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!


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. 




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.  



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.




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.   



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.


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