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?


Blogging tips

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 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?

What can you #write in Ten #Sentences ? #heywriters


I’ve been botching up taking an open online creative writing course from Iowa Writer’s workshop. It is in its last week, and after doing the first two classes, I mostly missed out on all the others. I traveled, worked on stuff at home, basically did anything but write.

I’ve missed the deadline for the writing assignment in the last class, so I thought I would make a fool of myself by doing it here, in public. Here’s the assignment:

Write a scene of ten sentences and include in each sentence a numeral. If you’ve reached ten sentences and you’d like to keep going, you can make this a scene of twenty sentences, or thirty — the idea is just to write within this pattern. Example: On the day my town flooded, I was ten years old. It was four o’clock in the morning. In the darkness, right before I heard the water coming, two roosters crowed.

Boy soldiers in Syria

A Boy Soldier: Copyright Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via the Guardian

And here’s my attempt:

Shut your mouth or I’ll kill you, he’d said, on day one at the camp, the day they brought his brother in. After a month, when opening his schoolbag, I found three packets of white powder, larger than the packs salt came in, but much smaller than the packs of sugar.

I found these in your bag, I said to him two days later, when I felt able to look him square in his bloodshot eyes.

He snatched them from my hand, slammed them on the table, and banged it with his stringy hands: You listen to me, woman, he said, though his thirteen-year-old body wasn’t yet as tall as mine, You listen to me good. I’m tired of eating your kabsa and your kushary, and I’m tired of Abba’s begging for rations– give me one month, and I’ll sort this all out.

You listen to me, son, I said, making the tremble in my voice a scream of anger, not fear, as my mind whispered the ninety-nine names of Allah.

I ignored the bulge in his pockets, tried not to think of the steel they hid, the two spitfires that made his voice so loud, and the new masked bosses who had given them to him.

 

Now there he lies, six months later, one dead body minus its head, the two spitfires on his chest, folded in prayer.

Shut your mouth, I tell the Mullah at the funeral, He may be the One and Only, but He has taken a mother’s sons from her.

They’ll kill me soon, maybe in twelve hours when night falls, but I’ll use each of those hours, each minute, taking my boys’ names, and I won’t take their names in vain.

So that was some fiction on my blog, the first time in six months, I think.

Have you ever taken an online creative writing course from Iowa? Have ever written exercises with constraints in mind? Did the constraints of my assignment overwhelm the piece above? Would you like to do a similar 10-line writing exercise (fiction/ nonfiction) and post it on your blog?

Do Women Dominate #SelfPublishing ?


A to Z Stories of Life and Death

My self-publishing experiment

On Daily (w)rite, the majority of bloggers who comment are women.

In any creative writing workshop, women outnumber men by ten to one.

I recently read an article in the Guardian, that says women dominate Self-Publishing:

Alison Baverstock, an associate professor in publishing at Kingston University, Surrey, said her research showed a clear gender split, with 65% of self-publishers being women and 35% men. Nearly two-thirds of all self-publishers are aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half are in full-time employment, 32% have a degree and 44% a higher degree.

Baverstock said there was a widespread misunderstanding about who decides to self-publish a book, and how the genre was changing the publishing industry.

The article goes on to talk about how self-publishing is quite a robust alternative to traditional publishing:

“…there were popular subjects that traditional publishers had ignored, including “respectable soft porn” and “gentle memoirs of everyday disasters, such as losing a child”. Most publishers, she said, were being outpaced by a heady mix of democratisation and digital distribution, because they came from a “very limited gene pool … all agree on what they like … they know each other, and are not necessarily in touch with popular taste. Self-publishing is going on in schools, across institutions, spreading knowledge [of how to publish].”

While I agree with self-publishing having had a much huger impact in the last few years, I’m not so sure of women authors outstripping the contribution of men in this area. I’ve tried self-publishing a book of flash fiction, mostly as an experiment in learning how it’s done. Being less interested in publication and even lesser in making money out of it (both are unarguably good things, just not things I’m terribly interested in so far), I’ve mostly gone the traditional route. I’m trying to learn how to write, and despite the small published portfolio of short fiction I have gathered, I think I have a very very, long way to go.

I’m interested, however, in how the publishing world is shaping up: as a reader, I want to stay in touch with who’s publishing the books I read, and why. So here are a few questions, if you have a minute:

What has been your experience? Have you read more indie books by women than men? If you self-publish, would you drop a comment here, so we can have some real, first-hand accounts? Why do you self-publish? Have you tried the traditional route?