Guest post by Rekha Karmakar

This post, written by Rekha Karmakar who blogs at Tabulous Mom, is a tribute to Amiya Sen, my grandmother, whom the blogger knew as a neighbour in Delhi more than five decades ago.

Story of a woman born about a century ago

A rough sketch of the layout of a chummery in Lodhi Colony (New Delhi) in the 1950s, from my distant memory, where Amiya Sengupta’s and our family lived

This story is not about any female revolutionist, during the British period, who took up arms to fight for the country’s independence. It is about an ordinary humdrum housewife like our mothers and aunts who toiled in the kitchen and looked after their families.

I knew this lady since I was five years old though I lost track of her in course of time. One may wonder why I am writing about her after so many years.

To be very honest, my memories were rekindled by a story written by her worthy granddaughter Bhaswati Ghosh, who currently lives in Canada and is herself a writer. Her story about her grandmother Amiya Sengupta in ‘Memoir Excerpts: Excerpt from Till the River Runs Dry’ published in SETUMAG.IN brought back my memories about her.

Like many of my FB friends, I had not met Bhaswati, who, I suppose, is also an alumni of my school in Delhi. Once she wrote on FB about her maternal grandmother Amiya Sengupta, who would write stories in her copybook, some of which were also published.

‘Amiya Sengupta’ ? I pondered for a while as it rang a bell in my mind. I thought it might be the ‘mashima’ of our ‘chummery’ in Lodhi Colony in New Delhi. I messaged Bhaswati enquiring about her grandmother and was immediately confirmed by her that I was on the right track.

Why did it take me so much time to figure out who Amiya Sengupta was? Later it occurred to me it might have been because those days women were not usually known by their names. They were either ‘boro bou’/’mejo bou’/’choto bou’ (daughters-in-law as per hierarchy) or ‘so and so’s mother’ after their children were born. Amiya Sengupta was ‘mashima’/auntie to us and ‘Gita’s ma’ to others. Her eldest daughter Gita happens to be the mother of Bhaswati.

A few years after independence (in the 1950s), a group of young and daring Bengalis came to Delhi, with their families, to build a new India. My father, Amiya Sengupta’s husband Sudhir Chandra Sengupta and a few others were among them.

Away from home, these men were put up in ‘chummries’ along with their families. ‘Chummeries’ were two storeyed buildings used as a ‘mess’ for bachelor British soldiers during the British raj. Central govt employees of different states of India were temporarily put up in those buildings after independence.

There used to be a staircase in the middle of the building. On each side of it, there were five rooms in a row. These had a bed room and a small drawing room sort of space in front. Each batch of five rooms had three common bathrooms and three common toilets, which were kept quite clean.

Next to it, was the kitchen which was divided into five parts though none had a door. Food was cooked on ‘balti unans’ (coal fire ovens made in a bucket) or mud ‘unans’ built on the floor.

Quite often, I would sit next to my mom and listen to the ladies talking while they were cooking. It usually veered around recipes and always ended with talking about their ‘daish’/native land in East Pakistan as the memories were still very fresh. Amiya Sengupta, whom I shall, henceforth, refer to as ‘mashima’, always took the lead.

Amiya Sen

‘Mashima’ and ‘meshomosai’ stayed on the same floor, as we did, with their two children – a daughter and a son. They were a little older than my parents, who regarded them as their friend, philosopher and guide.

‘Meshomosai’ was very good in mathematics. Whenever I got stuck, I would go to him. Usually the first few sums of an exercise were solved in the class but the last few ones, which were difficult, would invariably be given as home task. Hence, I would have to go to him very often. ‘Meshomosai’ was very glad to help but on one condition. The condition was that I would have to pick up his grey hair for getting the sums solved. (His hair had become grey untimely). I, too, readily agreed. Now I realize I must have made him almost bald considering the number of times I went to him to get my sums solved. 🤩

In the meanwhile, ‘mashima’ did a diploma course in sewing. Not only that, she opened a sewing school at home where she gave tuition to the ladies of the neighbourhood. I always felt she was different from others as no one else, at that time, would ever have thought of adding to the family income by giving tuition in sewing though she was not in dire need of money.

My mom was one of her early batch of students and a favourite one too. My mom bought a Usha sewing machine, which was considered to be quite expensive at that time. But my mom made very good use of it by churning out innumerable frocks for us, shirts and shorts for my brother, blouses and petticoats for herself and pajamas for my father. After her children grew up, she stitched curtains, pillow covers etc.

A few days back, when I called my mom, she ruefully told me that she had sold the Usha machine to a man as she could not move her fingers properly to sew. Unable to control my curiosity, I asked her how much she had sold it for. She replied it was sold for Rs 200/-. She also told me that she had bought the sewing machine for Rs 125/-, by adding money from her saving. She proudly added that it was ‘Tailor’ model, the one which the tailors used for sewing. The other ordinary model was cheaper.

After a few years, we were all shifted to East Vinay Nagar (later named Laxmi Bai Nagar), where new quarters were erected for us. These were two storeyed buildings, having 2BHK flats, with a small balcony in front and a tiny kitchen garden at the back. Both our families were in the same block. The ‘chummeries’, we heard, were demolished later to make way for new buildings.

(After four decades of leaving Delhi, I went back to Laxmi Bai Nagar again but felt like Rip Van Winkle, without being able to recognize anything).

All the moms were very happy having a separate and self contained flat though it took some time to get adjusted to the new upcoming colony.

‘Mashima’, however, did not stop after getting a diploma in sewing. She appeared privately for Matriculation, Intermediate and B.A. examinations from Punjab University and lastly did M.A. in Bengali from Delhi University though her children were quite old at that time. She also started learning Hindi and appeared for Prabhakar (equivalent to Hindi Hons.). Hindi was promoted a lot at that time by the Central government to make it the national language of India. I do not remember if she took up a job at that time. But from her granddaughter Bhaswati’s writing, I came to know that later in life she had a government job.

Many decades have passed since then. I might have jumbled up many facts about her as I was myself a young school going girl at that time. I got a few inputs from her granddaughter too.

This story is not about facts but about the grit and spirit of ‘mashima’. Marrried at fifteen and coming from Barisal in East Pakistan, I realize now, she achieved a great feat. Very few women of her time would have ventured to appear for Board and University examinations from the scratch. Her family, too, must have given her a lot of support or it would not have been possible for her to do anything.

During summer, in Delhi, we used to sleep on the charpoys (portable beds made with strings), in the lawn, in front of our house. ‘Mashima’s family used to sleep just a few feet away from us. Quite often I noticed that she would read a book in the light of the lamp post that was just over her charpoy. Such was her tenacity.

‘Mashima’ had a passion for writing, which she did braving many odds. As per her granddaughter, ‘mashima’ has four books, many published articles and short stories to her credit. I wish her granddaughter Bhaswati edits and compiles them again.

One thing, I must say, is that she was very fortunate to have a granddaughter like Bhaswati, who delved into her writings and gave her due credit for it. I wish my granddaughter Kimaya also, at least, reads my post from my humble blog tabulousmom.blogpost. com when she grows up.

I pay my respect to ‘mashima’ through this post and wish her soul rests in peace.


Guest Blog: Anandamayee Majumdar

Anandamayee Majumdar has been translating Rabindranath Tagore’s songs for a while now. Her translations are available on Gitabitan in English, where she and her friend, Rumela Sengupta, have transcreated more than 700 songs of Tagore so far.  Here Anandamayee shares the challenges and rewards of translating Tagore.

Translating Rabindrasangeet

I am deeply honoured and humbled by the fact that Bhaswati asked me to write something about translating Tagore songs, a topic she wanted to post in her own blog. Here I will describe the motivation and experiences that have been relevant to me in my work. I understand that this is nothing more than a personal experience.

Translation of Rabindranath’s songs is an arduous job, and often times a frustrating one. For one, those who are conversant in Bangla, know how difficult it is to educe similar resonance and melody (surely to be missing in a translation) of the song. It is hard enough to create the same aura of just the poem itself, let alone the rhythm or the melody. Therefore to the Tagore fan of Bengal, any transcreation can easily seem like a travesty.

I need to clarify that so far as records go, there have been two kinds of translations, serving two different purposes. Both are worthy of effort, in my opinion. One, in which the transcreator tries to weld the lyrical threads of the song into her work, creating a poetic essence of the song. The other kind of translation, is that which matches the beats and measures of the original poem. The aim of the latter, is to be able to read it, as well as sing to it.

I personally think, simply to be able to educe similar emotions as the original song can be tremendously difficult, with translated work. One can only try one’s best, and not be too complacent about it. Yet, the translator at some point finds her own wings. Nobody else can tell her what to do. Since similar to creation, transcreation too can become a work of art and ingenuity. Therefore, no two paths could be the same. And so, there could be different ways to transcreate the same song by two different people.

When I first came outside Bengal to the US, I was posed with a problem of sharing Rabindranath’s songs with my friends, who were not conversant in Bengali. I had to translate a few songs to my friends at University of Connecticut in 2001, so we could share them and sing them together. I found that these translations when shared, resonated with the English speaking community — specifically, with those that had spiritual awareness in their lives. Later I was also asked to translate some of Rabindranath’s famous operas, Chitrangada and Shaapmochon by a dance academy for their own performance. These were aimed at the participants and the audience, who were mostly non-conversant in Bangla. Later, I was quelling out my own stress of traveling long distances every week, by translating Tagore songs; also, I was determined not to let my long hours of travel turn out to be entirely futile.

The desire to organize and stockpile these translations, or transcreations as we call them, came from my friend Rumela Sengupta, my soul-mate and dear friend from college, who was also transcreating Tagore songs as a way to connect to her spiritual core. We shared a similar passion for Rabindranath and his songs, and had often hummed them together back in our youth. Rumela created a blog in 2009, that she named ‘Gitabitan in English’, at An artist among other things, she brought into it a flair of her own. True to her spirit, she gave it the space and beauty it needed for making this a home cum pleasurable workplace for us, to funnel our emotions and creative passions, to heal our inner selves, to connect to others who loved Rabindranath, and to somehow reach out to those who needed him through our transcreations.

After this blog was born, the contributions became more motivated, and more regular. We began to choose songs to transcreate on a certain day, based on our needs and emotions of that day. Then again we also tried to be context sensitive, to be able to produce some work that would be seasonable and synchronous to the time of year or any concurrent collective occasion. This makes the work more relevant in some sense. We also tried to respond to the specific requests that were sometimes made of us, of transcreating certain lyrics.

We realized that others who had a chance to view the blog often left important comments, and that it would need a separate space of discussion. Rumela set up a discussion forum in Facebook, called Thoughts of Tagore where the transcreations were immediately posted. Friends Suman Dasgupta, Soumya Sankar Basu and Arindam Sengupta and others, often gave us razor-sharp and profound critique that we needed to craft these transcreations into the molds they would eventually become. Their feedback often times, honed the meaning, freshened the imagery, or bore out the essence with crispness. These individuals are our much coveted co-creators.

Since Rumela set up the blog, we have transcreated more than 700 songs. Since Rabindranath’s Gitabitan — his entire collection of songs, encompasses more than 2200 songs, we have a long way to go, to make the entire garden of songs available in English.

Whenever an urge to express arises, I seek one of his songs that seem to guide my emotions, my results of immediate soul-searching. This is all a very personal story to some extent. The good thing is, Tagore-songs import messages that are so universal, I need not bother that they have lost their aura in the present day. So the real challenge is to reach out through a contemporary, universally agreed upon diction, one that spans continents and cultures.

To put this into context of the work that is ‘out there’, we have read the works of many other translators to date, most noteworthy, maybe are Arnolde Bake, Khitish Roy, Ludwig Wittgenstein, William Radice, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, Amiya Chakravarty, and others. We have often been referred to their work, by the pundits we have asked for feedback along our way. We have read most of the existing work of these trendsetters with great passion.

I recently came across a US citizen named John Thorpe visiting Bangladesh, his work brings him to a culturally thriving milieu in the neighborhoods of Rajshahi University. In his fifties now, he has been translating Rabindrasangeet for fifteen years, his aim is to be able to sing them. He sings in both the original Bengali version and in his version of English, with a deep, majestic voice. I noticed his choice of words was quite fresh and contemporary. The fact that he tried to preserve the original cadence, did not cause havoc to the poetic essence. Fascinated by his efforts, I tried following this route on my own. I had previously been urged by quite a few individuals to try this out, but had refrained. I had not found the correct motivation at that point. But now, listening to John sing, it felt right. The path was frustrating, rewarding and effort-some at the same time. One may work on one or many more transcreations a day if this challenge of rhyming or singing to the transcreation, is not present. But with the challenge of allowing the rhythm to flow naturally just as the original, and to let the poetic essence exude just as well, the choice of expressions need such a lot of experimentation, that it often takes a while to finish the process. It is a frontier that is still fresh for me, and I feel both the butterflies and the exhilaration of an explorer.

I am aware of my own lacking conditions, and therefore, my passion for attaining a hold on English literature has grown over time. I confess that I am no English writer, or even a student of literature for that matter. Literary limitations do bother me a lot. I hold, therefore a great value for those specific constructive critique and comments that seem sincere and heartfelt, from the readers of this blog — they have molded my work. I also have been privileged to come across some enlightened writers (in English), who have a lovely command over the English language, and who I take to deeply, mainly because they write from the heart and have an effeminate style.

I believe that if we can let an inspiration wash over us, we can heal ourselves, and that could light up any creation. Without inspiration, without the flame that kindles our desire into action, anything that we do becomes dull. This has happened to many of my own transcreations. On the other hand, sometimes I just happen to sit down and start. This often results into a primary draft which does not appeal at all. But over time, that draft serves as the stepping stone, a skeleton of the work. By and by, I try to chisel out the extraneous, the unimportant, and preserve only the substance that feels right. Language itself is so fluid and magnetic. If one is not intrigued by its beauty, if it is not delectable, as well as spiritual, one can not create a worthy translation, because Rabindranath is both about profound spiritual beauty and consummate expression. As a transcreator, one has the obligation as well as the freedom to take the song (the poem and the melody together), and make it one’s own. It should not be a feeble attempt at making it available in another language, it should be borne out of one’s own heart.

I try to borrow idioms and ideas from everyday life sometimes. I do try and keep a mental note of new phrases, and idioms, and striking nuances of speech, that may come handy and could be used later for some future work.

Editing plays a major role in crafting out these transcreations. I usually edit a lot of times even after a post has appeared on the blog… until I feel that I have given it my best. Even then, it is good to come back to that post after a while, when you can read it as a third person, without attachment.

My interest is also an inherited one. I have had the exposure to Tagore’s songs since I was a child. The learning and practice of Tagore’s songs, poems and opera have been made natural for me by my family. My grandfather Subodh Majumdar was one of the first people in Bengal to self-teach Tagore songs, and to distribute them to his family and country. Renowned singers have taken their music lessons and inspirations from this unusually gifted man. In his thirties, he was making critical discussions on the notations of  Rabindrasangeet with the venerable notation-maker and musician (grandson of Tagore’s brother) Dinendranath Tagore in Santiniketan. Subodh Majumdar was also taking sitar lessons with maestro Ustaad Vilayat Khan at Sangeet Academy in Kolkata. At his own home in Khulna, he was teaching the sitar, Khol, Pakhwaj, violin, harmonium, tabla, flute and Esraj to his seven children.

Rabindrasangeet (among other songs) filled the breath of the house. My father Subrata Majumdar who was also extremely multifaceted,  had transcreated Tagore songs and poems in his twenties. Some of these got published in the family magazine. When I first came across these translated songs and poems, they read so well, I can still recall my elation at reading those soulful, crisp passages. My parents, my aunts also happen to be musicians and teachers in Tagore songs in their own rights. I am much indebted to my family, who have made Rabindranath my companion and friend, since I was a child. Therefore, transcreating Tagore was just one of the things that I can trace back to my family, like many other things.

For me, this is the story of how these transcreations came about, what I think about them, and what works for me. I think that pathway also describes the motivations and frustrations met along the way, for this work.

Guest Blog: Supriya Kar

Problems of Translation — II

This post is a continuation of
Ms. Supriya Kar’s previous post. She is doing her PhD in literary translation. Her research focuses on autobiographical writings of women from the Eastern Indian state of Orissa. Here, she discusses various problems of translation, particularly in the context of her work.

Read Part 1 here

Songs in Oriya:
The songs and chants in Oriya are marked by lyricism and onomatopoeic qualities and have therefore been left untranslated. These give a feel of the sound of Oriya. The examples include:
Hare Krushna Hare krushna, krushna krushna krushna hare hare
Hare Rama hare Rama, Rama Rama hare hare.

Chala kodala, chala kodala, patia bandhe, chhande chhande, bharide mati laal…

Kesharkunja sheja re…
Duti kara dhari hari boile kishori…
Are nauri, e ghata re nabandhe taree…
Hari haraye namo, Krishna Jadabaya namo, jadabaya, madhabaya, keshabaya namo.

Forms of Address: Chandrabhaga, Chanda, Ashoka, Abhada, Gangapani, Baula and Chandi: Terms of endearment and affection, which are used in the excerpts, have been left untranslated. These terms signify deep friendship based on love and trust. These are also given social and cultural acceptance through specific rites.

Use of Titles: Panchasakha, Bhaktakabi, Mahatma, Utkalmani: Eminent public figures acquired these titles, and came to be known through these rather than their proper names. Through repeated use these became part of their names. Although they denoted certain qualities, they were actually used as proper names. So these have been kept as such and glossed where required.

Names of Institutions: Kanyashram, Shrama Sansthan Anusthan, Dhanamani Matru Mangala Kendra, Kumari Sansad, Bakula Bana Vidyalay. Although these names denote the nature and function of these institutions they are also used as proper names. So they are kept as such and glossed wherever necessary.

Kinship Terms: Chhota Maa, Menki-nani, Andhari-Maa, Durga apa, Subhabou-bhauja, Mahi’s mother, Sushila-bhauja, Nayan-bou, Rama-bhauja, Pila-mother, Jugala Saante, Nala-da, Bhika-na, Bhula-uncle, Puri-uncle.
While translating kinship terms used in India, one has to tread cautiously between the twin extremes of ‘domestication’ and ‘defamiliarisation’. Sometimes, the English equivalents have been used and, at others, the kinship terms have been retained. As all the excerpts translated here are autobiographical writings, the kinship terms are used more often than in any other fictional genre. Retaining all the terms would have made the text loaded with unfamiliar and opaque expressions. So, at times, the relationships have been explained in the text itself, sometimes, the context makes the meaning of the terms obvious.

Conversational Style:
Attempts have been made to maintain the speech rhythms of Oriya in the translation of all the excerpts. In the translation of the excerpt from Sumani Jhodia’s autobiography, punctuation marks have not been used to retain the immediacy of her words since hers is an oral testimony.

Problems in the Source Text:
There are examples of writings in the excerpts translated here which do not really make any sense, but their meaning can only be guessed from the context. In such cases, these have been tackled in a pragmatic way.
One may mention here, Arthur Lindsay’s observation that the prime duty of translators is communicating information lucidly. He goes on to submit:

As translators, our objective is to enable the reader to understand the subject matter we are translating. Hence simplicity of language is obviously the most important weapon in our armoury. Further, I submit that the more complex the subject, the greater is the need for plain English. Even if the author is incapable of simplicity in the source text, in the target language this duty devolves upon us, since we are those who must moderate between author and reader.

In translating these excerpts, strategies such as deletion, expansion, and addition have been adopted to achieve lucidity as far as practicable.

Guest Blog: Supriya Kar

Ms. Supriya Kar is doing her PhD in literary translation. Her research focuses on autobiographical writings of women from the Eastern Indian state of Orissa. Here, she discusses various problems of translation, particularly in the context of her work.

Problems of Translation — I

In my thesis, twenty-four excerpts selected from autobiographical writings by women in Oriya are translated into English. Women whose lives these excerpts record hail from different social classes and milieus and their styles vary immensely. Therefore, maintaining the unique flavour of the texts and at the same time retaining a kind of uniformity and readability was a daunting task. Of course, there are elements in all these which one may find untranslatable. Translating is like cooking: it is one thing to say how a recipe is prepared and another to actually cook it. In this context, Piotr Kuhiwczak’s insightful observation assumes particular significance:

We can say that there is a clear distinction between discussing untranslatabilty and handling the untranslatable in the process of translation. For many of us, and this includes the students and diners I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, untranslatabilty is something that can be conceptualised and discussed ad infinitum. In contrast to this, translators have to deal with the untranslatable at a practical level. In a recent article, Margaret Jull Costa emphasises precisely this difference and the practical aspect of translation: ‘As a full time literary translator from Spanish and Portuguese, I suppose I can’t afford to believe in the untranslatable; it’s my job to translate everything, knowing that there might be some loss, but that there might also gain, and never giving in to that counsel of despair telling me that a translation is not a real thing, not the same thing, and definitely never a better thing.’

While translating, the aim was to translate so that the original should not lose its flavour, but be readable and enjoyable in the target language, without overloading the text with footnotes and glossaries that make it cumbersome for readers.

While translating from Oriya into English, the problems one encounters are more insidious than just finding the right word or expression. Partly, they flow from the very structure of the language. In addition, many of our descriptive words are highly onomatopoetic and thus almost impossible to render in English, as are the kinship terms and names of dishes, trees and flowers.

One can feel there is a palpable tension, which results from the pressure the source language exerts on the target language. The task of a translator is to minimise this tension as much as possible. Each and every sentence poses a problem. Inside the mind it goes on—permutations and combinations of words, struggling with the shape of each sentence— negotiating, groping for the right phrase. And yet the feeling of dissatisfaction persists.

Tenses in Oriya are organised slightly differently than in English. Although on paper they correspond, their boundaries do not quite map onto each other. This is because time conventions differ in different societies. The present is a much more elastic concept in Oriya than in English. That is why most Indians use English tenses wrongly. Common errors are the use of past perfect for simple past (‘I had done’ instead of ‘I did’) because Indians instinctively feel that simple past is not strong enough to indicate that something happened before now. They also use present continuous (I am doing) for simple present ‘I do.’ These problems exist across Indian languages. The problem is that while translators may be technically correct when they translate an Oriya literary text into an English present tense narrative, they are not being true to the precept that the target text should have validity as a work of art in its own right. It is bewildering to read a text translated into present tense, especially as somewhere down the line it tends to seep back into past tense.
There is a sprinkling of words connected with the physical reality of Orissa in these autobiographical writings. The list of such phrases, culture specific terms, which have been kept as such is provided below with explanations, where necessary:

Currency: adhala, pahula, ana. There is no corresponding currency in English.
Quantity: bharan, khoja, pa. These are ancient units of measurement and sometimes used idiomatically.
Slangs, Tongue-in-Cheek Expressions: chhatari, Bolibe jati sange eka ramani. There is no corresponding slang for ‘chhatari’ which is used derogatorily and abusively to mean a woman of loose morals. Literally, it means one who begs for food at chhatars or charity kitchens.
Bolibe jati sange eka ramani: People would say that one holy man is accompanied by a young woman. But the meaning of this tongue-in-cheek expression would lose its resonance if the original does not accompany its English translation.
Lunar Months: Bhadrav, Ashwina, Kartik, Margashira. A Lunar month corresponds to the period between one full moon to the next full moon. The lunar calendar is followed in observing festivals, as it is believed that the movement of the moon has a decisive influence over the affairs of human beings.
Food: ladu, badi, puri, malpua, mohanbhoga, khechudi, arisa, pura. Referring to these as delicacies or sweets would take away their cultural specificity.
Caste: karana, khandayat, chamar, radhi. The caste of a person signified his/her occupation, social status etc. These are also associated with notions of purity and pollution. The concept of caste is so quintessentially Indian that while translating Indian literary texts one has no option but to retain terms denoting caste.
Art: champu, jatra, patta. These words denote forms of fine and performing arts in Orissa, and do not have any English equivalents.
Religion: agni-pariksha, tulsi, triveni, pratah smaramy, mahamnatra, dhama, mahaprasad, mansik, homa, darshan, ashram, kathau, kirtan, akash-dipa, chaura, Amrutayana, Harinama, Ramanama, Ramdhun. These refer to religious practices which are rooted in Indian culture and their full significance can not be conveyed through English equivalents. They have therefore been retained in the translation and glossed where necessary.
Rituals and Social Practices: sholamangala, dashaha, hulahuli, haribola, shradha, ekadashi, purdah, ana-tutha, padhuan. These practices are typical of Oriya culture and so have been kept as such and glossed wherever necessary.
Festivals: Festivals such as Kumar Purnima, Raja, Kartik Purnima, Bali Trutiya underline the singularity of the cultural and religious practices prevalent in Orissa. Each festival is rooted in a specific narrative and has mythical associations. These are retained as such.

To be continued…

Image courtesy:

Guest Blog – Lisa Jordan

Christmas is upon us. As the festivities and merry-making envelop our senses, Lisa Jordan, Christian fiction writer, reflects on her genre, and how her faith has shaped her writing. Let us join her as she brings us closer to…

A Cradle for a King

Travel over two thousand years ago with me to a little town called Bethlehem. Our imaginary journey takes us to a stable where a tired husband and his wife, heavy with child, had been denied room at the inn. An ordinary woman has given birth to an Extraordinary Child. Instead of being surrounded by family and well-wishers, she and her carpenter husband have been greeted by noisy, smelly livestock. A feeding trough cradled their newborn Child. A cradle for a King. Such lowly surroundings for the Prince of Peace. Mary’s life has changed dramatically since the day the angel proclaimed her destiny. What went through her mind as she hugged this tiny infant to her breast? She was an ordinary woman whom God used for His extraordinary Purpose.

I’m honored to be a guest on Bhaswati’s wonderful blog. She invited me to share with her readers what it means to be a Christian fiction writer. The Christmas season is a glorious time for Christians, but as a Christian writer, it is also a wonderful time of reflection for me. God’s gift of His Son is the root of Christianity. Without His birth, my faith as I know it wouldn’t exist. Because of that faith, I have chosen to write Christian fiction.

Christian fiction glorifies God and promotes Biblical principles. The characters in Christian fiction stories are Christians or they have come to accept Christ as their Savior by the book’s end. Christian fiction novels and stories have a spiritual element woven into the plot. The characters rely on God to help them through their situations. The books are wholesome with no swearing, no premarital sex, or graphic content.

Christian fiction characters endure real life situations and writers of Christian fiction novels use realistic, and sometimes, edgy themes, such as abuse, adultery, addiction, child pornography, prostitution, rape. Christian fiction genres are broken into many of the sub-genres as secular fiction, such as romantic suspense, chick-lit, romantic comedy, women’s fiction, thrillers, science fiction/fantasy.

Some of my favorite Christian authors include Susan May Warren, Colleen Coble, Deborah Raney, Kristen Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, Trish Perry, Dee Henderson, Judy Baer, Allie Pleiter, Debra Clopton. There are many more. These women write in different genres, but they share the love of Jesus and their novels reflect their faith.

I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was sixteen years old. Through the years, I’ve penned stories that will never see the light of day. However, each of those stories has taught me valuable lessons about how to develop three dimensional characters, setting, plot, conflict, etc. Even published writers will say they never stop learning. By listening to constructive criticism and accepting advice from other knowledgeable writers, I’m striving to write a novel that will catch an editor’s attention.

Belonging to reputable writing organizations has helped me hone my craft. I’m a proud member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the premiere organization for Christian fiction, and Faith, Hope & Love, the inspirational chapter of Romance Writers of America. I’ve had the opportunity to attend two ACFW conferences. Both have been vital in helping me understand the complex craft of writing.

Writing Christian fiction is a ministry. It is my desire to combine my faith with stories of my heart to touch the hearts of women who may read my future novels. I write Christian women’s fiction novels about ordinary women who are extraordinary in God’s eyes. After all, I have years of experience of being an ordinary woman, but I believe in an extraordinary God. I invite you to visit my website.

As the holidays approach, take a break from the shopping, the baking, the parties, the gifts, and remember Jesus is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas. May God’s blessings be abundant throughout the New Year!

Guest Blog – Cesar Puch

Cesar Puch dons numerous hats and does so with élan. Horror writer, programmer, webmaster, art director, and very recently, editor. Shadow Regions, an anthology of twilight zone-ish horror tales, edited by Puch, is now available. In this post, Cesar takes us on…

A Stroll Down the Dark Path of Horror Writing

A short while ago my good friend Bhaswati mentioned she wanted to invite a few of her acquaintances to write some guest posts in her blog and that she wanted me to do one of those. I told her I was definitely interested and I asked her if there were any “guidelines” before I went ahead with my post. “Actually, there is something,” she said then, and mentioned her interest in a theme that’s very close to me, a theme that brought some questions to her mind.

I write horror. As many of you might know, our Sury’s (Bhaswati’s) writing goes in a totally different direction, yet she always wonders… We’re the best of friends, even when she is in India and I’m in Peru, we share a lot together and one thing she commented once was how someone she considers to be “so nice” (her judgement, lol) could come up with stuff that can be pretty dark.

I don’t know if I’m nice or not, and I do believe everyone has a shade of darkness within, huge or tiny that varies. It is what makes us humans after all. I do like to think of myself as “a good person”, I stick to myself, I try to be respectful to others, and I try to play devil’s advocate whenever there’s a discussion just to try to grab all the dimensions in a problem… But yes, darkness is familiar to me. So why choose that? Why write horror? How can an apparently happy, nice, good person by society’s standards come up with stuff that makes us cringe? Does it take a toll? Let’s try to answer these questions.

Many years ago horror novelist Stephen King wrote a book called “The Dark Half”. In it, Thad Beaumont, a literary writer makes money and fans on the side by writing gore with the byline of George Stark. Stark is not only a name on a page, but has been even given a “past” as a violent ex-con now living in a self-imposed exile. When Thad makes the decision of “killing off Stark,” the fictitious Stark materializes and comes “back from the death” to claim vengeance on the editor, the publisher, and ultimately on Thad—the people responsible for his death. In doing so, Stark appears as murderous as the characters in his gory novels.

Are all horror writers like George Stark? OK, forget the murders (or not … :-s) but are all horror writers dark people who dwell on violence and blood, who have a twisted view of the world, who surround themselves with the goriest props and who have a shrine at home for Friday the 13ths Jason Voorhies? The answer is… ok, maybe some, in greater or lesser degree. But for the most part, we are talking about family people, very respectful, very friendly. I’ve had the chance to meet a few horror authors who turn out to be really nice people to deal with. I recently started reading a novel called The Rising, a very gory, very acclaimed book about zombies by author Brian Keene. The first thing I read was the dedication: “For David, Daddy loves you more than infinity”. Not quite the axe-wielding lunatic, huh?

Personally I’m not a big fan of gore (for those who don’t know gore implies stuff like running blood, spilling bowels, decapitations, and other gruesome stuff, the more gruesome the better, at least for fans). I am a true fan of The Twilight Zone and stories that, as I said in the introduction to my anthology Shadow Regions, scare you in the mind, not in the gut. I like the psychological aspect of horror, the supernatural part of it. However, during my experience as a writer, I inevitably dealt with pretty hard stuff: rape, violence, child abuse, pedophilia, death of loved ones, teenage sex and drug use, murder, etc. You see, before writing about sadistic killings, I prefer writing about (sadly) very real stuff. Is that hard to do? Yes, sometimes it is. But when you write horror you just do it.

I’m sure writing tough subjects are a part of every genre in fiction. Does it keep us away from going back to the keyboard? Not really. Why? Hard to tell. One thing is clear though. Our writing, at least mine, is in no way a celebration of these terrible things, but they are inevitable for the plot moving forward.

And what about the not so real but oh so terrible other stuff? The supernatural bit? Why that? I can’t answer for other authors and their choice of the amount of gore and supernatural elements they put in their work. For me, the supernatural has a charm of its own. It pokes at my sense of wonder. It takes me away from a world where things are bound to happen into another where even more things are bound to happen, in ways I never thought possible.

I used to be a scaredy-cat when I was little. I don’t know when that changed, when I took a step inside that darkness. But I believe I didn’t go in without a few lifelines. I do like to think I keep a solid line traced between what’s fiction and what’s real, even if one mirrors the other. I do like to think that the horror I write is not a direct reflection of me, but a sort of catharsis. Once I talked to a friend of mine—who happens to be a psychologist—about eros and thanatos (good and evil), how we all have some of both within ourselves. She said, in my case I was sort of recycling thanatos and turning it into eros, creation.

So why do I write these hard things? Here’s a simple-minded answer: I’d rather see them on page than in the real world.

I write creepy stuff, I generate scares for people who want to be scared, excited, chilled for a bit before returning to their everyday lives. Readers come in all shades and colors. Some want that jolt, be it just a little shock or a massive discharge. And for those readers there will always be the authors who provide those jolts. Those people are not the potential serial killers some would think. They just approach fiction in a different way.

Guest Blog – Bhupinder Singh

At Home, Writing is pleased to welcome its wonderful readers to the first Guest Blog. I am excited at the opportunity to learn from the perspective of fellow bloggers. I hope you all would enjoy interacting with these discerning guests too.

We begin with Bhupinder Singh’s review of:

Santa Evita
By: Tomás Eloy Martínez

In the short span of six years between 1946 to 1952, Eva Perón, the wife of the Argentinean dictator and founder of the Perónist party, Juan Perón, won over the Argentinean people so much so that her popularity was said to rival, if not exceed, that of Juan Perón himself. Having risen from obscurity, the youngest daughter of an unwed mother, her rise had been all the more spectacular.

Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Santa Evita could have been termed as a biographical account Eva Perón’s life had the author chosen to write about her short but eventful life.

Instead, he has chosen to write about her corpse.

Eva Perón’s body, like Lenin’s, was embalmed after she died of cancer at the age of 33, at the height of her popularity. However, before the corpse could be housed in a mausoleum for public display, Juan Perón was overthrown in a military coup, and thus began the after- life journey of Eva Perón, as the incumbent military government wondered what to do with the embalmed body.

To bury the corpse could have, they feared, incited the loyal Perónists and even the masses. And Eva dead was perceived as more dangerous than the living one.

Even a few replicas were created to mislead any followers, and attempts were made to bury them. For over a decade, the corpse and the replicas changed hands and locations, traversing within Argentina and to Europe- one replica was buried in Bonn and the actual corpse in Milan, Italy from where it was finally recovered and returned to Juan Perón after his return from exile in Spain.

Martínez recounts the stories of all those that came in contact with the corpse, and the often calamitous ends that they came to. Insidious accidents awaited those entrusted with the corpse.

Some were haunted till death, some met with inexplicable accidents and others were relentlessly followed by a mysterious person called the ‘Commander of Vengeance’.

It is characteristic of Martínez to write a novel that takes the after- life of Eva Perón rather than her not less eventful life as its theme. He does show us slices of her life too, but often as flashbacks and in recollections of those that he meets with.

In a sense, therefore, he underlines the persona that outlived Eva Perón herself.

This is akin to his previous novel, the redoubtable The Perón Novel, where he focused not so much on Peron’s politically active years, but the seemingly innocuous journey of an exiled dictator returning to his home country in old age.

Santa Evita is a novel within a non- fictional account where Martínez goes out in search of information about Eva Perón’s corpse- the story emerges as he interviews people associated with Eva or later with her restless corpse.

He makes the reader an accomplice in this journey of discovery- it becomes very much like a mystery in which the reader has as many, and more often as few, clues as the writer. This makes the novel extremely readable, if not racy.

Santa Evita turned out to be unputdownable, and I finished it within a week. Along with The Perón novel, it has been one of my best reads from Latin America in the last one year.

Note:Bhupinder Singh is the author of a reader’s words–a blog encompassing a wide spectrum of the literary world. From Dalit literature to Latin American authors, and from regional Indian writers to Leftist writings, Bhupinder covers it all. His blog is not limited to just books and authors, though. The subtitle–comprising keywords such as literature, left, liberal, socialism, globalization, dalit, books, Urdu poetry, south Asia, Indiais indicative of the inclusive nature of his blog.

, , , , ,