Of death and such

Lalwant Singh, in all his glory

Lalwant Singh, in all his glory

Those who have read my blog before, know I had a betta fish, Lalwant Singh.

Lalwant Singh died last week. At night he came to me for his food, nipped at my finger and all was well. Morning, he was curled up on a leaf, all dead. I guess I can take consolation in the fact that he did not suffer.

But then, what do I know of suffering, and how do I know whether a short suffering is any less hard to bear than a prolonged one? Does a small fish suffer? Does it suffer as much as a human? Is the suffering of the human more evident to me because a human is bigger than a small fish, and the fact that I am a human myself? Each time a fish dies I go through similar hand-wringing and attempts at philosophical acceptance.

I’ve tried not to think of Lalwant Singh the last few days, been sucked into A to Z Challenge, which I’m co-hosting this year, and for which I’m writing fiction like this one.

But even in the fiction, I can’t stop wondering about death, about what one feels when one dies, about suffering in death, about the act of dying. And all this because of a fish.

Writers are crazy. No, let me amend that, I’m crazy. Always have been.

I’ve washed the aquarium clean, run the water again, and am waiting for the water to settle down, so I can bring home a ‘replacement’.

Dead is dead, I know. But then, there is also life, for both fish and human, and the embracing of it– with a complete and acute awareness that death is, and always will be, if not the only, but definitely the most inevitable consequence.


Of Soups

I was looking through soup recipes today, and went on to imagine how each would taste and smell, the thyme, the garlic, the meat rolling off the bone, the simmered fat, the pillowy potatoes, and why and how I cooked soup…because sometimes I did it for unusual reasons. Like the time I wrote about cooking soup just after my uncle lost his battle with cancer.

And in a coincidence, I read a Mother’s day story by a blog friend, all revolving around a mother making soup.

This reminded me of the time I had taken part in a Blogfeast: it was a Blogfest on Food...and I wrote this fiction excerpt, in which the soup takes centre stage:


She looked out from the pale intensity of her being, her face neither man nor woman, neither happy nor sad, neither silent nor yet unspeaking for her eyes said what her lips did not as she stirred the pot of soup. Her upper lip pursed over the lower, her square jaws tight on her unwrinkled but leathery face, she looked up from her pot at the wall behind me, and then back to her cooking. Her left hand wiped itself on her dull, tattered apron, and reached for the thyme she had chopped and left on the block of wood she used as a cutting board. With her right hand she stirred, never looking up, her short curly hair falling over her brow and her eyes, making of her gaze a secret thing, a secret also of her cooking.

Under the thyme, I could smell the chicken (I had spotted it running out in her backyard not two hours ago when I entered her hut slung on her shoulders,) which had now become simply flesh and bone, food, nourishment. It had lost its blood, been made to give up its feathers, and now lay simmering in her crock-pot, the water bathing its unfeeling skin, its fat melting slow and easy, mating with the salt and pepper. For a minute I forgot her, my rescuer, and focused on the chicken I could not see. I could imagine its bones, and I knew its marrows will do me good, force a bit of warmth into my muscles, expand my stomach, give it something to linger over other than its steady fare of water, dirt, and roots for the past weeks.

She had not spoken to me, the woman who bent into the river and fished me out, who murdered her chicken for my sake. I could see plenty of smoked fish she could have eaten, so I assumed the soup was in my honor, to work on me on the inside as the poultices and bandages joined and soothed on the outside. My bed of rags must be hers, for I could see none other in the room.
I watched her as she dropped potatoes and carrots into the pot, and they fell with soft swishes and plops. Still she did not look up and greet my eyes.

I wanted to read her look, but had to content myself with watching her as she dipped her finger in the pot, snatched it back to her lips, sucked it and added a pinch of salt with her right hand. Her lips became slack as she let go of her finger, and on her face spread the faraway look of a mother suckling her child, her jaws fell, and for an entire minute I watched her as she let the steam rise from the pot and dot her brows with shining beads, of mingled sweat and soup.
She did not feel my look, or ignored it if she did, for her eyes stayed inside the pot, as if she were cooking the soup from the heat of her eyes and her mind and not over a fire. I tried to speak, but my lips felt sealed with something like mud, and my arms  too weak to lift my hand, touch my own face. The afternoon light from the windows receded. Over the bubbling of the soup and the roar of the river in the gorge beneath her kitchen, I heard footfalls.
I felt too weak to react or move, so I did nothing to alert her. The soup had entered me through my nostrils and now played with each tendril of emotion in my being, toyed with nostalgia, and for a minute in the rising aroma of the chicken soup I could sense my mother, the woman who must have given birth to me, some time some place, and then left me for dead on the jungle floor. The door behind her opened with a sigh, and still my rescuer did not look up.

Writing about plotting

I have been trying to plot out a story, and here’s a page I found was quite funny yet helpful:

Let’s put your character in a sticky situation!

I feel particularly evil following some of the instructions that come up on this page, and roasting my protagonist one way or the other, but that, I have learned, is the best way to create conflict.

And conflict is the best way to hook readers, and keep them reading!

Word count:

Feb 2: 320

Feb 3: 510 (oh, well…)

Feb 4 : 350 (grrrrrrrrrrr!)

Feb 5: 832 (much better!)

Writing about horror and self-loathing

As I’ve been moaning in the last few posts, I’m not getting much writing done.

Determined to reverse this situation, I sat my butt down this morning to write. But of course, I had to check out the mail and the news before I stared at the blank page. (ggggrrrrrrrrrrrrr…..)

I saw this piece , and it was not the incident that shocked me as much as my reaction: This would make a compelling story, was my first thought. Here were people who were committing suicides and killing their own children because they lost jobs, and here I was, mining for a story. Disgusting. For a moment, I really, really hated myself. And despite all the excuses I’m giving myself, (writers borrow from fact to write fiction, and other such crap), I can’t feel good about myself.

Hah. So much for a great start to a writing day. Maybe I can write all about self-loathing? See you all at the other end of 1000 words (hopefully) of utter crap (of this I’m sure)!

Sorry to be spreading negative energy guys, now for some mind calming exercises, and back to my notebook!

Writing about a Writing Post

I’ve spent the morning writing a post on my other blog. Comments and suggestions on improving it are welcome!

But, I’m afraid I’ve run out of today’s blogging quota (part of my new time management strategy, sigh), so back to this blog tomorrow.

Word count: 300 (*bangs her head against the wall, WILL punish herself if she does not produce a 1000 today!!!*)

Writing about Making Chicken Soup for the Body and Soul

Writing about making chicken soup was not on the top of my list of things to do today, but then I thought, well, why the heck not?

It was like this: I heard some really, really, really bad news. My uncle lost his battle with cancer.

Continue reading

Writing in pain, of pain and scars

When I wrote the post on the relationship between writing and pain, I knew I would have to go through what I am now, the surgery was planned quite some time ago.

I have a scar on my face, the result of an excision, and boy, it hurts! The scar throbs every time I look down, and I haven’t yet figured out a way to not look down when I’m writing.

Hopefully it will all get better soon, but till then, writing every word is a pain, literally! A bit like Harry Potter’s throbbing scar, I keep telling myself, only the darn thing throbs all the time. My husband looks at the stitches in rapt fascination, cos you can see them clearly under the redness and the transparent bit of plaster. Sometimes I feel he wishes he had it instead, boys and scars have a fascinating relationship:).

But it was an experience really, this whole excision thing, painless other than a few anesthetic injections, and the near headache I got from trying not to look at the glaring operation lights. But I could feel the blood trickling down my face, the doc working fast and easy with a thin thread to do the stitching, and I could smell the burning when the laser switched on.

The whole idea of broken skin is familiar, because I have been accident-prone the past year, small cuts, burns, broken bones. But deliberate cutting of flesh is something else. And so is the sight of blood-soaked cotton on the floor when I was asked to get up from the operating bed.

It is a bit hard for me to think of all the acres of tattoos decorating human bodies all over the world, how people undergo repeated pain in order to deliberately mark their bodies.

And harder still is the thought of all those people who go under the knife time and time again to change their looks: citizens of the glam world I understand, for them looks are livelihood, but what about suburban housewives who go through months of pain to transform themselves, getting addicted in the process?

What about people who get off on pain? Interesting thought, that, one that is a complete mystery to me.

Aargh, there goes my scar again, throb, throb, pull, pull,…….time to go back to some patient roof-staring till the pain subsides, and I can continue writing!

Writing on suffering

Sometimes it is a sentence heard out of context, from an unlikely source that gives meaning to what is going on in your life. 

Yesterday, I was watching a drop-dead gorgeous movie superstar being interviewed on TV, and the interviewer asked him about a not-such-a-good career phase of his life, a string of flops after a debut hit. 

And he said, “Well, it was also the period of my life when I was working hard on the movie that made me who I am today. 

That dark period of critical and popular oblivion was an incredibly depressing experience full of suffering. But I used it to ask questions, to find answers, to channel those answers into creative channels and evolve as an actor.

 I believe that it is important not just to survive through a difficult experience, but to actually use it to bounce back: if you do not ask the right questions when you are suffering, you are likely to merely live through it instead of evolving through it”.

This is excellent within the realm of materialism, but it also makes a great deal of sense in the spiritual part our lives.

They say that “Suffering ennobles a man”, but we know different. Suffering leaves some of us bitter, turns others into villains.

But only those of us who ask the “right” questions during their suffering, and reach out for the “right” answers are made more noble.

The human monster

Nowadays I try and skip reading the newspaper, or even catching the news on TV. Somehow, I always stumble across the most depraved faces of humanity on the news.

The latest was a four-year old girl who went to a big hospital in India because of a gall-bladder problem. After the operation she developed other problems, so her parents got her scanned. Result: Post-op, one of the kidneys of that tiny child is missing: stolen by the monsters in white coats that prowl about some of the hospital corridors in India.

When writing, I am fascinated by this side of human nature, one that thinks nothing of robbing a child of an organ. I try and explain what makes a perfectly normal man a monster, or whether some monsters are born that way?

Some of my friends tell me that my writing tends towards the morbid, but for me it is a search for light amid the darkness. It is a deep-seated desire to figure out the nature of evil, and to really, really decide whether the existence of evil, of suffering is actually necessary, so that good can exist.

Of writing and pain

For some people, mostly writers, writing is a pain!

For others, pain is an inspiration, something to be fed on in order to write:

You must dive into the depths of your being and throw out everything but your pain, and then set to work on all those raw nerve cells, asking each one if it likes its pain, and what is its pain, and what would it like to do with its pain, and then you imbibe all that pain and you revel in that pain and you let that pain burn into your consciousness until the only thing you know is pain, and then you begin to write that pain, letting that pain be jetted from you like a white hot flame, and you let that pain sear the page so that others can feel your pain.

Pain brings with it a kind of disturbance, a suffering that shakes you to the very soul. You face fickleness and mortality, feel their breath upon you. It makes you ask questions, it makes you angry, guilty, frustrated.

You start expressing yourself in your writing, sharing the anger and helplessness at your suffering.

This can reduce your writing to the level of personal melodrama and self-pity, but the challenge is to rise above it.

Writing about personal suffering (be it physical and emotional) finds an audience not because a majority of people are happy to see someone else’s pain, but because the author has been able to portray it in such a way that it evokes universal empathy.

Not only does the reader feel an empathy, he or she sometimes also finds a glimpse of Truth, an insight into life as it is lived.It is for this insight that a reader ultimately remembers a book, an essay, or a poem that was infused with pain.

Sometimes the measure of one’s existence is the extent and intensity of pain one has suffered. It often becomes the measure of a writer.