the mutt

Overheard #2

Posted in Oddities, Writing by grx20 on August 31, 2008

School was out and I was making my way past school kids running around crazily, oblivious to the traffic snarl they had caused.

Two boys walking ahead were blocking the pavement. And my best efforts of pulling a sizzling Schumacher overtaking maneuver were being thwarted with aplomb. That’s when I heard this:

I’ve decided, I’m going to tell him.

Don’t, please don’t.

Somebody has to tell him.

No don’t do something like that. It’s not important.

I’m not doing anything bad …

First thought: he wanted to tell someone (a classmate, perhaps) that he was boring; nobody wanted to be his friend and everyone was just humouring him.

Wish I’d had a happier thought.

Mulled over possible story lines – overheard fragments make great story prompts. But abandoned the exercise when I couldn’t think of any ‘happily ever after’ story lines.


Clamorous lamentations, suggestive of bewildered bereavement

Posted in Writing by grx20 on August 29, 2008

A priceless gem from the master, Saki (H.H. Munro).

It’s a line from the story, The Quest, (Chronicles of Clovis). Here, the Momebys have just discovered that they can’t find their baby. (You can read the full story here at Wikisource.)

“An unwonted peace hung over the Villa Elsinore, broken, however, at frequent intervals, by clamorous lamentations suggestive of bewildered bereavement.”

When I first read it in school, it stuck in my mind like a starving leech. I muttered it like a mantra under my breath for weeks. I tried coining my own gems. A more lasting impact was that I fell in love with alliterations. In the weeks to follow, I wrote shamelessly-Saki-inspired stories. More than the story, I loved spending hours on creating titles like The Chirruping Cheetah of Cherfordshire County.

Things started getting out of hand when I devised devious ways of incorporating Saki’s sentence
(… clamorous lamentations …) in my English exams.

I made just one change – I did, after all, want to emulate Saki – I changed the word clamourous to lugubrious. One more alliteration – lugubrious lamentations, suggestive of bewildered bereavement.

But I was honest. I added a footnote admitting that such brilliance was not my own. I got a great kick when my teacher read my paper out loud as an example of fine writing. She even appreciated the fact that I had admitted taking help from Saki.

But of course! Like I could have ever written something like that and gotten away fooling people it was mine … all mine! In any case, I loved Saki’s writing too much to drag it into charges of school boy plagiarism.

Decades after I first read that line, I still remember it verbatim.

And I still get childish kicks writing alarming alliterations. Please tell me, you got that.

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One Hamlet, on the rocks. Or, the art of mixing it up.

Posted in Writing by grx20 on August 27, 2008

‘Genre’ can be a scary word.

Perhaps you’ve grappled with it, wondering what kind of stuff you want to write. You have an idea which is a little of horror, a little crime, some humour, some history and even romance. Are you allowed to do all that in one book?

One of the best in the field has done it, and gotten away with it. I’ll leave it to another master of the craft to tell us more – Salman Rushdie, in an interview with Powells. (Full interview here)

Rushdie: Many, many years ago, when I was just starting out as a writer, I heard the British playwright Howard Brenton talk about Shakespeare. He said some things I’ve amplified in my mind, so I don’t remember what was him and what’s me, but the gist of it was that one of the great gifts of Shakespeare to writers in the English language was to show that a work of literature can be many things at once-it doesn’t have to be just one thing.

An example I sometimes use: look at the sequence of opening scenes of Hamlet. The first scene is a ghost story. The second scene is intrigue at court. The third scene is a love story. The fourth scene is knockabout comedy. And the fifth scene is a ghost story again. What Shakespeare showed is that you could do all that. It’s completely unlike the French classical tradition, which is much more purist. Shakespeare said, Mix it all up. You can have comedy, history, and tragedy all wrapped into one. And all you have to do to pull it off is be Shakespeare. (Emphasis mine – the mutt).

But it’s a great liberation for writers of the English language to see that the greatest writer was free-form in that way. I’ve always liked that. A book doesn’t have to be just a thriller, or just a comedy, or just a psychological novel. It can be all those things at once.

To the one that got away … auf, hopefully wieder sehen

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on August 27, 2008

I’m sure it’s happened to you. You get an idea for a story. You quickly scribble down the bare bones. Sometimes only a few words. At that moment, the story is bursting through and you want to get it down as fast as you can before you lose it. It seems so clear and powerful, the thought of forgetting the idea seems impossible.

Yet, that’s exactly what happens. You read the words a few days later, and wonder what the hell you were thinking about. You frantically trace every route from the words, try to recreate that moment when it was all clear. But the idea is gone. The few words, (in the words of Blackadder), are as helpful as a barber shop at the steps of the guillotine.

Consider this fragment from my notebook:

“saving the child – maid, woman, kitchen?”

I remember it had a supernatural theme to it. I remember the image of a maid in the kitchen. That’s it.

That story like many others, is gone.

I console myself saying, there’s no end to ideas and I will get more, so let it go.

But that’s just what it is, a consolation.

Here’s one more for the Found and Lost Department.

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Why so serious, Mr. Wodehouse?

Posted in General by grx20 on August 25, 2008

Wodehouse apparently typed all his stories.
(Picture courtesy:

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Doesn’t it make you want one?

Posted in General by grx20 on August 25, 2008

An advertisement for Remington, 1901.
(Pic courtesy:

One more Remington, this one even older!
(Pic courtesy:

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Careful, now. That’s a typewriter.

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on August 25, 2008

There’s something magical and maniacal about the typewriter! The cracking finality of the keys is not for the fainthearted. (The picture here is a FACIT typewriter – the one I have).

For me, coming to the typewriter is more intimidating than approaching a blank sheet of paper.
On paper, I can rewrite as many times as I desire. Scratch out, insert words, strike out, make corrections.
But the typewriter is demanding. It isn’t easy to make corrections, additions and subtractions. It has to be done on another draft altogether. So the words have to be right, the sentences begun correctly, the thought – perfect.

Does that improve one’s writing? Does it force the mind to compose with greater precision and clarity?

My personal experience with the typewriter has been unnerving. I go to it with fear and trepidation. Some sentences, I type rapidly, hitting the keys hard, making a lot of noise. And sometimes, softly, almost apologetically. And sometimes there’s a long silence, and a desperate pressure mounts. When I leave, it is with relief for sure, but relief mixed with a sense of not having quite nailed it. It is often a harrowing experience, something I want to be done with as quickly as possible. Take out the sheet of paper, wonder how I managed to fill a page, and then quickly shut the cover.

But I keep going back to it. Probably because it is an unforgiving slave-driver. It draws me with a promise of making me feel like a writer. Sitting at a desk, fingers flitting busily, sheets of paper stacked. It draws me the promise that if I persist, I will be able to transfer my thoughts to the paper lucidly, precisely and creatively.

Writing on paper, I find, is far more relaxing, easy and forgiving.

Using the keyboard, is fast and quick, certainly, but rarely works for me. I rarely get beyond Age of Empires or Caesar III and make it to Word!

P.S. I wrote this on Word. It took me at least an hour to get everything right, or what I think is.

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“Don’t worry, nobody will find out”

Posted in Oddities, Writing by grx20 on August 22, 2008

“Don’t worry, nobody will find out”

A phrase I overheard, when walking past two boys on the road.

Probably college guys.

Of all the possible things, my immediate thought was – are they planning to cheat in an exam?

Almost four years later, I wonder – did anyone find out?

In any case, it was a good writing prompt for a morning of frustration when the blank page seemed to be headed for win by KO.

Since then, have been keeping my ears open. Particularly when walking past people.

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The price

Posted in Writing by grx20 on August 18, 2008

Cynthia Whitcomb has a very inspiring article at her website. (Read the full article here).

“What if all your dreams could come true and the price was ten pages per day?”
What if there were a magic key that really could open up the doors to our dreams? What if this was it? It has certainly been my experience in life that when I am writing like that, things flow. Fun, money, love, success, all the things that one hopes for in life.
I know it sounds silly, but I’m serious here. I’m not talking about abracadabra wave-a-magic-wand magic. I’m talking about real magic. The kind that happens when you strip off the layers of pre-occupation. When you write the stuff that you have to get out of the way before the great stuff down deep inside you can find its way to your conscious mind. It’s in there. And this may be a powerful tool you can take down into the mine to dig out the gold. Ten pages. Every day.

© Cynthia Whitcomb

P.S You can also find the link to this article on the sidebar on the right of this page – under the ‘great reading’  link.

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Who is Navtej Sarna?

Posted in indian writing in english, Writing by grx20 on August 14, 2008

In my first post, I’d like to introduce you a wonderful writer, who very few (lucky few I might add) have heard of – Navtej Sarna.

He’s the former official spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Recently, he’s been appointed the Indian Ambassador to Israel. I won’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of him. It’s a little difficult to find any information. Even his own website, sheds little light. This article from The Hindu here, give a little more.

We Weren’t Lovers Like That

I found his first novel, ‘We Weren’t Lovers Like That’ purely by accident. I was browsing through the Indian Writing section trying to find an author I had never heard of. I found this thin book wedged between two other fat books, almost invisible, and it seemed obscure enough to bother reading the blurb.

From the very beginning, it is evident Sarna is a tuly gifted and talented writer. His word choice is amazing – you feel, no other word could have worked. There are many brilliant parts in the book, and it’s a sheer delight to stumble upon them. The writing is beautiful and the story flows effortlessly. I particularly like the way he introduces the title.

I don’t want to get in to an in-depth review of the book – perhaps another time – but I would highly recommend it. (If you do want reviews, you will find enough in the very first page of a google search).

Interview snippet

From an interview with the magazine Outlook

Q. How long did you take to finish We Weren’t Lovers…?
A. Three years and another ten to get to the point where I could do it in three.


Full interview here.

Second Thoughts

Navtej Sarna’s column, Second Thoughts, appears on some Sundays in The Hindu’s supplement, Literary Review. And thankfully, it gives us his email id. His website is so outdated, most of the links don’t work, like  his email id. I know. I wrote him, but didn’t get a reply! Some of the articles are available online – most are scattered. I might put together a collection of links. The website of the Hindu (Literary Review section), has archives. But you have to plod through each Sunday to find his article. One of my favourites – The allure of Cote d’Azur. I love the way he ends it – Such a small town, with such long shadows. Full article here.


He’s got two short stories. Each in a different collection. I’ve read one and it’s just as good. In fact I bought that book, only for that story.

Navtej Sarna is one of the finest Indian writers writing in English. In fact, I would put him on the top rung of writers, period. Sadly unknown, his book is very very hard to find. But if you find it, keep it.