• Why Do I Write: The Art Of Storytelling by Tanuja Chandra

    It’s one of the most frustrating things I do. Evocative prose, sentences of beauty, words that sparkle off the page, these always seem just out of one’s grasp; one plods and climbs through relentless terrain but the goal post keeps receding. The highest peak on this earth has been scaled several times but here there isn’t a summit, into whose bosom one can plant one’s flag. There just isn’t a conquest to be made in writing, only that old, familiar feeling of never, ever being good enough.

    It’s one of the most frustrating things I do. Evocative prose, sentences of beauty, words that sparkle off the page, these always seem just out of one’s grasp

    So, why do I write? Because I suspect I suffer from that widespread illness called ‘storytelling’ for which there’s no cure, except perhaps descending further into the depths of the illness itself. Telling stories is how we make sense of the random chaos around us, how we, in the expansive wilderness of life, create, one brick at a time, a house we can call our own, then a lane of houses, then a city full of lanes of houses. And on and on it goes.

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    Stories have a beginning, middle and end. They have structure. They fulfill a thirst. They often have happy endings. Life need not oblige us with any of these things. When, in a story, we are witness to the drama engulfing a character, when we watch him or her go through gut-wrenching experiences, we connect with the anguish and fear they’re feeling but also with our own. Because at some point in our personal lives, even if we may have lived sheltered ones, we have felt jabs of pain and that dire aloneness. And in one moment, a stranger’s sorrow makes us at home with our own; it’s an inexplicable, weird alchemy, a mysterious relationship never truly real, though perhaps a relationship as real as any other.

    The stories my buas, mausis, chachas told me became my first book: a collection of quirky qissas of Uttar Pradesh; the tenor and pitch of the fabulous narrators in my family resonated in my mind for years, their fragrance

    With stories, a kind of history of emotions is recorded. Or else there would be testaments of wars and global alliances, sciences and philosophies, of skyscrapers and bridges, but there wouldn’t be of human emotions. With stories, we transport people to places we have loved visiting, we find co-travellers. So, the stories my buas, mausis, chachas told me became my first book: a collection of quirky qissas of Uttar Pradesh; the tenor and pitch of the fabulous narrators in my family resonated in my mind for years, their fragrance, the way their bodies settled onto khaats in small towns, their gazes, their smiles, these stayed alive in me, and percolated into my prose. The protagonists of these stories I may not have met but their longings and helplessness I’m acquainted with only too closely. Raucous laughter and the quiet that descends upon one’s heart a moment later, I know that rise and fall intimately. In the women especially – the Bijnis Woman of the title and her resilience, the Thakur’s audacious daughter who desperately loves a man she can’t have, the sad, young girl with a hobble she’s deeply embarrassed of – I know the feelings these women grappled with.

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    But also the men. The slacker who couldn’t take his lady-love being insulted, the grimacer who was so trapped inside his cast-iron selfishness, he couldn’t bring himself to tell his loved ones that he needed them, the pathological liar who grew so addicted to the adulation he got for being a soldier in the British Army, he continued spinning fake stories of courage even after his lies were exposed – ordinary people all, whose ordinary, urgent emotions I have felt, each and every one.

    Which is why I write.

    The author is a writer and director in the Hindi film industry, who has directed acclaimed films like Dushman, Sangharsh, Sur, and Hope and a Little Sugar. She regularly writes articles for newspapers and magazines. Her first book of short stories of Uttar Pradesh, Bijnis Woman, has recently been published by Penguin Random House.