Growing up in a typical Bengali household two things happen to you:
A. You need to learn English and have an “impeccable” hold on the language and its grammar
B. You have to read Tagore and you get introduced to the classics of English literature even before you can take your first steps as a toddler
As a kid, even without prodding from my parents, I always had a natural affinity for learning languages and moulding words. Whenever I wrote a story or a poem, I felt as if I had finally exercised my ‘creative liberty’. I felt proud of myself for creating something new, similar to what a civil engineer feels when he makes a new bridge, I guess. I have always wanted to find that “right” story as a child, that one concept that will change everyone’s life. Maybe this happened because Harry Potter was a literary phenomenon in my childhood days, or maybe this happened because my brain refused to understand anything except English (and sometimes) Hindi literature and language.
To be honest, I wasn’t really a grammar person. The technicalities of the language never attracted me. The intricate beauty of it did. Reading Amir Khusro, Tagore, Manto or even a Premchand takes you into a different world – a blend of the social with the fiction, and nothing gave me more joy than imagining that some day I will do so too.
But, is it easy to find that right story? Many-a-times, an idea strikes you when you’re in the train (or even in the loo). Can you always pen it down? There have been days when my mind is mentally writing a novel, but when I sit to pen it down, the words don’t flow. All of a sudden, I have lost my story.
I read the life story of Christopher Paolini when I was in 8th grade (the writer of the fantasy-mythical novel, Eragon). When he was 16, he fled home, went into a forest, and then started writing a novel there, imagining the setting as a mythical-forest oriented set up. And boom, he wrote one of the most engaging pieces of literature ever.
Now, I can’t run into a forest to write a story. There is no forest in the concrete heartland of New Delhi. There are parks in Delhi, but they don’t inspire me to write a story as fantastical as Eragon. This brings me to my dilemma – how and where do I find my perfect story?
Stories are incidental. They aren’t manufactured products for an industry. I am not looking at being a Chetan Bhagat, hell no. I am looking at writing like an Arundhati Roy or a Rowling or a Rushdie, but I don’t have the incidental set up for the same. I have been told by many that money buys you peace that helps you write a novel, as was the case with Tagore. But then, there are people like Rowling who got an idea like a Harry Potter in staunch poverty. So I am pretty sure that money has got nothing to do with finding that perfect story. Some people just find it, and thankfully, pen it down.
It even takes years for people to write another novel, or find another story after they have found the first one. Take for example Harper Lee. Her masterpiece, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ fetched her royalties for a lifetime. And it took her 55 years to pen down her next one, which wasn’t even half as good as the first.
I don’t want to be a mass producing printing machine, writing one novel after the other to satisfy my growing fan population. I want to write that perfect story that will make people cry, will make them emote in wonderous ways and evoke a sense of happiness. Maybe it might make them emote otherwise, even make them angry, but it will still be a classic. But, what if I live this entire lifetime and don’t find my story? That can happen. Has happened for a lot of people. Had the talent, had the time, had the creativity level, but never found their perfect story.
I know writers like me have a hard life. Because we look for that opportune moment when a story strikes us, but that’s rare to come by. For technical people this is tough to understand – I mean, writing is still a job, right? Why can’t we just sit with our pen, write till something strikes us? But it doesn’t work that way. Creativity is like a flowing river. A tsunami in the river is rare, but as and when a rare wave rises, it sweeps everything off the shore away. I am waiting for that wave, and that is tough to explain. Even when I write this blog, I don’t write it every day. There are days when I just feel like I have to express, and that is the day I even blog.
When I meet a non-creative (by that I mean an engineer or a doctor or someone who is not pursuing a writing career) person, I find their methodology of thinking very daunting. If I ask them how they feel, they reply, “I am feeling good.” But when I am asked the same question by them, my brain (or rather, heart), churns out responses like, “is this even a relevant question for it is tough to feel something constantly for a long time” or “emotions are wandering beings, I may feel good at this second, terrible in the other, for time never gives you time to heal, it just makes you go with the flow.” Not a straight-jacketed answer, rather something deep, that seems just too bourgeois for a layman to comprehend. Yet, there are times when I meet uberly creative people who seem to bring a new twist to everything they say (happens a lot in the advertising industry) – you feel that if they can be creative at the drop of a hat, why does my brain get blocked while looking for THAT perfect story?
I am busy putting together my thought-ship. I am busy stealing the beautiful language used by other people. Or maybe I am yet to find my writing style. That style that will be the essence of my lovely/lonely story. There are days when I am so desperate to start writing my novel that I feel like penning down an auto-biography, with the feeling – I am sure my struggles will resonate with a lot of people and will be a terrific book! But, writing doesn’t and shouldn’t function that way. I don’t want to steal from my life. I want to find that one character who will be my buddy, whose life I can create. I sometimes do feel like being a Ruskin Bond – disappearing into my own little void and rising up only when pestering publishers want me to show my face to promote my book.
A writer is a weird personality. He/she is moody, unpredictable and insecure. Moody because they let all emotions get to them, for when you feel all the emotions within you is when you mature as a writer. Unpredictable because they can be hospitable at one moment, unwelcoming in the next. They may want company desperately at times, they might want to be alone in the next. Insecure because it’s tough to find their perfect story. Yes, we sound like whimsical creatures who just like things to be our way, but it’s not actually that. Imagine stopping Shakespeare when he wanted to pen down Antony-Cleopatra in his own personal space. Imagine forcing a Paolini to socialize while he was writing the climax of Eragon. We writers don’t see the world when we see our pen/paper. All we see is that character, that set-up and our perfect story. Writers are hard to come by, but easy to “manufacture”. You can always find a journalist in your friend’s circle, but it is hard to find a writer writing for a living in it. For it is very tough to find that perfect story and be that writer you always wanted to be.
I know writing and literature is present in my blood. Because it all came to me naturally when I decided to pick up a Shakespeare play over a Math CD (much to my mother’s chagrin). Writing comes to me naturally too. But that perfect story is still alluding me. Will I find it on a holiday or when I am sitting at my desk doing my daily job? Will I find it when my mind is clear of all clutter? Will I find it if I read a little more?
I know I am Bengali and it’s typical of us to get into the creative field. My community is dominated by people who are artists, painters, dancers, singers and writers. And that has happened because for generations my community valued intellectual pursuit over manual/technological work. Which is fine. But I don’t want to be stereotyped as another “bong who decided to be a writer”. I want to see myself as a person who is looking for that perfect story. A writer who will be remembered by people by her work, not her name. I want to resonate with a character who will flow in my veins, take her/his form when I am sitting down to pen the novel. I want to be free, I want to be in my own Narnia some day.
But when that will happen is a mystery and might continue to be in the years to come. But, as soon as I have struck gold, I will let you know. After all, why wouldn’t I want to introduce the hero of my life to those who loyally read me before he/she came along?
To summarise, this is what finding my ‘right’ story really means for me.
“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast”
(If there is paradise on earth, then it is this, it is this)