Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The importance of creation

Creating stories was a part of my life since a very young age. As a little girl of five or six I had this habit of telling stories to whoever cared to listen. Most of these stories were made on the spot or were a mixture of stuff I read. Mostly unsuspecting aunts and uncles became a victim of these sessions. Some, like my dear youngest Chacha Jeff, encouraged me immensely and I distinctly remember sitting in my eldest phuppi's big living room, telling some spur-of-the-moment-created story to him.

The love for reading came at a very early age too. It seems I was born with it. Maybe the reading genes of all my ancestors from both my parents' sides came into me. And of course, when a person is a reader, he/she naturally wants to write. 

Although the love for stories and storytelling was something I identified with at a very young age, the ability to transfer that onto paper was something I failed at. I've been thinking about this for a while now. Writers create stories from fragments of life around them. Some stories come from experience, others from observation, and some from a combination of both. Sometimes a certain setting inspires a story, at other times a memory. One of the first stories I wrote, and that too for a writing competition in school, was about the pets of my friend and neighbour who also happened to be in the same class as myself. In the story the pets, two rabbits, drowned. The story almost won, I forget why. However, I was asked to read it out to the entire school, which I did and found myself at the receiving end from my friend. In fact, he was so upset that I had killed his pets (even if in a story) that he said something like I deserved not to win.

That hurt. 

Maybe it's that fear of hurting others or more importantly, being judged for what I write, that has held me back. There is this thought, always, at the back of my mind about the audience, whether it is the unknown reader or the friend. 

This fear, more than anything, is what had crippled me as a writer. It is still very much present, filling me with doubts and anxiety. Nobody will read your work. The world doesn't need your stories, it has better ones out there. The truth is that yes, there are better stories out there and yes, maybe no one will ever read my work. But that doesn't mean I stop the process of creation. After all these years, and more recently, weeks of agonising over this, I've realised that I need to create. For myself. I have to write what I want to read. I have to write without shame, judgment and fear. And most importantly, I have to write because I do think I have a story to tell. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

London musings

"Stop staring. What are you looking at? The lines on my forehead? My arched brows? My long wrinkled neck? Are you admiring my aquiline features? Look into my eyes. These eyes have seen so many like you pass me by day after day. Some of you laugh, others stare and a few take pictures. I like it, the distraction, because most of the times I'm staring at Jean Dubuffet's 'The Busy Life', which features five grotesque figures as you can see for yourself. Now you understand what I go through? Wait! Where are you going? Oh yes, stare at the 'Four Figurines on a Base', my husband's memory of a Paris brothel. I have this in my view also. And the thoughts that go in my head when I see this, you can't even imagine. Go ahead! Admire his work. Are you leaving? Already? But I have so much to tell you. Wait!"

[I visited London in 2011 and one of my favourite activity was going to the museums and making notes on how I felt when I saw a work of art that fascinated me. This was written on a trip to Tate Modern. I came across it while combing through old notebooks yesterday.]

Image: Google

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The #100bookpact - Books 1-10

Sometimes undertaking a challenge is the only way to do things. Even though I consider myself to be an avid reader (at least that's what I keep telling everyone!), usually my book list at the end of the year doesn't have more than twenty books. Which is insane because I usually buy double this number of books every year.

Social media can make one do crazy things. For me the #100bookpact is just that. This year I've decided to read, yes you've read it right, a 100 books. It did appear to be a pretty daunting task but so far I've managed to finish nine books. For someone who only read the Malazan series last year, nine books is pretty amazing!

Here are the ten books with the briefest, most minuscule reviews.

1. Esmond in India by Ruth Jhabvala. Nostalgia, love, broken ideals and lost causes. Well written characters, each one striving for happiness and control of their lives, like we all are. Her work is a perfect example of how a story based in the subcontinent can be about ordinary people leading ordinary lives.

2. Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark. Whatever I've read by her so far has been hugely entertaining and this book is no different. There is a potential for a movie in it. Her novels are short but she always has very strong characters with distinct qualities. For example, the staple diet of one of the characters in this novel was smoked salmon and lamb chops!

3. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. It was such a huge disappointment. Even the vodka guzzling cat couldn't save it! I abandoned the book after 50 pages. However, I highly recommend his other novel, Black Snow, which I've been thinking should be made into a stage play. It is not just very funny but totally relevant to the theatre scene in Karachi, if not Pakistan.

4. So Long, and thanks for all the fish by Douglas Adams and then,

5. Mostly Harmless, again by Douglas Adams. This book was such a bore. I think the best one in this five book series is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Even The Restaurant at the end of the World isn't bad either. I think the books which don't have Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin are really lame.

6. A morning with Jeeves is full of joy. Wodehouse's 'Joy in the Morning' was the sixth book. With preparations for the Desi Writers' Lounge stall for KLF in full swing in the beginning of February, this was the easiest, happiest read!

7. The famous Eat, Pray, Love came next. In all honesty I had never any intention of reading the book. I had seen the film and even though I had heard a lot about it, memoirs are not really my thing. But I read Big Magic last year by Gilbert and it made me curious to read her most famous work. It wasn't a let down and it gave me an excuse to watch the movie again. Also, it has a really smart plot. 

8. Tolkein's The Silmarillion came next. This book should definitely come with a disclaimer: Only for hardcore LOTR fans. 

9. Probably the best book I've read so far for this challenge was 'boom!' by Mark Haddon. A sci-fi for kids or young adults, it is one action packed story! It has aliens, toilet cleaner wielding spiders, mysterious portals, a jobless father who finds his calling in cooking, devious young boys who spy on aliens, and a road trip all the way from London to the Isle of Skye. Read it. Make your kids read it. Read it to your kids. Just don't die without reading this book!

10. I started Atonement last night. I've read two books by Ian McEwan, Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach, and really liked them but I always shied away from this critically acclaimed novel. I'm hoping it won't be as insipid as the movie. Let's see. 

The next update on the #100bookpact will come after I've finished ten more books. Which will, hopefully, not be at the end of the year! 

Note: Image of Eat, Pray, Love and The Silmarillion are from Google.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to keep and feed a muse

Ray Bradbury recommends a healthy diet for the muse consisting mainly of poetry. Read poetry everyday of your life, is one of the tips he gives in his book, The Zen of Writing. It's a great book. Easy to read and digest. Bradbury sounds like a friend. An older writer friend whom you visit occasionally and ask for advice over a cup of coffee, or a glass of whiskey, in a very by the way manner so it doesn't seem that that was the only reason you actually visited him. And he tells you, in a matter of fact way, to read poetry. Which, of course, is NOT the answer you were looking for.

It wasn't the answer I was looking for either and this post isn't about how I turned to poetry and it changed my writing life forever. Far from it. After writing on and off since the past few months I've realised that feeding the muse is not as simple as Bradbury makes it look.

Who is my muse? I think my muse is a pessimist by nature, generally good-for-nothing, and mostly  sarcastic. Whenever I sit down to write, it makes me feel uncomfortable and foolish about my writing. It also makes it very enticing not to write. Isn't it supposed to do the opposite? No matter how much and what I read, it refuses to get motivated and help me.

So I've decided to let my muse go. At least for the time being. Poetry is food for the soul but it wasn't really helping me take my story forward. The first time I realised I didn't need a muse to write was during NaNoWriMo in November last year. Maybe the goal of reaching 50k words acted like a muse but I didn't indulge in reading poetry or prose during that time. All I did was sit at my desk everyday and write. After November, writing became a bit of a struggle because the muse returned. It started creating uncertainties and doubts in my mind about my work and I became a victim to its rantings, once again. 

Today I've decided to let my muse go. At least for the time being. It is a little strange to shun it so because I'm afraid it might never return. But at the same time, I feel like it isn't there for me when I need it most. Or as Oscar Wilde put it:

'Art will fly if held too lightly,
Art will die if held too tightly,
Lightly, tightly, how do I know,
Whether I'm holding or letting Art go?'

Where's your muse today? 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Memory Jar Project

After stuffing papers in an envelope in my drawer, I finally got around to buying a proper jar for the Memory Jar project. So far I've managed to write almost everyday which has, I think, more to do with filling up the jar more than anything else! But it's very interesting to sit down every night and think over the various events which make up my day. The challenge here is not to just list down things I do everyday. The aim is to record how the various things I do everyday make me feel and how they affect my life and those of others around me. So that at the end of the year, I can appreciate my year for the memories I created, no matter how big or small. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

a new year post - sort of

I'm not a very new year party person. Fireworks are nice but in Karachi the fireworks can be lifetaking so it's much safer to stay indoors and just watch the celebrations in different parts of the world on television. I think I've not been to a single new year celebration party in the past ten years. In fact, come to think of it, I can actually count the number of such celebrations I've attended in the past 35 years on my fingertips! 

[I'm still not sure if that's cool or not].

While counting the various celebrations on my fingertips just now, one particular party stood out. I think it was in 1993 probably. Winter holidays in Karachi, six of us cousins together to celebrate the new year, music in my grandmother's drawing room, and pizza after midnight. We even had a dress code I think - white shirts and jeans. It was a pretty amazing party but then everything seems amazing in retrospect!

A new year with new possibilities and new adventures. Resolutions? Yes, a few. One of the things I am doing this year is the Memory Jar project. Elizabeth Gilbert calls it the Happiness Jar. So it's a simple idea. Every night, or maybe early next morning, write down the things that made you happy that day. At the end of the year or more precisely, on 31st Dec, open the jar and go through your little notes. Not only will you relive the many happy moments of the entire year, it'll also give you an idea of a)basically how happy you were most of the time and more importantly, b) you didn't require a lot of material things to feel great. 

[I even gave my friends small memory jars last year although now that I look at them, they do seem quite small for the entire year]. 

Photo courtesy: Batool Curmally
So here's what I really have to say in my new year post:

Try and appreciate the little things in life. It might sound clich├ęd but it is something we almost never do. Share a good laugh with a friend and cherish that. Good friends are so hard to find (and someone recently told me that it is almost impossible to develop meaningful friendships after 35. Is it?). Read. Whenever you find time - in the car, in waiting areas, departure lounges, on a flight. It's a wonderful escape and don't we all need an escape now and then. Watch good films especially foreign language films (may I recommend La Grande Bellezza and Youth?). Do at least one new thing this year. Just one can't be so tough. Create something. 

And write it all down, everyday, and put it in your memory jar. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Year that was and wasn't

At the beginning of the year I made a resolve to write more, to live more and to make everyday count. 

When I sat down to write this post I was thinking how I had not managed to reach any one of my rather lofty goals. It is at these times that a diary comes in handy so I quickly turned to the diary entry of Dec 2014 and found a list. One of those 'What I want to do in 2015' lists. My worst fears stared back at me, incomplete and in some cases, not attempted!

And then I had an epiphany; didn't I do a lot of exciting things this year that weren't even on the god forsaken list!?

Sometimes we aren't able to reach our plans because we are busy doing something equally or more cool. I made a Grand Reading Plan this year because I wanted to well, read more books. However I had started reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen in September 2014 and now, finally, in Dec 2015 I've reached the final volume in this awe-inspiring, magnificent ten book saga. Do I regret not reaching my Grand Reading Plan goal? Hell, no! I read one of the most epic fantasy series I've read since Tilsm-e-Hoshruba and it inspired me to write my own fantasy saga.

The NaNoWriMo Karachi gang at the wrap-up party at T2f - 11th Dec
And talking about writing my own fantasy saga....yes, my very own fantasy saga! It sounds incredibly unbelievable even as I write this. This year the one thing which I had never seen coming was the amazing experience of participating and winning (yes, you read that right!) NaNoWriMo. Writing 50k words in one month not only made me overcome a lot of my writing demons but it also helped me discover a lot about myself, both as a writer and a person. I think the entire NaNoWriMo experience with my friends and fellow writers was definitely the highlight of the year. 

Hubby Dear with Sarmad Khoosat in a still from the film, Manto
There were so many other great and not-so-great moments this year. Going on an all girls' trip to Dubai and losing my luggage on the way back home! Meeting school and college friends after the longest of time and starting the conversation right from where we left off. Hubby dear starred in three movies this year and I had my first red carpet moment with him in March. Our theatre group, Qissah Farosh, did a super performance at The Second Floor in September and all proceeds from the two day performance were donated to the Sabeen Mahmud Foundation. 

But the year wasn't full of happiness and cheer only. I lost a few amazing people, both friends and family, and as the year ends, it is heartbreaking that they aren't there anymore. 

With 2015 almost over, I've realised that life is too short for regrets. It is too short to hold back too. And I'm going to wake up with this thought on the first morning of January 2016. It's only afterwards that I'll make my list!