The thing about routine

November is National Novel Writing Month. That means, aspiring novelists, and even established ones, spend an entire month feverishly writing a full-length novel of at least 50000 words. NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) is also a non-profit organisation that mentors participants, keeps them motivated with pep talks, and organises group meet-ups across the world for people to write together and make the most out their time this month.

November is also National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). For the less motivated and less ambitious than the NaNoWriMo participants, this month is all about posting at least one blog post a day. 

About five years ago, I tried NaNoWriMo and finished writing my first full-length novel. I was thrilled. Over the moon, to put it in figurative terms. The following year, I took up NaBloPoMo. And to my utter surprise, I managed to succeed in that as well.

Since then, though, I haven’t officially participated in NaBloPoMo or NaNoWriMo. I did challenge myself to finish a shorter novel (of 30000 words) during Camp NaNoWriMo in July, and I did. However, I have lost interest in joining others as they declared their big goals for November, of writing at least a little everyday so they can meet their goal. I have my goals too, but I no longer feel the need to broadcast them. And the reason for that, I think, is that ever since I did the one blog post a day challenge, I’ve been posting at least once a day. For over two years now, I’ve had a blog post go live every day at the same time. To do this, I’ve had to often force myself to write something every day. Some days it flowed easily, but some days it didn’t. Some days, while travelling in particular, I’d schedule a bunch of haikus to go live even if I couldn’t publish them myself.

Therefore, for the last three or four years, I’ve written and published every day. Some days I don’t do too well, but some other days, I impress even myself.

During this practice, I’ve learnt that writing something, anything, every day is a great way to keep the brain muscles oiled and nourished. I’ve now developed a certain itching in my mind whenever I don’t write. It’s become part of my routine to sit down for a while every afternoon, regardless of how busy I am, and write a few words about whatever strikes my fancy. 

You never know what such habits will lead you to. For me, it got me hooked into the art of telling a story in 14 syllables. I started writing a lot of haikus. I found stories in people I observed and translated them into short stories and 100-word flash fiction pieces. After all this time, these random pieces of work have become my life. Now, I’m making conscious efforts to submit my work to online magazines. It’s been a great journey so far, and I can only see it improving.

Routine life can be tiresome, yes. But sometimes, it can also be rewarding.

Points of view

I write a lot of short stories. I even tried writing, what I’m now almost embarrassed to call, a novel. (I was young and determined and I took up the NaNoWriMo challenge.)

But in almost all of the stories I’ve written so far, I’ve gone for the third person narrative. Something about “I” and “me” and “myself” makes me uncomfortable. “She” and “he” and “they” seem easier and natural. Which is fine, I know, except I’m now reading a first-person book, and it’s changed the way I look at the first person narrative.

As I read through the first few chapters of the book, I decided I didn’t like the writing or the flow of the narrative. When I was about to dismiss the author as not my type, I realised that the first person narrative had influenced how I saw the author himself.
That struck me.

I knew nothing about the author and his style of writing. But here I was judging his way of work from just one of his books. I was wrong. A person and a piece of work are two different things.

In the first person for instance, the writer isn’t the author at all. The writer is the narrator, the character. And in the book I am reading, the narrator and the character is a twelve year-old, delusional kid. No wonder I didn’t like the writing—why would a kid, troubled and a smoker, running away from school mind proper grammar and decent vocabulary? What I had considered—for a split second—as a failed writing style soon made me realise that it was indeed brilliant characterisation.

With that revelation, I read on, learning more about the kid and nothing of the author. It’s not the story of a kid as told by an adult, but a story of a kid as told by the kid himself. And that’s where the author struck a chord. He masked himself as a child going into the his mind, abstaining, all the while, from his own adult instincts. That’s hard work. It’s hard, when you’re writing in the first person, to ignore the inner self that nags at you to tell your character to just shut up and grow up.

It’s easier to write in the third person; he called her, she answered him, they fell in love, and then out of love.

But the first person is more effective. I now see how the child’s character develops, what he expects from his life, what the author has in store for him, and how both ‘he’s—the author and the kid—respond to their entwined life.

Some say the third person point of view is the all-knowing, god-like personality. But reading through this particular book, I now think the first person author has more control than the third person author ever will. While the third person author knows what every character is thinking and feeling at the same time, the first person author not only possesses a single character transforming their life from the inside out, but also alters every other character in the story. A first person author is not just the writer, they are the protagonist, the soul of a story, the one person who can change their own life and the storyline as well.

It’s a challenge to write in the first person. A challenge I’d like to take up sometime.

Let It Go

November 24th 2013. The day I felt most proud of myself. It’s still unmatched.

let it go

That was the day I finished my first draft of my first full-length novel. I had taken on the National Novel Writing Month challenge and succeeded. We went to the beach that day, and I soaked my feet in the salty depths of the ocean, while my heart soared beyond the setting rays of gold.

I had completed the longest writing project I had undertaken. And every one else my age was shuffling about, preparing for the semester exams. Fifty thousand words in less than thirty days — I still look at it as my biggest achievement.

And like every NaNoWriMo participant, I pledged to myself not let go of my work. I promised I would edit my draft, and then edit it some more, until it’s good enough for the eyes of a professional editor. I made a plan, I sketched out how I’d work and planned to get my novel published within a year.

In the days that followed, I tried editing, but I kept dozing off on my laptop. I kept telling myself I deserve some rest. Three years later, I’m still editing my draft. But I rested way too much. Now every time I open up my draft, I stifle a yawn.

I’ve come to a bitter realisation. My novel is boring. If I can’t get through it myself, how’re others supposed to?

So I forced myself to make it more interesting. I tried reworking one sentence in one chapter at a time. But it was hard. I had put it to rest for far too long that I had changed so much from the person I was when I wrote it.

I had been in a writing job, and when I look at my draft now, I can see all the blunders I couldn’t see before. I had grown as a writer and an internal editor, and as the person I am now, I can’t revive that piece I wrote three years ago.

I am now a mature writer, I know the perils of using too many passive sentences, the rules of a semicolon, and the effect of an adverb-stuffed piece of writing. And then I see my own work, and feel dejected. I see all the mistakes I now try to avoid. And when I set out to correct them, I feel like I should rather scrap the whole thing and rewrite it. Even the plot seems too weak for a reader to get through third chapter.

So now, it lays there. Taking up most of the my storage space on Evernote. I don’t think reworking the story would do any good. Perhaps I should just let it be. As a reminder of my dedication. As a testament to my ability to show up everyday and write. It’s one of those things you don’t brag about but swell as you think of it.

So, I’m ready to let it go. I tried publishing it on my blog for National Blog Posting Month. I got a few regular readers, a handful of likes, and a couple of comments. But that’s all. Maybe it’s time to put it to sleep, and try again. I’ll try another NaNoWriMo, another story, another fifty thousand words. And maybe this time, I’ll write it proper and edit it sober.

Chapter Thirty Two: Explanations

Praveena thought back to the conversation she had had with Ms Marrie. She wondered how their first conversation in school had been an eyeopener; Ms Marrie had said, “You’re not the only one with problems,” and Praveena had realized the truth in those words the first time she had understood Niveda’s problems. Now it was Ms Marrie. Everyone has problems, but not two people show it the same way as the other. She smiled to herself.

She understood at last. She felt she had changed a lot. Her attitude towards people had changed drastically; she was now wiser to other people’s dilemmas.

Praveena thought back to the day her mother had died. She thought of how she had felt, and realized she had been trying to blame her mother’s death on something or someone, just like Ms Marrie had had. She had been searching for a reason, any reason, to blame her mother’s cancer on. Perhaps it was her age, she thought, and her immature mind that had barred her from accepting it sooner. Once again, her exchange with Ms Marrie had changed her perceptions.

And she grew greedy for more.

Praveena took a sip of her orange juice. She was at the Green Leaf restaurant again. Following their meeting a couple of days ago, Praveena had wanted to meet Ms Marrie again. She had called Ms Marrie and they had agreed on another lunch. Ms Marrie too had been eager. What began as a way of clearing Praveena’s cluttered mind in school, was growing into a relationship that neither of them could name.

Praveena looked around the restaurant. It was a wet afternoon and as a way of complimenting the weather, the blinds were raised, letting nature’s dull light wade inside the restaurant in pride. Even though the dim light illuminated the inside of the restaurant, there was an unlit candle and a matchbox on each of the small round tables. Praveena admired the white candles on the scarlet tablecloths as Ms Marrie walked up to her.

Praveena smiled at her. Ms Marrie looked beautiful as ever. She wore a light brown cotton sari, a colour that matched Praveena’s tee shirt. Ms Marrie’s eyes looked content again, and joy radiated in her broad smile. She took her seat and they placed their orders.

“How’s your father, Praveena?” Ms Marrie asked as she ate.

“He’s fine, Miss.” Praveena answered, licking her fingers and trying to look decent at the same time. “He’s so busy with work nowadays.”

“Hmm…” Ms Marrie acknowledged as she continued to eat. “So,” she swallowed, “has he spoken of marriage yet?” she asked casually. As if she had known all along.

Praveena choked on her mouthful of rice. Ms Marrie offered her some water and she took it. Eyes watering, she asked, “How did you know?” She didn’t hide her surprise.

“Happens to a lot of girls, and most of them agree,” It was perhaps the first time Praveena had noticed a hint of disapproval in Ms Marrie’s voice. She held on to it. “It didn’t happen to you, though. Did it?” she asked, enviously.

“Oh, yes it did,” Ms Marrie almost laughed thinking about it.

“How did you handle it?” Praveena was now full of devotion for Ms Marrie.

Ms Marrie shrugged, “I told my parents that I would marry when I wanted to.” she said simply.

“And they were ok with that?” Praveena asked, disbelieving. It seemed like her father wasn’t the only super dad.

Ms Marrie nodded, “As long as you’re sure, your parents would never try to change your mind. They’d start believing in you.”

Praveena nodded. She understood why Kamal hadn’t objected; he believed in her.

Praveena told Ms Marrie everything about the marriage proposal, from her aunt to the phone conversation. She also told her about Kamal’s reaction to her request.

Ms Marrie listened without interrupting.

Once Praveena had finished her narrative, “So, you need some time,” Ms Marrie observed. “Do you say that on someone’s influence?” She paused, “Are you interested in someone?”

Praveena thought. Why didn’t she want to get married? “No,” she said after a while. Ms Marrie raised her eyebrows in a questioning look. “I want to figure out what I want to do with my life, before I commit to marriage.”

“Ok,” Ms Marrie said simply, “you’re fine.” She shrugged smiling.

Praveena smiled in return, a little doubtful.

They left the restaurant together. Praveena volunteered to accompany Ms Marrie to the bus stop. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and the streets were full of heavy vehicles. People traveled long to enjoy the weekend with their family. There weren’t too many pedestrians though. Praveena and Ms Marrie crossed the street cautiously and waited for the bus to arrive.

Praveena suddenly noticed a group of people huddling together some forty feet away. She pointed it out to Ms Marrie and the two of them approached the crowd.

When they reached the crowd, they saw a biker, injured badly and struggling to breathe. Praveena stood stunned. She didn’t know how to react. The man on the ground was writhing in pain. He was surrounded by a pool of warm blood and she could see the gash in his head. His bike was a few feet away from him, the hand bar lopsided and bent in an awkward angle.

Praveena stood horrified, looking at the man who now seemed to have lost his consciousness. She turned around and realized Ms Marrie was missing. Before she could react however, Ms Marrie appeared with a bottle of soda. As Praveena, along with the onlookers, watched in silence, Ms Marrie went over to the injured man, lifted his head on to her left hand and poured some of the liquid into the man’s mouth.

A minute or two later, the ambulance arrived. No one knew who had called the emergency ambulance service. They took the man in a stretcher and asked Ms Marrie to accompany them. Without a second thought, Ms Marrie went with them, pulling Praveena along.

Chapter Twenty Nine: A Long Holiday

Praveena busied herself in her last couple of days packing up all of her possessions, and stuffing them into her old trunk. Her father called, telling her how much he longed to see her. He had a lot of plans to share with her when she came back.

Praveena was getting ready to leave Bangalore in a mix of joy and sorrow. She met her class mates for the last time and promised to keep in touch, quietly acknowledging the empty words. She and Anil had a final meeting in the valley facing the hostel buildings.

He sat waiting for her, a traveling bag by his side. As Praveena walked up to him, his flying hair reminded her of their first weekend in college, when she had first met him on the same valley. Smiling to herself, she sat next to him.

He had been staring at the other side when Praveena sat next to him, but sensing her, “It’s strange, isn’t it?” he said and turned to her with a smile. Seeing Praveena’s perplexity, he added, “that we meet, like this, just before going home?”

Praveena smiled, she could sense the sadness that emanated from him. She could feel it too. For a long time they said nothing. Praveena’s thought back of Niveda and the days they had spent, in this very campus, as “the trio.” She felt hot tears sliding down her cheeks, but made no effort to wipe them, leaving the chill morning breeze to take care of it. The wind ruffled her uncombed hair. Letting it wash over her, she wondered if she would ever have the chance to witness it again.

When it was time to say goodbye, Anil and Praveena stood facing each other. Anil reached out his hand, and Praveena shook it.

“Take care, Anil,” Praveena said, hit by reality all too soon. “Call me whenever you can,” she added.

Anil nodded, smiling. “You too.” he said. They walked together towards the gates. They were just about to part ways when a voice called out from behind.

“Anil! Praveena!”

They turned and saw James, a rucksack on his back, walking towards them with a spring in every step. “Hey,” he panted coming to a halt in front of them. “It was great knowing you guys,” he smiled wide. The duo returned the smile, “Thank you for being a wonderful teacher, Sir” Praveena said as Anil nodded his approval.

“I just played fair for my salary,” he shrugged waving the compliment away. “I just have one last advice for you,” The duo raised their eyebrows in unison at his sudden seriousness, “Enjoy life, you guys.” James said grinning and spreading his arms wide, “After three years here,” he pointed at the dingy college building, “you deserve it!” he winked.

Waving goodbye, he walked towards his motorcycle. With a loving pat on the seat of his gleaming black Bullet, he jumped onto it and rode away, his head held high and pumping his fist in the air.

They stood watching his figure fade as another lecturer, who had come up to them without their knowing it, shook his head, saying “Silly guy, quit his job!” The lecturer walked away, “See you at the convocation,” he patted Anil on the shoulder. Anil mirrored Praveena’s surprise. James quit? They wondered as they heard the final sounds of his motorcycle fade into the distance.

Kamal held Praveena in a long embrace. He didn’t care it was the railway station, he didn’t care loads of people watched them. He was glad to have his daughter back, and he showed it by giving her a warm welcome hug.

“How are you, Pa?”

“I’m good, good,” he waved his hand doing something of a gig. He seemed happy at her return, but Praveena knew there was something huge in his mind. He looked older, with more wrinkles on his face than Praveena remembered. His skin had begun to hang loose. He had lost almost all of his black hair; Praveena saw a lot of greys and even a bald patch forming. But he looked fit. Praveena assumed he still played football in the park with the kids in the neighbourhood.

Once they reached home, Kamal prepared Praveena’s favourite lunch while she bathed. Just the thought of being back home rejuvenated her.

After a heavy meal, Kamal and Praveena sat on the couch to watch television. Praveena realized she hadn’t spoken to her father as much as she had wanted to. She switched the television off. Kamal turned a curious eye at her. She smiled.

“Pa, say something.”

Kamal turned to face her. “Say something?” he repeated incredulous. “What do you want me to say?”

“Something,” Praveena shook her head shrugging. “Anything.”

“Well,” Kamal hesitated, “What do you want to do, now that you’re done with college?”

Praveena raised her eyebrows and told him she had had enough of college, and that she would wait for perhaps a couple of months until she decided what to do next.

“Alright…” Kamal trailed away, “Thing is,” he sighed, rubbing his hands together. Praveena grew impatient, but waited for her father to finish.

“Remember aunty Kameela?”

Praveena remembered her. She had spoken to her at Geetha’s funeral. “You mean the one who told me everything would be alright, and then asked my name?” She didn’t make much of an effort to hide the distaste she felt for her relatives, particularly those who showed up at her mother’s funeral just to display their social status. They had all come only because they hadn’t wanted society to bad-mouth them.

Kamal nodded, now a little uncomfortable.

“What about her?” Praveena  became harsh. She wondered if the aunt had died and he wanted her to accompany him to the funeral. She was ready to decline his request, when unexpectedly, he said, “she asked me if you’d marry her son — Prem.”

Praveena was shocked. She stood up, staring at her father. She hadn’t even thought of marriage yet, and yet, here was her father, asking her to marry some random guy whom she had never even met!

“Pa,” she tried to keep her voice low; she hated the idea of shouting at her father. “I don’t want to get married.”

Kamal looked stunned, open-mouthed, “Yet,” she added.

“I need some time, Pa,” she quietly said sitting down again. “to sort out the priorities in my life.”

Kamal said nothing for a while. Though he was mute, she saw he was thinking about something, but looked as if he didn’t want her to know.

“Alright then,” he shrugged at last. “It’s your life, you make your own choices. I’m with you.” He smiled and ruffled her hair.

Praveena looked at him in surprise as he switched on the television again.