Been to Yangon, yet?


Blogging needs to be regular, if anything. Experts harp on this, often. But last month I took off on a break, to write my WIP. I haven’t visited many blogs, not commented much, and not posted at all. I got the draft finished though (finally!!), and went on a short break to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). I’m officially out of hibernation, too.

Ever since the country opened up its gates to tourists in the past 4 years, friends on social media have been posting pictures of their Myanmar ‘adventure.’ Mine was far from one, let me tell you in advance, and if you can’t stand descriptions of lazy tourism, I suggest you stop reading right now. Having slept three hours a night or so for the last two months, I needed to catch up on some sleep– and since we had booked this holiday long in advance, I did my catching up right there in Myanmar.

Lyungi, Yangon, Myanmar

Lungyis in Yangon

At first sight (and second, and third), Yangon seemed to me the land of the Lungyis, these sarongs worn with a knot on the front by the men, and gracefully, with side-ties and invisible zips, by the women. I love it when the people of a country don their traditional clothing in their daily lives, instead of the drab Western gear most of us in Asia seem to have adopted. Students and office goers all wear Lungyis in Yangon– a garment that makes such elegant sense in the heat and dust. That’s not to say that jeans hasn’t made inroads here: loved the men wearing Lungyis holding hands with women in tight-fitted jeans.

A lot of women also apply Thanaka paste on their faces when they go out (notice the face of the woman in yellow at the far right of the above set of pics). Quite puzzled by these daubs  of sandalwood-looking paste on women’s cheek, I asked a waitress, and she said these have cooling, sunscreen, as well as cosmetic properties, and that Thanaka is a tree, just like Sandalwood.

Pavement snaps from Colorful Yangon

Yangon snapshots

The Burmese reminded me of the Thai, with their soft smiles and friendly faces. Weaving your way while across its gridlocked traffic can be a challenging, chaotic affair, but right beside you in the mornings you would find Lungyi-clad students, colorful hawker women balancing on their heads their entire ware of fried snacks in a basket, the maroon-clad monks with their shiny begging bowls, young women in wet hair and colorful clothes heading to the pagodas, bunches of roses in hand, and mega-phone-weilding-military-uniform-clad traffic police, walking casually as they yell instructions to shiny new Toyotas, the tiny Tata Nanos, old trucks and jeeps.

We did take quite a few walks on the pavements of Yangon dotted with hawkers and tea-stalls, and snack-stalls selling everything from grilled/ steamed pig parts, chicken legs, eggs, peanuts, coconuts, guavas, corn, sea-food. In the evenings, the pavements flowered with small colorful tables, and kid-sized plastic stools– young and old Burmese sat at these tiny feasts, lit by dim lamps and chatted and laughed. We had fun shopping really old second hand books from the pavements– think thrillers and romance published in 1960s, and pirated copies of  English books published in the early 1980s in Burma.

Yangon Myanmar Lyungyi and walking streets

Street food in Yangon, Myanmar

Of course, we had to sample the Myanmarese cuisine, a curious mix of the Chinese, Indian and Thai influences. Each meal was served with a green leafy consomme, and an array of steamed vegetables with a fish paste. The Burmese eat noodles and dumplings like the Chinese, with some Thai influence; their salads include noodles and meat, like the Thai, and most of their curries (chicken, mutton, pork) and snacks looked and tasted Indian. Curries are invariably greasy– because according to certain local beliefs, the greasier the food you can afford, the better off you are! The Burmese milk tea is the same as you would find on Indian footpaths, the chai so favored and distorted by cafes into latte and whatnot, but the Burmese love their green tea, too, like most Chinese I know.

Pagodas in Yangon, Myanmar

In and around the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas, Yangon

If all you see are descriptions and photos of food and walks on Yangon pavements, that’s because that’s what we did most of the time. We did also visit Pagodas and museums (very briefly). The Pagodas seemed similar to what I’ve seen in Bangkok, all the gold-plated glorification of the Buddha, who mostly (as far as I know), spoke of the inner spirit, and started the Bhikkhu, or ‘begging alms’ way of life for monks. What impressed me most at the museum was the Burmese fascination with the humble betel-leaf– enormous gold-plated spittoons and containers displayed on an entire floor: remnants of which we see on the betel or paan stall (seen on the upper right corner of pics below) on Yangon streets.

Yangon tourism pavements paan

Tourism on the pavements of Yangon

We should have explored more, taken a day-trip out or something, but I was too busy catching up on sleep, and eating myself silly. So the snapshots of food and clothing are all I carried back with me.

Not really, though. The people, the Burmese people with their smiles and their day-to-day lives, remain with me, and the changing face of a country so recently ravaged by violence, beginning to breathe free.

What was your latest trip out of town like? Have you been to Yangon? Been on a trip where you ‘ought’ to have explored but lazed instead?

#IWSG: What if you need to hibernate?


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Blogging during Hibernation

This new year’s eve, I fell asleep before midnight.

Of course, I’m aging. But more than aging, I’m hibernating.

Since Christmas, I’m doing a complete rewrite of my MS, and I aim to get it done by the 31st January. So I’m not really responding to messages, making  (or receiving) calls. Not blogging (much) either: I click Likes still, when I sometimes read posts during writing breaks, but not many comments.

It’s like I need to stay in the world of my MS to bang out about 2 to 2.5 k words a day: and it’s like meditation, if you’ve ever watched a hen incubate an egg with those faraway, lost look in her eyes, you’ll know what I look like these days. Pretty darn unattractive. You’ll find me on Twitter: @damyantig : I’m a sucker for  #wordsprint ever since I started this binge, and #1k1hr .

But this morning my calendar told me today is the 7th Birthday of this Blog. If I ignore that too, I’d be a bit of an asshat.

So I’m peeping up to say HI to everyone, to wish everyone a good new year ahead. And I’d be an even bigger asshat if I didn’t say THANKYOU to all the readers and commenters of my blog. And didn’t say SORRY for disappearing (pretty much) from the blogiverse for the last few weeks.

So Thankyou for being my friends, and Sorry about disappearing.

I also re-added myself to the Insecure Writers Support Group, cos let’s face it, right about now, in this temporary break from my fictive dream, I do feel a little Insecure. What if everyone forgets I exist? What if this blog becomes a forest of *crickets*?

From within the world of my novel, these seem like pretty trivial concerns. (That’s because they are, Damyanti– the world has gone through tragedies too many and too diverse to name in 2014– and you’re worried about your blog? #firstworldproblems #sigh)

But as ever, I need your advice: What do you do when you need to hibernate? Is it terrible that I want to take this month off to finish my MS? I know I can’t, I’ve made commitments, but what if I could? Have you ever taken a hiatus from your blog? Taken a hiatus in January? Thoughts on Hibernation? Hit me with them!

Children are Children, aren’t they? #IndiawithPakistan


The mothers of Pakistan's murdered children

The Mothers of Peshawar

As a young girl in India, I learned to hate Pakistan. I was told the history of this country with my own, how we were once one nation, and are now bitter enemies.

I saw the Kargil war. On TV, yes, but its horrors did not go away.

I saw each terrorist attack on India, there were many, and was told Pakistan was behind each of them.

But today, when I see the seige on Pakistan’s children, those young lives snuffed out before they could properly begin, I cannot remember that they are from a country I was taught to hate.

For years I’ve been on to the politicians of both countries: they’ve flamed up hostilities between the two nations whenever things got hairy within either country.

Today I stand with those mothers in Peshawar, whose children wouldn’t come back.

I’m not a mother, but I’m a daughter, and I’ve seen mothers.

I cannot begin to imagine those households where children would return from school in coffins.

So those of you who tell me Pakistan deserved it, that they had supported terrorists once, that they’re villains who murdered Hindus in Kashmir, I have no time for you. Those who tell me that Muslims and Islam are the problem, I have no time for you either. Those Pakistanis who blame India for this, I’ll spend no time on you.

I hang my head in shame, because I’m part of a world where children are murdered to raise funds, where some people can find it in them to feel good about what happened to those children and their families.

The beauty and goodness in this world must be coming to an end if the murder of children does not receive universal condemnation.

Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student in a Peshawar school, will not return home today.

I choose to name and remember him, and remember his fallen friends. I choose not to name his murderers, and dignify their existence with a name.

And if children are butchered in schools, it is a collective failure of all of humanity, including mine.

I stand with the mothers who lost their children yesterday, the Mothers of Peshawar. I give them my puny strength, and my puny voice.

Children are children, whether they’re born in India, Pakistan or anywhere else in the world.

——————

Have you read about these mothers and their children? What can we do to bring sanity and peace into this world gone mad? What do you have to say to the grieving mothers of Peshawar?

Do You Mark the #Books you #Read ?


The Reading Experience

The Reading Experience

As a child, I’d often seen people reading books with a pen in hand– underlining, making notes, folding pages.

I have a horror of that– I try to keep my books as pristine as possible. I’m not anal about them or anything (right!), but I never take a pen to them, even those that I study for a project. I add sticky notes, in case the need to make a note of something is absolutely dire.

I read this article on books and readers, and it made me sit up and take notice:

There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text. We are no longer passive consumers of a monologue but active participants in a dialogue. Students would report that their reading slowed down when they had a pen in their hand, but at the same time the text became more dense, more interesting, if only because a certain pleasure could now be taken in their own response to the writing when they didn’t feel it was up to scratch, or worthy only of being scratched.

Looking back over the pages we have already read and marked, or coming back to the novel months, maybe years later, we get a strong sense of our own position in relation to the writer’s position. Where he said this kind of thing, I responded with that, where he touched this nerve, my knee jerked thus. Hence a vehicle for self knowledge is created, for what is the self if not the position one habitually assumes in relation to other selves? These days, going back to reading the books that have remained since university days, I see three or four layers of comments, perhaps in different colored pens. And I sense how my position has changed, how I have changed.

Makes some sense to me, and today when I picked up a book other than one from the library, I thought of trying out this reading with pen in a hand scenario. I didn’t manage to scratch a line. Maybe my habits are too ingrained now. Or perhaps, it reminds me too much of my editing stints, and ruins my reading pleasure.

What about you? Do you mark your books with a pen while reading? Or like me, do you like your books free of marks?

Do #Inspirational #Quotes Work for You?


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Inspirational quotes

If you’re on Social Media, you’ve seen those– Inspirational Quotes meant to lift you up, or your day, if you so choose.

In the internet glut of images and words, some tend to stand out, and yes, I do share them on Twitter or Google+ or  Facebook, and yep, now Pinterest, from time to time.

With apps on phones and tabs, it’s easy to create a collage, edit a picture, slap on a quote and let it loose in the cyber world, leave it to flutter or sink, as it will. I’m guilty of a few of those– yesterday I made one of those quote + picture thingammyjigs on Amlokiblogs. And to the left, you can see a drawing I’d scribbled some time back, and added a quote to.

I often wonder, though, whether some of the quotes make any sense. Maybe they’re too glib, facile, and sometimes, overstated, even. I found this sentiment reflected in this article:

Inspirational quotes cross the bounds of class and taste. It’s true they are vented freely on The Apprentice where “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. (That’s the candidate Ella Jade Bitton.) But they also colour political discussion. The Scottish yes campaign cited the supposed Gandhi quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” You can buy inspirational quotes in the New York Public Library shop, see other people’s favourites on Goodreads. Inspirational quotes were even on billboards at the Frankfurt book fair – “because you can’t buy happiness but you can buy a book”. Congratulations if you make it home tonight without seeing an inspirational quote. You will probably find all the ones you avoided, photographed by your friends and posted on your Facebook wall.

Inspirational quotes operate as currency on social media – not only in terms of the way their wisdom is handled and passed on, but because motivational tweets have become a key indicator of a person worth following. In 2013, Forbes ran a list of the most influential people on social media. (There is no escape: clicking that link will activate a pop-up “Quote of the Day”. Enjoy!) Haydn Shaughnessy compiled the data, and noticed that the most influential people on Twitter offered a stream of motivational content. “When we looked at leading social media influencers in 2012, they were all people who created a lot of content. By 2013,” he says, “it was much more likely that a top influencer would be tweeting inspiration instead of creating separate content. The reason? People probably don’t read content anyway, they just share it.”

I don’t know if I would stop sharing inspirational quotes, or even posting them from time to time. Who doesn’t need a dose of positivity every now and then? But I think I would hold back a little– anything, even goodness, when taken to the extreme, has its disadvantages. Saccharine, asinine, isn’t where I want to go.

What about you? Do you read Inspirational Quotes? Do they inspire you? Or do they annoy you just that little bit sometimes?

 

 

Do you Own Your Memories? #writing


Damyanti:

Writing about family. Always a dangerous topic. Someone, I don’t remember who, said that writers should write like orphans, like they have no family– that the family they belong to isn’t theirs.

I’ve written about my family, once or twice, and the reaction of those who read it has been, “But that’s not what happened! She’s twisted it up! How dare she?”

What they don’t realize is writing is its own truth– each story has its truth, and it has no relationship to facts, and what are facts, after all. Things happen, and depending on who saw them happen, you have different perspectives.

History is littered with perspectives, mostly those of the winners. I write sometimes from the loser’s perspective, from the point of view of ‘wrong’ (what’s right or wrong, anyway? who decides what’s right?).

I read this post today, and I’m reblogging it because it gives a perspective different from mine — You own everything that happened to you.

To me, I own nothing, from the clothes on my back to the stories I write– one day all of this would be ashes and dust, and not even a memory of me would remain.

What do you think? Do You own your memories? Do you write about your family? Would you be hurt if your family members wrote about you?

Following on Social media

Do You look Back?

Originally posted on Adventures in Juggling:

Working this week on me being the sole proprietor of my thoughts, my memories, my words, my opinions with my therapist has been hard. A lifetime of being told these are not mine, not real, not true, not worthy of being shared takes it toll. It’s one of the reason why I stopped writing decades ago, much to the disappointment of a high school writing teacher who just recently reconnected via Facebook upon discovering that after high school I stopped writing altogether. I did stop, until I started blogging more than ten years ago. First in secret. Then with a faceless audience who seemed to like the words and thoughts I put out there. Then it grew and grew as did the audience some who know me very well and some who like to imagine that they know me even better than I know me and now, well sometimes it’s…

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Do You Wait Till Things Get #Interesting ?


I’m not big on Author Fan pages on Facebook, don’t have one myself (haven’t written anything worth a page. So far, anyway). But I ‘Liked’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s page at random and haven’t regretted it.

Writing about interesting things

When things get Interesting

Yesterday, I saw a post on her page I want to share with everyone (who hasn’t seen it yet, cos she has a gazillion followers):

Somebody asked me the other day if writing was easy for me.

When I hesitated with my answer, they asked, “I mean…has it gotten easier over time, as you’ve gotten better at it?”

And still I hesitated with my answer. Because the truth is, I’ve never asked my work to be “easy”; I just want it to be interesting.

(By which I mean — I want my writing to be interesting for ME. If, as a side effect, my work eventually becomes interesting to you, that’s awesome. But mostly, I am just trying to interest and educate and occupy and challenge and delight myself.)

Often writing is indeed quite difficult for me. But I’m not sure that’s the point, and I know it’s definitely not a problem, because all the really interesting things in life are difficult — love, wisdom, growth, compassion, learning, travel, loyalty, courage, endurance, transformation…

The post goes on, and if you’re on Facebook, I encourage you to go read it, whether you’re a writer or not.

In my writing and in life, I’ve often found that I have to keep going, even when (especially when) I reach a breaking point. Be it writing, swimming, household chores, hiking, research– the best part is after you climb that one seemingly insurmountable hill– the other side’s where that gorgeous sunrise is at, or that wonderful dizzy feeling of making your 10th lap (I learned swimming two years ago, so), or that shiny house or that nugget of information. In writing, especially, every time I’ve pushed harder to a more painful place, or to a higher word count, I have found something worth keeping.

Because stories come to me– I don’t make them up. On days when they don’t come, I wait and I work, till they do. So, as Ms. Gilbert says:

Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking — be careful not to quit too soon. Don’t quit the moment it stops being easy, OK? Because that moment? If you stay in it and then stubbornly push past your fear and resistance? That’s the moment where INTERESTING begins.

Do you stick at stuff till you reach ‘Interesting’ answers, levels, revelations? Any experience you want to talk about when you quit, or when you didn’t quit and came upon something worthwhile? Heard of Elizabeth Gilbert? What are your thoughts on her?