News Update: My First Story In Print

My first story, On Her Own, is coming out in print! You can pre-order the anthology at helterskelter.in/newwriting/vol6 and get some really cool artwork free!

On Her Own is the story of Thangam, an aging matriarch who lives life on her own terms. She often jokes that she will keep Death waiting till her chores are done. But does Death know to wait? Will Thangam have the last word?

It’s been nearly two years since I got into writing full-time. Though there have been many small wins over the months, this Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing Vol 6 is the most tangible. My first blogpost-worthy accomplishment.

Since Jan 2017, I’ve written a collection of 10 short stories that I would like to call ‘On Her Own’. These are stories about everyday women who are both damsels in distress and their own knights in shining armour. My stories are about self-discovery, self-reliance and self-assertion.

Last month, I got another great piece of news. Singapore-based publisher Kitaab International will publish my story, “For Chikki’s Sake”, in their anthology, The Best Asian Short Stories 2018. It should be out later this year.

Taking time off to write has been great for me. It has given me the opportunity to discover dramaturgy and explore theatre with the Malayalam adaptation of Girish Karnad‘s play Nagamandala that was staged at Rangashankara in May 2018. As a result, I am now working on a feminist utopia play based on Sultana’s Dream. It has also given me time to pursue writing a web-series.

Most of you know that I also write children’s stories for my nephew Zayne. Cambridge University Press has published one of these stories, Zayne’s Day With The Sun, in two editions of their English course book as a part of their national curriculum. They have now picked up another story, Zeeboy Builds A Robot for publication in October 2018.

I am very excited to share my little joys with you. Now back to emailing publishers!

Researching A New Direction

I have no background in theatre. As a student, I have been part of four plays because they were all mandatory. The first one was called Seasons (circa 1995), a massive production that literally involved the entire school, where I was one of the dozen or more dressed as winter. My memory of that event is of Amma working overtime to make a cotton and pearl hat as mandated.

In middle school I was one of the ministers in the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I had lines but I was also in a hideous orange costume. When we got to high school, I was a villager in a play about the Narmada Bachao Aandolan. Finally, in college, I herded sheep to the manger of  baby Jesus in the Nativity play, yet another compulsory event for hostelites in the convent college I attended.

What is Dramaturgy?

So when I was asked to be a dramaturge in a professional production, I had my doubts. For starters, I didn’t know what a dramaturge was or does. I promptly googled it.

I liked the second definition better. Made me sound important and mysterious like you couldn’t put a finger on what exactly I do.

I’ve been told that traditionally the functions of dramaturgy were split among the various departments of the play. So a costume designer would research about the time period, a set designer would look into the setting and the director would handle themes. It’s only recently that  productions have begun to see dramaturgy as an editorial role requiring a dedicated resource.

Plot

The play was Nagamandala by Girish Karnad. Directed by Sunayana Premchander for KathaSiyah theatre group, as a part of the Indian Ensemble‘s Director’s Training final showcase, this was going to be in Malayalam and staged at Rangashankara! The way she explained it, I was to help with setting, context, themes, relevance and language.

Nagamandala is a play about Naga the snake who transforms into Rani’s abusive husband Appanna, to love her. We wanted our version to be a play about Rani choosing to love a snake over her abusive husband. To achieve this we had to deconstruct Rani as a plot device who things happen to and redevelop her as a character with agency.

Location

Set in Kerala, I could go down two roads. There are two popular centres of snake worship in Kerala: Mannarshala temple in Alappuzha and Pambumekkatu Mana in Thrissur. Being from Thrissur, I chose Pambummekkatu mana for familiarity. Within Thrissur district, Puthenchira village was chosen for its proximity to Pambumekkatu. There are other reasons to stick to Thrissur. Kodungallur Bhagavathy temple, within 15 kms of the mana, is known for its powerful female goddess. Peringottukara, a centre for black magic with a Kuttichattan temple, is only 30 kms away.

Time Period

Once the location was decided, time period of the play had to be tackled. The original play was first published in 1988. Sunayana and I stuck to the same time period, but after a whole lot of research starting before the turn of the century. Matrilineal marumakkathayam and joint family systems made seclusion of Rani difficult. Landowning pramaanis made a justice-rendering village panchayat obsolete. We were clear that we wanted our protagonists to be upper caste (as in the play) since we didn’t feel comfortable superimposing our sensibilities over a lower caste or tribal community or appropriating their traditions on their behalf.

Themes

Themes that resonated with us were sexuality, stories/magical transformation and patriarchal community. We felt strongly that Rani needed agency to assert her need for love and sex. Her sexual desire could not be confined to sexual exploitation or sexual violence. Like Appanna, she too had the right to choose sex over fidelity. Stories suspend disbelief and help change perspectives. Stories have as many versions as there are tellers and need to be told to be heard. It is therefore important to tell stories of women’s lived experiences and their concerns. In these dystopian times it is also important to cultivate multiple points of view. We believe that community needs to rebuild the habit of debate and dissent to arrest the growth of the “with us or against us” rhetoric.

A poster for the play Nagamandala

Relevance

The discussion about women’s rights is evolving in India. In the last five years since the Delhi gangrape, conversations about women’s rights have focused around sexual violence against women. But we are still not discussing sexual behaviour and sexual desire of women. Last week of May when this production was first staged coincided with the death anniversary of Kamala Das, an author well-ahead of her time. In 1977 she wrote unabashedly about female desire in the autobiography My Story, a theme when revisited in the 2018 movie, Veere Di Wedding, still made news.

Language

Since I revisited some of the content I found objectionable and played around with the ending, there was a fair bit of rewriting and translation. Since some of our actors could not read Malayalam, the script had to be transliterated into English. Some of the usages in the Malayalam translation by C. Kamaladevi were too formal and had to be changed. These changes from formal to informal in keeping with the times, were the most interesting. Sunayana was keen on having the actors use the sing-song Thrissur dialect with its peculiar colloquialisms. Since I didn’t want the dialect to overpower the performances, I had to find ways of making universal changes to dialogue than overusing well-known Thrissur phrases like “enthootu, kdaave, kannaaali, ishta etc.” Some of the universal changes I used are below. These were applied in all instances.

Languages changes for dialect

To help actors internalise thrissur slang, I shared with them interviews of T G Ravi and Jayaraj Warrier who speak a more everyday thrissur dialect. To highlight how over the top it could be, I also shared videos from Malayalam movies where the likes of Mammooty and Mohanlal have spoken in Thrissur bhasha.

Learnings

The most exciting part of the experience was sitting in on the rehearsals. To be closely involved with the script and to then watch the actors flesh out their movements and characters and use the rather frugal medium to communicate was exceptional. The ability of language and dialect to add texture to the character and layers of meaning to the context is powerful. I was drawn to the possibilities of theatre. I had not anticipated how chaotic a play production would be. But I was amazed at how calm the director was in the face of obstacles. She knew exactly what she wanted, which made the madness palatable.

Through the whole process, I felt the need to understand theatre and dramaturgy better. To explore dramaturgy in future, I believe the journey should begin with reading up on theatre and watching more plays. In Bangalore, that means travelling all the way across city where the play costs less than the roundtrip. In terms of future projects, I guess the key would be to work with compatible directors who share your sensibilities and who you share a mutual trust with. Another takeaway, at least as a fledgling dramaturge would be to work on concepts that you are naturally drawn towards.

A Daytrip to Meet Some Senior Pooches

For those who don’t know me, I adopted Max nearly two years back when he was 11.5 years old. He has since grown to become the very center of my life and love. Max is not the only old person in my life. My grandparents (only my grandmother is still alive) have been a big influence on me. To everyone who continues to ask why I adopted an old dog, I say, “for the same reason we keep our grandparents around. Because you don’t just throw people out because they are old”. I always assumed that my logic was simple and straightforward. But then I visited CUPA’s Geriatric Centre.

One Saturday morning after breakfast, three of us decided to daytrip down the highway to meet some senior pooches. I had heard about CUPA’s Geriatric Centre from Chintana Gopinath’s Instagram post. Located in Mylappanahalli, 12 kms off the airport road, away from Yelahanka, the centre is an unassuming plot of land with a line of tin sheds hugging the perimeter. There, toddling around the trees live 42 old and abandoned pooches. As you park outside the main gate, you can hear the excitement in their barks. Enter the main gate to the compound and the search party has its front paws on the second gate and fence, figuring you out.

“Oh yes, these are heavy petters!”, they declare.

Indies or pedigrees, these old timers haven’t heard about your personal space. Some jump up to greet me. Others are rubbing up against my legs. A third group can sniff Max on me. But they know you are here to pet them and they intend to make the most of it.

“Team, bring out your best puppy faces and get ready to tailwag. Easy targets approaching!” Ammu the socialite announced.

The three of us on the visit carried biscuits and medicines. Needless to say, the biscuits were inhaled. They disappeared without a trace! I tried to save some for the laggards but without a lot of success.

“Enough with the formalities. Sign the books, let’s get on with the main event already”, Lalitha, the matronly Labrador egged us on matter-of-factly.

Dot, the most daring of them came up and asked to be petted. Seeing how willing we were, the others joined in. Soon demands were being heard.

“You have two hands! Why don’t you pet two of us at once?” That was Shadow.

“Ufff…why do you keep tickling my ears? Here, pet my back… Ok now, rub my chest.” Scare was getting his money’s worth.

An hour and a half later, when my hands began to hurt, one by one, they went out to the yard and found themselves spots to lay down and take in the warm sunlight of the damp June afternoon. In no time, they were fast asleep, dead to this world.

Then there was Benji. Some sort of furry terrier, Benji had a nasty temper. Chikkalingaiah the manager, had warned us to stay away from him. Just like Maxubee and Ammuma, he was unfriendly. Both of them liked to be left alone and let me hug them because, well, they didn’t have a choice! Benji was just like that. He lay on the bench with such ease that I assumed it was his spot. Earlier, while the others crowded around asking to be petted, he had disdain written all over his face. Once the eager lines fell away, I couldn’t resist babytalking Benji.

“Whoosh my good boy? With dat grumpy face? Whoose that furball Benji? Is that you? Are you my Benjiboo?”

He ignored me. My companions warned me not to touch him. But Benji stole my heart. So I touched him. And he snarled at me. Maybe next time.

The place is run by Chikkalingaiah and his two aides. Their love for the dogs is not physical. There isn’t a lot of touching or babytalk. But you ask him any of his dogs’ names and he will stare at them for 20 seconds before responding, Scare, Shadow, Dot, Blindy, Ammu, Latha, Lalitha. The facilities here are basic. They are fed everyday. A doctor visits twice a week. But they could use more food, treats, petderm shampoo, furglow, neurobion etc.

I block out what their lives would have been like if this shelter didn’t exist. But I think of the people who abandoned these lovebugs just because of their age. Or their parents. They will turn old too. Everyone must. How can people not see that?

These are depressing thoughts. What can I do to make people think differently about our old four-legged friends? I don’t know.  But I know what I am going to do. I am going to go back there till Benji loves me!

What Should I Be Reading In South Indian Fiction?

Do you read books in written in Indian languages? If yes, then let’s be friends!

I’ve always been interested in reading regional Indian fiction in translation. First it was contemporary writing, then Indian fiction in English and now I am on the lookout for South Indian fiction. With The News Minute review, this obsession has also found validation.

What does contemporary writing in Andhra and Telegana look like? I have no foothold in Telugu fiction to even begin reading. I intend to remedy this by reading Gogu Shyamala.

For Malayalam reading I just go by instinct. I’ve read very little in Malayalam so I pick up books indiscriminately at the Mathrubhumi Pustaka Mela (book fest). Routinely, they suspect I’ll buy too many books and send a sales staff to follow me around. Must admit though that I’ve not read all the books I’ve bought.

Thanks to the Marriage Act of 1955 I have a minion who reads in Kannada tasked with introducing me to Kannada literature. My first brush with Kannada literature was when we visited Poornachandra Tejaswi‘s wife Rajeshwari at their beautiful home near Chikmagalur. Though we arrived unannounced, she was extremely nice to us, offering us tea and taking time out of her afternoon to chat with us.

For Tamil, I have a supplier in Chennai. She and I have had a live gtalk window to discuss this among other things since 2008. She introduced me to books by Ambai, Salma and Ashokamitran.

I have always read been based on recommendations by friends. Mainly because in college I didn’t have enough money to buy all the books I wanted. I used to read whatever was available in our hostel’s library that was a really pretty name for a shelf of books. Once I could afford books I had phases. If I liked a book, I would read another book by the same author and then another till I got bored. When time started slipping away and reading time had to be pulled out from a magician’s hat, I became very conscious of what I read.

Finally, today I have the time to read and the money to buy books but now, I have a new problem. With South Indian fiction, I have few pointers to lead me. I am basing my reading entirely on my intuition and the jacket. But I’d really appreciate any direction you could offer. Below are a few books that I plan to read this year.

What else do you think should I be reading? Let me know in comments below.

Talking about practice, perseverance and preparedness

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Isn’t it incredible to imagine sunrises atop mountains, exalt at the graceful ease of a dancer or be amazed by someone’s weightloss journey? How often do we stop to think of the practice, perseverance and preparedness required to make it happen? Perseverence. A perfectly mundane sentiment. The art of putting one step in front of another, hour after painful hour, when no one is watching. Even on cold mornings or after bad days, mot Skipping practice. Planning ahead to bend schedules to accommodate meal, fitness or whatever needs to be done to achieve the goal.

I know a thing or two about another P- procrastination. As we speak, I am hatching plans to summit a mountain; this one is way out of my league. This article is a reminder of how badly I will regret being ill-prepared.

If only I’d been fit on the Kedarkantha trek. Standing at the summit, I would have marvelled the golden shimmer of the sun on the mountains. Instead, I was fishing for a spot to sit down. I would’ve clicked pictures, made a hundred memories. Instead, I sat on a rock eating an apple.

Swathi Chatrapathy from the Indiahikes team writes about her trek to the Kedarkantha summit and her regret of being unprepared for such physical exertion. Was her next trek, this time to Rupin Pass, better than the last one? To find out, read the story here:

https://indiahikes.com/regret-trek-kedarkantha-completing-rupin-pass/

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could FlyThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is the story of a daring hen and her dreams. She does not let her egg-laying colleagues or the other farm animals in society define what she can and cannot do. What I loved about the story is that one of her dreams is to be a mother. I love how that’s an acceptable dream to have. It’s not everyday that you see a hen whose entire existence is about swimming upstream. Rarer still, is for such a hen to have an ‘everyday dream’ to be a mother. Wherever I have read about this book, it’s been compared to Orwell’s Animal Farm. I dare say that this book has more soul. It’s more about her singular struggle in getting by everyday while still keeping her dream alive. I am sure this book will remind you of many such hens in your life, doing what they must to achieve their dreams–being a daughter, sister, mother, wife and colleague.

View all my reviews

Weekend Activity: Chocolate Brownie

Weekends have always been the time I heal from all the social interactions over the week. However, I never have interesting answers to the dreaded, “How was your weekend?”. In my endless charm, I always answer with “it’s over!”. So what do I do over the weekend?

Weekend Activity

You’ll mostly find me doing household chores or binge-watching Netflix. My afternoons however, are spent experimenting with recipes. This includes trying to make my own bread, making sauces, incorporating milkmaid into things etc. How much time I spend in the kitchen is directly proportional to how stressful my week was. I tend to cook my way out of stress. Even when many of my experiments don’t work, cooking gives me a sense of control that calms me down. Typically, I try out recipes once, twice, thrice till I get it right. I am currently obsessed with Chocolate Brownies from the Sorted Channel. I absolutely adore the four hosts. Here’s their video and the recipe. (Let me know if you think they are adorable and we’ll start a fan club!)

 

Chocolate Brownie Recipe | Sorted

I’ve tried it twice already. They are yum! The first time around I made a rookie mistake of not powdering the sugar. The second time around, I think I got the measurements wrong because the brownies just wouldn’t firm up. But it’s butter, chocolate and sugar- in any form it’s super super tasty.

The biggest issue I face is wrapping my head around measurements. I can never be certain if 2/3rds is what I think it is or if a cup is a US cup or some other cup. I am sure ’60g of flour in cups’ tops my google autocorrect. Nothing to worry though. The solution is on its way. I finally bought a kitchen scale. Now my life is going to be a cakewalk!

If you are like me and you love the science behind things, here’s Thomas Joseph from Kitchen Conundrums holding forth on the science behind the perfect brownie. Happy watching.

Welcome To The New Fictionhead.in

Hey there!

Fictionhead is getting real! If you’ve been to my blog before, you know how reluctant and lazy I have been about the whole writing thing. I am trying to change that. 2015 is the big three zero year for me. At least, I am trying to make it sound like a big deal so that I can push myself to write more, in a more organized manner.

Instagram is amazing, so fictionhead is now on it as fiction_head! Come on over and check it out! And if you like what you see, don’t forget to like it. I review books there. I’ve got 6 posts so far. It’s more fun than sitting down to write, it can be done on the go and brevity means hard work! Eventually, I do plan to supplement these with long form reviews on this blog!

fiction_head
Now on instagram as fiction_head

I’ve taken 5 big steps in the first 2 months of 2015:

1. I (it was T actually) organized ALL my writing on Evernote: This means stuff i’ve written in e-mail drafts, send as e-mail to friends, notes on Google Keep, files and folders on Google drive, notes on my diary app, notes saved/sent as text messages etc. It’s a huge success for scatterbrain me!

2. I entered a writing competition: I rarely do this sort of thing. The results are out in the next week or so. Keep your fingers and toes crossed for me.

3. T bought me this domain: fictionhead.in He also moved my stuff here because he is the best!

4. I started my instagram account: fiction_head. I could use all your support here.

5. I started a twitter account too: _fictionhead. This is yet to take off. I haven’t found time to do this yet. It’s the next item to tick off my list 🙂

I hope this excitement lasts! If you’ve got tips on how to make this work (or not), leave me a comment!

Hope You Find Your Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was my promise. Long before we got together for real, I had promised to take him there–it was to be our first getaway. Time took a hike for weeks, months, years only to return as our first wedding anniversary. SL will forever be that familiar yet special place.

We were there in October 2014–the sea was raining kisses on the landscape. First impression–a cleaner Kerala. Being South Indian in colour my “Sinhalese ancestery” was a foregone conclusion. I had it easy, easier than him–Everyone seemed to know me but looked at him suspiciously! However, it did help that the mention of fish, string hoppers and appam makes me light up.

Travel for me is about spending a couple of laidback days, walking around without a jam packed schedule, immersing myself in new experiences– and figuring things out. What’s even better is that we have that in common.

I Recommend

  1. For a Buddhist OD, we took in the many representations of Buddha at the Gangaramaya buddhist temple in Colombo.
  2. For that staple anniversary romance, we strolled through Virahamahadevi Park with its ancient banyan trees and young lovers.
  3. To come off as artsy, we visited Gallery Cafe, eminent architect Geoffrey Bawa’s office turned into a European restaurant. I had my first taste of Squid ink risotto here!
  4. Colombo-Kandy expo train was a pleasant surprise with breathtaking views.
  5. Odel, is a shopper’s heaven especially for their accessories! I spent a lot of time in there.
  6. If you are interested, Kandy has the Relic of the Tooth of the Buddha—look up the time when the relic case is brought out twice a day before you plan a visit.
  7. We got a crash course in Sri Lankan dance forms at Kandy’s cultural centre which holds a cultural programme every evening at 5. Ask around, it’s along the lake.
  8. I am beach bum– I beach hopped around Mirissa where every bus stop is an amazing beach. If you are a beach bum, don’t miss Unawatuna beach.
  9. I fed a baby elephant; it’s adorable. Head to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to hang out with elephants.
  10. We time travelled through the quaint streets of Galle. It’s romantic to watch the sun go home from this Portugese fort.

Do It Yourself

  1. We used Air BnB and stayed with Mr. Tennakoon’s family in Kandy. They were awesome and gave us a peep into local life.
  2. When flying in and out of Colombo, we stayed at Ozo Colombo and in Taj Airport hotel for convenience.
  3. We walked or took the bus or train everywhere. It’s first come first serve and not as crowded as India.
  4. For quick trips, we hailed down Tuk-tuks. They start at Rs 50 and add Rs 30 per km.
  5. We got ourselves a local sim (Airtel) from the airport. It’s good to have network on the go. Rates are cheaper than India.

Eat at Sight

  1. In Colombo try Pagoda Tea Room: It’s old world charm and service reminded me of our very own India coffee house.
  2. In Kandy try Kandy Muslim Hotel: They had fried sardines the size of my palm and yum Kothu porota that he wrote home about!
  3. Exotic for me is ordering meals in SL and getting a portion of lotus root sabji.
  4. Try Lamprais–it’s a rice dish with meat and assorted condiments wrapped in banana leaf and baked–amazing!
  5. As travel bites try Seeni Sambol Bun–it’s spicy stuffed bun and mostly mess-free! Wash it down with tetrapacks of Nestle Milo milk/Nescafe cold coffee! Yum!
  6. In Galle, if you are adventurous (not up-market), stop over for a quick bite at Buddhist Young Men’s Association.

Good to Know

  1. Even for spice lovers, Sri Lankan food can get extremely spicy. It is definitely spicier than Indian food.
  2. Galle is a romantic Portugese fort to walk around but very touristy. Everything within the fort is marked up.
  3. Car drivers are usually crazy, even by Indian standards. So keep your wits about you.
  4. Foreigners from Non-SAARC countries have to shell out up to 100% more for entry tickets to tourist attractions.
  5. When visiting Buddhist temples, avoid revealing tattoos, shorts and sleeveless or be prepared to cover up.

In the unplannable future, another trip to the Sri Lankan east coast is on the cards. Till then, this is my Sri Lanka for you. Hope you find yours.

Short As A Flash

Wrote out a wordy post. Deleted it. The point is to keep it short, they say. Been put off flash fiction by this Guardian article. B-)

But was inspired by Hemingway’s Six:

For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

My debut flash fiction effort:

I didn’t think we’d last forever. Now, we say, “I do”. Here on, every new day ought to be shorter than forever.

Please rate it: 1-10