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I am a proud Indian at heart, love my cultural heritage and have a strong sense of family and the Hindu values I was raised with. But in many ways my family isn’t a typical Indian family, and exposure to other cultures and encouragement to embrace their merits while maintaining my core, was also part of my global upbringing. India with its multicultural, multilingual, diverse, yet inclusive personality has offered me a wonderful opportunity to naturally experience a wide spectrum of life and emotions. My identity is thus a combination of different parts than a localised entity, and it is fascinating how location, cultural identity and heritage link to a person’s writing. I have a particular interest in exploring identity in relation to a foreign country and culture since it has been very easy for me to remain rooted to my Indian identity, but also absorb (mostly sub-consciously) the new inputs from the UK and relate to many of its aspects during my time there as a student, as well as from my current 9 month stay in Spain as an English conversational assistant so that now my perspective is even more of a collage than before.
In a way it is intriguing to be between an insider and an outsider and have insights from potentially rich and varied angles. My first novel in progress as well as other works appear to be largely Westernised commodities, and yet ones that hide an Indian sensibility, an integral part of me. The conflict between me, my life and work is indeed present, and my long-term challenge as a writer is to embrace this vantage point, even though it means I don’t exactly ‘fit-in’ in the natural sense of the term.
One thing I have realised is that for me identity is linked to philosophy, values and beliefs rather than place. It is only by complete acceptance and peace with my position that I’m going to be able to bring out that very unique perspective through my writing. Writing that won’t be more or less than my current writing, but writing where I can finally come to terms with all parts of my complex identity. This personal conflict is conveyed perfectly by Rainer Maria Rilke in one line; our human need to be true to our own identity and life, however complex it is.
‘(There is) ultimately only one conflict which constantly reappears under a different guise … to reconcile life with work in the purest sense.’ (As cited in Davis, et al. 2003: 81)
But I also believe in the universality of certain things like basic human emotions, music and colours. I am fascinated by the potential of perception and associations with all three that can make it so diverse for different people. As a writer, I have always been interested in the intricate relationship between art, music, the artist and the audience.
Does music evoke emotions and thoughts or are they already present and the reason why we can relate and bring meaning to it? Similarly for the written word, is the writer capable of making the reader feel and think in a certain way, or does the reader connect to the world because of previously existing feelings?
Or is it all akin to brainwashing, like the questions raised in Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby (2002) where repetition and clever arrangement of words (in a pattern and structure similar to that found in music) are said to manipulate the audience in the manner intended?
I personally don’t believe it’s that simple or that I’m a manipulator for creating characters and situations that my readers can (hopefully) connect with. Ron Silliman has said that the mind is the shortest distance between two sentences and I suspect that it is similar with music, so the relationship ultimately works both ways between audience, medium, content and effect, and they play off each other. The workings of the mind and brain are complex and so is this relationship.
Through my writing, what I want is to be able to create three-dimensional characters relatable through their experiences and emotions, not their professions. One of my main aims is to show music as the main interactive medium between the characters, where the sound and its consequent effect is what matters. My writing is an attempt to verbalise and concretise the ‘sound’ of feelings and emotions, without resorting to structuring the piece in any form of music. It is said that if you could say something in words, there would be no reason for art and music. However I still believe in the possibility recreating a ‘vision’ of music that has a similar and equally powerful effect on the reader. Attempting to make the abstract concrete is an integral part of why I am driven to write, and that more than anything else forms the hopefully universal sensibility of my work rather than where it is based or what nationality the characters have.
Music is the way in which many of my characters find a solution to their problems. However the obvious dilemma surfaces when the mode of communication you feel most comfortable with is itself the source of the problem. I have often thought about what would happen if writing just didn’t make any sense anymore and failed to give me the joy it continues to give. How would I react to waking up, not only lacking that compulsive urge to put pen to paper (or words on the screen) but being actively repelled by it? I honestly don’t know. I presume I would feel lost, angry, frustrated, even depressed, but I’d like to think that I would keep trying to find my way back, and not give up.
There is another side to this discussion about inspiration, craft and identity, and it is the knowledge that all this ‘transitory and ephemeral beauty’ that we feel through and by art is always accompanied by its opposites, by extreme darkness, pain, sorrow, hurt and suffering. And the contemplation that unless we embrace and make peace with the darkest parts of ourselves, we will never fully understand nor attain harmony in the true sense of the world. But this artistic desire and sheer compulsion to write and keep writing is mixed with the annoying realisation that it can never be fully satisfied. This is where the discussion about hope comes in, something that forms an important part of my identity as a writer and person.
‘Hope is a good thing. The best of things. And good things never die.’ Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
I am a huge fan of Friday Night Lights (Berg, 2006-2011) not just because of its intense realism and ability to tackle real and difficult issues, but because all characters, however bleak or dire their situation and however many times they try and fail, never let go of the hope of change and never give up their attempts. Uncertainty and struggle is a permanent fixture of a writer’s life, more than most and it is something that at its frustrating worst may seem insurmountable, especially as something that will never go away. However it is only by infinite patience, perseverance, and sheer determination that one can hope to get anywhere. Why should writing be any different? Gary Snyder, in The Real Work: Excerpts from an Interview (Gibbons, 1989: 294) makes a very matter-of-fact observation about the relationship between the artist’s existence and never giving up, The real work is to be the warriors that we have to be, to find the heart of the monster and kill it, whether we have any hope of actually winning or not.
I am a believer. Life is hard, tough, annoying and unfair. It will tire you out, wear you down, depress and frustrate you. But it is also beautiful, magical, enigmatic, and full of hope, joy, love and laughter. And it is up to us to keep searching for it, more so in the world of today. I believe in all the good, in spite of all the bad, or maybe more so because of it. That this shows in my writing has been a retrospective discovery. There is a large degree of sub-conscious absorption as a writer and now that I’m more aware of the processes, there is an increasing percentage of self-control, fine-tuning and being able to focus the sub-conscious mind on picking up specific inputs. But inspiration still takes me by surprise and I’m glad it does.
It’s nice to know you can never control certain things, proof that there are still moments of magic left in life. Even now I’m inspired daily by a random quote, a paragraph in the newspaper or a book, a scrap of conversation. I’m inspired by music, one single song, one good movie.
I’m inspired by the fact that I can reach out to people through my writing, people I’ve never met and probably will never meet, and touch their lives in some small way. I read and write because I can’t not; a compulsive need. The more I read, the more I learn and the more I want to write and vice-versa. Both processes are so closely inter-connected and inter-dependent that I can’t separate or differentiate when one lets off and the other picks up.
Is it just the ability to pick up a pen and piece of paper that makes a writer? The ability to form coherent sentences in a fairly pleasing and flowing manner?
Having a story to tell or an urge to create narratives in whichever form? Technically every able-bodied person is programmed to run, but can we call all of them athletes and marathon runners?
One of my MA essays discussed the strengths and weaknesses of language, the potential and infinite possibilities within the boundaries of limitation. As writers, these pros and cons are a constant personal companion – and awareness about both, as well as a kind of peace with them is a crucial and essential part of the never-ending journey. In the same vein of thought I want to discuss the helplessness when faced by beauty that we’re sure cannot be translated into words, or captured enough through photos and images, or experiences that we feel will overwhelm the attempt on our part to freeze in time, which in truth won’t live up to the actual event or experience. As artists whose very livelihood depends on that very elusive nature, it can be frustrating and daunting to say the least.
Why then do we (myself very much included) persist and persevere against these added odds to ones that are scary enough on their own?