• The Story Inside Us: Why I Turned to Writing

    When I was working fulltime for an insurance company in 2011, I wrote every Friday night. The writing would continue for most part of the weekend interrupted briefly by usual weekend activities, a movie, maybe dinner outside, a visit to the local comedy club to catch a gig, small things like that. Then, I was writing about an eleven year-old boy who lived with his grandparents, except that his grandparents were not part of the same “set.”

    I realise that there are moments in our lives when we submit to the process of self-examination and we might have a question or two for ourselves.

    He lived with his father’s father and mother’s mother, both widower and widow in a house that had a wooden partition running all the way to the rafters, because no respectable man or woman would live together taking care of the same child outside the truss of matrimony. So, the grandfather would call the grandmother Mrs. Vaidya and she would call him Mr. Moorthy.

     

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    The boy and his friends would steal car logos from the plush neighbouring apartment complex and sell them at Chor Bazaar to buy comic books of a character called Mahapurush, a super-hero husband who wielded belans and chakras that resembled chalnis (sieves). Mahapurush counselled hapless hen-pecked husbands on how to stand up to their wives, often resulting in disastrous episodes of broken limbs and painful bowel movements. Along the way it turned into dark YA fiction when the boy realises that his parents had taken their own lives (which explains his unusual living arrangement) and he sets out to find out why.

    I never finished that story and it lies there, 170 odd pages, saved in an indiscreet folder titled ‘WIP,’ in my hard-drive. I do hope to finish it someday but writing that story over 35-odd weekends made me feel like I was doing something with my life. It was like a secret that I was carrying. I enjoyed writing that story because I enjoy writing and that’s why I turned to writing.

    I realise that there are moments in our lives when we submit to the process of self-examination and we might have a question or two for ourselves. What makes me happy? Was I even somewhat good at that? And then a crazy thought will follow. What if I could do it all the time? 

    The thought that I was somewhat good at writing coupled with the compulsive need to tell a story brought about the completion of my book The Heavens We Chase, a novel that was written over five years. It also helps when somebody you trust believes in your work despite your shortcomings as a writer. Kanishka Gupta, my literary agent and friend always believed in my book.

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    Once you are published you’re expected to give ‘tips’ to aspiring writers. I find that hard to do for two reasons. I am yet to become the writer I aspire to be and so I work harder.

    • This involves more reading, more rewriting, an ability to be able to take critical feedback well without wanting to curl up on the bathroom floor every time somebody says they didn’t like the work. It also helps to write every day, especially on the days you don’t feel like writing
    • Writing is a process that’s deeply personal and self-created. You look around, you observe people, the way they’re talking to each other, the things they’re talking about, the tone of their voices, the clothes they’re wearing and sometimes that makes a story. Then, you look into your own life.

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    • I believe that there is an irrefutable link between both pain and art and pleasure and art. As writers, we infuse a bit of ourselves into our writing. I believe that the characters we carefully craft may sometimes carry a bit of lives and tell a bit of our own stories – real or aspirational.
    • I also think that we need to respect fiction for what it is and not always look for autobiographical intent in the works that we are reading.  I can say that you have to approach writing with humility because that’s the only way the writing becomes better.
    • Am I telling a good story? Am I telling it well? How can I do this better? You are monopolising your reader’s time, a commodity that is precious. My grandmother, a voracious reader, would tell me that trying to write without reading is like trying to speak without being able to hear. That’s my go-to advice and it’s advice that I follow. Read more. It won’t let you down.

    Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind is the author of the novel The Heavens We Chase. She is a feminist research scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences