It's taken me a long time to return to my solitude after my stint in the 'world.' What I mean by this word is anything outside my home! No, not quite true, since the garden and this jungle is also my home. Anything out of my bubble, then. I love bubbles. They are so congenial, comfortable, cozy, secure, and . . . of course, fleeting and impermanent. A visit or a phone call can shatter it, though I am learning to make my life seamless -- in, out, home, world all of a piece, or peace.
I'm back in the saddle, working on two books sporadically, doing music, and my latest love, gardening. I am working on the micro level, the small details, making little sculptures, or just angling lovely stones here and there. The days have been so warm and sunny, though today it is overcast and that is fun too, for I get to stay in bed and knit, write, be with the dogs.
I'll try and make a beginning here, again. I sometimes tentatively think of closing down this blog. If you have any reason why I shouldn't, do let me know!
Friday, 23 May 2014
I am combining these two questions:
1. WHAT WAS PERHAPS, THE MOST DIFFICULT ASPECT OF NARRATIVE CONSTRUCT OF THE SINGING GURU, THAT YOU HAD NOT EXPERIENCED DURING YOUR PREVIOUS TWO WORKS?
2. WHILE PENNING THE SINGING GURU, DID KAMLA, THE AUTHOR'S SENSE OF IMAGINATION INTERFERE OR IN ANY WAY CONFLICT WITH KAMLA , THE INDIVIDUAL'S SENSIBILITIES REGARDING FAITH/ BELIEF?
Every book has its challenges, the place where one gets stuck, blocked, unable to proceed, the place where one flounders and is lost. These challenges are often resolved by time in conjunction with probing questioning, focus, and change in perspective. Even if a book is stalled for a year, the connection with it is never lost and the work of resolution carries on both consciously and unconsciously.
When I was writing short stories for my other two books
(Ganesha Goes to lunch -- now reprinted as Classics from Mystic India -- and Pilgrimage to Paradise, Sufi Tales from Rumi -- the US edition’s title is Rumi’s Tales from the Silk Road), I was already thinking of the third one, short stories from the Sikh tradition. I had even written several of them during hiatuses while writing the others. Though these stories were connected by the same characters, Guru Nanak and Mardana, they were isolated stories, like the others, not tied with a narrative thread that strung them together. I had thought writing The Singing Guru would be a no brainer. When I got down to writing it and compiled the stories I already had, I was stuck for about a year, owing, mainly, to an erroneous and limited idea of how I wanted to structure the book. When you are writing you have to let the material rather than your ego or preconceived ideas dictate its needs and directions. Something larger than my small and fixated conceptions wanted to happen and I, or rather my ego which thinks it knows best, was resisting it; hence, a rather prolonged block. Once I realized what was happening and surrendered, the plot took shape and the book began to flow.
In addition to this challenge, another conflict arose that had me in knots for a while. A writer above all must have no allegiances except to truth as he or she sees and experiences it. “Truth,” (I wish I could remember who said it), “has no moorings.” And here I was, writing about something very anchored to tradition, the janamsakhis, changing the context traditionally ascribed to Guru Nanak’s words, or shabads, inventing my own characters and expanding and real-izing historical ones, changing or totally ignoring the chronology, as traditionally accepted, of Guru Nanak’s travels, making the stories entirely mine to do with as I pleased, bending, stretching, twisting, adding, subtracting as I had done with the other two books. A writer must have this freedom if she is to write with sincerity.
I am aware that traditional Sikhs, like upholders of any other religion, can be quite possessive of their own canons and do not brook disagreement or other interpretations. I had ample examples from the past. So, this time it was fear, (another form of the ego) that kept me from taking this liberty without which no writing can happen.
When I voiced these hesitations to my husband, Payson Stevens, who invariably helps when my paths get dark and tangled, he said, “You belong to the Nation of Writers. You are a writer, first and foremost.”
Having said that the above, I have to admit that my survival, literally, has depended upon just such a mooring, my faith as I practice it: gurbani, the words of the Sikh Gurus and Bhagats in the Granth Sahib. I have no quarrel with my faith because it is vast, eclectic, inclusive. Brother and sisterhood of all on this planet is its basic tenet; music is at its heart; worship of words, akhar, naam, shabad, are at its very core. Words, whether of gurbani or the ones I write in order to explore myself and the world in which I live have been my salvation.
I was helped by several things to push through my conflict and block: the reaffirmation of my citizenship of the Nation of Writers; the resolution to give precedence to literary, rather than religious concerns; to be as courageous as the Gurus themselves have taught us to be; Guru Nanak’s words: “I have no more religion than wind and fire,” and his vision of God as the Playwright of the Drama of Life, taking every liberty possible, being all the characters, and beyond, unaligned, nonsectarian, and free.
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
A journalist had sent me questions to answer for a magazine for seniors called Harmony, and I am sharing my answer with you here:
HAS AGE FACILITATED YOUR CREATIVE INSTINCTS AND THEREFORE CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR WRITINGS OR HAS IT INTERFERED IN A SENSE, SLOWED YOU DOWN IN ANY WAY?
Since I am answering this question for a magazine for seniors, I feel the need to preface it with some musing about age in general and how it may or may not impact one’s functioning in the vocational field of one’s choice. There are many advantages of being a ‘senior,’ and I am all for them. But that is a different subject, requiring an entire essay or even a book.
I want to first address my concern that by labeling ourselves as seniors and all its connotations, we are in many ways limiting ourselves. In terms of linear time, by which we tend to categorize the stages of our lives, and by our cultures of youth, we are aging, old, afflicted, feeble. In one sense, of course, time and the changes it brings are very real and obvious. We see it blaring all around and in us. The images are all too numerous but examples of plants and people sprouting, blooming, fruiting, decaying, dying, suffice as reminders when we tend to forget or deny the inevitable.
I had a long phase, after I retired at the age of 55 from my comparatively brief career as an educator, in which I felt within myself the ravages of time. I could not write for a long and tortuous stretch. How I overcame it, the strategies I used, the perceptual changes I made are too long to enumerate here. I have written a book The Writing Warrior, yet to be published) of 32 essays on the subject: the processes of creativity, the crooked, unexpected paths it takes, the essential lessons to be learned from our adversities and suffering, and the techniques, tricks, and perceptual shifts that helped me pull through. There is always the danger after ‘retiring’ of falling into a pit of depression and futility. I have known people who have died shortly after retirement. One must recognize the need to be relevant, to matter, and then take steps, often minor ones, to perceive and ensure it. Knowing from the examples of acquaintances and friends the psychologically dangerous straits one can fall into, I am grateful to the Universe for bringing me out of it whole and unimpaired. I have not only survived, but know, if I am granted health and longevity, that my best work lies ahead of me.
I will be sixty-six soon. I do have days in which I strain for words, can barely catch the edges of thought, forget, then remember briefly something almost urgent to do, some idea or insight to jot down, then forget right away and no effort can bring it back. But I know on such days to rest my brain. How I do this is another long topic. But with rest, it invariably recovers.
Though time appears to be linear, bringing us to the diminishment of our power and abilities, in another sense time is the least real of all our realities. Simply look within your heart to see all time, all memory existing simultaneously. This narrative is anything but linear. It is a-chronological, outside the bounds of time and change as our minds know it. The heart, where memories, hope and desires spring, knows nothing of time. Here we are still children if we allow ourselves to be; here, from memories of stories told, our parents and all the ancestors that have preceded us and brought us here, to this now, are children, still a possibility in that plasma of life which births and receives everything; here, even in this dimension, old men in decrepit bodies fall in love and shriveled old women still nurture the embers of youthful desire in their hearts; here dreams and hopes never die and time ceases.
The story of my writing is not disconnected from my faith that our primary endeavor on this Journey we call our Life is to stay as close to the realities of the heart, the space of Possibility, Miracle and Mystery. We have to keep our awe, our curiosity, our passions alive as we age, nurture them till they grow ever larger. These bestow vibrancy to our lives and keep us youthful. I am certain that if we keep ourselves open to the Mystery, not fall into the trap of being this or that, old or young, or think that our powers must inevitably grow less as we age, we can be potent at whatever age we find ourselves.
Having said all of the above, I can put myself in its context. I look at myself in the mirror and though I know this creature with silver hair that looks back at me with often-puffy eyes as ‘me,’ I can see how the contours of its face have changed over time, as everything in nature changes. But internally, my life at this (what most people consider) ‘late’ age, has, like a sudden summer on a dying tree, begun to bloom in ways that have surprised and delighted me. I do not doubt that these flowerings will happen unexpectedly, obeying the laws of some inner seasons, till I die. Of course, one never knows about life, and this not knowing, if kept alive in our memories and our daily discipline, can be a path to awe and vibrancy.
I feel in better shape than I ever have in my life, both physically and mentally. The former is due to a passion for movement, for exercise (which doesn’t at all mean that I don’t indulge occasionally in glorious laziness; I do; I have earned it); yoga, stretching, walking, and gentle weight lifting. These activities must be our constant and loyal companions as we travel further into the part of this Journey we call Old Age. If befriended with a certain degree of caution, awareness, they will never let you down. Secondly, pertinent to the mental part, the brain, too, must be exercised. We cannot let it atrophy. It is altogether too precious a thing. This can be done in so many ways that it deserves another essay, or even a book.
My way of exercising it is through writing. My projects are puzzles that I have to put together. Freed from the need to earn a living, I have more time and leisure for it. My subjects and projects are branching out, proliferating, and I would need ten lifetimes to complete them all. But I have written much, and hope to write more. Age has brought me to subjects that I adore. They elicit my passion and engage my curiosity. I am not aged but eng-aged. In the final analysis, I would have to say, age has been a great Guide and Ally.
Of course it has brought me closer to the Event Horizon beyond which I will cease to be visible. But that, always the ground and bourn of this narrative, and the contrary, conflicted thoughts and feelings it evokes, is another essay.
Thursday, 15 May 2014
Next day drove for another two hours and found the caves were closed on Monday. P very disappointed, but recovered after we walked into the Taj and sat around drinking coffee. I even shopped at a boutique and bought myself a silk kurta with chickenkari. Later, had a great lunch at a restaurant called The Table. In the evening I went for the cast party at Preeta’s house while Payson rested.
Recalled again James Joyce's quote about how the author stays in the wings, detached, pairing his fingernails. Really, the playwright is quite extraneous to the process of production. I was so happy just to be a witness. Loved being with cast, talking and smoozing and laughing.
The next day, 6th, again made the long, long drive to Jaico, my publisher, and met with Sandhya. Baju came along with me and made quite a pitch for me! P visited Elephanta (“it was so hot I felt my brain boiling,” he said) had another great lunch at Café Modegar with Riju and Baju. Then drove to Lonavala, to Baju's house, for the night. Drove back to the airport the next day.
Though this recounting has tired my brain, I’m glad I did it because I relived again the wonderful feelings I had in Mumbai, and the great energy levels, functioning quite well on little food and five or six hours of sleep. P, too felt quite high, despite jet lag, and we didn’t get into any fights as I had expected from his being tired.
While driving to the theatre I was so pleased that the NCPA was in the best part of town. The building and its environs also made me proud that my play was being done here. Walking in, seeing the set, meeting the designer, the cast, the other people that Baju, the director, had invited, doing the interview that Payson had set up as part of the video graphing of the play, was all very satisfying. As I sat on a seat, ten minutes before the play started, not seeing any audience, I felt a moment of despair – was this going to be a repeat of the NY experience? I mentioned this to P who reminded me that the doors were closed. When they opened and people started pouring in, I was relieved. I took a surreptitious glance behind me and it was a full house! I sat through the performance – without an intermission – quite taken by the play, its structure come alive with characters, plot, movement. And when after the curtain call Baju invited me up to the stage, and I got a roaring applause, my joy was complete.
P was there, milling around with his camera, quite involved, quite happy, as if it were his play. I wanted to stay after the play and celebrate but Baju wanted me to get back to the hotel and rest – it was a two hour drive back, and because we had to get up early in the morning to take another two hour drive back to visit the Elephanta caves. Bought ice cream for one of the characters who was taking a ride back with us, and the driver, on the way back, to celebrate.
What do I feel about the performance this evening?
Consciously, this is what I’m feeling: I want to cruise through this experience, just enjoy it, and be grateful for it. Have fun during my ten minutes of fame.
Subconsciously: I hope it’s a full house; I hope the play and I get some media coverage; I hope the play makes a splash, and further successes follow.
The conscious, neo cortextual stance seems to me the right choice. The other is just more suffering. Yes, there must be total clarity in one’s choices. There, with this I have plugged into my soul and feel centered again.