She Dared to be Different
The first Kamala Das poetry awards
held in Pune, by Gyan Adab, 25 September, 2016.
This gorgeous wooden folding frame in black and gold was the prize.
From the Old Playhouse
You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless
Pathways of the sky.
The time – the turbulent 70s. India was in turmoil and everything seemed to be more intense. The decade began with a war and went on to witness the emergency.
Perhaps because I was in college, it seemed that everyone had a pet cause and was passionate about it. Emotions were running high, perhaps because India was emerging from the ruins of colonialism and trying to find its own voice.
It seems to me that the whole country was on one major mission to discover itself, in various ways, but with equal, rebellious passion.
Feminism was raging. Women were out burning bras – this in an era when their families could not even use that word in public.
Communism was raging too. Other students were living in communes, making posters, taking out morchas and generally making their presence known. A group from the colleges, with a perfectly timed attack, took over the Mumbai University for a day and appointed their own vice chancellor. I don’t even remember what it was about but those were very exciting times.
Others were publishing underground pamphlets and circulating them. It seemed there was always something going on
I read all the feminist books but took no part in the public displays, but there were other things for me. Poetry was thriving too and there were readings and lectures everywhere. I participated in every one I could find and revelled in them.
And my life was about to get even more exciting when I met a woman who made a huge impact on me – Kamala Das.
She lived just around the corner in Mumbai and very soon I was spending every free moment in her house which was a magnet for writers, artists and poets, playwrights, astrologers, scroungers and creative people of all types.
Every month she held the Bahutantrika, the many stringed instrument, an apt name for an endless evening of art and literature. I don’t think I missed one from the day I met her.
Those were the days of My Story, her book, which was being serialized in a Mumbai paper. She was treading controversial ground there and received both acclaim and brickbats. The censure hurt but it never stopped her and that remained true for the rest of her life. She lived her own way, daring to be different, completely unaffected by what others said.
This is what I really admired about Kamala Das – her intense passion and her courage.
The first thing you noticed when you met her was her intensity, her warmth and her generosity.
She wrote about topics that are often taboo in society of those times such extramarital affairs and female sexual hungers. In those days it was completely revolutionary and her open honesty is revolutionary in any age.
It took profound courage to follow her own path, however controversial. I think my life would have turned out very differently if I had not met her in those turbulent times. Which is why I was very pleased when I was invited to speak about her at the first Kamala Das awards ceremony, followed by the film of an heartfelt interview between Randhir Khare and Jaisurya Das, her youngest son.
Randhir Khare, director of Gyan Adab, whom I first met a long time ago at Kamala’s house, is doing work that Kamala herself would have understood completely because it is what she used to do all her life with a rare and beautiful generosity of spirit – encourage creativity in others, mentor the young and hold an open house.
I only hope that, if she is looking down on us from somewhere up there, she is smiling.
There is quite a bit of interest in my workshop on how to publish your own ebook at low cost. Maybe because I don’t know any others who are doing this kind of workshop.
When I wanted to self publish my first book I had no idea what to do. It was a very confusing world and it took me ages to figure it out. Now I have six ebooks out and feel I know a little. I have been working on my notes to make this workshop as comprehensive as possible.
See you there.
It runs right through the center of the literature, a deep abyss of unfathomable depth and no real way across.
On one shore is the literary – smooth, flowing, atmospheric, at its best the highly nuanced language of poetry.
On the other side are the genres, so many of them, un-put-downable, intricately plotted roller coasters, rich with story lines and ideas.
The two rarely meet, of course, but worse they stand on their respective sides and jeer at each other.
I have heard literary writers say the word ‘plot’ with a sneer, throwing out the word like a missile. I have also heard mystery writers say with scorn that the literary tribe cannot do what they do and are eaten up with the envy of bestselling numbers.
The truth is in the middle, as usual.
Neither side can do what the other can and there is a reason for this. That is how the brain is made. It has a left side and a right side and somehow literature has shifted far left or right, building no bridges across the chasm.
When you write in left brain mode, plot is easy. You can easily juggle intricate subplots but with little attention to rich language, characterization or imagery.
The right brain does the opposite. When you write from that side, your words are vivid and flowing. It’s easy to get inside the character and do stream of consciousness – but plot is hard.
So do we try to bridge the gap? No, we move further left or right.
Literary writers try to evict plot, as if that can be done. It’s like throwing out not just the baby but the whole city. When I was in college, studying literature, plot was considered a very nasty worm which had crept insidiously into the apple. You could not get it out, so everyone was trying to shave it to a hair, trying to be absurdist, modern, gritty realistic and often monotonously depressing.
Since then some plot has crept back in, thanks, perhaps to the bestseller novels and blockbuster movies.
On the other side, the writers who write complex plotted stories often complain that writing is chore and they do not enjoy it all and simply want to finish the job as fast as possible. The left brain is the result oriented brain. It cannot stop to smell the roses, it likes bullet train speed to the last page, is intolerant of mistakes and just wants the job done even if it is pitted with a few holes and awkward sentences.
Joy, delight is on the other side, in the domain of poets. On the side of the right brain. No one ever pays poets anything so it’s clear from the start that if you are writing poetry, the word money is absent from that dictionary. You write for the joy of writing, for that silken right brain flowing when the world slows down and you are lost in ink.
So why isn’t there bridge across the abyss?
It can be done. Great writers have done it and shown the way.
I think it’s in the mechanics of it.
First let the left brain do its job. Plot, outline, notes or whatever else you use. Create the structure.
Then – the first draft. Here, the right brain takes over. Forget the rules of grammar and turn off the perfectionist in your head. Just write, whatever comes with no corrections and no going back. Don’t think about it or try to correct it. Just write.
Then the left brain again, in editorial mode, coming back to edit, correct, polish and perfect.
Of course, that assumes that right brain writers will study plot and left brain writers will take the time to get into the flow. It can be done. It’s not easy. But it can be done.
Perhaps one day there will be a Laxman Jhula over the bottomless chasm.