The jitters have started. Finally began packing last night. In another four days, I board a train to Dilli (which used to be the Other City of this blog, except that it’s my other city no longer); in a couple of days from there, I take two flights to Seattle for the Clarion West Writing Workshop. I fly in the direction opposite to the earth’s motion and across the international date line, so a very long flight schedule will still find me in Seattle on the same day. All these things are new.

I have to write six new stories in six weeks. I have been given a very prestigious and very humbling scholarship. I will meet a lot of interesting people, a number of smart and seriously talented people, some of them likely to be so famous that even people back home (where the awareness of contemporary international SFF is surprisingly low) would have heard of them. For a month, I haven’t come up with a single plot that holds beyond a few pages.

Raiding my old steel almirah to start packing has made me realise that I own more clothes than I know what to do with, more clothes than I even know.  I am not really a wardrobe girl, which is sometimes worse. I don’t look through my clothes often enough. So I pick up a nice bit of clothing somewhere and proceed to stuff it into my almirah, and soon I forget all about it. I wear the same five or six staples over and over again, and the nice new thing lies in there, untouched for years.

My long holiday at home is coming to an end. I don’t know if I appreciated it well enough — I recall long periods of being bored out of my mind and feeling stifled for the lack of company in the Home City, abandoned nest of all its children. I wrote more than I had done in years, and read a great deal too. I travelled and went to watch films with Ma, made so many trips into the city with her. I had a car and a driver at my disposal most of the time. I visited Bangalore, Jaipur, Lucknow, Benaras, Bombay, Ajanta-Ellorah-Aurangabad and London. I chilled around in air-conditioned bliss while the rest of the country blistered and sweated its way through what was one of the worst summers in years. Back now again to a life of living out of suitcases, bad cooking (my own), always keeping a budget, and so, so much of the world to see.

First look, happiness.

Death of a Widower by Monidipa Mondal

An Atlas of Love: The Rupa Romance Anthology came out earlier this year. It contains my short story ‘Death of a Widower’. Ridiculous how seeing one’s story on paper is still a different feeling from online publications, of which I am such a great fan.

The anthology was put together by Anuja Chauhan, one of the best romance authors in India at this time (and the only one I read). Unfortunately, the book was launched back when I was still in Stirling and I never got to meet her.

And now I have returned to comfortable old Calcutta, where few celebrities ever come but where it’s quiet and undisturbing, and there’s mum and home-cooked food and a room redolent with the fragrance of chhatim flowers.

Update on life, reading, very long novels and other things

I haven’t written much in the past couple of months, not here but not elsewhere either. I missed writing for the February and March issues of Kindle, had to extend the deadline on my dissertation proposal and several other things. The reason, besides lots of travelling back and forth, is that I ended up developing a rather serious case of chicken pox. Quite the last thing I expected to happen during this year abroad, but that is why Murphy’s Law is a thing, isn’t it.

Working your way through chicken pox without the presence of mum is quite the daunting thing. There’s no one to hear you whine, make you soup and other nourishing things, regulate your medicine-taking, wash your hair in a tub while you stay in bed just because you happen to feel icky. What I did manage to do, however, in the two or three weeks when I was completely unable to get out of bed, was to catch up on a lot of reading. Being ill gives you the perfect excuse to read as you please, for you’re in no state to edit, read critically, make notes or turn your reading into opinionated articles immediately after. So I ingested a lot of pills, gummy candy and oily takeaway and in between re-read sections of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell because my friend happened to have a copy in his house. (I was in London. My own copy was in Stirling.) I read The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, which I had downloaded a couple of months ago. I started reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, which, of course is a very long book and will take some time to finish. One day when I was in the mood for poetry, I read The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasaptasati of Satavahana Hala in a moving though somewhat opaque English translation by A. K. Mehrotra. The last three were on the Kindle, so the Kindle has obviously seen some use. (And got some love. I think I will buy it a cover now.)

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I have much to say about The Luminaries, even though I’m not yet halfway through it. The novel interests me for several reasons. Of course it won the latest Man Booker prize. It also happened to be the longest book that’s ever done so. Now, long books are not my favourite thing. They are hard to move around (both from one city/country to another or even generally around in your backpack) and take forever to finish. I almost never buy a hardcover or even borrow one from the library, even when I really want to read the book and the wait for the paperback is long. I may not have bought The Luminaries if it wasn’t available as an ebook. And even if I did, it would have been much less likely that I’d actually finish it. Few of us can afford the luxury of reading a book solely at home any more, and that’s the only way a large hardcover demands to be read.

The other thing I have something to say is about the plot. From where I am currently in the novel I can see a glaring perspective error, but I’m hoping the author will justify it at a later point – the book did win the Booker prize after all – so this is not about that. What I’m enjoying about The Luminaries is that it actually has a plot that moves, without compromising on the kind of richness and nuance that is meant to characterize a ‘literary’ novel. Things actually happen. The story at the core is a murder mystery and the novel manages to keep it intriguing. It’s not richness and nuance for the sake of themselves, piled on a story that is basically insipid and a drag.

What I’m genuinely intrigued by, however, is the return of the very long novel. The other very long novel that everyone has been talking about is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. At some point I’m hoping to get to read that book. Do very long novels really work in this time and day? Am I the only person who struggles to finish them? Who knows. Now that I have finally managed to start off 2014 on this blog, maybe sometime later I’ll write more on the subject.


Holidays absolutely scramble my brains. I think I’m one of those people who only function well on deadlines. All my creative output also springs from deadlines — bits of poetry, fiction, drawings just when I’m aware that I shouldn’t. Last evening I finally reached the end of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, two days after I should’ve finished reading it for the exam, but I try to believe exams are not the only reason to read books (unless they are unpleasant books, of course). I’m not sure if ‘like’ is the word I should associate with Murakami’s writing — Norwegian Wood had given me a strong and lasting depression, it’s one of the books I’m afraid to re-read — but maybe it won’t be incorrect to say I like his vision and his impact. I didn’t start reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland till the end of the first two exams but it took me in quick, its premise was interesting although I think the effect dissolves towards the end. You could tell how it was a pre-Norwegian Wood novel. Even After Dark (the only other Murakami I’ve read) is more precise and sure-footed about its pressure points, despite its much smaller scale.

I need to learn how to sharpen my kitchen knives because all of them are blunt. Just now I had to slice a lemon with the meat cleaver; the small vegetable knife would just not sink through the rind.

Of the things I’m looking forward to this year, these are at the top of the list:

  • River of Smoke, which I find a greatly unmemorable name compared to Sea of Poppies, but I can’t wait for the book. Even though I do agree with the point P made on her blog about the second book of trilogies usually being a drag. This was also the first book I pre-ordered in my life (which, of course, has more to do with the huge discount they’re offering at Flipkart).
  • The final Harry Potter movie.
  • Snuff.
  • The Tintin movie.

That is a vaguely chronological list although about these things, who can tell. That’s also only a list of upcoming things; there are existing things  that I want to catch up on like novels by Kundera and Umberto Eco and all the Woody Allen films I have not seen. I want someone to give me a collection of Pixar shorts. I want to sit at the rooftop at B&B with a chilled beer and watch a diffused gray sunset over this stupid city that does not let me go away. I am very excited about this book called Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings which arrived a couple of days ago (Flipkart again, thank god for Flipkart), but I will leave this for another post because I have such a lot to say about it. Also, just thought I’d mention that I do not at all feel impressed by the song called ‘Bhaag D. K. Bose’ that seems all the rage these days. Edgy lyrics alright but the tune just refuses to catch. I wonder if this will change.

I want to make pasta and chicken and a chocolate cake with walnuts in it but god, it’s so hot. The kitchen feels like a slice of hell all the time since the sun is up. I can’t bear to swallow my morning tea after 8 AM so on days I wake up late, there is no tea and I feel sluggish and can muster up enthusiasm for nothing except stay in bed and read. Or watch music videos on Youtube when the internet connection feels benevolent enough.

It’s a Sunday morning and my mother is wandering around the house talking incessantly on the phone. Chhoto Pishi, Mejo Jetthu, Chhoto Mami, so on and so forth. I’m listening to the constant chatter over the whirring of the washing machine and the splurts and hisses from the kitchen and vaguely wondering how she has so much to say, because I can find nothing to say to most of my relatives, even the ones closer to my age like Cousin A and Cousin L, who keep up this one-sided effort to stay in touch. Cousin R is getting divorced and I should maybe phone him but I always forget. I’m listening but I’m not really tuning in; later Ma will tell me snatches of these conversations and I will absentmindedly nod, repeating all the time in my head, whoa really. (Whoa really nothing. Just whoa, really.)

It took me about three hours to write this blog post because I keep getting distracted and going away. I have a few more things to say but at the moment I can’t compose them into coherent lines. There’s so much else to do. Which one is your main task and which one’s the distraction? You wonder, you forget, this flotsam-like nowhereness is your life. Perhaps.


Sundays are wrapped in a gentle glow of happiness, of waking up mid-morning perfectly rested and restored, turning over sloooowly in languid anticipation of a cup of steaming sweet tea, a pile of newspaper supplements and updates on Postsecret and a handful of webcomics, copious amounts of home-cooked food (a rarity on weekdays) and afterwards, a good book to see one through the rest of the day. I think I have finally begun to love the His Dark Materials trilogy. The first book I had found readable enough, but three chapters into The Subtle Knife (late last night) I was really drawn in and 150 pages into The Amber Spyglass it’s still going great. Next on my reading list may very well be the last two books of the Bartimaeus trilogy (I read the first one months ago and it seemed promising) and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is a thick book; I liked it greatly when I started reading it but the timing had been unwise — being right before my sixth semester exams — and somehow I never managed to return.

Today I painted a clock. My mother isn’t too happy about this. Let’s wait and watch (haha!) if the clock still works.

Earlier this evening there was a grasshopper on my glass windowpane. It was long and a very cheerful shade of green, but I got frightened of it and shooed it away because I didn’t know what it was and whether it would bite. The other day (Thursday? Friday?) at university a wasp had taken a fancy to me and just wouldn’t stop trying to sting my face. It followed me round and round and round for about an hour. Wasps are also a very cheerful shade of yellow. I really like the stripes. But Ma tells me grasshoppers are quite harmless that way so maybe I could’ve let it stay. (I feel a little lousy about this right now.)

Yesterday (N and) I went to say hello to a pair of dogs. They were very nice dogs, overflowing with slobber and friendliness. I should upload photos but at the moment I am feeling too lazy. I think I’ll just go back to the book, then.