the mutt

On Composting

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on December 31, 2008


I’m delighted to end the year with composting.

Composting is what I’ve been doing for the last ten days, and it is simply delightful to say the least.

Yes, yes … you saw it coming a mile away – that composting has nothing to with any agricultural venture that I’m undertaking, and I will soon reveal its true meaning.

True meaning: composting is the process of mulling over story in one’s mind. It’s the process of turning it over, looking at it in different angles, pondering over it … cooking, stewing … composting.

Preparing the soil for the idea to grow. No wonder they say, a seed of an idea.

For over a month, I’ve been struggling with issues of voice, style and simply put, ‘what the hell to write about!’

Then, one evening, I got a germ of an idea in an introduction to Anna Karenina. And that germ has been well, germinating. I’ve planted it in my head and I keep watering it and the results are finally beginning to show.

A few conversations have already formed in my mind, a few ‘encounters’ scenes, if you like, are beginning to take shape and characters are beginning to acquire a personality.

I haven’t written a single word. I think I know how I want to begin the story, or at least at which point, but nothing has been transferred to paper yet. And for the first time, I’m finding it a very liberating and enjoyable process.

Composting is something all writers do. You toss it around, turn it around, mess with it, ask ‘what if’ questions, consider point of view issues, tone, and whole array of plots. And just because you haven’t clocked in a 1000 words a day, doesn’t mean you haven’t been working or that your story isn’t making progress.

I’ve heard of writers who have been toying around with an idea for years, some even decades, before finally getting down to writing it. One example that comes to mind rather quickly, (because I read about it recently) is Navtej Sarna’s new book – The Exile. In an interview he says, the subject has been around in his head for almost a decade.

The other thing with composting is timing. It doesn’t make sense to write it until the story is ready to be written and until you are ready to write it. The most awesome idea may require one to mature in years, experience and skill before finding scripting.

I’ve got some ideas I know I am not ready to write yet. I’ve already written some stories I should have written a few years from now. Composting is a critical critical part of writing. Not that I eschew spontaneous creativity or writing on the go, sometimes it is essential to pickle it.

Perhaps you too have been composting a thought – here’s to seeing it come alive.


Can Rakesh fire a Walther PPK?

Posted in indian writing in english by grx20 on December 10, 2008

It’s something that has been bothering me a lot.

I’ve spent countless hours brooding over it, ranted to my friends, wife and troubled myself with it no end.

The problem, in one word, is authenticity. As a reader of Indian writing in English I do not find Rakesh wielding a PPK or Inspector Siva whipping out a SR 75 believable. But in the hands of say, Baldaccci’s Web London, the SR 75 fits like a glove. Rakesh is a far cry from Jack Bauer and somehow I cannot see him do the things Agent Bauer would.

Why is it hard for us believe it? Is it because we have grown up (or old, as you please), watching Die Hard and reading Clancy, and therefore that sounds perfectly normal to us?

By that same token, we cannot deal with little Harish disappearing suddenly on Platform 3 at Madras Central Station and magically appear on the other side – in a world of wizards. And of course it is out of the question for a girl from Kolkata to fall in love with her classmate – who incidentally is a vampire from Trichur. As for Guhan being the sole survivor in a haunted space station, forget it.

These things that I mention, it’s not in our culture, one of my friends told me. (Right! It is all there in Western culture!) That’s an answer that throws up more questions in the process of answering one.

I could go on and on about this, but I neither want to abuse my freedom of speech nor your patience with it. I just wanted to throw this question up and invite thoughts from my readers.

Where’s my New Yorker?

Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on December 4, 2008

In 1993, before I was old enough to sink my teeth into it, The Illustrated Weekly was gone. I’ve heard its readers reminisce about it with the fondness and nostalgia reserved for say, a Pataudi. It was an intellectual magazine, I’m told. Apparently, it also had pictures of semi-nude women. The contrast is amusing and not necessarily dichotomous.

But I’ve never read The Weekly.  
But I’ve read The New Yorker.

Now, that is a fascinating magazine. I miss an Indian equivalent of TNY. The Mumbaiker or The Kolkattan doesn’t quite have the same ring, but that is a secondary issue. The primary issue is that there are very few (if any) magazines that can pass of as intellectual. And fewer still equip you with an opinion that is not pedestrian. The Frontline, of course, stands out for its sheer depth. The writing can be staid (it is after all from the stable of The Hindu) and that, in a strange way, actually lends the magazine a certain authority. Like the staff at Abercrombie & Fitch whose demeanour invests them with a sense of having the last word and can make even a seasoned suit-shopper nervous.  

For all its virtues, Frontline is a heavy read from cover to cover. The topics are diverse and deep, the books they review are not the usual bestsellers or newsmakers, and even the ‘lighter’ pieces are carefully chosen to leave you with more than a chuckle. True, the layout of the magazine is not a visual treat, but apart from its centrespread (which carries some fantastic pictures), The Frontline doesn’t have any pretensions of being a designer’s delight.

Yet, it is not a magazine I would subscribe to or pick up every month. It still doesn’t have the flair, variety or the charm of The New Yorker. It’s not a magazine that I would like to take with me wherever I go. It is informative, not entertaining.

I love magazines and the concept of a magazine. Every time I pass a magazine stall I spend a long time simply looking at the different titles, looking for new ones, and hopefully one that will give me what I’m looking for. And I always leave empty handed and disappointed.

I want some smart writing about politics and social issues – not a current affairs magazine.

I want a section for the arts that doesn’t talk down to me or leave me in a labyrinth of references ir dish out a review of the latest chick-litt sensation. Why, I would even like some work of fiction thrown in. But most of all, I want writing that is witty, doesn’t talk down to me (or up, for that matter), is challenging and most of all would make me wish I could write like that.

Speaking of, the vitality and energy of the writing in GQ (the international version) is amazing and some of the pieces actually inspire in me an urge to imitate. Case in point, read this.

To be fair, there are magazines in India that have some very good writing. And that’s exactly the problem. All the well-written those pieces are not in one magazine. One can’t really subscribe to over a dozen magazines to whet one’s appetite for a good read, right?

One magazine, there’s got to be one magazine that rounds up the political scene with incisive analysis, flaunts sharp writing, covers diverse topics and has the New Yorker’s ‘carry-value’.


Posted in General, Writing by grx20 on December 1, 2008

In the light of recent events, my mind wanders back to something I used to read when I was a school kid.

Desiderata. (It’s confused and oft misquoted history can be found here at wikipedia.)

My brother had a copy of it, printed on an ageing A4 sheet, stuck to a wall in his room. And when he wasn’t around, I would go and read it. I find it a calming and gentle read that reminds me of the quiet strength in words well-strung together. In fact, there is no other piece of writing that I recall more often.


Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

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