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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

09 October, 2004

Writers Today

Met a geek who, fed up with technical writing [amazing that never happens with me] turns to writing fiction. Not bad, but the trend is interesting -bringing back echoe of many other such meets and discussion. Mental block -one of the whipping boys of writers reared its fuzzy head and we flogged it some more... indeed one tumbles into a bloc, and gets out an unpredictable duration later, all on one's own steam.

Having read the synopsis of The Rogue Angel, he asked an oft-asked question : whether I had been to all those places. Well yes and no said I, for the story is based on someone close to me, and having heard hours upon hours of experiences that person had -it would have been a miserable failure of imagination not to come up with something like this. Plus my week long stay at Sofia, Bulgaria a couple of years back,with Balkans breathing down on its shoulders -practically next door.

Another interesting point was whether one can write convincingly about places one has never visited... gave him my favourite example of Lawrence Durrell whose Alexandria Quartet hit me so hard in my post college incubation in industry that it took me years to recuperate and feel my feet on terra firma again. One lives through such books, Justine which I discovered lying forlorn on one of the hugely long pavements at Flora Fountain [like hundreds of other masterpieces I read later on] and then its sequel Balthaazar -discovered at Moore's Market in Chennai, and further Clea and Mountolive from Bangalore. Powerful books, so powerful that the movie made on this quartet seemed insipid, and as flat as yesterday's coffee left to simmer its anger away in the sink.

Lawrence Durrell born in Darjeeling India, had never visited Alexandria even once in his lifetime. This mammoth piece of literature was a decade long research in the libaries he used to haunt in UK. Amazing fact, and one that can inspire today's writers.

Frequently excellent novels have made poor movies -perhaps, it appears, the director cannot do any magic with the story which has powerful narration by the author. Any amount of graphic jugglery cannot replace this magic of narration... for instance in case of Dr. Zhivago, the movie seemed a travesty of this delicate love story. I had been living through the book when I came across it during college days -and it took me years overcome this phobia and enjoy the movie by itself without comparisons.

Shashi Thiroor in an interview said Salman Rushdie was no great shakes as compared to himself because the latter wrote autobiographical stuff which anyone can do, but the former put himself in the shoes of another person and writes... infinitely more difficult.

I wonder.

Once I had mailed a short story to the BBC, and though I have forgotten the name of the lady editor had rejected it saying I had tried to imagine myself in someone else's place, and according to her wisdom, a story can ring true if you have lived it yourself.

I wonder, even more.

For the writer today, I think this should be a challenge. Try both, and shine out. I've done that, though shining out still remains to be seen...

cheers !

4 Comments:

Blogger dinesh said...

This somehow reminded me of a comment made in the Lonely planet guidebook for Egypt warning visitors that looking for the Alexandria of Durrell is like looking for the England of Mary Poppins.

10 October, 2004 10:28  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Well said Dinesh.

I believe, many people tried to visit the Cannery Row at Monterey, immortalized by John Steinbeck : and thousands flocked to that little town in Mexico to find Don Juan of Carlos Castaneda fame -it helps tourism. A goodish chunk of the world loves living in a fantasy world... why would Hobbits be so popular?

The point here is not the artificial nature of a writer creating his own Alexandria or Timbuctoo, so Mary Poppins can sleep between the covers of steaming clouds, but shouldn't we be able to appreciate as serious readers, the magic reality that Durrell used so effectively to create a fictitious world. It's not easy.

Mary Poppins, RIP.

Cheers !

10 October, 2004 19:07  
Blogger dinesh said...

sorry to nitpick, but Durrell spent at least three years in alexandria

12 October, 2004 07:59  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Hey Dinesh,

No need to feel sorry... I never said I am an encyclopaedia nor an expert on Durrell. One lives and learns... perhaps you know better.

My source of information was the editorial on the first book Justine where the erudite scholar writing the preface said so. What is the source of your information, if I may ask?

Cheers !

13 October, 2004 23:41  

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