Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Out in the open!

Active twitter users in this part of the world would recall an incident that happened about two months ago. A huge twitter wave rose in favour of a Mumbai-based woman whose desparate tweet (observed five days after she posted it) sparked the fear that something bad may have befallen her or her family. Indian Twitterers used every tool in their power to get more information about her, resulting in one of them arriving at her doorstep in a few hours, along with the police (and perhaps the media). She was safe, and the story about the origin of the tweet turned out to be too personal to be discussed in public.

It was not tough to locate her. Her Twitter was linked to her blog. On searching her name, Google helpfully brought up her Facebook account, among several others with the same name. But it was easy enough to figure out which was she. Her complete postal address was available. Her previous tweets revealed the name of her lawyer. In short, a lot of information on her was splashed on the Internet, most of it by herself. Her name and address were posted over and over on Twitter by new people joining the tide of concerned well-wishers. Some of them removed the tweets afterwards, some didn't. A few days after the incident, her Twitter account was deleted.

In this particular case (even though it is debatable), the information was used for a cause that everyone believed to be noble. But isn't it as easy for someone with criminal intentions to gather our information, to locate us and arrive at our doorstep? With the boom of social networks, everyone leaves information about themselves lying around. If you want to know where someone is at the moment, check their Twitter Timeline. The chances are high that they are 'the mayors of a certain location on foursquare' or 'at the airport' or 'at the cinema' or 'doing shopping with XYZ at the Mall' at the moment. If you want to know their past, check their Facebook 'Info' and the entire history is spilled out for all to see.

Sounds far-fetched and paranoid? Have you checked how much of your details (past, present and future) are easily accessible to the public?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Women and the art of Listening

Women have sensitive and keen ears. They don't have to look around to know that their fiancé or husband is approaching. A short beep of the horn that totally skipped the ears of everyone else present, the gentle whirrr of the engine as his car glides down the drive, the sound of him pulling the hand-brake, the unique sound of his bike, a short step as he comes up the stairs, or a distant cough - she would hear it even when she is engrossed in her favourite TV program, teaching the children or absorbed in anything else.

Mothers have sensitive and keen ears. She is attentive to the smallest argument involving her baby even if it happens two floors below her house, she does not miss to hear a scuffle when her child is playing outside, she has enhanced senses to hear his distant voice calling her. She is ready to throw herself out the balcony at the slightest sound of her child's sob. She strains her ears to the sound of his play and laughter even when she's working.

Daughters have sensitive and keen ears. When her parents are ill, her ears will be tuned to a sound from their room. When she is behaving against their wishes, her ears act as the sentry who warns her they are approaching.

Women have very sensitive and keen ears.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My son's first ever short story

Oh he tells great many stories, the limits of his imagination lie somewhere across the boundaries of this Universe. But this is the first time he ever wrote a story. I was working at my computer as he composed this, and he asked me how to spell 'walking', and whether 'was' was spelled with 'w' or 'v'. A few minutes later, he showed me the result.

one rat was walking. the at (that) time olso(also) cat cem (came) and the cat et(ate) the rat.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The irony of human life...

Every other day in the newspapers we read about breakthrough researches in medicine, of finding cure for chronic illnesses, of methods to prolong life and retain youth. Human life, it would appear, is very precious.

In the same paper, pages 1 to 3 would be splashed with news that disturbs us no end: a child stepping on a live wire lying on the street on a rainy day, a wall collapsing on an old woman, a boy lost in the drains. Incidents (tantamount to murder?) that reek of carelessness, insensitivity, disregard for human life: the very same precious life we were talking about prolonging and preserving. Someone might have noticed the wire lying loose, the dangerous wall, the open drain. No one did anything because it wasn't their responsibility. Or because they didn't know who could help. Or because they thought they'll do it tomorrow.

It depicts the clear distinction that intelligent people have known for centuries: between the group of people targeted in the health pages and those generally featured in the accident columns.

Between those lines lies the irony of human life.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When I had eyes...

There was red on the sidewalk:
They told me it was paint.
A little girl on her way to school
Had spilled it on the ground.
I pointed to the middle of the road,
To broken pieces of glass.
A toy must have been thrown outside,
and a car run over it.
That smashed tiffin box of a little kid?
I looked up, they were glum.
My dad was carried away
His arms and legs were torn.
Wailing white vehicles, flashing
red lights; weeping around.
It's all part of the drama, they said,
We enact in our lives.
Why is there a crowd? I asked,
They came to see the fun.
Can I see my Dad again?
My tears gave no reply.
When I was born I had eyes
I grew up to be blind.
Little kids I played with,
Each became one of them.
I closed my ears to the distant sounds
And heard nothing, no more.
The smells I lost over the years
when I became a woman.
They told me it was part of it,
The price of growing up.
The child was dead: and never shall rise,
A victim of mercy killing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What in the World is this First Draft!

For a writer - or should I say a new writer, an aspiring writer, whatever - the very first dream, as soon as a brilliant thought hits her mind, is - I should get this piece of brilliance written down and published! More often than not, the dream does not go much farther, not immediately. Reaching the top of the best-seller list, Hollywood adaptation of the book et al are too far in the pipeline of her mind. I just wanna get this darn thing published. I just want some publisher to be impressed by it, if possible bowled over by it.

When she starts writing, as the little idea explodes into pages and pages of narrative, and more pages and pages of more narrative and dialogues and situations and plots and twists, the dream starts evolving, at an exponential pace. What if... what if my book is really good? Like mind-blowingly good? What if within no time the whole country, nay, the whole world is talking about it? What if the people I used to ogle at and admire, suddenly call me up and say, "Hey I read your amazing book!"? What if... the book falls into the hands of this world-class director/producer and he thinks, "What a wonderful, new, original story!" What if...

Then she suddenly pops out of dreaming and stares at the words she has written. Closing in on 2000 words. 2000 darn words. What is generally the size of a full-fledged novel? 100K words? At least something greater than 50K? How many more miles would she have to go before she gets there? Quit dreaming, stupid woman, she says and gets back to frantic typing, plotting, creating. At least let me plod on and reach my First Draft. Then I will dream away for a month. So there!

From then on, every time she begins to day-dream about the Hollywood producer, her very pragmatic heart would gently pull her back in. First draft, my dear, first draft. Get to it. Focus. Without a completed story, how can you even dream of Hollywood?

So she continues to write, relentlessly for days and nights - feeling guilty whenever she leaves her seat to attend to her family or to get a cup of tea, her mind spinning words when she's not writing - and the word count climbs slowly, steadily. Through days of frustration, writer's block, exhaustion, demotivation, desolation and discouragement, and though vague, feeble and rare moments of hope and exhilaration, the struggle continues... as she keeps her eyes focussed on the distant, elusive goal - The First Draft.

One day, weeks and months and, in some cases, years after she set out on the journey, she suddenly notices that the entire stream of her thoughts has been copied down, the gaps connected, the scenes more or less described, the characters developed, and the plot jotted down as clearly as possible. There is scope for improvement, definitely, there are huge chunks of text that need to be enhanced or removed, but... Is this it? Is this the First Draft? Is it the moment I was waiting for? 

The skeleton is complete, but there are still ambiguities and deficiencies. One entire paragraph in page number 149 has to be changed from 'telling' to 'showing'. One chapter needs to be ripped apart and a fresh one written. The dialogues sound as though they were written by a six year old. There are modifications - many. Almost every second sentence in every page may need to be changed. Every time she reads it she knows it can be enhanced, elaborated or trimmed. But that is part of the Editing, right? How does one know? How does one decide where the First Draft ends and the Editing begins?

As a short story writer, I found that attaining the First Draft - and knowing it - was easy. As soon as the cloud of a story was emptied from my mind to paper or MS Word, the First Draft was ready. I could also judge the extent to which I should edit or polish, and the areas I should improve so that the end product was ready to be read. Novels are a different story altogether. Keeping the whole sequence in mind is like juggling twenty five glasses. As an author, you're seated inside the story, not viewing it from the outside like a normal reader. You tend to miss things. You lack a fresh perspective even when you come back to it after a long break.

In December 2010, I finished connecting the dots of a novel that had taken shape in my mind a few years ago as a short story. However, it was a starving and under-nourished skeleton of a novel - I was not sure if it was ready to be called a First Draft. I did not think it was a First Draft yet - and it was not even 40K. People would degrade it as a 'novella'. But I knew there were elaborations, descriptions and explanations that could add another 20K(ish) to it. It was not the size that bothered me though it did a bit. The content had to be complete and satisfactory - in my eyes. I gave it two weeks and went back to it from the start, adding flesh to it.

As much as I wanted to call it a First Draft and 'celebrate' albeit alone, I did not feel I was there yet. So I trudged on, expanding the areas where I had left single lines stating what happens next, noting areas that need to be further edited, improving dialogues and so on. To cut it short, I am now at the end of what I call the first round of editing. And yes, it has begun to look satisfactory at places, murky at some others, and there's 'scope for improvement' elsewhere.

I think the 'First Draft' is an entity that cannot be defined - it lies in the eyes of the writer. It is she who decides her First Draft - is it just a plain linear narrative of the events and plot with no elaborations, or a readable, understandable version that connects the gaps but need to be edited, or a series of scenes that need to be organised, or a completed novel that has only typos and grammatical errors to be corrected.

The fact is that it does not even matter. The writer does not need to 'define' what a First Draft means to her. She just needs to keep writing, and writing and writing, her eyes steadfast on the goal - the undefined First Draft.
When she reaches there, she would know.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The One Thing*

Strange how things happen right in front of your eyes and you don't notice until others start pointing.

The water level must have been rising for some time now. I noticed the crowd leaning against the railing and idly wondered what they were up to. It was then that I saw. The water was looking different, higher, rough and agitated, and lashing against itself.

The people seemed disinterested: they were observing it and making comments as if it did not concern them at all, casually standing with one foot on the lowest rung, a picture of relaxation. Within no time, the water would be kissing their feet. But there was no anxiety in anyone's faces except mine. I watched them as I walked swiftly to my room. On one hand, their unconcern could mean good news - maybe they knew something I didn't. On the other, it could mean they were not yet aware - if it were possible! - of the extent of the danger.

There were familiar faces in the crowd. Faces from my past. I hesitated, wondering if I should stop and talk to them, or at least wave to them. I had passed through the periphery of their vision, but time had erased the familiarity from their minds and the memory from the corners of their eyes. They would not recognise me unless they looked right into my face.

I opened my door. There could not be another room as untidy. Clothes tossed on the bed, shirts and kurtis hanging from nails on the wall, books carelessly stacked on the shelf, paper and writing pads scattered on the table, dirt on the floor. Through the open back door I could see water lapping against the wall as it rose. We were going to be stranded somewhere. I began rummaging through the things on my table. 

The water reached my door. In a few minutes, it would be inside and soon up to my neck. I would have to join the others and see if there was a plan. My hands rested on my notebook, the one in which I scribbled my thoughts, my stories, my writings. I picked it up. I need to write, wherever I am.

I waited a moment for the water to enter my room. When it wet my floor, I would return to the others. To my surprise, it never came in. The water had started receding, as swiftly as it came. As it went back to its normal level, I was still clutching my notebook to my chest.

I would not be able to take anything with me where I go. But if I am given a chance, if I am given ten minutes to pick up one thing along, I would perhaps seek nothing more than my notebook.

*Title inspired by the blog Do you know who you are?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Woods of South India

Bollywood. When the name was born, it was adored, loved and cuddled by everyone, just as any other eagerly-awaited, answer-to-all-problems new-born would be. As it grew, it proved itself to be interesting, funny, lively and full of mischief. Over time, it became renowned for its uniqueness: unique in being the only name in the world that was derived from its Holly original.

For some, the name signified their starstruck admiration and appreciation of Hollywood. For others, it was like raising their most meaningful finger at the Hollyer-than-thou Hollywood.

As years passed, the name caught on, mainly because of its convenience - rather than as a word pregnant with meaning - especially considering that its alternative was "Hindi Fillum Indaashtry."

Today 'Bollywood' - the name and the entity it stands for - has become so popular that even Hollywood celebrities (are said to) recognise (and revere) it.
Which is all very good.

Now, isn't it stretching things a bit tooooooooo far, far beyond Kanyakumari, when the South in turn adapts from Bollywood (which is already an adapted-to-boredom version), not just once, but four times over, and names themselves Kollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood and - hold your breath - Sandalwood.
And we complain incessantly about lack of originality.

For the uninitiated, the K- and M- versions stand for the languages they are based in, namely, Kannada and Malayalam. (Mollywood? Mollywood? For crying out loud!)

Because both Telugu and Tamil begin with 'T', some one who deserves to be bestowed the National award for creativity, suggested the brilliant new name, Sandalwood. (Deafening applause). To this day I don't know which is which. Nor do I care, but I digress.

What are we supposed to make of a statement like this?
"After her debut in Mollywood, she moved on to try her luck in Tollywood and is today the reigning princess of Kollywood and Sandalwood."