Categories
Musings

What Can Authors Do?

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Over years of reading, some authors are likely to emerge as your favourites for various reasons and occupy the venerated position forever. When an author enters your list of favourites, you tend to grow intolerant of criticism of his work or personal life, even on valid grounds. All the foibles are tossed aside as natural or unavoidable. There is no chance of losing respect once an author achieves that glorified status in the eyes of a reader.  

Authors of classics are favourites when you are growing-up. They are the first ones to grab your imagination – much before contemporary authors mesmerise you with their narratives and styles. Since they are no longer around, they are admired for leaving behind a wealth of creative assets.

Reading one book makes you eager to read more from the same author and you end up reading everything the author wrote during his lifetime. This fondness makes you curious to read books by the author and books on the author. You dig up the archives, read what his contemporaries wrote about him, what his lovers and friends disclosed about him. The process of unearthing the mysteries throws up shocking disclosures.

One day you discover writings from established names that project him as a brothel-visitor, sadist, voyeur, or sexual pervert. As these graphic details emerge from multiple reliable sources, you are left to wonder why such great, exalted writers had such a dark, kinky side.

Your adoration suffers a jolt as you fail to deify him further. Even though the creative side keeps you inspired to become a good writer, the shady personal life scares you like hell. You begin to wonder whether writing actually involves dilution of character. Is it going to make the lovely people in your life suffer at your hands?  

Favourite authors are often reread. They hold a special place in your heart and your bookshelf. If you are proud of displaying your acquisitions, books by your favourite authors will be displayed in front. In case you are secretive, you prefer to conceal your favourites – hide them in the back of the bookshelf to escape getting noticed by others. Many people would like to borrow such titles and you are not ready to lend it to any person – not even to your best friend.

You always prefer to buy books by your favourite authors in hardbound cover – the paperback edition is not meant for you. Your favourite authors are part of your treasured collection that you wish to leave behind for future generations.

Your favourite authors share an intimate relationship with you. You take them to your bed and bedside. You go to sleep reading their writing and wake up fresh. Their magical words would have a soothing effect on your senses.

Sometimes you think these authors should not be read casually. So, you prefer to sit straight in your study and relish the prose with all seriousness. This is also a shade of respect you accord to your favourites. You never dog-ear the pages of your favourite tomes and prefer to place roses, feathers, or bookmarks inside. The sepia pages smell fragrant even after years and you inhale the evergreen freshness and revive the pleasurable experience of reading the long cherished book.

You tell the world who your favourite authors are and the reasons why they hold this exalted status with the fond hope that the other people will agree instantly. You want all your acquaintances to know you have found your favourites and the names should make them feel proud of you.

When you want more people to read your favourite author, you behave like an influencer and hope to multiply the flock of admirers. Adulation expressed with logic or emotion – or with a mix of both – tends to surprise your family and friends who never thought it was easy to select favourites from the vast world of writing and it required some kind of scholarship to be able to do so.

As a reader, if you have simply enjoyed the prose without trying to understand what great literary insight they offered, you are likely to find your favourite authors with ease. The readability factor coupled with reader engagement. A stage when you simply restrict yourself to one concrete line of confirmed admiration: I just love his words. This closes further debate and discussion. No power on earth can stop you from loving their books.   

If any of your favourite authors happens to be a living one, anywhere in the world, you consider yourself fortunate to be living in the era of such great writers. You feel a strong urge to connect with them, wish them on their birthday, buy their signed, autographed copies and flaunt the edition.

You take printouts of their photographs and put them up on the bedroom wall just as teenagers treat their rock stars. You pick up the favourite quotes from their books and frame those in your study to inspire and motivate you to greater heights – to credit the source of enrichment of your understanding of the complex world. On many occasions you feel the urge to quote their lines and express your fondness.

Such adulation rarely turns critical because you have grown up loving literature through their works. Their esteemed position remains unchallenged even if the erudite critics have contrary views to offer. After several years if you do not manage to write brilliantly, you remain in awe of their magical powers of expression. 

Sometimes, you pick up a few favourites but they are not quite the famous kind. They have not written much but their output appeals to you. The inhibition to mention their names remains within you but your clandestine admiration also stays alive.

Having a favourite author who is not famous is not an aberration. After all, it is an intimate relationship between the author and the reader. In case your list of favourite authors comprises some lesser known types, you sometimes feel the strong urge to pronounce their name and make the world know these writers deserved to be on the top list but they could not make the cut.

Your repeated thrust on those names does not change public perception but if your voice counts, you can surely evoke interest in some people who visit their works to find merit in your observations. As a sincere reader, you have the freedom to get them back in the reckoning – even if the outcome fails to meet your expectations. Your homage and tributes certainly go a long way in reviving the long-forgotten authors who slipped into obscurity.  

Favourite writers from your familiar world – the world you live in – and from distant lands leave you with a similar set of experiences. Space and time cease to matter and the reading experience alone decides the worth. When you have favourites from both the worlds, it shows you have no borders in the land of imagination and you respond with emotional force depending on the power of the prose.

Advice doled out by your favourite authors is revered and followed if you harbour literary ambition. You know these literary heavyweights share pearls of wisdom and hope the worth of their words gets recognised by people across boundaries and generations. Some people tend to keep one favourite, some have many favourites and some keep adding to their favourite list from different genres and countries. Whatever be the basis of cherry-picking the favourites, the installation is supposed to remain rooted in the fertile soil of your creative mind.  

Sometimes you notice a trend to honour great literary names by picking on famous names and quoting them in your work. Sometimes you begin to like real people with same names as those given to characters of your favourite writer, and sometimes you rename them with those dear names. When a character becomes famous like the author, there is definitely more life in the creation.  

Talking about my choices and the kind of relationship I share with my favourites, I must clarify that the choice was made on the basis of reading comfort alone. I had no idea about how great writers are judged and the parameters to define them. It was purely on the basis of pleasure of reading. Pleasure sounds a petty, sinful word for enlightened minds – a basic urge not worth writing about. As I derived pleasure from reading certain authors, I began to read more of them and that is how the relationship grew over the years.

Apart from the pleasure of reading a good story told in a lively manner, in refreshing prose, no other factor made me return to any author. Indulgent writing to show off literary flair put me off. Simple writing appealed a lot. Some living authors entered my system for these qualities. I do not say these alone should be the reasons to select your favourites, but in my case these became the glue factor. When I read A Suitable Boy (less than half), I realised simple writing is not easy. When I read A Fine Balance (just half), I realised simple writing is not easy. When I read The Guide (more than half), I realised simple writing is not easy.

Being a writer you aspire to become someone’s favourite one day and you keep working in that direction. You want a reader to confess your book transformed his life or made him look at writing in a fresh way. The list of favourites will continue to occupy the same slot in my mind. Even if respect does not come out in glowing terms, I feel inspired to write a book with such amazing simplicity some day. More than the name of the author, the name of the book leaves a lasting impact.  

I do not foresee the expansion of the list of favourites any further even if there is genuine merit in doing so. Right from early years of my growth as a reader, they have fired my imagination. So I prefer to be guided by the benchmark already set high. Being far, far away from that, despite years of reading and writing, generates a sense of remorse within. The intent is not to surpass these great works but to produce something that celebrates the inclusion of the strengths these works carried. There is no sense of competition of any kind – just the desire to give a new life to the qualities these works were raised with.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Musings

Relatives in a Writer’s Life

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

When condemnation comes from a decorated officer with eight medals in his kitty, you are left without any defence. He throws one salvo after another, bombards you with criticism – your self-esteem blown up in smithereens. Being one of the most successful among all your cousins, his fusillade is not dismissed as the rant of a demented relative. Every single word he uses without caution is accorded profound respect.

When such a relative decides to pour scorn on your ordinary life stripped of the essentials such as achievements and recognition, you have the entire cabal of relatives including maternal uncles and aunts echoing similar sentiment, rallying behind him with unequivocal support, attacking you for not choosing a proper career, for not taking life seriously, for not working hard to achieve success.

Yes, he did nothing worthwhile in life. All these years he was writing. But what did he write? Did he produce anything worthwhile? Wasn’t he aware that writing is a hobby? Has anyone ever made it a career choice? Absolutely lazy, crazy idiot! Writing is not for the middle-class people. Does that moron really think life is so easy that writing can sustain it?  

These are some common – and caustic – comments that my relatives have shared to define my existence as a hopeless writer. Some sympathisers and gossipmongers have forwarded these Whatsapp exchanges to me – perhaps to stoke further enmity and enjoy a crossfire.

Earlier, such poor assessment used to affect my peace of mind.Over the years, I have learnt to ignore it all. Most of my relatives – elders and peers – are blatant in rejection of my pursuit. My litany of failures has given them the courage and space to doubt my skills.

One relative took a jibe the other day, saying her college-going daughter has started writing stories. She clarified it is her passion to write, and she is interested to build a career in law. She made it clear that a second-year law student has the maturity to decide that writing is not meant for a living and one needs a full-fledged career for that. I should understand the clear and powerful message conveyed through the example of her daughter. She could not have put it more directly. Bang on!

As I was yet to gather myself and say something, she sprang up with another well-crafted one. Pretending to take interest in my writing, she suggested I should share the manuscript I was working on with her daughter for editorial assessment.

Well, she could be one of the trainee editors in publishing houses who rarely read from the slush pile and promptly write rejection notes to those who think they have produced literary gems. Despite my battered, residual ego that I had preserved to keep my self-respect alive, the relationship we shared and the yawning age gap, perhaps as wide as generation gap, I expressed willingness to share my work in progress with her daughter.   

If you want to pursue writing, make sure you are able to become successful around the time people from other professions become successful and stable. If you are not able to garner success within that time frame, you are a miserable loser, an awful misfit. Relatives find it difficult to introduce you in their circle of friends when you visit them. Some even do not feel like shaking hands with you – those corporate, ring-studded hands always ready for movers and shakers from around the world.

I was foolish to offer my hand to a relative who worked as a successful manager. He refused to accept the proffered hand in front of a fairly large crowd and simply walked away from me. Such humiliation – in the presence of other relatives – did not shake or stir me. I have learnt to digest insults very well.

Since then, I am careful not to offer my unsuccessful hand for a handshake. I live with the fantasy of the hand being kissed on book covers, the fingers that crafted sensitive prose feel like tender skin on the pages.

My long-drawn struggle brought sympathy from a clutch of superannuated relatives. Uncles warned me of the dangers looming ahead as middle-age was approaching fast like a thunderstorm to rampage me. It would be fair to switch to an alternate career before things went haywire. I should perhaps think of setting up a small restaurant, become an insurance or property agent.

None of these professions are bad per se. But by the manner in which the shortlist of career options was prepared and laid out, it was a clear attempt to suggest I was not worth anything more than this and there were limited options available for me at this stage of life. These relatives wished to be considered my well-wishers, but this was a polished way of taking potshots. Their pearls of wisdom scattered and bounced on the rugged floor of my mind, sending short, sharp, tinkling spasms of pain to my almost-deaf ears.   

As a writer, should I engage in a war of words or retreat? When it is most unlikely to change their perspective, it is better not to respond and aggravate the situation. They will surround me on all sides and attempt to weaken my position and resolve. Focus on the work and forget the noise around. Your best output will silence all critics at home and outside. This brings temporary relief like a painkiller administered to treat a chronic ailment.   

Now I prefer to isolate myself and this helps me recover faster. I do not bother to call them or message them. Because there is very little worth exchanging with them after health and weather queries get exhausted. They have the same set of questions and I have the same answers to offer. When will this era of struggle end? When will I wake them up with the disturbing news of my success in writing? From when, the question has now become will I ever?   

Those who have by now grown fairly accustomed to my long list of failures will find themselves in discomfort zone, will have to review my status and think of adding a rich, smooth and creamy layer of respect that appears appetizing. 

They will be faster than chameleon if they find me published. They will say they always knew I had the innate potential to write and I wrote really well. They will say I was just an unlucky writer ignored by lady luck all these years. From sheer rejection to complete acceptance not only from publishers but also from relatives proves success is what matters everywhere, in every profession.  

If you have faced tough times and still not contemplated giving up your struggle, you have the genetic code of a writer. If repeated insults have not made you think of suicide, you have already succeeded as a writer. Remember, your reason to write is not the same as what they think you write for.   

A life without relatives is what you are compelled to seek at times. Would it be a better life if your relatives had not misbehaved or snubbed you? Think from a different perspective. These episodes have vaccinated you in multiple ways and you should be thankful to them for making you develop a strong immunity as a writer who has to face criticism throughout his life’s work. They are your god-gifted critics before critics enter your life. This training is so essential and when it comes from your own people, you understand how the literary world full of strangers behaves and functions.

Ideally speaking, you should not seek encouragement or support from others to write – that should always come from within just like creativity. Rejection from others in your group of relatives is far more enriching as it hurts you, but you still carry on writing. Because you know there is a voice of a writer inside you and you will not kill it – no matter what others say. You will surely bring it into this world. May not be at the end of nine months, maybe in nine years.  

Swallow all the crap that comes from relatives, let them throw more rubbish at you. These are what you need more – to get toughened, to become a writer with a heart of gold. It is true they criticize you for their enjoyment, to feel superior, to get a boost, but it  actually benefits you a lot in the process. Their gains are petty and superficial. Yours are permanent. Convey heartfelt thanks to acerbic relatives in your prayers.    

When you publish a book that is hailed as a success in the world of writing, their loaded guns will automatically fall silent. Wait for that day!

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings

Amphan Stories: Uprooted Trees & Broken Nests

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

The giant tree was pulled away from the bosom of the Earth after an intense struggle that lasted for several hours in the dark. It was razed to the ground much like the vandalized bust of a dictator overthrown in a coup.  

The birds in all their wisdom had chosen to build their nests in the sturdy tree that came with the implicit assurance of a safe haven. The tree that listed several encounters of surviving severe cyclones in its resume had caved in this time after four decades of brawny existence.

Birds asleep quite like passengers in long-distance trains that collide in the middle of the night – a big jolt wakes them up to discover their world turned upside down. Something similar must have rattled the birds when they found themselves closer to the ground through the thick foliage of leaves that cushioned their unceremonious fall. 

Imagine those moments of confusion and hopelessness when they extricated themselves from the wreckage to fly off to nearby safety. The swaying electric wires clutched their nervous feet as they tried to make sense of the world during the incessant downpour, vigorously shaking their rattled heads to puff up resilience in their wings, waiting patiently and calling out other members of the family to unite. 

In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up to hear fresh new voices in the garden. As I opened the window of my study, the reality outside and my imagination matched like the blood group of two strangers. The guava tree was the makeshift home where the homeless birds had now gathered and perhaps united with their loved ones. Their chirping was probably their excited conversation to chalk out the future plan of rehabilitation. More birds flew in and sat beside their families, sharing updates of empty spaces available in the mango and jackfruit trees where they could build new nests. Agile and faster than human beings in rebuilding homes, some were already flying around carrying pieces of straw and wires in their beaks as the new foundation for cosy, durable nests to cuddle in.  

Quite a few of their flock sat still and gazed at the uprooted tree, perhaps fondly recollecting the good times they enjoyed up there. Like us, they were probably fond of living in grandeur. Maybe they were also proud of having an opulent residence in a giant tree that looked like a mansion. With no other tree of such magnificence around, they would now have to settle down with some modest options.   

I joined the birds in observing the uprooted tree. The vacant space was brimming with strange, unfamiliar brightness. What stood hidden behind the tree all these years was now clearly visible. The balcony of the neighbour was in full view. The death of the tree had brought us visually closer. I was not too happy with the new reality and I do not think he would be happy either to reveal the colours of his innerwear left to dry on the balcony railing every day.

I was habituated to look in that direction because of the giant tree. I looked at it whenever I was thinking of ideas. The circle of leafy delight energised my mornings. The sight of the tree stirred and stimulated creativity. Now the neighbour would think I was gazing at him or waiting for the beautiful women of his household to stage an appearance there. He would go further to call it an invasion of privacy – the arousal of voyeuristic tendencies.

I suspect my repeated gaze would make him erect a glass window to cover up the balcony area, to stay safe from my ogling. I would still be looking at the giant tree because it is planted in my mind forever. I would still look at it through my inner eye and seek inspiration. Difficult to make people understand that creative folks often fix their gaze at something but they think of something completely different.    

The relief team arrived with a truck – hearse to ferry the mortal remains of the tree. They were more brutal than the cyclone as the dead tree was axed further, chopped into small logs to be sold as timber. Only the tree trunk was left behind and people gathered to click its photos for their social media feeds. Some strangers passing by stood silent to mourn its demise more sincerely than the residents around. The uprooted tree created no signs of emotional distress in the people who lived in its vicinity. Perhaps it is true that the death of a family member does not necessarily cause much agony to the survivors in the family – people who have no blood relationship are also likely to shed more tears.  

A fleeting thought of grafting its small branch in my garden – with a concrete slab to perpetuate its memory – did cross my mind. And the epitaph recording the cause of its death: Amphan. Does a tree deserve to be immortalised? Does a tree become evergreen in history? Or it remains just like us ordinary mortals who come and go? Enlightenment makes all the difference. We are all uprooted from time to time, in so many different ways. The uprooted tree left behind a lot for me to dig up within.  

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings

God Survives Corona

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Non-believers have no God to thank when the virus dies. Believers have too many replicas to genuflect before once the pandemic gets over. This virus came with the huge potential to ensure the mass conversion of believers into non-believers across the world, across multiple faiths. But the virus is most unlikely to destroy the cells of faith. God has survived many such catastrophes and epidemics in the past. He is going to survive Covid as well.    

After every pandemic, faith becomes stronger. Survivors do not know why they survived but they know God alone deserves gratitude for their survival. It is a big relief the virus did not attack them because God kept them safe. This strain of thought never mutates. Social distancing, wearing masks, and washing of hands are not considered stronger than the will of God.

Once the pandemic ends, expect people to donate wealth to the favourite places of worship. This time, God appears embarrassed to take undue credit. He knows doctors are the real gods who fought against death and saved lives.  

God-fearing people spin a mastermind narrative: If the virus had nothing to do with God, then it should not have resulted in deaths. Believers attribute death to God — the Supreme power. God isn’t happy to hear this. Finally, He musters the courage to clarify that death is not in His hands alone. Parallel chambers of authority have emerged in recent times. He is not the ultimate authority to decide who dies when. Man can kill man. Nations can devastate nations. The powerful heads of states do not seek His consent before declaring wars and planning genocides, before developing nuclear bombs and bio-weapons. God has a valid argument in his defence.

Despite these dark, stark realities, all religions of the world dump death on His shoulders. He is made the scapegoat. Unwilling to shoulder further blame, God denies his alleged role and makes it clear that this virus is not his despatch to punish mankind. It is the remorse within that makes people think God is punishing them in this terrible manner for their mistakes, because the virus is mysterious and inscrutable like the ways of God.

People cannot imagine death without the consent of God. If there is another authority who can decide it, He does not remain supreme. One good reason why people are ready to consider the virus to be God’s representative. Else, the tiny virus cannot wield such power to take them to their graves. People are hell-bent to establish some kind of relationship or tacit understanding between the virus and God.   

Many hold the view that the virus cannot be hailed as the New God because it kills and destroys. But it is also true that God has been doing the same thing in a brazen manner for centuries and people still repose absolute faith in Him. Isn’t that strange? There is a fundamental difference in their modus operandi.

God brings death at a much slower pace and targets specific areas at a time. But the virus is killing people everywhere without any discrimination, at a much rapid pace. The virus is sure to make us think we are all equal. Something God never managed to do.   

The virus is unpredictable just like God. Do you know what He will do next? Who will get rewarded or thrashed? We pray to stay safe all the time, all our lives, in constant mortal danger. Our life is nothing but His will.

Why do we pray to Him when we have a new super power in our midst? Can He really save us if the pandemic returns again in a much deadlier form? We have already seen this storm and it does not inspire positive thinking about His special powers.  

Do not question God or suspect His motives. Be blind in your faith. As the entire world fears for life and medical experts rush to get the vaccine, God alone can deliver a miracle and make the virus lose its potency. Get the drift now. Even if the virus goes away on its own, God gets the credit for its disappearance. This is surely going to make God survive Covid and win Him new believers by converting non-believers to the list.   

                                                    

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Musings

Write in the way you love to write…

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

I had never felt the need to move out of the city. Let me correct myself here. I had never felt the urge to move out of the city. All my friends were determined to leave the city after completing their studies. They had convinced themselves that there were no opportunities here. A better future, a dream career was only possible elsewhere. I did not buy this sentiment. I was not swept by the tide of majoritarian thinking. I was a loner marooned on the tiny island of my hardcore beliefs that withstood the winds of change.  

I had always felt that a writer does not necessarily need to move out except for commercial compulsions. If he moves out, it does take him away from his roots and the intimate world he belongs to. He writes wistfully of the lost world and tries to draw a connection.

If I wish to write well, I have to read well. This can happen in the small town as well. Why should I leave the city I had grown up in? This was the kind of idealism that restrained me. I was convinced to hear this reassuring voice urging me to lock myself down where I was and just read and write. I listened to it and stayed back. For almost two decades.  

While they moved at a frenzied pace made more furious by their ambition within, I was the one who remained out of this race, to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, finding bliss in buying vegetables from farmers, plucking guavas and mangoes, having long walks to breathe in the fresh air, and listening to birds and their different voices. Something must be terribly lacking in such a person who opts for things nobody cares about. Must be a nervous chap afraid of failing who refuses to participate.

Relatives and family members came down heavily, suspecting the lack of the seeds of ambition. Inspirational stories of success abroad were narrated. When these did not push me hard to go out and compete, they realised the futility of it and dismissed my cowardice and lethargy as a tell-tale sign of impending doom. A person who lives to commit professional blunder. Such abuse came my way. I brushed it all aside. Nothing went deep inside to stir me, to jolt me, to make me feel insulted, to feel challenged, to come out and fight the usual survival wars of middle-class existence.   

Most of the friends became journalists and editors and rose to the eminence of the kind they had visualised. I was still reading and writing and undergoing the angst of creative puberty, waiting for the first novel to burst out of me. When they heard of my long, endless struggle, they advised me to become flexible and practical, move to a cosmopolitan city and build contacts.

I knew from my college days I had chosen a path less travelled. Okay, I was late in meeting them at the thoroughfare of success. But does it mean I have to change my chosen path now? Their words did not persuade me. I still believed in what I had chosen long ago. I was ready to face the consequences. My experiences of failure kept me grounded. I never thought I was desperate to meet success, never pleading for the gates of success to let me in.    

The hectic pace of life never made me change my languid pace. I followed my speed, never rushing into anything. I had the time to stand and absorb the beauty of flowers blooming all around, I had the time to sit by the riverside and watch its languid flow. I had the time to sit under the shady tree and distance myself from the world around me. I had the time to observe hordes of people in the market.

While I did work in advertising as a copywriter for my bread and butter, I stayed away from the stressful world and chose to work from home. It gave me a flexible routine, offered extra time to think and write for myself. I felt I was going to lose this fine balance if I went elsewhere. The ideal state of composure would be lost forever.

A compromise would scuttle my romance with nature. I was convinced even if I had to write for any other medium, I would still do it from my hometown. If the creative output was impressive, the terms and conditions would be made flexible. I was not going to relocate for career gains.  

The world is full of stories of people leaving homes for jobs. In the creative world, such stories of migration and struggle are also common. I was perhaps the uncommon kind who was convinced of the lack of the need to go anywhere else. Perhaps, it was true that the urge to make pots of money was not there. Or maybe I always believed big money was going to come if I wrote big stuff. Location was immaterial. Nobody really cares to know where the writer wrote the story so long as his work was good. When I read about respected authors who were grocers, postal clerks, and ration-shop owners, the entire perspective changed.

If I make it, I will be proved right. Perhaps I am wrong to think so. Sometimes, I wonder why I have this stubborn streak.

Is it because I love the city? Or I am afraid of finding myself fighting the same predictable battles as others do? Is it that I hate to come out of my comfort zone? Hurl any such reasoning. I am unruffled.   

This makes me think hard again. Is it the love of people and places? Why don’t I try once to leave and see how it pans out? As I tell myself to change, something tells me not to get distracted. Stay on the path I have been following. Do not think like others, say no to herd mentality. But when others question my present life, they do not think I chose it. They think I could not secure a better one. It is a defeat when I have nothing to tell them, to show them, to silence them.

The world I live in is relatively small, but it is nurturing my system well. While the city-based people have also suffered a lot, their success hides everything else. My failures strip me of the barest cover to defend myself.  

Take the counterpoint now. If life is so good here, why is your creativity not blooming and booming in the small town? Those city-based ones are writing best-sellers and you make tall claims of being a good writer. When it does not show in terms of success, isn’t it a wasted life?  

More important to find out is whether the writer in me feels exhausted or wasted. I have a word with the writer within every morning. He says he is still connected and happy to be here, not regretting the choice I made long ago.  

Agreed, creativity did not blossom here for me, but what is the guarantee it would have flourished elsewhere? They argue the chaos of survival, the urge to prove would have brought out my creativity. This slow life did not let it happen. They mean creativity comes out under stress. Well, it is an opinion and a possibility. But for me, I never like to write a single sentence under pressure.  

At this stage in life, with nothing worth to showcase as a fancy badge of success, I have no regret for not moving out, of being content with whatever creativity I could muster to tell a few stories. Did I wait too long for creativity to bloom instead of trying to force it? So long as I can create something decent even if it is not conventionally successful, I am happy for myself. Nothing else matters – not even the harshest criticism of my choices.   

The creativity I see around is non-competitive and complete in itself. Only humans want their creativity to become competitive, get acknowledged and recognised. I am happy to blossom the way my world wants me to bloom. Even if I do not, absolutely no regrets. Many creative folks have already gone down this path. I am not the first one to disappear without leaving behind a substantial body of work.

But the belief that brilliant stuff does not always have to come out of a metro-centric environment remains firm. All creative folks are not bound to create great art during their lifetime. Much of their existence is dedicated to the admiration of creative beauty in various forms. Forget the charm and trappings of success. Write in the way you love to write. This harmony is more important for the seeker within.      

                                                  

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.

Categories
Musings

When Corona Becomes a Memory

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

The world of advertising is already getting creative to give a positive spin to the image of corona virus. Digital media is flush with out-of-the-box renditions. These wonderful interpretations indicate we have the rare ability to mutate this symbol into something exciting.  

Despite its malevolent impact on human lives and livelihood, the image does not look threatening in isolation. When we look back a year or so later, we are likely to remember a lot regarding the pandemic including the lockdown. By that time, the image of the corona virus will be present all around us in a myriad of forms, a living memory eliciting a host of conflicting emotional reactions ranging from anger to awe.

The world of art is certainly going to get busy, with a slew of contests and competitions to promote the novel corona virus in various forms of art, to serve as useful reminders to the global community. A framed post-card size photograph of the corona virus on my writing desk – just like a photograph from a memorable holiday – is my idea of remembering the Covid-19 times.   

Amusement parks are going to have a giant, bright-looking corona virus installed right in the middle. With crowds milling around to get clicked against this backdrop and post it on their social media handles. Installation art inspired by the corona virus is likely to be treasured in museums and other exhibition spaces, with connoisseurs and dilettantes standing in front of these majestic creations to eulogize the arty assets. Expect painters to mount something novel about the corona virus for us in art galleries, perhaps something profoundly abstract to wow our imagination. Writers and poets immortalise the virus in their inimitable verses and voices – through engaging stories and soulful poems. Photographers comprise the only disadvantaged cabal of creative honchos fully deprived of the chance to shoot the invisible virus.  

The pitch is perfect for marketing wizards to capitalize on the corona virus. It will be a tasty surprise if bakeries come up with corona-shaped cakes and pastries for gastronomical delight. Corona ice-cream sounds cool to beat the summer heat. Melt away your fears with yummy sticks and cups of frozen flavours. Bite into a corona chocolate to feel like a warrior who survived the pandemic. Relish traditional Indian sweets like corona laddoo or gulab jamun. Gobbling up the virus in its sweetest form infects you with a vicarious sense of invincible power.

Corona stickers and magnets on the fridge door refresh memories every time you pull the door. Keeping it full of essentials had become quite a challenge – how the booze rack looked deserted during those dry days. Corona lamp shades near the bedside remind you of how widely you read during the lockdown phase. Let imagination run wild to think of where and in what form the corona virus can be immortalised.  

Apparel brands are sure to launch a new line of clothing. Winning the big fight against the corona virus creates heroes everywhere and they need visual celebration of their grand conquest. T-shirts emblazoned with corona virus on the back or right in front for chest-thumping. Caps, handkerchiefs, and several other accessories carry the imprint wherever possible. Jewellery makers roll out a corona collection of ear-rings in gold – those dangling pieces remind women how the virus battle kept oscillating between hope and despair. Expect watches to become trendy for youth again. A corona watch shows what times the world has been through – the immense suffering of lovers who could not meet for months during the lockdown. 

Lovers will remember the unbearable pangs of separation just as couples will remember how their marriage plans were stalled. There will be a new term entering the dictionary – coronafied in love. To hint at forced separation due to an extraordinary situation like pandemic.   

Players will kick corona virus-shaped balls in the playground. Workers will have corona virus-shaped punching bags to vent their frustration of losing jobs during the crisis. Building entrances and residential complexes will have a dedicated corner for the corona virus where visitors will offer donation and bow down prior to entering the elevator. A precautionary step to appease the demi-god, to keep people safe. Corona virus-shaped dust-bins in every street corner will remind us of sanitization and hygiene drives. Corona virus-shaped bottles of hand sanitizers or room fresheners inside washrooms will serve as quick reminders of the harrowing past. 

Just like individuals and corporate entities deliver something innovative to keep the memory of the corona virus alive, nations should also come up with something novel – erect memorials where people can go and pray for the peace of departed souls who lost the battle against the corona virus. 

                                                           

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, Tehelka, Deccan Herald, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.

Categories
Musings

Observer at Home

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

During the lockdown phase, I started taking interest in what did not interest me earlier. As a writer fond of observing people and the world outside, my operating space was restricted now. Everything inside the house began to draw my attention. The small, minor issues and objects assumed greater importance than they actually deserved. My appetite for keen observation was evident every hour of the day.  

I had no memory that the ceramic mug I drank coffee from every morning was chipped. Quite like the small scratches you do not notice when they first appear. I held it close to my eyes to check whether it was fresh. Unable to reach a definite conclusion, I shared my observation with my partner to see how she reacted. My words did not elicit her glance in my direction so I placed the coffee mug on the table without making the slightest noise.  

After a long-drawn silence in which I had forgotten my query, she confirmed the coffee mug was chipped due to an accidental brush against the gushing steel tap in the sink almost month ago. Since it was emblazoned with her favourite motivational quote, she decided not to discard it. Maybe the coffee mug supplied her with the daily dose of positivity when I sat in front of her, holding it in my hand. A visual meditation with open eyes.  

It was amazing to discover the curtains of the windows in my study had two colours. Unwilling to blindly trust my vision, I walked to the window, held the fabric and double-checked it. What I had considered beige had a tinge of pink as well. I resisted for a while the urge to ask my partner to spell out the colours. I framed it a bit differently soon: Is the curtain in my study room baby pink?

Her reply was prompt this time: The curtain has been washed so many times that from fuschia pink it was now turned into pale baby pink. The presence of subtle elements in everything surrounding a writer is always elevating. Subtleties make art richer. And writers always look for possible signs of it. After this observation, I was filled with the joy of imagining a reader who finds a new shade of meaning in my stories years later. Maybe someone who reads my works with great passion is the one who locates fresh sensibilities in my writing.

On the top of my bookshelf, there had been a miniature terracotta elephant and a horse. I do not exactly remember when I last saw them there. But I remember seeing them whenever I looked that side. I found them missing for the first time in three years since they were purchased from the local arts fair and placed right on top. I needed an update regarding their present location. Had they been shifted elsewhere recently? I asked my partner about the elephant first. 

Thank God, you noticed that.  When they came, they were small. Now they have grown up. How can they fit in there?  

I was not getting what she was trying to imply through her sarcasm. Finding a blank expression on my sullen face, she said she had moved them to the terrace last year. For one year I had not noticed this change of location. It showed how unfamiliar I was with the house I was living in.

I know the rooms of my characters very well. Every nook and corner is vivid in my mind. When the world of fiction becomes so real, the real world the writer lives in tends to grow distant. Something of this kind had happened in my case.

While shaving during the afternoon, I noticed the mirror was not square anymore. The mystery of how it had become rectangle deepened. Various implausible plot angles took shape in my fecund mind. Laying them at rest because thrillers are not my genre, I rushed to seek clarity regarding my visual disturbance from my spouse who was ironing clothes.

Holding the hot iron in one hand like a shield, she looked vexed with arched eyebrows. She dismissed my repeated attempts at observing more inside the house and clarified that the square mirror fell off the wall last winter. Maybe the lizards engaged in combat had toppled it to gain more space. 

I realised this tendency would continue in this manner for weeks. Many striking differences would come to my attention and it was useless to irritate others with my queries. Instead of trying to update myself with the changes I was observing quite late now, I should ignore them all and give more rest to my frenzied brain during the lockdown phase.    

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  

                                                           

Categories
Musings

COVID claims jobs

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Covid-19 seems far away from the district I live in. But deprivation has already set in. On my way home with a bag full of grocery items from the nearby kirana store (minimart), I was stopped by two masked women outside the park. One of them flashed a weak smile that disappeared as soon as she measured from my bag and body language that I was not the person she was waiting for. She asked me whether the distribution of food grains was scheduled in the park – whether they should queue up and wait. Being absolutely clueless regarding any such distribution plan and feeling a sense of remorse for carrying something these women were eagerly waiting for, I chose to suggest the adjacent house for reliable information in this regard.

I replayed her question in my head to assess her plight. Her voice did not quake with any sentiment of doom. But her face did carry a disproportionate mix of hope and worry. From her readiness to wait, it appeared she was expecting recovery and normalcy to return soon. Just like her, the entire nation was pregnant with hope of a turnaround. Except the corporate world that had already aborted it.  

Despite chanting mantras of positive mindset and chewing the motivational gum year after year, there seems to be a well-orchestrated unanimity in the prediction of business slump. Salary cut sounds a pretty neat term – quite like a bearded guy choosing to become clean-shaven and still looking dapper. Nobody seems to grudge pay cuts and there is a smile on every face if you mention it, as if it is an increment or Diwali bonus.

Weighed against the other alternative of job loss, this seems like a life-saver. While we are still a long away from finding the vaccine, it seems we have already found the cure that keeps us immune from lay-offs. Thousands of employees and workers are going to serve with renewed motivation because they have families to feed and regular debts to service. The vicious cycle continues.

It is barely a month of lockdown in India and companies are feeling the heat. They have to pay salaries when there is no cash flow. It pinches them hard. This comes as an ideal opportunity to downsize the workforce. Instead of waiting for two months to see how the situation evolves, companies have already started communicating their new human resource policies through email and phone. Seems there is no contingency fund to tide over the crisis and emergency credit lines will not meet their requirement.  

Before the Covid-19 crisis set in, I met my employers for a raise and the first draft of their script was ready. Every single line suggested they were waiting for the pandemic to blow up before they unfolded their mega plans in front of employees. It was a clear indicator that they were going to release a voluntary retrenchment scheme, or they would come up with a revised plan of salary packages.

After the 21-day lockdown ended and the extension happened, the advertising agency began its trial run on me. To be honest, I had an inkling that this exercise would begin with me. The owners communicated their decision to flatten my salary curve – slash 50% of it from next month. It was cold, insensitive, and brutal. The email exuded the same indifference. Since I was not ready to accept the new offer, I communicated my decision to quit my job in the next three months and served them my notice period.

Some friends called me to know about my job status. Did you get hit? The urban workforce hides its collective shame in this clever expression that helps salvage pride and dignity by playing the victim card — as if it was an enemy bullet that hit us while we were serving our corporate dukes in the battlefield.    

During Covid-19 times, the chutzpah to leave a job is certainly not what any employer would expect. A meek, timid acceptance would have warmed the cockles of their hearts. What I delivered was a bitter pill of gross insubordination and rebellion. I knew all their domestic clients were on board, and several of them were government clients. This was a temporary setback and the clients would resume operations after the lockdown. What was the tearing hurry then?

Imagine what happens to hordes of employees in the private sector in the coming months. People are going to suffer heart attacks, strokes and even contemplate suicide. And the organisations have no humanitarian approach or policy to address such a major problem. If they do not wish to utilise the resources acquired over the years of operations for the benefit of employees, it shows their rank opportunism and insensitive disposition in such trying times. 

Most of the companies operating in India have not existed since 1971. The corporate boom is a fairly recent phenomenon that arrived after liberalization was introduced in 1991. They have not seen wars or famines during their lifetime. All they are busy doing is axe, axe, and axe. As if jobs are like overgrown branches that need to be pruned from time to time.   

Corporates have a fairly typical mindset: expand hiring processes when business grows and contract when business shrinks. Remember the faces of those animals that perceive the slightest danger and curl up for protection – corporates are like that. Unreliable, fair-weather friends you can go on a date with provided you carry an umbrella or a raincoat of your own. When it starts pouring suddenly, do not expect them to take you under their umbrella.

Covid-19 crisis is yet another eye-opener that reveals the real predatory nature of corporate entities. Sadly, this realisation will soon be forgotten as the corporate juggernaut resumes its roll.   

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel. 

Categories
Musings

Life in Times of Corona

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Her multiple complications turned worse around the time the first case came to light. During her last medical check-up, she was diagnosed with aggravated problems related to heart, liver, and gall bladder functioning. Hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and cataract left out as routine and manageable disorders. She heard the doctor warn her of fatal consequences if angioplasty was not done immediately. She chose to bypass it with a smirk that offended the doctor and he prescribed three new tests at his specified diagnostic centre to locate more illnesses residing within her. 

Two months later, she heard the doctor had passed away. She was curious to know how his untimely end came. This is when she heard about COVID-19 for the first time. It sounded more like a prescription drug to her rather than a life-threatening infectious disease. When I simplified it with corona and explained what it was and how it was caused and transmitted, she grew interested in the pandemic, sneezed all of a sudden and asked: Can I get it? It was like —Am I eligible for it?

As the elderly folks with co-morbidity are at a higher risk, I urged her to practice social distancing. She did not get it, so I asked her to stay six feet away from people. She took this opportunity to cancel her scheduled blood pressure check-ups and blood sugar tests for a month.

She bombarded me with several questions. I searched online for the best answers to update her. From her facial expression she was not happy to learn that it came from China. Her xenophobic mind began to function. She blamed the Chinese for almost every evil in the world. She wanted to see a pangolin on my phone. After a proper look at the poor fellow looking cute and innocent, she said with regret: What else do you expect from people who eat snakes and dogs? She had no visible anger for bats or pangolins — only for the wet markets in China. 

She began to create conspiracy stories with impossible plots and angles, and this assured me that my creative streak was most certainly derived from her. She was not any different from what others were thinking except the fact that she did not know anything about bio-weapons. 

She took advantage of the fact that I was not born when China attacked India. She dramatized a few episodes. I had no option to verify. Since her emotional investment was evident from her expression, I chose not to interrupt her flow and nodded without conviction. Pakistan and China were the two countries she loved to bash indiscriminately whenever she got an opportunity or a person who harboured similar thoughts. Somehow, she had realised over the years that my intolerance for any nation had not peaked yet.   

                                                              *

Every day, from morning to night, she pops fifteen pills. But today she decided to skip pills. Just like people skip meals for dieting. I did not know how to react. Should I administer those pills with a word of caution or just let her do what she wanted to do? It appeared she was confident heart attack was unlikely to be the cause of her death. She did what she wanted to do — flirt with death.  

I told her to wear a mask for safety and she opened the window to see whether the lady in the adjacent house was wearing one. When she saw she was not wearing it at home, she refused to wear it. She kept the mask and said she would wear it when I entered her room after coming from the grocery store. To show she was taking some precaution, she agreed to keep the bottle of hand sanitizer with her.  

Although I myself was not sure about many possible ways of its spread, I added them all for extra safety. I mentioned how it behaves on various surfaces, how many days it lives, how easily it kills. This deepened her worry. She wanted to know whether her relatives were safe. She called them up to find out.

Armed with the knowledge derived from me, she began to use words like pandemic and social distancing and repeated preventive tips. She observed behavioural change in her close relatives. Those who used to express the desire to meet her were quiet now. She sought umbrage because nobody had invited her. I told her that relatives will not entertain or invite guests for one year at least. She said most of these were fake invites and so there was no harm in extending them, just to make others feel good. I explained that people were unwilling to take any kind of risk. You never know which crackpot turns up with a burning desire to meet once trains start running on the tracks.

The virus shared many attributes with God. It was also invisible just like God. She kept reading the holy texts as usual. I told her she must realise death is not caused by God’s will. Even a virus can kill people and faith cannot save people from Corona virus. This posed a big challenge to her faith. She began looking for a line of defence: Tell me, who created this virus? It is also God’s creation.

For once, she did not blame China for creating it. Before I could ask her why she felt so, she asked me to repeat the symptoms. I told her the virus can live in the human body for 21 days or more without any symptom. Now she got really worried and scared. She wore the mask and abused the virus in filthy language without showing any mercy – much of it I did not hear and what I heard I cannot put down.  

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel. 

Categories
Essay

After the Pandemic

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Our admiration, interest, and respect spikes for countries where the spread of Covid-19 is flattened or limited with early measures. As we track global statistics on a daily basis, any country with less than 1000 cases makes us react with Wow and How. As we scroll further down the list, those with 500 or less than 100 cases make us feel positive and we conclude: This is the place to live. These may or may not be counted as fantasy lands or ideal destinations in normal times, but when it comes to survival, we salute them for keeping citizens safe in these dark times.  

When I discussed this with some friends in an online chat, they are reluctant to bat for developed and advanced nations now. Countries more efficient in the management of crisis and saving human lives, countries more benevolent towards the poor, countries with more nature-friendly policies, countries where a citizen is considered much more than a statistic are weighed against the traditional heavyweights. When the pandemic subsides and people have lesser emotional stress, perhaps the same set of questions will have completely different answers. Or maybe, the magnitude of this crisis enables us to imagine grief more closely and we are compelled to revise our assessment of growth, development, and quality living. 

While the recovery phase will take its time, the nations least affected will have having a clear advantage over the severely affected ones. Whether they will be able to leverage on their strengths and give the world the option of a better life with limited but sufficient resources remains to be seen.   

Economists and artists will get busy mapping the COVID-19 impact on people once the pandemic is contained. GDP predictions, recession, relief packages and stimulus will form the key discussions. The wealthy of every nation will look for growing economies to park their funds and they will come together to create rich economies — lured by maximum plough back of profits. They will look for economies with double-digit annual growth or for high single-digit economies with enormous potential to double up in the short term itself.

Job losers and fresh job seekers will migrate in search of better and stable options anywhere in the world. The top ten nations for immigrants will be another interesting development. Many new countries will enter this list and many big names will be excluded from the list. Globalisation will become a word of caution for some nations while the rest of the world will begin to harness its potential.  

Tragedies inspire artists. The political class that creates global tragedies will be defeated by nature this time. Man-made tragedies kindle the angst in artists far more than the natural ones, even if the extent of damage remains the same or even greater. Being lovers of nature, the community of artists will not be ruthless towards the eco systems. They will blame mankind for being unkind, for the excesses against nature, and treat every natural disaster as the planet’s brave attempt to heal or reclaim what it lost. Artists will remind people and countries to be friendlier towards the Earth as will environmentalists, who have always emphasised harmonious co-existence with nature. This enthusiastic drive will continue with full force.

As soon as the element of greed raises its ugly head and the countries become competitive to provide a ‘better life’ or restore the ‘better’ life, the return towards normal will start. Although we live under greater threat, we have greater confidence that we will survive every kind of threat. The resumption of the predictable cycle will make us return to our lives of consumerism, to flaunt fancy gadgets or something precious to suggest our material abundance. The lessons from COVID-19 will be forgotten and buried.

Rich countries fear the death of their privileged status more than the death of thousands and millions of people. Those who survive will need to live in the same country with pride in its strengths. A country with the highest casualties will continue to say it is far below the expected numbers. If a million die, they will boast of saving many millions more. They will boost the morale of the nation with solidarity drives and keep them upbeat about a quick bounce back. It is a humongous task that brings a battery of opinion makers, public relation strategists and pliant media to play a constructive role in helping governments build – or rebuild – their image.

However, as critical assessment will have lesser tolerance, masses will expect their governments to do what is required. In such times, elected leaders will get the opportunity to showcase their potential. State leaders will grow in stature through their performance. National leaders will find suitable roles other than criticising the government. Social service measures to benefit the poor will help them connect better. Instead of lampooning the governments, people should be seen aligned with the government. These images will linger in the public mind for long. And a new class of leaders will emerge as viable alternatives –some reaching the helm through sacrifice, some reaching it through service.    

It will not matter whether democracies deliver the best care or totalitarian regimes perform better. Any kind of governance will find resonance if the citizens conclude their leaders prevented severe loss of human lives. At the end of the day, survival matters. The political class has understood it is not only important to do enough, but it is equally important to be seen you are doing enough. When one game seems lost, the other has to be won.

Global leaders are trying their best to tell their citizens they have a responsive and proactive government. When elected leaders get affected by the virus, they appear vulnerable as individuals. When they get cured faster, they prove their stronger ability to fight and survive. A subtle message that the nation is safe in their hands.

                                                           

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is first novel.