Saturday, December 27, 2014

Making Progress on the Novel This Christmas

Posted this on Facebook. Re-posting it here.

Another Christmas has come and gone. Just like that. There were carols, cakes from Bangalore Iyengar's Bakery, who, by the bye (by the way, is wrong, just look it up), make the best rawa cakes. Spent time with wifey at home since I still have a few issues of health to be sorted out. Find that I need sunlight more because of some bug caught from hospital, which is causing itching. So caught a lot of sun, in fact, I walk with no shirt on the walking trail near Artist Village, just like my forefathers did. No one is around when I walk. What if anyone is around? I think the sun is the best guarantee against infection, better than any antibiotic. I am paying more attention to Yoga and doing it the way it was meant to be done. All the western Yoga teachers get it wrong, because they don't integrate Yoga with meditation. I find meditation is crucial to the success of Yogic exercises. I do my own research, in addition, I have the experience of Yoga as done in the Yogashram in Cochin. Hope to throw away my afflictions and be fully myself soon.

Meanwhile work on the novel continues at 5 a.m. I am happy with the progress. Hope to give you some good news soon.

Tada, take care of your bodies. Don't over drink or over eat.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

People Say the Wrong Things in Hospital

During my recent illness, I was toying with painful idea of giving up on my novel I am writing Mr. Bandookwala. This may anger some and make some go "Ah! So he didn't make it, yeahn?" "So much wasted effort." "Thank God, I won't have to bear his prattle of what stage the novel is in."

Yes people say wrong things. I know, I know, you deny this right? You can see this at funerals. There would be a group of uncouth dregs of society laughing on the solemn occasion. The reason I didn't want people to visit me in hospital was this. People say the wrong things and you can't stop them from doing so. There is one fellow parishioner who I suspect has necrophilia in a very advanced stage. Whenever he speaks he will bring out the medical condition in which people he knew died, along with descriptions in gruesome detail. Imagine him visiting me in hospital. I would have a tough time handling him. I suspect I would collapse. In hospital a patient is thinking of his recover and along comes this tyke, this moron, who talk so casually about medical condition and death.

So I said no visitors, please. A hospital is not the best time to meet me. Drop in at home; we will have a coffee and a chat. I am unshaven and have not slept for six days, what would they think? They will pronounce the end of the road for me.

I thought I had a lot of fight left in me. I still do. I used to play football and was in the college team. Though – smarting from hurt pride – as an extra, sitting on the bench.

After coming home and seeing the manuscript my heart melted. I said to myself I can't let this go just yet. I love this story. I have spent six years of my life on it. Some publisher will surely see it for its quality and publish it.

So I switch off the television at 10 p.m. and say our family prayer and I am in bed by 10.30 p.m. or, at the most, 11 p.m. I am up at 5 a.m. and working, sipping on hot green tea. Hope to give you the good news that the final copyediting is over and done.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Last Stretch of Copyediting

Ah, to some good news at last! This is after the tremendously boring news I have been posting so far. Beg your pardon! I am happy to say the novel is in the last stretch of copyediting, which has been a painful process. It feels great, I feel as if the effort has been worth it. Fie you! Negative thoughts. Don't come near, I warn you.


Copyediting makes a difference, it surely does. It's not easy it's tremendously hard. It requires concentration, willingness to research, keeping mind clear – even isolating yourself - of distractions, some skills with the computer. Why do writers look haggard all the time? As if they needed a shave and a bath? It's because the mental process is too involving, time consuming.


Surprise! Today I met the writer and editor who taught me a few lessons in editing. He is a consummate practitioner of the word and his editing lessons were truly outstanding nuggets. Yeah, to think about it, I met him today. I won't name him, as I don't have his permission to do so. We talked about this and that and how we had enjoyed working together and parted.


I was editing a difficult piece for the online news domain I was working for at the time. He was my senior editor. He gave me time, which was the best part. Most editors these days don't have the time to give to anyone; they are so busy with their own work. But this guy, younger than me but more talented, sat with me on the manuscript I was working and showed me some tricks.


He read out a sentence and said, "This is not what they actually mean. You have to understand what you are trying to say."


Then he edited it and said, "Yes, now it reads fine." He read it out and then, "this is what they actually mean. See, how simply I have put it and brought clarity. It's the amateurs who think they are too smart and write recondite English."


This got me. How is it that people mean one thing and write another? Yes, it happens. So often I am bewildered by what I have written in my earlier days, when I chance upon them accidentally. This happens to people also. They have this beautiful thought and since they don't have writing or editing experience, when they write, it comes out as jumbled and incoherent.


That's why writing and editing is an art. Woefully, an art that is ignored by people, going by the bloopers our newspapers have these days. For example:


"I-T probe on Qureshi slams CBI ex-chief"


Glaring caption in a leading newspaper. From reading it you aren't aware what the writer is saying, or, meaning to say. How can a probe slam somebody? Shouldn't the word be "implicate"? Just to illustrate what my friend taught me at that small session beside my computer. Thank you friend.


Meanwhile let me come to what I was about to report about the novel. Yes, I am on my last stretch. That doesn't mean I am hurrying. I am taking it slow and deliberate. So, shall we say, watch this space.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Visit to Kerala

My return journey coincided with Gandhi Jayanti and I saw students at this station cleaning the platform. Quiet touched!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tips for Writers, i.e., If You Are Serious about Writing

The progress on the book is slow, creepingly slow. I feel exhausted after a few pages of editing. I don't know why. The net is full of suggestions for writers and editors. Most of them by writers themselves. Shows that all writers find writing difficult, and there's not much help coming. And, if you post on your blog or facebook, feedback, useful ones, is also scanty.

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

I have a few friends who religiously reads my blogs and they do comment, most often. Surprisingly, the majority of people for whom I have been very generous with my comments and likes do not reciprocate. This is rather mind-numbing, innit?

It's hurting also. Yeah. But what can be done? So you cut your nails, polish the tips of them, those hardy accretions on finger tips, (this is quite essential for the fingers to tap in words on the keyboard and also to hold down strings on guitar frets), and with nose slightly in the air, with a demeanour of a Shakespeare in Love, go ahead and add some tips for writers to your blog.

So, um, here goes:

Decide the best time to write and write religiously in that time. Keep away diversions, manage chores around these times but keep your mind focussed on putting some words on screen. This may be early morning or late in the night.

Have your own space, uncluttered, where you are comfortable. If you have a back problem put a cushion behind your back. This is your holy sanctum sanctorum, your pavitrabhoomi, whatevah!

Sit straight and don't bend over the keyboard. Posture is essentially everything.

If you are a snacker have plenty around so that you don't have to get up and go to the refrigerator.

For providence sake, stretch those cramped muscles once in a while.

If phone is a disturbance, switch it off when you try to write. That's what I do. Calls can always be answered later using missed calls facility.

If you are a social media addict, well, tear off the internet cable or turn it off. Social (what social) networking is the bane of writing.

Remember you are a writer, so look like one. Keep that beard, grow your hair, look like a writer. Your idiosyncracies will be forgiven. Sorry, I forgot women, keep your hair extra short, that androgynous look, right baby?

Don't blame others for your own lack of success. You will get some critics early on in your writing career who are hard to assuage. So ignore them. 

Don't be too happy when something clicks. When I had my first success with a short story, a lot of my network friends turned against me.

Take long walks, there's nothing better to calm the mind and get new ideas.

Always keep a notebook, the more expensive the better. You will carry it with you if you pay a bomb. My Moleskine (unruled) notebook costs me one grand. That makes it Rs five a page. So I am careful about what I write in it.

Above all, follow Elmo Leonard's ten rules of writing pasted above.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ganeshotsav Has Come and Gone, Some Thoughts

So a Ganeshotsav has come and gone. I almost miss the din and the sound of drums, which used to have me in a tizzy sometimes. Now, why I got into a tizzy is because I couldn't concentrate, and hence, couldn't write. Couldn't write means couldn't edit also. Editing requires more concentration, more contextual thinking, more care for language, et cetera. Writing is done just like that. 

But I feel as the late writer Khushwant Singh did that religious fervour is growing in India and according to many it is quite meaningless. There is no devotion, no dedication, and shows an absolute lack of discipline. Two families in our cluster of houses had Ganeshas in their homes and the noise through the day and night was tremendous. Is this a sign of saffronisation of India? A hard-core Hindutva friend once told me that he thought such fervour was misplaced, misguided. 

The two families I mentioned must have spent one lakh each on the idol, the food, the priest, and other miscellaneous expenses. Can they afford it? Did they take a loan to celebrate the festival? Lokmanya Tilak "popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order to bridge the gap between Brahmins and non-Brahmins and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them, and generate nationalistic fervour among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule." Are these principles being observed?

Well, questions will remain. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Today's Maid: a Case of Reverse Exploitation

This is something I am writing with great reluctance. Cases of people abusing/overworking their maids are many. But our maid has been abusing us and taking advantage of our, well, erm, good nature. Today, we live in a smart world: a world without principles, loyalties, old-world bon homie. Therefore the concept of the household maid who comes, talks politely, does work, and leaves is no longer applicable. Or, so we feel.

We pay her the prevailing rate for sweeping and swabbing (floor only) and a bonus on festivals. The beginning, a few years ago, was encouraging. Then, insidiously, from coming every day she started coming every second day. We said okay because every time there was a valid excuse. Then it became every third day. The work also started deteriorating. She wouldn't sweep or swab the balcony and only passes the wipe perfunctorily over the floor. Some room she doesn't sweep, only swabs, assuming it will take care of the dust and fallen hair. (We are people in our fifties and a lot of shedding happens.) The whole job hardly takes ten minutes and she is out of the door after that.

Then, horror of horrors, she started coming once a week. The stories were the same: fever, chills, cough, back pain, and long wait at the local doctor's clinic. We realise we were being exploited. Cheated. In a month she comes only four times and takes full pay. Imagine!

We hold consultations - wife and I - about what to do. She is an old hand, and, being sentimentally attached, we don't want to be rude and ask her to leave. God forbid who comes as replacement. Stories abound about maids stealing gold, giving information about valuables to boyfriends, even killing house owners.

We are not decided about the exploiting maid, well, not so far. But she will have to go for the way she has been taking advantage of our leniency. I didn't know exploitation happens both way. Duh!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Some Progress! A Brief Note on the Magazines of the Seventies and Eighties.

There's some progress on the novel's side, at last. I am to glad to tell you that the painful sub-editing, copy editing (call it what you will) has finally reached the half-way mark. It has been slow progress because I could do hardly four pages a day, that too, not on all days. Some days, football came in the way. Yes, football. Other days, a lot of things: sundry maintenance work at home (e.g. protecting against the rain), poetry submissions (that don't bear fruit), Sangam House submission (a mystery), a short story submission to New Yorker (which they said would automatically not qualify for a reply). So that's understandable. With so many submission they must be tired. There are so many people writing, especially short stories, and all the markets have died out.

I remember those days - Illustrated Weekly, Youth Times, Mirror, Imprint, Eves Weekly, Sunday Review, Debonair, Beautiful - all had space for short stories. Illustrated weekly and Youth Times had two pages for poems. My God! Those were golden days for short fiction. None of these magazines exist today. I would send out short stories and poems to all these publications and keep a watch if they appeared, while waiting in the barber shop. Yes, barber shops then had quite a few of those magazines in their racks. Some of them were published. But, then I was a poor documenter of my successes. All of them got lost in the movings I have done.

Today these magazines have been gobbled up by bigger media. The big newspapers shut down their smaller magazines, as they made no profit. These magazines were the hotbed of intellectual discourse in those days. People actually wrote letters to editors, bereting them for bad issues, congratulating them for good issues.

Where are those magazines? Where are those heated discussions? Football, anyone?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

On Reading Jeet Thayil's Novel "Narcopolis"

After a long time spent in prevaricating, I have gotten down to reading Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis. No, this isn't a case of hero-worship (Jeet is actually younger than me) for a person from my community, but a frank appreciation of a novel which is set in my urbs prima, Bombay. I know Jeet Thayil as an essayer of fine prose and poetry, and even our native places in Kerala aren't far from each other.

Narcopolis is a many-layered piece about a man castrated to be a eunuch. I guess this is a system that is prevalent in India, only in India, that is. Here we have the eunuchs come to our home and if the child is born with inadequate sexual organs he is castrated to be an eunuch. A eunuch thus castrated can only become a beggar or a sex slave. Nothing could be sadder than a story of an eunuch (nowadays called transgender) in the class- and community-conscious Indian society. The transgender Dimple also works in an opium den set in the seventies when Thayil came of age and what is interesting is his re-creation of those days.

Through his exquisitely crafted prose – having the ring of poetry – Thayil recreates an era that has been forgotten. Those days in Bombay opium was easily available. There was marijuana in every street corner; there were the dons of Dongri who managed the narcotics business with diligence. Today the dons are on the run and drugs aren't easily available. The opium dens of those days have closed down; the curtains have come down on an era of hedonistic excesses. Commissioner JRF Ribeiro the supercop and his brave men have seen to that.

The author moves easily across boundaries and time lines as is seen from Lee's – a top-ranking Chinese official – story. Lee is marking his days in Bombay and is Dimple's customer. Dimple is employed by Rashid in his opium den and Thayil reels out a stream of slang terms which stands for the use and abuse of the narcotic. Rashid is a man damaged by the profession and indulges in excesses of sex and gluttony. He seems like a man beyond redemption.

And, of course, there is the six-page opening sentence which as Thayil says "is a good sentence." I find nothing wrong in that since Joyce has a page full of outdated degrees and qualifications in Ulysses.

The famous Malayalam writer MT Vasudevan Nair has said that every novel puts across a novel concept, a novel idea, something for the society to ruminate on. I can't fish out the original Malayalam words, but he said as much. True Thayil has presented the unrecorded past of Bombay as a novel idea of which we may be unaware, but in which surely have played a part.

My only complaint with Narcopolis is that it ends too soon. I would have liked to see some more resolution and closures. I would have liked to read more about Dimple's life and about Ramesh, Rumi, as he is called. He has some interesting quotes ascribed to him: "This chooth country, this cunt country, how the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs?" But then a novel has to end somewhere doesn't it?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Working Hardly on the Novel - Love Writing; Hate Editing

Sorry for not being in this space for some time. It's that I am reading the novel on my Kindle and have noticed a lot of printer's devils - hm, the abominable creature's guts - in them, which I wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

I love writing. But it's the editing that I hate, no, detest with all my being. While writing keeps you entertained and innovating, it's the editing that kills. I have edited the novel four (repeat four) times and I guess there is one more editing to go. 

So there goes me, a doddering old idiot, a tottering fool, a cranky and bankrupt writer back to another editing. I should have gone back to painting which would have been more lucrative. Ho, hm. 

Wish me luck, because, sorry folks, it's going to take a while.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Not Been Blogging for a Long Time. Now I Know How to Upload My Writing to Kindle

Yeah, I know, I have been so involved with my Kindle that I have not been blogging these past days. After all, it's a brilliant invention and I have been reading loads of stuff.
I carry it wherever I go and am a bit smitten by its dark and pretty looks.

Now what I have done is upload my novel to my Kindle and, there it is, as if it (read I) have already been published. The formatting is as of a published book and everything is so presentable, it makes me wonder why I didn't buy a Kindle earlier.

Of course, during the reading I am watching for bloopers in the plot and the language,
little, little inconsistencies here and there, no,
as Catherine, Dinshaw's mother would say. It helps that the novel is one big file and not many small files, so that I can browse whichever portion I would like to edit.
Also, a printout wouldn't give you the feel a book, the font for instance, as the Kindle can.

How I went about it is as follows:

When you buy Kindle you get a Kindle email address, something like This is just a concept email and don't try to open it on your Outlook or elsewhere. When you mail your documents to you
documents will be transferred to your Kindle device for free [Advise: you should be logged in to Amazon and should have a wi-fi connection.]. If you want it transferred without wi-fi you will have to pay a fee for their document transfer network, Whispernet.

Simple? Do let me know if it works for you. Just imagine the joy of having hundreds of boring documents in a free-flowing Kindle format for you to read in trains, in cars, in monrail, in metro,
doctor's waiting room,
well, whatever!

I think Amazon and kindle should pay me for this recommendation. Yeah they should.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hmph! Copy Editing the Novel Was Tough!

Another landmark! No, nothing to do with Landmark, the bookstore, of which we are a regular visitor and fan, though we have seen the area for books shrinking, of late. Last time we were there we bought an expensive leather shoebox which we intend to use as our toiletry box. An expensive toiletry box from a book store? Dumb us! Why are we a bibliophile and not a clothesphile, or, toiletryphile, for starters?

We finished another painful editing process on the novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard. This time it was copy editing, removing silly spelling mistakes, respecting word territory (we make this mistake too often, i.e., using same words repeatedly in close proximity), removing needless footnotes (there were too many, in the final copy we intend to eliminate all footnotes), deleting self-indulgent passages (of this there were too many), eliminating literary flourishes (Ahem!).

All this because, in the madly competitive world of today, where anyone owning a laptop is writing a novel (ya know, "am writing a novel" is the best pick-up line there is, beats "I have seen you somewhere"), publishers depend too much on literary agents to turn out publishable manuscripts. And, this is the sorry part, literary agents won't look at manuscripts that have simple flaws, no matter how good they are (they receive too many submissions that are utter tripe). We don't blame them, poor fellows, much harried as they are about copyrights, territories, and suchlike.

Now, boo hoo, we have to sit down and carry out all those corrections, 350 pages of them. Writing sucks. Why weren't we a painter, an architect, a musician?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Singing and Strumming at a Christmas Celebration

The occasion was Kairali Belapur’s Christmas celebrations and friend Henry wanted me to sing a song. So I dug out an old Christmas song I had written and composed, changed a few lyrics, and sang. The change in lyrics was because when I actually stood and sang there appeared to be some tunelessness, some mis-match in the harmonies.

It's tough... standing and strumming. My right hand is a blur!
Then there was the situation, the stage fright to be thought about. My son said, “Papa, don’t make an ass of yourself, one mistake and they will laugh at you for ages.” He is my biggest critic. Son, Papa can handle all that, I am, sort of, well, used to all that. Son didn’t come for the performance, so as not to be ridiculed by friends. Wifey was supportive. But then, can I do it? What will those Malayalis whom I meet everyday think? They don’t even know I write, write poetry, sing!

So I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach as I sat through the program. There was a lot of Karaoke singing, which is acceptable these days, I guess. Then my turn came and I went on stage, after some backstage shenanigans. One of the singers, a pretty young lady was so overcome she refused to sing despite a lot of coaxing by her mother. Then – for the first time in my life – I sang standing up strumming my guitar. Hitherto, I had only sat and played the guitar. Must say standing up, playing the instrument, and singing is tough. You have to concentrate on so many different things. But, I managed fine without nervousness, well, not much.

Midway through the performance I felt my strumming becoming unsteady. Haven’t I rehearsed this for three days? Panic. Overcome by singing the choral part twice, no, thrice. Then it was time to say “Thank you, God bless,” and go off stage. Wifey says applause was deafening. A woman sitting beside her wanted to know how I do it. As if wifey knows how I do it. Hehe. Takes hundreds of hours of practice, lady. I am self-taught, so, it’s all the more harder. All those lonely hours you would be watching television serials, I am strummin, and singin! Nothing in life is easy, really, nothing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Art of Being a Published Author

 Reading this article by Tim Parks in
, I 
couldn't but make me hang my head, in contrition, and think. About myself, the novel I am writing and the effort it takes. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to put a book out in the market, or, to be euphemistic, on the bookshelves. I was at Landmark, Vashi, yesterday and saw that they had removed all the stools they had in the book aisles. Was this deliberate? Were people seriously browsing with intention of buying, as I was doing, or just passing time? The book section had shrunk to quarter the floor space and the shop was dominated by video games, cell phones, and knick-knacks. There were children, unruly ones, running around screaming loudly. One felt nostalgic about bookshops one knew: Strand Book Stall in Fort; Nalanda, at the Taj Mahal Hotel (one has to pass through security check now, so I don't bother), the old Chetna book shop at Kala Ghoda (closed down); Mani's book shop on Colaba Causeway (which is now Search Word, or something such); they were all about books and books alone.


Now I was meaning to write something about writers. When a writer gets published for the first time, the whole scenario changes. No longer is he the reviled loser, trying to cobble up a novel, trying very hard to appear decent (though it is difficult as he doesn't have a steady job), trying to mingle with the so-called literati, caferati, whatever. In whatever circumstances he/she is working there are the often assumed lines of distinction being drawn such: can write/can't write to save his/her life. This is the bane of all writers, copywriters and technical writers included. If a majority sees you one way then you are doomed to that way for life. That's the politics of writing.


However, a transformation occurs when one gets published. The whole slam-dunk has been achieved and one needs to pontificate, act the moralist, or, the rebel as the case may be, as one is a published writer. One is asked to literary events, to speak at literary festivals, one's opinion is sought by newspapers and magazines. This can kill the writer in you and make you into another charlatan; all those one book wonders can tell you. One no longer suffers fools (aspiring writers) gladly and put on an inscrutable expression at gathering and even being nasty is excusable. After all, one is a published writer. Ain't it? Hm.


Nothing is greater than the disdain of the published writer for the unpublished (I typed non-published, which is an Indianism I should try and avoid: non-Indian, non-Malayali, non-Bengali, non-Brahmin, non, etcetera.). The published writer is all about being a winner, being somebody greater than the other writer (who can't write to save his life), who can write the next big Indian, or, world novel that will shake the world and sell millions of copies. Success can go to one's head faster than Tequila shots, and when adulation isn't coming one can go to desperate extents to get them. The haste to produce the next best-seller is so urgent that publishers put down the condition of delivering three books in a tight deadline of three years, which often stifles creativity, in fact, kills it.


Of course, when one is being feted around the world, when one offers one's sound bites on television, one can't be bothered to talk or write to a hapless struggling writer offering critique that could save his (writing) life. Writers of yore had secretaries who were writers themselves. These secretaries answered letters and brought interesting talent to the attention of the writer. These days who wants secretaries when one can type an email oneself and tweet inanities when eating noodle.


And, while I am at it, one final advise to struggling starving writers. Don't go so much after post-publishing celebrity-dom and self publish your novel. That's a trap. You will neither be called a published author nor be called to chair a session at the festival with a suffix like that. You will be condemned to eternal damnation as a self-published author.


The views, of course, are personal and not intended to hurt anybody.