The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Creative Sans Nicotine

Oh! My slim white beauty
covering your blushing face
with a red scarf,
You have dawned in my life
as a lovely cigarette.
This is the concluding stanza from my poem "The Escapade" (In Harness, 2004, ISBN 81-8157-183-5). In a way, it had surged out of me as a tribute to my old addiction of smoking, something that remained with me so faithfully for twenty-odd years. By the time I finally gave it up, people had already started looking upon me as a one-pack-a-day-and-a-half-at-night fellow smoking for no other need than bare sustenance. Poor me! But then again, I had learnt the etiquettes of smoking: generosity in offering a fag to a friend when lighting one for myself, courtesy of waiting for the host to light his cigarette before lighting mine, of seeking permission if I was to smoke at other's place, so on. I had, by then, grown so used to the object that I had long ceased to persuade myself every time I craved an additional fag. With uncanny memory I was able to locate a misplaced fag from unusual places like bookshelves and kitchen receptacles.

Funnily, my choice of friends was on the basis of brands of cigarettes they smoked. 'The non-smokers are smug fools deceiving themselves for no great reasons,' I used to think. That was not all. I had even picked up right euphemisms for smoking; say while I was smoking, I was only 'rewarding myself with a fag after a spell of work' or 'trying to connect to Lord Shiva through a smoke' and the like. In fact my concentration used to be spanned from a fag to fag and neural threads were conditioned to unwind with nicotine wafting from lip to nostril and then to brain.

I remember one occasion when I was tested by an OB professor who was hell bent on proving a point: we tend to see what we want to and skip what we dislike. I was paired with a non-smoker. Each of us was given a pack of Wills Navy Cut cigarette and then asked to see that for half-a-minute to recollect immediately thereafter what all we had seen. Lo, I said everything but not the statutory warning printed on the pack and my partner opened his list with the one I skipped. As usual, I had only scathing criticism for the professor for treating us as guinea pigs for his blessed experiment in the class. 'Wouldn't he need real-life experiments, had he to teach sex education?' I had pooh-poohed his experiment saying something like that. All this was because of cigarette-I had no patience to withstand that and anybody criticising cigarette was sure to enrage me.

During the twenty-odd years I continued smoking, I had always chosen not to do that in front of people I respected, say my parents and my teachers. In time I studied as much or even more than those people did, started living away from them and independently, acquired family and a social niche that was unlike those respectable souls used to operate from, but then I had ensured that I did not smoke before my parents. It was a taboo, and like those surrounding sex and love affairs, I was not supposed to smoke before them and lead them to a cultural shock. Now that my parents are no more there to supervise me and that I have left smoking for last twelve years and, more significantly, that I'm myself a parent, I feel I should not have been so secretive about it. My parents were paan-chewers and they were doing that with aplomb. With no fear to hide they were even sometimes putting forward an argument or two in favour of paan-chewing, say it is offered to Gods or it helps digestion. But smoking was a taboo as much as drinking was. Should I treat I was just a coward? Or did I try to be considerate enough not to subject those old-timers to cultural shock?

If I'm now asked to tell how I started smoking and then how I was able to leave it, I wouldn't be able to say it precisely. The earliest I can remember is that I used to actually hate cigarettes. Not only that the initial puffs had always come with bouts of incontrollable coughs, there were occasions when I had retched aloud after smoking; I had no knowledge then how a brand of cigarette tested differently from the others. Despite everything, I continued-for no other reason than the thrill of doing something different, the comfort of getting accepted. Stylish friends had smoked to look smart and it had appealed me. Getting smart could be so easy!

The length of a blog post would not allow me to recount my entire experience of smoking days, but before concluding this snippet, let me mention something important. I could be more creative and more focussed only after I left smoking. All my writing success (if, it has to be coined as such) is after I just left smoking. Now when I try to reason out how actually this could happen, I get the answer something like this: 'If I could leave smoking, I can even write a book'. After all, writing requires sustaining the resolve as much as it demands of a smoker to go out of the clutches of nicotine.

Doesn't it hint at the inscrutable dictum of creativity: 'The only rule is that there's no rule'.
A. N. Nanda


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tweaking Poetry

A poem should come of its own and that's the best thing to expect. If it doesn't then what's the second best course open? I remember I have read it somewhere: to prevent a writer's block setting in one should write, just go on writing at random. Something nice eventually comes out of such flippancy. And what about a poem? It's true as far as I can feel. Like the way I composed this poem. Suddenly I felt the burden of my work was taking me away from my muse. I should slog if I meant survival. So this poem came out as a survival instinct--word by word fell into their places after a lot of tweaking and a lot of polishing. Did I do justice to the idea I originally thought to express? My answer is funny--I really had no idea as I started! It came like the words themselves. Could there be a meaning at the end such sloppy endeavour? Let the poem speak for itself.

The Green Gardener

To deserve every whiff of fragrance
that wafts across to you
Live near the garden and love it too
Love its cool green and damp foliage
Its messy brambles and its zigzag trails.

Fresh and charged, when you are
In the morning after your beauty sleep
Just spend your moments there
along those aimless strides
Tending and praising those stirring buds
Eager to open and cheer the yard.

They'll wink at you, the souls mischievous
With their suggestive movements but inane nods
Fed on dew drops and stroked by breeze
Out of their dreamy snooze they're indeed frisky
Look, look at them but give no touch
They are born to endure just that much.

Surely, they'd make you happy
But how far can they go?
Living for others is a burden onerous
And no happiness could be a daily chore
The petal would wither and fragrance would fade
But the demands remain and where's the end?

I know you're not the one
to vie for their life's blood
Safe in your care they'd enjoy the sport
Smile and giggle until the sunset
and linger with friends until it's late
And return to their bed with no bad scars
And go to sleep with the twinkling stars.
A. N. Nanda


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brag 'n Ramble

Only recently I finished drafting and revising my third book, "Virasat" in Hindi, consisting of thirty short stories, all of them set in Indian post office, and its multicultural workforce. It has romance and ghosts, computers and docoits, accidents and rescues, conmen and astrologer…and the list is really exhaustive. During the last one-and-half year of slogging, I had always felt that I could write a snippet in my blog about how I felt writing a book Hindi. It is a language I have no formal learning of, and all my exposure to this has been by way of Bollywood movies and TV telecasts, my children's text book and newspaper headlines. Honestly, I have had no occasion to read a full-length book written in Hindi by any revered author. Not even "Wordiwala Goonda" that really brought the pulp revolution to Indian writing-publishing world in nineties! There could be a bit of bragging on my part while inditing this snippet, but then again, it would be difficult, nay impossible to avoid this. Otherwise, how on earth a topic like this could be developed without a pinch of bragging and rambling? Yes, while clambering across the avalanche of problems I used to think that I was doing something challenging, proving myself as competent and as creative as I had ever fancied about me.

Hindi is the official language of Indian federation and, of late, it has gained its respectability, even though the world considered India a country populated by people with high degree of proficiency in English. There are Booker Prize winners from India winning the laurels almost in regular intervals. This is what English language has brought them. Despite the spurt in this, Hindi has been rapidly gaining ground here. Want to see the proof? Okay, the proof is me and my forthcoming book, "Virasat".

Now that I have written books both in English and in Hindi, I can say this with confidence: Between English and Hindi, the latter is a difficult language to master. In a way it is always a herculean task to gain working efficiency in any language which is not the first language of the speaker. But then there are ways. Or else how are we getting Booker Prizes, not via translation but by originally writing in English?

Hindi demands accuracy unlike any other language; it is language with strict rules of gender and inflections, pluralizations and hyphenations, spellings and word formations. The voice changes from active to passive so very frequently that it appears as if one is not eating; he is being force fed. Funnily, the gender changes not as per the gender identity of the actor but in accordance with the object in the sentence. Examples are numerous, but then at least one can be funnily cited here. If somebody has eaten rice, then rice makes him a "He" and the same fellow is transformed into "She" if the object of eating is not rice but roti. Besides, like any other Indian language, Hindi has a plethora of conventions who is to be respectfully addressed and who is not to be. There are exceptions, too. Not knowing exceptions is as much a blunder as not knowing the rules themselves.

Hindi has its liberal sides too. English is really strict about tense transitions, whether it is resorted to in the middle of a sentence or inside a paragraph. The author is responsible and should be equipped with his answers why he should take a tense transition before actually choosing one. But Hindi is liberal: it is so liberal that one's writing is said to be properly reflecting the mood if one chooses to shift from present to past and past to future frequently. Literally it is encouraged.

Now I have a problem that demands a respectable solution. Those who have heard me speaking Hindi would surely consider me somebody really struggling to gain some proficiency, at least some proficiency, in speaking the language. They would never believe that such a person could write a full-length book in Hindi consisting of thirty short stories! And once when I actually read out a few from them to a friendly listener, I had an ominous question to face: 'Have you yourself written this story or got it written?' I don't know how I'd be able to give a reply to this that would be believable, if not convincing. My first attempt has been something like this: 'My dear friend, I even don't speak English properly. Then how could I write a book in English "The Remix of Orchid"? How was Mr. Ruskin Bond so impressed to give a heart-warming foreword for this book? And went to the extent of saying: "And I can say this to those who love books: your choice of reading a book on the Andamans should start right here. With "The Remix of Orchid" you will not be disappointed." '

Here, I remember an encouraging line without remembering the name of the speaker: 'Just do that…and forget'.

And now, to quote just one paragraph from the preface of the book:

घुमाते-घामते किसी और के बगीचे में घुस आया, फूल-पत्तियों का नज़ारा देखकर रुक गया, पेड़ों पर फल देखकर तोड़ने की कोशिश कीअब मालिक के सामने हिम्मत जुटाकर अपना दोष कबूल लेता हूँ, जो फल तोड़ लिया है, उसे मालिक के सामने प्रस्तुत करता हूँजी, हाँ । "विरासत" है वह फल और आप हैं उस बगीचे के मालिकआप हिन्दी जानते हैं, आप पाठक हैं, आपने इस किताब को देखकर नज़रंदाज़ नहीं किया, आपने और महत्वपूर्ण कार्यों को छोड़कर इसको पढ़ने में समय दिया--तो आप "विरासत" का मालिक नहीं तो और कौन ?

A. N. Nanda