"A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. " ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Friday, March 25, 2011

We're Moving

We're decided to switch our blog to Wordpress. Click here to be redirected.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Salman Rushdie comes to Atlanta

On my way to work a couple of weeks ago, right as I pressed the button to change radio stations after my commune with NPR radio on my way to work, the words “Salman Rushdie speaking on memories at Emory University” snagged in my ears. Rhianna was moaning about whips and chains on the new radio station and I was in the mood to sing along, so I made a mental note to hit Google up with those words later since the Emory campus is down the road for yours truly.

It turns out that Salman Rushdie is a visiting professor at Emory University in Atlanta, GA this semester. I had already missed the first public dialogue he’d done with Deepa Mehta. (Midnlght’s Children is being turned into a movie with Deepa Mehta directing it. When I have my novel published, I’m going to hold out for Deepa Mehta to come knock on my door – or, the more likely reality, go bang on her door until she answers just to rid herself of the knocking.) So, amidst disappointment, I scanned on down on the press release and saw that Rushie was doing another public conversation on the role of memories in writing that coming Sunday.

Now, I’m not a super-fan of Rushdie. Magical realism just isn’t my thing, so after reading the first two pages of Midnight’s Children, I walked away from the book. In fact, as long as I’m playing confessions here, I haven’t read a single Rushdie novel. However, what does intrigue me as a creative non-fiction writer is the role and use of memories in writing; plus, there was the fact that Rushdie is a renowned South Asian writer and I want to be one, so I figured I should go be in his presence.

The event was held in a church auditorium on the Emory campus, on Sunday at 5 PM, free and ticketless. On the big day, I showed up at 3:30 PM and was fifth online. All 5 of us had plunked down onto the floor and buried our heads into a book as we waited for the doors to open, which I now find amusing. I snagged a seat front and center in the first row. Make no mistake: Salman Rushdie saw me. When I finally get my book published and he sees my photo on the back jacket, he’ll say, “She was the woman who kept fidgeting and texting while I spoke.” To clarify: I wasn’t texting. I was taking notes on my cell phone so that I can write this blog entry for the good of mankind and memoir writers everywhere.

There were a few highlights throughout the event. It was a conversation between Rushdie and a senior member of Emory's upper echelon around the construction of memory, of how we believe the truth of our memory more than the actual facts themselves. Rushdies example elicited chuckles from the audience. He explained when the Indo-Chinese border wars were happening and China essentially beat the Indian army, conversation amongst the adults took place that he overheard about how, now that India was no longer part of the British empire, we might become part of the Chinese empire and how people might have to learn to speak Chinese. As he mused on this memory with his family, Rushdie's mother interrupted him and essentially told him not to be daft because he was in boarding school in Britain when all of this went down. When Rushdie checked the actual records, he found that he really was in Britain at the time. Rushdie had literally reconstructed this memory through others’ and placed himself in that moment in time. This made him fascinated with the construction of memory.

Since I have every intention of writing a memoir, I'm quite fascinated with this idea of a construction of memory, especially since the only thing I have to compare the fallacy of my own memories is those of the family and friends. In that scenario, how does one determine whose truth is stronger? This is something I’ve struggled with in my writing – my perception of what I know happened versus others’. I felt marginally at ease when, as Rushdie discussed problems of truth in the novel, especially for things like verbatim dialog, he very bluntly dumped on our heads that “there's no way people remember dialogue the way it is written in memoirs. It is partly--if not completely--made up, but they are making it up in service of the truth.” Memoir authors, including myself, are clearly making things up; the question is how much are we making up.

The conversation meandered its way through how we look at the past with the eyes of the present and the way we see the past is transformed by the times of the present, which is quite true. Three years ago, I might have ended my bestseller with the main character going on to live a morose, melancholic life, the sort of life heroines in Bollywood movies live when fate takes her down before her happy ending musical. Today, however, I know my main character, no matter what she does, will live, whole-heartedly, wildly. None of the facts of my past has changed; my perspective, however, has, so I shake my head in agreement with Rushdie.

Then we came on to one of my favorite subjects: on how to write a memoir, about the differences and similarities in writing fiction and non-fiction. Rushdie stressed that one must create "novelistic elements," in non-fiction writing, where we must make the people come to life on the page, even the character baring our own name. "If you can't make them live on the page,” he stated matter of factly, “then it doesn't matter that they really live." One point that struck home was that, in writing a memoir, we have to be particularly critical of the character representing ourselves. We cannot go easy on ourselves - and we cannot write out of revenge. Rushdie encouraged really looking into if something needs to be said or not. Of course, if it is vital to our story and truth, then it must be told, but if it's not, he recommended rethinking it, to examine why we feel the need to recreate an event that didn't add to our truth - which essentially is saying that if it doesn't add to pushing your story forward, you don't need it.

Rushdie was quite witty actually - there were a reference to how he's quite tight with Jerry Springer after being on a talk-show together (long amusing story that involves poking fun at a leader of the gun rights group in the U.S.). When the topic of the abundance of memoirs in the market was brought up, he attributed it to Oprah Winfrey and the creation of the confessional culture.

Q&A took the conversation all over the place. Somewhere in there, it came up that Rushdie himself wrote the screenplay for Midnight”s Children, describing the experience "like cutting off both arms and limbs" since he had to cull the novel to exactly what needed to be in the movie and what could be abandoned. Someone piped up with the question of whether Rushdie regretted writing Satanic Verses; Rushdie shut that question down with a quick no and moved on. When asked for tidbits on how the progression of his own memoir was going, Rushdie was quite tight-lipped on the content but elaborated that he believes that if he keeps his mouth shut, then the words will come out through his fingers; he finds that projects often lose their steam because people talk about it too much. I wonder if that was a message specifically for me. When asked if he would choose to categorize himself as a writer or as his public speaking self, Rushdie ended with "I chose the life I chose to tell stories."

The man is strangely charismatic in person. I have a feeling Padma might have had an effect on his fashion sense. Rushdie very charmingly was dressed in a quite dapper suit with red socks. His voice and accent, if I closed my eyes, I could quite attribute to a much younger, debonair man.

He's going to be at Emory the entire semester. On my way out, I overheard a current Emory student casually toss of that Rushdie would be visiting his creative writing class. I wonder if he truly comprehends the depth of the privilege he has or if he will look back years later in amazement and thump himself on the head for the opportunity he let pass by.

DWL pilots its YouTube channel

Exciting news! We've just taken a significant step to cementing our online presence as an international writers' community. With the soft launch of the new DWL/Papercuts channel on YouTube, we're looking to reach out to a wider audience and to promote our writers in a more diverse manner.

The experience of reading something, be it a poem, story or article, totally changes with some context or perspective. Audio-visual content provides both. We hope that supporting A/V material will make the content more accessible, easier to interpret and more interesting for readers.

Just to clarify: this is a pilot. We've only put two videos up so far and are gauging the response to them. If people like the concept, we will launch the channel formally and improve the production quality. The videos will always have an 'at home' feel to them, though, because we want to keep them real and to represent the true essence of amateur writing.

Go to http://www.youtube.com/user/DesiWritersLounge to check out the channel. AND DON'T FORGET TO CLICK ON THE 'LIKE' BUTTON!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Karachi Literature Festival – Day 1 contd.


By the end of the first day, the festival was running well behind schedule. Mics weren’t working, sessions were starting up to an hour late and audiences were getting fidgety. Fortunately, an amazing aura of excitement continued to surround the hotel, so while there was some annoyance amongst the festival goers, no one really cared for too long. In retrospect, it’s quite possible that the organizers just didn’t plan for so many people to attend the event and got overwhelmed with the response. Some of the sessions were crammed to maximum hall capacity, particularly the Works in Progress session at the end of the first day.

This session was going to be a crowd puller from the start. The US embassy, which was a major partner in organizing this year’s KLF, had brought together quite the celeb group at one table: Ali Sethi (The Wish Maker), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), H.M. Naqvi (Home Boy), M. Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Sunil Sethi (The Big Book Shelf). I don’t think anyone was expecting anything really solid to come out of this little sitting; for most of the fans sitting there, it was probably just a chance to kill five birds with one stone. Considering that, one still managed to walk away with some interesting little nuggets from the aforementioned writers.

Ali Sethi was the youngest and the most intense member of the panel. Everything about him was geared to create an impression, from the stark rims on his glasses right down to the dramatic way in which he read out passages from texts about religious minorities in Pakistan. Evidently the writer still most concerned with ‘finding himself’, Sethi spoke passionately about the need to know one’s social reality and to figure out what one’s ‘social and economic inheritance’ was. His investigations into violence against religious minorities were driven by this same need to understand events as they unfolded around him; a process that his idealistic education abroad did not prepare him for, he said. Writing could help you decide what you believed in, said Sethi. This was an interesting turn from what one had normally heard, which was that you inevitably put to paper what already exists in your head and heart.

Daniyal Mueenuddin was by the far the most relaxed person sitting at the table. Leaning back comfortably for the most part, he listened with careful (though at times incredulous) attention to the rest of the panelists. He was adamant that writing was play for him – that he sat down to write when he wanted a break from real life. This stood out in sharp relief from the others’ descriptions of the writing process. M. Hanif, for example, spoke about the sense of loss that he felt when he was done writing a book: as if ‘an old friend or lover you’ve quarreled with every day has suddenly upped and left’. “I think all writers are mad,” Hanif grinned. “What kind of person sits in a corner and makes up stories and expects to be taken seriously?”

Sunil Sethi then followed with the opinion that all writing was ‘a hardship post’… by which point Mueenuddin, who’d clearly had enough of all the intensity, was compelled to sit up and disagree. Somehow, listening to him speak, one understood why he felt this way. Daniyal Mueenuddin’s work thrives on honesty and simple statements of fact. Nothing is strange in his world. The entire strength behind his debut novel was its easy, un-judging frankness. So yes, if I were to imagine Mueenuddin working at his desk, the image would not be of a tortured artist wringing his hands over the multiple layers of meaning hidden behind every sentence; it would be more a picture of a slightly relieved man writing his diary after a day of not quite being himself.

It was Hussain Naqvi who brought the whole picture back into perspective.“The production of prose becomes incidental,” he said. “Being a writer means negotiating life, family, making a living; and producing something that resonates within you as well as with others.” While Ali Sethi's write-or-die attitude was infectious and Mueenuddin's writing-is-play approach made sense, it was probably Naqvi's exposition of the process that summed up the reality of being a career writer most effectively.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Karachi Literature Festival - A DWLer's observations

This entry has been submitted by Hamdan Malik.



Day 1: Confused, anxious, even shivering slightly.

My first KLF sitting was the Zulfikar Ghose writing workshop, which was quite interesting even if more of a lecture than a workshop. Some of what he discussed had already been advised on the DWL forums. He encouraged writers to write with brevity and recklessness and insisted on avoiding generalization and abstract notions.

At the end of the session, I met Jalal, Batool, Afia and Faraz. After a few minutes of chitchat, they ordered lunch and I took a zuhar break.

Returned to attend “Kia Urdu parhney waley kam hotey ja rahe hain” late and was sure I won’t find a place to sit, but all went well for me since they'd had technical difficulties and were running a half hour late. 

The session started with Ms. Arfa Sayeda Zehra apologizing for the delay in very pure, refined Urdu. After a few initial remarks, she handed the floor to panel members - interrupting only when the discussion veered too far off its course. It was pointed out that regional languages were facing the same problems across the Indo-Pak region as Urdu; various causal factors were put to light. One of the problems noted was the print and binding method used here; others were more abstract like natural birth and death of languages.


Day 2: Ego, anger, compassion and conclusion.

"A talk on Sufism with a foreign majority panel... this should be interesting," I said to myself. It was interesting but to be honest I felt the only thing they did was to endorse contemporary mazaar culture and very safely ignored the real essence of tasawwuf . I had a question for Wasim Frembgen that I tried to ask in the lecture but they didn’t have the time to field it then.

Came back after Zuhar to find Afia distributing flyers. Then she had to buy a book and at the bookstall we bumped into fellow DWLer Madiha. We went back to the same table where we were sitting the day before and started chatting with some people who were sharing the table with us. They left after a while and we still hadn’t placed our order before Afia started running around again, trying to catch celebrities to milk interviews out of them. Finally, we had coffee and a short while later I spotted Wasim Frembgen and had my questions answered. It didn't change what I thought of the Sufism talk, but we finished off nicely with a walk to Karen Armstrong’s lecture.

Monday, February 14, 2011

We're Back!

So that didn't take too long! We're back online after having switched to our new host. The forums are up and running and within the next day or so, Papercuts will finally be available on its permanent address www.desiwriterslounge.net/papercuts.

Meanwhile, watch out for the next installment of Vol 7 material, coming your way on February 15th!

We are grateful for your patronage and your patience during the host switching.

- The DWL Team

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Website down for maintenance

Hi everyone,

Just an update that the DWL website is undergoing maintenance right now. We hope to be back online within 24 hours. Till then, you can always head over to the temporary Papercuts site www.paper.takhleek.com and read the latest issue and comment on the pieces.

We'll see you soon!


The DWL Team

Friday, February 11, 2011

Karachi LitFest - Day 1

Well into the first half (okay, the first paragraph) of this blogpost, a nasty little strain of Karachi fever came around to make my acquaintance. It started with a pain in the legs that, in the subsequent delirium of the fever, was misdiagnosed by me as a blood sugar surge (this assessment also had something to do with the fact that I’d guiltily consumed half a tub of pure, Swiss chocolate ice cream just minutes earlier). It was only after I’d groaned to Shehla that I’d finally given myself diabetes and had started preparing for my final farewells that a well-timed cup of chai parted the heavy curtains of delirium and showed me that I was simply running a temperature.

Yes, Lipton can do that.

Anyway, the fever's been beat and we're back to the real blog entry! As we’d mentioned earlier, there was a DWL contingent at the Karachi Literature Festival 2011, which kicked off on the 5th of February at the charming little Carlton Hotel in DHA Phase VIII. One look and you knew that the programme was an ambitious one. The organisers had divided the day into one-hour sessions running simultaneously across several of the hotel’s halls. This meant that attending one session almost always entailed missing out on another promising one, which was frustrating but also made one feel like one was pleasantly spoilt for choice.

It was evident that the ‘celebrity author’ card had been played to pull in the crowds and that the strategy had worked amazingly: an enormous number of people attended the event and there was a fantastic buzz throughout. The true success of a literature festival probably depends on its ability to create that vibe, trumping other more obvious indicators such as the number of books being launched or sometimes even the quality of the discussion. For two days, one could have contentedly sat in the central cafĂ© area of the Carlton and soaked in the charged conversations for hours without getting bored or attending a single session. It also helped that after every twenty unknown faces you’d see a famous one. (I’m a celebrity junkie… now stop raising your eyebrow and move on.)

Those of us who were there the first day were excited about attending the creative writing workshop by Zulfikar Ghose. If you’re interested in creative writing, here are some of the lessons we took away from that session.

Probably the most valuable thing that Mr. Ghose tried to drum into our heads was to ditch the nonsense and get straight to the point. He spoke in some detail about the model of the traditional, well-made story as exemplified by Anton Chekhov’s work and shared some golden ‘rules’ of writing stories (all the while insisting that there were no rules, btw) that Chekhov himself had penned in his time.

The key thing about this form of writing is that it is pretension-free and doesn’t beat around the bush. Clarity and brevity are the order of the day, and the skillful storyteller is expected to steer clear of abstract words, generalizations and subjective assessments. Consequently, Mr. Ghose himself seemed to be a little wary of a stream of consciousness approach, which lends itself more easily to the dreaded abstractions, biases and generalizations that Chekhov warned against. He seemed to be more in favour of a good, old fashioned story, written with complete objectivity and brimming with expectation, continous action and ‘fluid movement’.

Not to worry, though, as achieving this is not as difficult as it sounds. Mr. Ghose made a simple and (I thought) utterly gorgeous articulation of what we as writers set out to do. In his opinion, writing is nothing more than a formula of language to understand the world around us. In other words, everything is an ongoing story… you just need to figure out how to get it down on paper. And for this, you don’t need an idea or a great Point to get started; you could just as well begin with an image. After that, stay with objective description and the rest will take care of itself, said Mr. Ghose. Aim for clear images, clichĂ©-free messages and none of the tedium of lengthy, overly descriptive paragraphs.

The technique he suggested for this was to imagine that you, the writer, are a camera and that you can only see as much as the lens will show you. Move from character to object to situation, describing things as you see them. Weave background information into that description, thus allowing the reader to absorb the details at a subconscious level without being hammered over the head with them (we keep saying this on the DWL forums as well: show, don’t tell). Aim to create an image that will convey a larger story, basically, and that will give the reader subtle insights into the plot.

There’s a hilarious example here from a short story that he was reading out to the workshop group (A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor). The writer describes the character of the mother as ‘a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears’. To compare a face to a cabbage was odd, to say the least, Mr. Ghose pointed out to us. But could she have done it any better? Probably not, in my humble opinion, because the cabbage says it all. It implies that the young woman’s face wasn’t radiantly innocent as the face of a saint may be, rather it was bland and insipid. Right from the first sentence on her, we get the feeling that this is a woman who lacks character. Another thing our workshop moderator pointed out was that no woman in the West would wear a head-kerchief unless she was bald (unlikely in this case as the woman was young) or her hair was unwashed! Suddenly, the young mother was sketched out clearly in front of us and we knew exactly what kind of person was being introduced here, all with the help of a cabbage reference and a hair accessory.

Mr. Zulfikar Ghose highly recommended reading O’Connor’s story, incidentally, as a perfect example of a narrative with continuous action. For an alternative look at restrained characterization, he pointed to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. As general reading, he suggested that any aspiring writers go through Henry James’ famous essay, titled The Art of Fiction.

Hope you enjoyed reading this and got something out of it. God knows it took long enough to write! Next we’ll be posting a more informal entry by Hamdan Malik, one of our DWLers who was present at the festival and who proved amazingly adept at dragging unwilling waiters to our table to take down the order!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

This Business of Books - KLF 2011


The Karachi Literature Festival (5th and 6th February 2011) has followed fast on the footsteps of its counterpart in Jaipur and, some say, has held its own against larger, better funded literary events elsewhere in the sub-continent. With an impressive array of authors in attendance even in its nascent stages (Kamila Shamsie, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Ali Sethi, Hussain Naqvi, Mohammad Hanif and Mohsin Hamid, to name a handful), the festival has boldly sent out an important message to the literary community within and outside Pakistan: We can do this, and we can do it well.

The festival is being attended by a contingent from DWL, mainly: Hamdan Malik, Jalal Habib Curmally, Batool Habib, Afia Aslam, Faraz Mirza and Madiha Riaz. Perhaps more than a learning experience, this has been a fantastic networking opportunity for DWL and Papercuts. We have distributed our signature yellow flyers promoting Vol. 7 and have brought the magazine to the attention of many authors at the event, ranging from the newbies on the scene to the biggest names in the industry. 

Keep watching this space for news on how the festival went! We're going to start compiling it for you as soon as it rolls to an end on Sunday, the 6th of February.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thank you, DWL.

It was my birthday on the 17th. My husband's family was here, and he decided to take on a DIY project for the weekend. We are the people who laze in front of the TV on Saturdays, put off doing laundry until we can see the bottom of our drawers (no pun intended), and call a plumber for fishing out a nail out of the sink. A DIY project in this house presented itself like a looming disaster. And this is not just any project I am talking about. It's not like he was planning to hammer some nails and hang our pictures, not at all - a monkey could do that. My husband, ladies and gentlemen, was planning to put tiles all over the kitchen walls above the granite counters to create a dazzling backsplash. Aaaaarrrgh!!!

So, the project began on the 15th. The boys made several trips to Home Depot, selected tiles and grout, and began putting adhesive on the walls, christened chipkum by our cousin, between annoying sessions of FIFA on PS3, endless cups of chai, and loud, harmless cursing. By the time the chipkum was done, it was the 16th, and my kitchen was in complete and utter chaos. At this point, they started to press down the tile sheets on chipkum while I was cooking a birthday feast...wait for it...for myself! Yes, I was, in fact, required to cook a feast for the entire family on my birthday to celebrate. Charming, right? God bless our cousin's wife, she did most of the cooking while the boys showed mock annoyance and worked around us. At midnight, a wannabe black forest cake from a chain grocery store was cut by yours truly. All of us looked like construction workers. Grout was all over our clothes and all over my kitchen counters (gasp!), the chai was still flowing freely, and of course, FIFA was still being played.

Such was my birthday celebration. Imagine my surprise then, when I logged on to DWL on the morning of my birthday and found AMAZING, beautiful, thoughtful, absolutely wonderful birthday wishes from the mods and members. It REALLY made my day, guys. All of a sudden, it was OK that I was working like crazy on my birthday, cleaning up wretched dried-up grout from the newly installed tiles. My arms were ready to fall off, but it was all good - DWL loves me - and that made it all bearable.

Almost a week later, I am sitting in my living room. My husband is STILL cleaning the grout. We are almost ready to seal the tiles, and in two hours, my kitchen will look amazing.

For this difficult birthday and horrible week, I thank you, DWL. The 'Lounge has been with me through some grave times; this last week was one of the "insignificantly troublesome" variety, but I would have pulled my hair out if it weren't for DWL and Papercuts.

Brimming with love,
N.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Papercuts Volume 7 is out!

This is going to be short and sweet:

Volume 7 of our biannual magazine is now available. We've all worked really hard to revamp the magazine, and we're hoping you will enjoy reading it. Don't forget to comment on any pieces you might like.

Go to www.desiwriterslounge.net and click on the Papercuts tab to read!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Delusions of grandeur

The first time we were going back to India after moving to the States, in the summer of ’97, my father declared that I was allowed one pair of jeans, one pair of sneakers and a shirt to travel in. My attire after landing in India was to be salwar kameezes, lenghas and long skirts. As a fifteen year old and a part of the 1.5 immigrant generation growing up in NYC, I cracked a few smart ass comments at my father’s dictate, but didn’t fight it too much. See, this wasn’t worth beating my already sore hands on the drums of teenagedom caught in the middle of the immigrant experience. I could mouth off to mom and dad, insist on my independence, rail against the stereotypes they attempted to impose on me and generally be an Indian version of the bratty American teen (where, really, my parents got off quite easy) all in the safety of my life in Queens. Being on Indian soil, however, wasn’t reality; it was vacation, where what happened in India, stayed in India. For a month or so while we visited family, I could play pretend and be the Sati Savitri type if that’s what my family wanted.

While in India, I never made an attempt to explain my life in NYC to my family members. Maybe it was sheer selfishness on my part of wanting to avoid the lectures on how I’m still Indian even though I live in America that came with opening up with my conservative family about my life in NYC. Staying general usually worked best: yes, school was good; yes, I still remember how to speak Kannada; yes, I do have Indian friends. I smiled a lot, I ate a lot, I wore what they wanted me to wear and I wrote in my journal a lot. I was polite, respectful and most of all, just plain quiet. We never discussed anything deep and certainly nothing related to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

My writing, however, has never been quiet. I will break my personality into pieces for the various different compartments of my life, but my writing is one place where I live, whole and complete with total honesty. It never concerned me in the past that when I get published (yes, I said it - when, dammit, when), as a creative non-fiction writer, I would be laying my life out for public consumption. With my immediate family, I began to hang the family’s dirty laundry out to dry starting at 16, so it would be nothing new to them. Everything else, I justified. My parents are so closeted about their lives that it’s not like their friends and acquaintances would recognize me as the child of someone they know. My extended family in India – well, I’ll just make sure the book never gets translated into Kannada and besides, how are one brown woman’s words ever going to travel across the ocean anyway? It’s tough enough getting published and being known locally.

What I hadn’t counted on was technology shortening the distance between my lived reality and the person I pretended to be to keep the peace with my extended family. Before, there were phone calls between NYC and India where surface words lay like sweet, sickly icing on top of a cake. Now, there are emails and Facebook updates between my life and my cousins’ in India. With the internet came Google and Facebook and off they ran, snatching my delusions that my writing and my life could be kept separate from my extended family in India.

While working with Noor to edit a short piece of mine for volume 7 of Papercuts, towards the end of the process, I realized I hadn’t changed one of the characters’ name. That realization broad-sided me as I realized I was telling quite an intimate tale that involved people other than myself. With Papercuts accessible online and subject to Google’s tentacles, there’s a possibility that my cousins in India would now have access to that part of me that I hid from them. (Sidenote: I’ve seen the re-designed website for Papercuts and it rocks. It’s shaped up to be quite a strong representation of the talent at Desi Writers Lounge. You all should be uber-excited!)

There was a brief moment where I considered breathing into a paper bag, but then the writer in me, the one who has always had the backbone, snarked, “Well, then you either better hope they never find it; hope that if they find it, they’ll understand; or if they read it and don’t understand, then you better get ready to deal with the fall out - because this story is getting told.” After another dirty look thrown at the hyperventilating pansy, the writer strode off to start penning the continuation of her story.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Plans for the Resource Board

Our team was extremely excited about the resource board when it was launched last year. We are very pleased with the exercises that some of you participated in, specifically the ones featured in "Breaking the Block." I find those to be very helpful and now that the content for volume 7 has been finalized, which we are all completely in love with, I will be making frequent appearances on the forums in order to encourage everyone to write more.

I will be introducing an interesting new dimension as well. I am taking a course here at Stanford titled "This is your life: Personal Stories in Poetry and Prose" and I am eager to share all that I learn with DWL members. We all write personal stories in our poems and stories from time to time. Even if we think a subject has nothing to do with our own lives, we can often trace back the roots of a piece to one personal experience or observation. This is why I am eager to take this course. Not only will I learn how to pen down personal experiences, I will also rediscover ways to critique such writing. I know we run into critique disagreements frequently. Keep your eye out for tips regarding helpful and honest critique in "The Critic."

Another plan for the resource board is to post more of the classics in "The Critic" for discussion. I know we touched upon a few pieces, just brushed the surface of them, really, but I plan to update that thread with more short stories and poems for us to critique and discuss. I have some of my favorite and widely enjoyed authors and poets on the list. So stay tuned.

Finally, guess what?! It's January - beginning of the year, which means there will be a lot more competitions to look forward to. Keep checking "Publication Avenues" for updates. I encourage all of you to send your work to these competitions. Usually there is a nominal non-refundable reading fee, but consider it a creative investment. Remember, we are all here to critique and polish your work so it is in its best shape. Please post your entries on the forums and wait for your peers to comment before submitting to a journal/competition. More often than not, you will find that critique on the forums will make your work more competitive.

A special scoop: there are a few other major plans we are working on, including but not limited to another writing competition. More on this later.

All of you who are able to make it to the DWL Reading and PaperCuts Pre-Launch Event, have fun. It has taken a huge effort to bring this together and our team in Pakistan has been working tirelessly to arrange it. If you are able to attend this event, please do! And don't forget to contact Shehla to let her know that you'll be there.

I am getting super excited for all these new plans, and I better get to work now so I can deliver all that I promised above.

See you on the forums!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone.

I can't believe it's 2011. Babies born in nineteen ninety are going to turn twenty one this year. I feel ancient. I am a mid-eighties baby myself and really detest the ugly hairstyles and questionable fashion trends associated with my decade. But really, my decade was the nineties, the late nineties particularly when I finished school. Ah, those last few years in an all-girls missionary school were full of day-dreaming teenagers. The poster boys were Shahid Afridi (he still is a hero, was just younger and clean-shaven back then), Shahrukh Khan ("Kuch kuch hota hai, Anjali. Tum nahi samjho gi" and "Senorita, aisay baray baray shehron mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain" - eww, and yes, I still remember these lines!), The Backstreet Boys (I thought they were horrible, frankly), and the ones who wanted to be really "different" liked Saqlain Mushtaq/Shoaib Akhtar, 'N Sync/Boyzone, and Amir Khan/Salman Khan. Sigh, ten years after graduating, I still think my world at that time was perfect for the fifteen-year-old me.

I remember these trivial details well. There was no fear, no worry, just a normal and healthy childhood. When I called home this morning from the warm comfort of my commuter train, my thirteen-year-old brother answered. After exchanging pleasantries he said, "Do you know Salman Taseer was assassinated today?"
"Yes," I said. "It's horrible."
"Not so horrible for me. I get a day off from school tomorrow," said my brother.
Both my sister who was sitting near him, and I, a world across from him said "Shahzil! Someone DIED! Should you be saying this?"
"Sorry, sorry," said my brother, completely non-committal.
How's it possible to think this way? Did I have the same mentality as a child? Granted he is twelve years younger than me, but in that moment this morning, I felt decades older. I have never felt so distant from him before.

In this situation, who do you blame? We've both had the same parenting, same facilties, similar schooling. The circumstances, however, of our respective childhood are different. When I was his age, I never heard a bomb blowing up my neighborhood marketplace. I didn't ride my bike across the carnage. My mother didn't go looking for me frantically in the street because she had heard hand grenades going off two roads down our house. My brother has seen and experienced all this in his thirteen summers. He has switched three schools to be closer to home. He has lost distant family members in street violence, bombings, and suicide attacks. His mother and uncle have been robbed multiple times at gunpoint. He has seen two monumental natural disasters in his country: the earthquake and the floods, along with the mass migration of internally displaced persons. His parents and sisters are paranoid about his safety. All this has led him to treat death as something trivial, an everyday occurrence. Something about his childhood is lost and damaged. He has grown up too fast, too soon. His eyes have hardened and narrowed. I don't see the mischief in them that was so apparent when he was five and was waving goodbye to me at Lahore International Airport in 2003.

It is two thousand and eleven, everyone. My little brother will turn fourteen this year. When I was as old as him, I was writing really bad poetry inspired by nineties Bollywood. They are horrible poems, but my childhood was beautiful enough to turn me into a poet. Hopefully we can all make an extra effort this year and do what we can to improve the world we live in. Resolve to make the world better in any way you can. Go green, even if it involves a small change like switching to paper bags. Write a small check for a charity every month this year - every dollar helps. Blog about what you see around you, raise awareness for the causes you believe in. Write to make someone's life better, even if it is for an instant. Put a smile on someone's face even if you have to contribute a joke to a local paper. This year, don't make colossal commitments. Start small. Do something for someone else. A tiny little thing. And see where it takes you.

Happy New Year from all of us at DWL. Sorry for the sadness, but some days laughter eludes me after the first paragraph.

Best wishes.