In Defence of Abstraction

Once upon a time, I used to write well.

During that time, I wrote about A Discrete Process of Abstraction. A couple of months later, I wrote About Coach 78519. But the Coach post isn’t relevant to this post. Or maybe, it is. We’ll know at the end of this post.

Yesterday, someone I know on Twitter, wrote about writing honestly. That someone was writing about the struggles that are the afflictions of a writer. One, there is comfort in style, but then, it leads to sameness. To make it interesting, a writer, perhaps, may take refuge in abstraction. And then, that someone on Twitter, wondered if it’s an exercise in creating an image. While not directly saying so, that someone, wondered, if abstraction was honest?

(I keep saying “that someone” because I do not have permission to name “that someone.”)

Abstract artists, perhaps have the answer. They have been at it for so many years. Someone, has an answer. To be deceitful, we hardly need abstraction. I think you would agree. If we have lived a long enough life, we have experienced deceit. Without any abstraction. People make mistakes, for sure. That’s different. People are confused. That’s different too. People are lost. That’s very different. Being willingly deceitful is a separate art. We may mistake someone’s mistake, confusion, or loss as deceit. That’s different too. That’s misunderstanding. And can be easily resolved.

Is abstract writing honest? It depends on the intention of the writer. In the same way that discrete writing is. But it doesn’t matter, I think. For we as recipients, of abstraction can make our own meaning. Now that’s a risk that the creator takes. And even if the creator is honest, the abstraction may be misinterpreted.

What attracts us to explicitness? Is it infinitely more relatable? Or is it because there is less effort, or laziness, on our part to think, to imagine, to experience?

When a writer takes refuge in characters and personas to tell a story, is the writer being dishonest? There is really no difference between a reader and a writer. Both humans. Both strong. Both weak. In different areas. But both humans, nonetheless. We are bound by emotions. And that is what we should be feeling. Not second-guessing intentions. If you feel a writer is using abstraction (or any other device) as a cover, so be it.

If you still are in doubt, think poetry.

3635: Stone Backed

A friend once told me (not in these exact words) that, ‘being vulnerable is not about standing naked in the middle of the road during peak hours and shouting out loud the deepest of your emotions, regrets, and fears.’

Honesty, is in the expression. Not in the form of expression.

*

PS: Now, I think the Coach post is relevant. If, you have read the first post I have linked. I did not, in the Coach post, give you any details. But it happened. That’s how I felt. It was honest, as honest can be. Is that enough, or do you want the details?

Regretfully, Yours…

What’s so bad about a regret? Why has, “I have no regrets,” become an anthem of sorts?

I have no idea. Perhaps it’s a power statement. The demonstration of how we move forward. Or, a show of strength. If we do regret things, we don’t have to find the tallest building and announce it with a megaphone. But we don’t have to be squeamish about it, either.

After a life, a bit over four decades, I have no qualms to say that I have regrets. When you have lived a life this long, without exception, you have done at least one thing that you wish you hadn’t; or, you had. I’ve done many of those kinds.

It does not change who I am, unless of course, who I am is a factor of what you think of me. See, that, I cannot control or manage. Regrets are good. In the least, they inform us of what could have been, Sometimes, we don’t get a second chance. But, if we do, regrets are a practical guidance device. If we want them to be.

This is a directed post. But most of those, who are the intended recipients, will not get it. Mostly, because this blog is under-read.

I have regrets.

Red Prawn in Space

I am not ashamed of them.

I will announce them, when the situation presents.

Regret is therapy. How? That you have to discover for yourself.

Being Sceptic

There are moments, when I feel I should be a sceptic.

A while ago, I was at the Therekol fort. It is at the border of the states of Maharashtra and Goa. At the place where the political separates us as Maharshtrian and Goanese, is defined, they had put up a board. This is Goa, this is Maharashtra, the board said. I was there with a few friends. And we were jumping across the border – once in Goa, once in Maharashtra. In one moment, we could be here, or there. It was fun.

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Does denying (or convincing) require more effort? Or does accepting? I have no idea. My default has been to accept, and then discover, if there’s truth in that which is said. If our natural tendency is to deny, then, perhaps, there’s not much motivation to discover.

This king, said the tourist guide, with what seemed like pride, had a sword made of 80 kgs. “80 kgs?” I almost shouted back. Maybe I yelped. Or shrieked. Either ways, a friend smiled at me, recognised my pain, patted my back, asked me to let it go. That would have been a wonderful time to be a sceptic. But I wasn’t. I took my friend’s advice, I let it go, and researched armoury of that period.

Hyperbole, for example, is a device used in poetry. It is a legitimate form of expression, like a simile or an alliteration. The degree of exaggeration will vary from poet to poet. When poets don’t use it, the connotation; = lies. Therein, we have to be careful. In poetry and other literary writing, it has a specific purpose. Every device has a purpose. Every device has a name. When you take the name, out of the situation, use it as a transferred epithet, to suit your needs, that artifice.

Most sceptics are cynics. They do not know the difference. Being sceptical is respectable. So they call themselves that. There are sceptics who are real sceptics. But, few. The others are just being fashionable and trendy. 

I’d like to be a sceptic. For the sheer convenience that it offers. To be able to transfer the burden of proof. You say this? I don’t agree, prove it. And then I can go back to saying the something to someone else. It’s not too difficult to harbour doubts if you are a believer (and I use this word, only as an opposite to a sceptic; no other connotation). Being a sceptic closes some doors and templates the narrative.

No, I don’t feel I should be a sceptic.

The Writer’s Paradigm

Any other day, I would have used the title above, and ranted about the compelling need I feel, to write. And then perhaps dissect and analyse this emotion, or gloriously abstract it away. I know of many other who feel this compulsion. But the knowledge is only a feeling, really. What does it really mean, to want to write? While I never gave it a thought, somewhere, I always believed that the need to write could be expressed only through words; spoken or written.

I was recently proved wrong. I saw the compelling need to write. I experienced it with someone.

*

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I met him on a sunny morning, the first of 2016.

We were at the cenotaphs of Orchha, and had stopped right outside, at a makeshift tea stall, slowly waking up to the new year. While the lady, perhaps my age, but seeming far elder, was brewing the tea, I sat at the platform, and opened my diary. It was, after all, the first day of the new year, I had to write something. Needless to say, I had no idea what to write. Half-clear memories were still reeling from the party last night. I had some important things churning in my head, but they were too metaphysical, for me to deal with, right now. Some words, reluctantly, made an appearance. I started writing.

A snotty little kid came and sat quietly beside me, looking at my writing. We looked at each other, smiled. He had one of the broadest smiles I had ever seen. His face was marked with vitamin deficiency, but that did nothing to diminish the warmth of his smile.

“I can write ABCD,” he said, just like that.

“Very good,” I replied with a smile, and returned to writing what lessons in life I have learnt and the ones I have ignored.

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“Here, let me show you,” came the reply and without warning, my passionately guarded Moleskin, was snatched from my hands. “Give me the pen.”

I couldn’t think very clearly, at the time. The surprise element was strong. My compulsion to write, was weak. I handed over the pen.

“A for Apple,” he told me and wrote it down, and the alphabet continued it’s journey, double-spaced, no less. We reach G. He doesn’t recall what G is for. Funnily enough, neither do I, i.e. what the nursery G is for. Groggy came to mind, but I was projecting. Glock came to mind, because of a conversation, yesterday. Yet, the word gun, didn’t cross my mind. I kept my mouth shut.

“It’s ok, let’s go ahead,” I said, and we continue. At O for Orange, I wanted to tell him, how the “r” should be written. I think better of it. Tea was served around Q for Queen, and as you see, I wasn’t paying attention, so that slipped through. (Yes, the Monkey also escaped). I take time to check if knows the meanings of the for words. He does. The pressure he uses on the paper is much. At least four pages down, the alphabet will be embossed, I imagine.

I remembered my English teacher from Class III; No, Atul, there is no need to dig into the notebook with your pencil. Hold it lightly. We will need the other pages in the notebook for the rest of the year.

It was a lesson for me in letting go. I did, though mildly upset. At Z for Zebra, he was all done, but wasn’t letting go of the notebook. I politely snatched it back from him, praised him for the wonderful work, wished him all the best, and joined my friends in touristing. He smiled back.

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It was the broadest, happiest, toothy smile I had seen, in years.

*

The cenotaphs are a photographer’s paradise. Come sunset, we returned, after visiting a couple of grand palaces. The same lady was there at her open-to-air tea stall. We had finished our photography (of the cenotaphs) and it did seem like a very good idea to have some more chai-biskoot (Tea & Biscuits).

Tap on the shoulder. “I know ten colours,” same sweet mumbly voice. Without a word, I took out my notebook and pen, and handed it over. No snatching business this time. He listed a few, in his own inimitable style. Saying out loud everything that he wrote, letter-for-letter. I was more interested, and more curious, now. We were now having a sort of conversation. Mostly, I was being a spelling Nazi, but gently.

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“I also know ten animals.” The list continued, after a line that separated the colours and the animals, so that they don’t get mixed up. He finished the animal list. It’s a bit of a quandary for him, I imagine. I will want my notebook back. But he, very clearly, wants to write more. He doesn’t look up from the notebook. Starts re-writing some of the things he has already written. The left page is full.

I congratulated him. His mother, the lady making the tea, is quite proud at our conversation. I ask him some questions about his life; the conversation goes on in Hindi. Then, I ask him to sign his name. Boom. He didn’t not know how to write his name in English. He wrote it in Hindi. I spent some more time with him, and taught him to write his name in English.

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That’s when, I met Ram Ravat, who can now write his name in English. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed that quick breeze of pride, that passed me by.

But Ram Ravat was not done. He now wanted to write questions and answers. Sentences. The right page is his resume. I could see he was desperately thinking of more things to write. He was at a loss. I did get my notebook back, with much, much, much reluctance.

I spoke with his mother later, apparently he is not to write in his school notebooks anything other than classwork. So, if Ram Ravat wants to write more, and more and more, he has no way. I imagined, the happiest time of his day, is when he is in class, and gets to write. Amongst managing other things, Ram Ravat’s mother cannot afford another notebook. I give her some money. I ask her to buy a notebook and a pen for Ram Ravat. I tell her to let him write as much as he wants.

Because I have known writers who have the best notebooks, papers, pens, and gadgets, at their disposal, but cannot write. And they go through their own fire in hell before they can write again.

But never, never should a writer not be able to write, for lack of paper and pen.

As Expected: An Experience

Happy New Year!

If you’ve read my previous post, I am happy to let you know that I stuck to going with the flow. In more than one way.

As expected, no earth-shattering revelations occurred. We already know what we need to do. Whether we want to do it, is another question. There is no self-discovery, really, there is only self-acceptance. We don’t need a place to go to, to discover ourselves. Discovery is incremental. Accepting what we discover, is the real requirement.

As expected, I haven’t committed (much) to what I already know. I dislike the pressure. The guy who left early on 31st, is pretty much the same guy who returned after the long weekend. In the sense of discovering and knowing; there’s disappointment, i.e. if some change was expected.

As expected, I went with the flow. I did not interfere with any bookings, travel plans, timings. I went along where everyone went. When they went. Once, I skipped seeing a monument that was scheduled early morning. I even spontaneously (ah, with some coaxing from my friend) changed my return plans.

As expected, I enjoyed the four days to the fullest. Some things, I wasn’t extremely pleased about, but I did not let that bother me. I had great conversation with all, made new friends, learnt a lot. About things. I laughed. Loud. A lot. Once in a while things went south. We took care of it, and then; laughed.

As promised (in the previous post), this is a photo that I took. It's not that same building, but it's the same place

As promised (in the previous post), this is a photo that I took. It’s not that same building, but it’s the same place

Some not-so-nice things also added to this experience. I am glad that we all took it in our stride; even if it scared the shit out out of us. I don’t think anyone of us said: sh*t! We just took care of things.

We just took care.

I saw my friends in new light. I am proud, that they call me a friend.

*

An experience is just an experience. The qualifier — good or bad — is our making. We screw our happiness by isolating and focusing on the bad ones. Not that they aren’t real. They are as real as the laugh that you had, that put that knot in your stomach.

We have to learn to embrace them all.

*

That’s my attitude towards 2016. No segregation. No good or bad. Because, I’ve learnt one thing, if nothing: even when sh*t happens, we can laugh. Continue laughing. Make stories. Increase our CQ (Cool Quotient). We can be happy, afraid, angry, [add your own mix here] at the same time.

[Inset] I know now, what I have been missing. [Inset]

No more, pulling back. Happy 2016, and many such years.

Word’s Worth

A well-known person recently wrote a very ill-structured article, distorting history, and creating a hateful environment, all around. It was worse than a recently released film, which distorted history, but without any predetermined malice. This article, not so.

The nature, structure, and intent of the article disturbed me, I wrote a response. A really long response. A well-intentioned friend, encouraged me to publish it. It’s there, in my drafts.

I don’t want to publish it, however. At least not now.

*

After I finished writing that article, and was proof-reading it, I thought of the time I spent thinking and writing about it. What was the time worth? If I had published it, nothing would have changed. I do not mean this in a defeatist way. Some like-minded folks would appreciate it, and then, in a month or so, we would move to the next outrage. Knowing (as in, about the person; not personally knowing) the person, nothing would change. That person will continue to spew hatred, irrespective. A few hundred words would not effect a change. There are enough problems in this world, and they need our help to be solved. And the way to solve these problems is through a concerted effort, not one-off responses.

For the Love of Writing

For the Love of Writing

In these same few hours, I could have written a better post, which is due, anyway. It’s sweet, interesting (to some of us), and informative. It’s part of a very long-term project I am working on. The limited time I get in a day to write, was wasted on a response to a confirmed bigot. Even if I wasn’t writing, I have a very interesting book, which I’d love to read. I’ve, mostly been able to ignore distractions from folks like the aforementioned bigots, but once in a while I succumb. Today was one such instance. I may have wasted my time, but I feel happy about my decision not to publish that article. In a chat, with my well-intentioned friend, I mentioned, that this is a slippery slope. I felt there was no turning back after I click, Publish!

At the edge, I saved myself.

Our time, our words, are worth much more than being directed at a worthless person or a worthless idea.

*

On a separate note, I am taking cue from my dear friend, The Bum, and plan to write letters. On paper. With pen (or pencil). Using envelopes. Postage stamps. In India. Abroad. Wherever you are. If you’d like to receive and write letters, let me know your address by email. (You can get my email through a comment I have posted). If you have difficulty finding that, let me know, and we’ll find a way.

Our word’s are worth, much more.

Of Courtly and Carnal Love

A while ago, I was wondering, “What’s Underlying In The Underline” — a description of a conflict, of writing in books. Marginalia, to be precise and its various cousins.

Recently, Amit tagged me in a tweet:

My instinctive reaction was: NO!

I’ll admit, however, since my last post, however, I’ve been doing more of underlining (neatly) and making small notes in the margins (good handwriting), in pencil only.

Then, Rob Burdock, got into the conversation. We exchanged a few tweets, and the conversation, though short, was very sweet and interesting. Rob, then shared an essay with me. I read it.

[Imagine a very long pause. A really long pause.]

Sacred Games
Given the length of the essay, it is the most compelling essay I have ever read. I felt an urgent need to return to my books and underline and add notes to all the books I have ever read. An almost impossible task, given the books I have read. A few days ago (i.e. before I read this essay), I was reading a book, for an article I have been researching for my latest adventure — The Custodians. I was quite excited about the topic and I began slashing underlines defiantly, adding notes here and there, circling dates and names of them, who caused history. It was as if, I was myself of fifteen years ago, copy-editing a storyboard. (I know it is hard to believe). Just four pages down, I felt an acute pain, heavily underlined by a new-found guilt. I could no more do it. I went back to the first page, erased all the graffiti (yes, it was a pencil), and calmly restarted marking the lines neatly, slowly, with care. Therefore, the book isn’t finished and my neat markup continues; needless to say, the article is delayed.

And then, couple of days ago, I read this essay. I shared it with The Bum. He agreed wholeheartedly with me.

I don’t know about you, but if you love books, this essay is a must read. If nothing, at least to know the idea behind the title of this post.

Download the PDF of “Never Do That To A Book” by Anne Fadiman. And many thanks to Rob!