managed to steal 25 days for a vacation. Am off tomorrow, to Bengal.

All five senses are alert and excited. I hope it turns out a trip to remember.

I will miss you all. Honest.

The image: Hazarduari Palace in Murshidabad, one of the sights the eyes are eager to embrace.


Booklane: Remembered, revisited

The roads are narrow and the mass of fellow humans overwhelming. Jostling one’s way through this intractable crowd is a skill only acquired with repeated visits to the place. I didn’t do badly, considering it was only my second trip. Revisiting the pavement book bazaar in Daryaganj, situated in Old Delhi or the other face of the city I call home, brought back snapshots of a winter morning tucked away in the memory files. Nearly a decade ago, I had visited the place for the first time with a co-worker friend. I had been instantly besotted with Booklane.
On that sunny January morning (or was it December?), my friend had gifted me a trip to this booklover’s promised land. I remember my sense of wonder on seeing this never-ending strip of book stalls, the 200-odd sellers displaying their collections neatly on the pavement and producing your requested book in a jiffy. We spent hours and hours scouring through the books, a lot of them secondhand. One is free to read, not just browse through books in this leisurely atmosphere.
The sun had warmed our feet, the books our hands and hearts, the prices our pockets. The Sunday book bazaar is popular because of the availability of good, even rare books at cheap prices. The memory has faded a bit, but I do remember returning home with a Seamus Heaney anthology and a book of plays, biographies and other interesting details, put together by the National School of Drama or NSD. Both prized possessions to this day. Without a doubt, that winter’s day happened to be one of the brightest in my life.
My visit to Booklane last Sunday wasn’t as merry, though. The area for the book bazaar seemed to have shrunk a bit, and this time, it was really a battle to make one’s way through the crowd. Even when my feet landed at a spot that would let me look at the books, the view was anything but happy. Most of the stalls were packed with textbooks of all sorts. Students thronged the place, picking up fat books at cheap prices. The fiction lover was virtually non-existent. Coin lovers weren’t, though, because this is also a great venue to buy old coins dating back to the era of the British Raj.Although the trip to Booklane wasn’t all that satisfying, the jaunt to Old Delhi was immensely fulfilling. For here is a world sheltering a culture and a history that has almost ebbed out of the modern city life I witness every day. And amid all the crowd and congestion lies a charm that keeps calling you to the place again and again. Yes, more trips planned to the walled city.

Special thanks to Bhupinder for making me Booklane bound.

Good Reads…

Dotara, the instrument Bauls play while singing

…I stumbled upon online over the past few days.

Writing Palestine at Words Without Borders, my window to contemporary world literature (‘wish I would visit the site more often). The WWB feature showcases the writings of nine Palestinian writers, reflecting the many hues of the conflict-ridden desertscape. Some great writing, brought to us through sensitive translation. My favourite is The Shoes by Nassar Ibrahim:

Time passes slowly, hot and dusty: Barriers, guns, soldiers, identity card checks, long waits, curses and humiliations. Everything mixes with everything else; the advance and the retreat both have the same measure of suffering. In the back, the barriers and the humiliations; ahead, the same thing. So, forward he went. Isn’t arrival, isn’t the surmounting of suffering, the defiance of being broken down a simple, clear parity? An entire nation finds byroads, steps over logic and reason to maintain for itself the logic which says, Persistence first, or death.

Bhupinder Singh’s most inspired tribute to India’s firebrand socialist poet, Kaifi Azmi. The quality of the post is made better by Bhupinder’s wonderful translation of Kaifi’s poetry. A great read.

To look for Kaifi, is to keep on searching the for new, better, more egalitarian worlds. And heavens that are more just. To remove this search from his poetry would be to take away its soul.

William Dalrymple’s feature article on Bauls or Bengali minstrels. The essay is engagingly heartfelt, yet at the same time marked by a traveller’s objective recounting and a historian’s passion for research. Besides being a treat in itself, the article brought back great reminiscences. The mention of Bhaskar Bhattacharya, a former colleague, and of his association with the Bauls of West Bengal, revived some wonderful memories. My brother happened to be a part of Bhaskar’s team working on a film on the lives of these minstrels, and some of them even came to our house during their Delhi visits. I don’t know how I missed this superb article for so long.

Throughout their 500-year history, the Bauls have refused to conform to the social or religious conventions of conservative and caste-conscious Bengali society…The goal is to discover the “Man of the Heart” – Moner Manush – the ideal that lives within every man…

Happy weekend reading to all. 🙂

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