The Forgotten Son by Dev Popat – a Review

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The Forgotten Son by Dev Popat – a Review

 

 

What? A book by a fifteen year old? Aren’t they usually out playing cricket or sitting indoors glued onto their computer screens? But the fact is that young Dev Popat has written and published a book of his own. What a feat!

Now about the book … almost every Indian is well-versed with the plots and at least a few subplots from the epic Mahabharata. There are scores of characters – lovable, awe-inspiring, mighty, impressive, despicable…. Dev has picked one of the most misunderstood and wronged characters and made him the protagonist of his first book ‘The Forgotten Son’.  The hero, Karna, abandoned at birth and forsaken by those he looked up to, is one character from the Mahabharata you don’t hear about as much as you’d want to. His face off with his enemies, his initial infatuation with the woman he could never have, the only friendship he forges and stands by steadfastly – all this and much more has been dealt with by Dev in a style of story-telling that is simple yet engrossing, informative yet interesting and entertaining. He has done his research well and isn’t just narrating an oft-told tale that we think we know so well. So kudos to you on that, Dev.

The book itself is eye-catching with the colours and illustration on its cover and I think the title indicates more than the fact that ‘this son’ was forsaken by almost everyone, even those that should have been on his side the most. It also seems to remind us that this brave, honest and faithful man, son of our soil, has seldom received his fair share of the respect and awe he rightfully deserved.

To sum it up, this is a well-written first book by Dev and I hope he keeps writing and continues to impress…

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Six Stages of the Writer in Me

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Six Stages of the Writer in Me

These are the stages (and some difficulties) I go through as a writer of novels (having written a second one, both unpublished and a couple of partially completed novels as well, the stages been pretty standard every time)

  1. The excitement following the conceptualisation of a theme, building characters, the plot. I can’t wait to start writing the novel. I am so excited that I may even dump other half-done projects quite unceremoniously.
  2. The writing part. The creative energy flows. The characters that had been lurking in my mind comes alive with their many foibles, troubles and problems. The first parts of the jigsaw puzzle pieces come together.
  3. Period of uncertainty. Half-way through the novel, the plot isn’t thickening the way I wanted it to. I worry that it doesn’t meet my initial expectation. This is also the period when a project can go into limbo if another better and seemingly more thrilling story has popped into my head.
  4. I persist. I plod on tapping away on my keyboard. The story has to move on and reach the end I must. I suddenly see that the word count isn’t in keeping with the ideal number of words for that kind of genre. So I ease down a bit. In my worry that this may also be one of those has-been projects, I’ve been going at it too quickly.Hence the shorter narratives.
  5. Another reason I’ve been hurrying up is that I can’t wait to get to the end. It is exciting for me as well to know how the last bit will turn out (although I know it in a gist). Quite a bit of the story has written itself by this time. New thoughts have arrived during the writing process. New characters have introduced themselves with a promise to fill in a certain unforeseen loophole that needed to be fixed.
  6. The end. Phew! Quite a ride it was. I remember a point in time when the whole story and plot had the makings of a best-seller. But I am not so sure about that any more. Only time will tell. Meanwhile I am happy I even wrote it down. It wasn’t all that easy and I managed to get it done. So I pat myself on the back and give myself a treat because I just wrote myself a story.

A mother is born

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When the nest goes empty

The cord is cut and the doctor announces over the silence that follows the din: ‘It’s a baby girl/boy.’

After nine months or more of waiting anxiously, your little one and you are two separate entities. Your carefree life changes overnight, if this is your first baby. You have to schedule your needs and wants around this new entrant’s whims. Your days are never the same again, and mostly neither are the nights. You take on this delightful new life with certain ups and downs, misgivings amidst the zillion highs of motherhood – the first smile, the first word, first steps and so on. Every time the baby becomes less dependant, another invisible cord is cut.

Three or four years down the line, your child is ready to go to school. From the moment, he or she held your hand, you have never let go, unless someone you know well and was responsible enough was taking over. For the first time, you let go of those tiny fingers and hand them over to a total stranger. Another cord has been cut.

The first signs of the child turning independant go unnoticed. By now, they are going down to play by themselves, travel by school bus or walk there on their own, go away for several days on school excursions and finally one day they walk out of your home to create their own life. And you never saw that coming, even when you knew from the first moment that it was a given.

So now what? Waiting for them to visit you so that you can relive the old glory – mothering, pampering, fussing and pretending that the invisible cord still exists and binds you?  For even when the child is free of that bondage, once a mother, you are bound for life. That in its stead will nurture a new kind of love – a selfless one. And when you gave up your carefree life, you also gave up a part of yourself. For it wasn’t just a little human being you gave birth to. It was a tiny bit of your heart that took on life and went on its separate way.

Your own box of story ideas – how to get it

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Your own box of story ideas – how to get it

Someone read the blurb of my first book yesterday and asked me this – ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

A lot of my stories have just happened. Inspiration, though, as always comes and goes. The best stories are written down immediately. On the other hand, if you are not in a position to write the entire thing down, just keep a little note pad handy to make quick notes. I have my story ideas all jotted down neatly and it has been collected over the past ten years. About eighty percent of those ideas came to me during the first two years. If you don’t have a notepad when inspiration strikes, then you can save a few important cue words in your mind, like ‘girl, shop window, pretty dress, salesman’. Run this through your head a few times and chances are, the idea will stick around till you find a book.

Are you one of those susceptible to seeing strange dreams? If you’ve tried to find meanings in them and failed, maybe you can use them for your story-telling.

Songs are a good source of inspiration. Choose one with meaningful lyrics and possibly a catchy lilting tune. Close your eyes and let your thoughts wander. One of my best stories was inspired by a song and even to this day, I am reminded of the song even if I so much as see the title.

The books and fables you’ve read through your growing years, and later, can help too. Look at any mythological story from a different perspective. Chitra Divakarunni’s ‘Palace of Illusions’ is a retelling of the epic Mahabharata as told from Draupadi’s perspective. Draupadi thinks like a woman of the 21st century. The entire novel was riveting despite the story being old. So tap mythology. Pick up a story from the good old favourites, folk tales or the stories Grandma told you. Even a fairy tale perhaps. I grew up loving stories like the very simple ‘Kaatje’s Treasure’ and more complicated ones like ‘Peer Gynt’ and ‘Blue Baba of the Marsh’.

A role reversal in a story like ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’. Exercises like these help a writer to limber up. It also helps one to take an unbiased view on things and work on the various shades of grey that makes each character what they are. Movies like ‘ET’ and ‘Avatar’ stand out from other sci-fi movies because for once the aliens were not aggressors. It always helps to look at things differently.

A role reversal in a story like ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’. Exercises like these help a writer to limber up. It also helps one to take an unbiased view on things and work on the various shades of grey that makes each character what they are. Movies like ‘ET’ and ‘Avatar’ stand out from other sci-fi movies because for once the aliens were not aggressors. It always helps to look at things differently.

Listening and looking around helps a lot. The idea is to blend in and not appear too obvious though. You are not an eavesdropper or a weirdo, you are merely a story-teller looking for stories. Conversations and sights give great beginnings to interesting stories. I once saw an old lady sitting by the side of the road and watching a couple of vegetable vendors coming down that path. I’m yet to write down the story that vision inspired.

Newspapers are an amazing source. Read interesting news tidbits and see what it can inspire. A personal favourite was written after I read about a man who supported his infirm mother and brother both financially and physically. They, in their stead, kept taunting him until he attacked them. My story has nothing to do with that man or his family but grew from the thought – how much can one do for others while taking flak without breaking down?

Here are more visions that inspired pleasant, vague, sad or funny thoughts—

A boy on a cycle peeking into a car and seeing two pretty young girls inside;

Another one sitting on a high wall and wistfully watching a game of cricket being played by children whom he cannot join because of social differences;

A mother angrily leading her daughter down the road…

It can be the beginning, ending or the very crux of a story. The genres could be  romance, humour, sci-fi, horror or anything else one likes. And it would actually help if one stayed away from the obvious…like ‘romance’ for the plot with the boy on the cycle and two girls in the car.

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Blissful Discontent – an e-book by Pritha Lal

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Blissful Discontent – an e-book by Pritha Lal

When I was a young mother (and often times even now) I’ve got the best advice (of the non-medical kind) from other mothers. Although Ms.Lal reminds us that this book is not to be taken as a manual on bringing up your little ones, I felt that a new mother could pick up so much by reading this, a thought here, a helpful suggestion there. Her views on bringing up her beautiful daughter, Parijat, teaching her to respect and care for things and values that count, is very inspiring.

Drawing parallels between her experience as an Organisational Development Consultant and the lessons she is learning growing up with her toddler, Parijat, now that she is a stay-at-home Mom, the contents of ‘Blissful Discontent’ is peppered with humorous anecdotes and thoughtful moments. Little Parijat’s gestures , questions and remarks makes you think most of the time and it will definitely make you smile…I’m hoping there is a next part, or parts, to this riveting narrative.

Sapthama Shree Tatskara – The Seven Good Thieves — An Observation

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Sapthama Shree Tatskara – The Seven Good Thieves — An Observation

*ing – Prithviraj, Nedumudi Venu, Asif Ali and others

Be warned : This is not a review. Do not read if you’ve not watched yet.

Rating : Highly watchable

I speak here of a mid-90s American movie I watched long ago. In one of the best climax sequences I’ve ever seen in a film, one of the suspects, the seemingly weakest of them all, is let off after much taunting by the investigators as they imagine he is of no use to their case. Even as he limps away teary-eyed, the investigators begin to receive a fax message with an image of the mastermind behind the heist. As the portrait emerges from the machine, there is  a flurry of activity as they begin to pursue the weakling who just walked away. But he’s too smart for them and has already altered his gait and slipped into a waiting vehicle. And in one mind-blowing change of perception, you realise you’ve been hearing his version, albeit a corrupted one, of how the events had occurred.

Let me not spoil the movie for you by telling you which one it is, and on the other hand if you’ve seen it, you’ll know which film I’m talking about.

Heist movies are a dime-a dozen these days. We had the more light-hearted ‘Oceans’ series after that. And many more with subtle unpredictable twists and mind-boggling turns. And then we have our very own Indian versions.

Of these I really liked Johnny Gaddar (a little violent but quite entertaining) for it’s plot, but whatever else I’ve watched have been too contrived and westernised to be convincing.

And now the Malayalam version ‘Saptamashree Tatskara’. An Indian movie maker knows (just like an Indian author does) that he is at the risk of turning into a copy cat of his Western counterpart while handling certain genres, like fantasy or thrillers (crime or otherwise). A smart person will consciously avoid it. Excepting for the acrobat accomplice and the done-to-death decoy plot, I didn’t spot too many similarities in ‘Saptama…’and other movies I’ve watched.

Served with dollops of humour and a little pathos, the fun characters keep you engrossed from the word ‘go’. From the simpleton to the lunatic, the seven thieves do not have any outstanding back stories to tell and these ordinary stories makes for many a chortles and chuckles. That, and a lot of crap, literally, which caters to the recent need for sick humour. The moral is simple enough…digging your way through a criminal life, you may either hit a pot of s**t or you may end up at the pinnacle of hope and glory.

The movie is shot in Trichur and featured in crucial scenes are the Viyoor Jail and the famous Pulikali (Tiger dance) performed during the 10-day Onam celebrations only in this town. As one of the inmate puts it, the jail is full of ‘creatives’ who do what they are best at. [PS . The chapatis and chicken curry of Viyoor jail is very famous and I’m not joking when I say that I’ve seen people lining up in serpentine queues to pick up their order on Christmas eve.]  And the Trichur dialect the characters use with it’s famous (and normally misused, thankfully not here) Trichur accent  like the time the same inmate says in his confession to the priest “I was ‘nicely’ looting the temple donation box…”. That’s when he gets ‘nicely’ caught as well.

In fact the story of the film unravels as the confessions of the above-mentioned inmate who is bewildered enough by the turn of events to appear before the priest after seven…not days, not weeks, not even months, but years.

And for all the tightness (mostly) of script and riveting and fun story-telling, what of Prithviraj’s Krishnan Unni?  Just like the six other accomplices who are stumped as to his motive, the audience are too. And what does the ending imply…that he is a well-to-do good Samaritan?

Or more likely, he is a good crook who likes to set things right, but being a crook, there are no straight paths. So where does that leave us? And do we expect a sequel (or even a prequel) ala ‘Oceans Eleven’?

Loving Art Books

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Loving Art Books

If you so much as dabble in a  bit of art, chances are that you own at least a few books or treatises on art. You may have looked up many more and will definitely stop by the art section in a book store and browse intensely through books that may look interesting. A painting on any wall will elicit more than a passing interest. And you have tried once, if not often, to draw like one of the masters whose works you have seen and admired.

I picked this up when I was just 12 years old and wanted to draw 'just like that'

I picked this up when I was just 12 years old and wanted to draw ‘just like that’

I have to stop and stare if I come across a bookshop, more so if they have an extensive art section. It’s been a while since I’ve stopped buying such books. For one, they are expensive. Apart from that I have a fairly decent collection of books on possibly every thing I need to know…how to do water colours, how to create portraits, how to make pencils sketches, an art encyclopedia that lists different types of art work, a directory of different international commercial artists with samples of their work and a printer’s colour-chart book.

Why do I need these books?

Here’s why. It’s inspiring. Thoughts and ideas lead to similar or even different strains of thoughts or ideas. The book of portraits (and some of the other how-to books) is a good way to exercise and limber your creative muscles. Lastly, but not least, in a way an artist communicates through his work. When you’ve looked at an art work, you’ve actually spoken to a master or someone who is slowly lumbering his way up the ladder of success, and there’s much to glean from such a conversation.

Some of the amazing art books picked up from various places

Some of the amazing art books picked up from various places

On an average day, I like to turn the pages and pore over the contents of some of these books, and if I was uninspired when I started looking at the book, usually I’m brimming with ideas by the end of it.

I usually pick up these books during any one of Bombay’s popular bookstore, Strand’s biannual fair. The books are reasonably priced and a section is dedicated to an extensive collection of books on art.

Danai bookshop, which is now closed, also had a good collection when I first went there over fifteen years ago. The first few books I picked up from there are still a source of inspiration. Just before it closed, I bought a book of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings at a throw away price.

And what brought me to this topic. Just yesterday, I was out clothes shopping and came across this little shop in the same complex.

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It was getting  late, so I didn’t get much time to browse, but among the many titles on sale were collections of work done by popular artists, books on architecture and sculpture and framed prints of works by Mario Miranda.

Not just an art book section, but a whole shop dedicated to art!!!

Once Upon a Time, A Treasure Chest

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Once Upon a Time, A Treasure Chest

Some memories are the kind dreams are made of.

Somewhere towards the end of the 1970s, my father subscribed and bought a series of encyclopedias (in bright red and blue hard binding…the red set were heavy  A3 sized volumes, was comprehensive and touched on everything from animals to famous people with really beautiful photographs and illustrations). I remember deciding to go through the books till one chance encounter with the article that dealt with ‘shrunken heads’ with some pictures to go with it, put an end to all the enthusiasm.

Accompanying the amazing volumes was a cardboard life-size replica of a treasure chest…the free goodies that came with the encyclopedia. The chest was packed with books…the latest bestsellers in fiction, many many how-to books and a book or two on technology as well. I remember delving into the box with my father in open-mouthed wonder. I was to fall in love with books by and by.

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Many of those books still remain with us, the whole set of encyclopedias still lie in my father’s living room…it holds the pride of place, and I doubt they make them like that any more.

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Among the many how –to books was one on How to keep a cat and How to keep a dog. It had everything from all the breeds of both animals possible, different diets for pups or kittens,  how to handle illness, how to groom, the works. And as I entered upon my adolescent years, there was this book called ‘Beauty Around the Clock’ that got me interested in looks, exercises, diet and weight-watching.

Then there was a book of remarkable Sci-fi short stories that I began to read when I was around 15 or so. It was  while reading the third or fourth story in that book that I got so scared—a story about a man who is troubled by his half-dead wife who turns into a vampire, and how a passing salesman (or was it a clergyman) manages to rescue him after much difficulty— I promptly kept the book aside.

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And not to mention, those ‘other’ books, which had to be probably hidden away from my brother and me for the longest time…adult fiction and adult humour. With time, guards were lowered and I got my first taste of the forbidden during my later teen years.

And we’ve managed to hold onto many of those books even after all these years. Meanwhile ‘Beauty around the Clock’ like a trusted steed goes with me wherever I go.

Creature at Night

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Creature at Night

Recounting his interesting years growing up in a village, my dad has many tales to tell. This village was situated very close to a beach and the soil was quite sandy. Coconut palms and paddy crop were cultivated aplenty. A fully grown coconut tree can be as tall as a five storied building although the younger ones are around 10 to 12 feet tall. A main road curved its way through this area connecting a major town and a famous shrine.

Often after watching a late night movie, my father and his friends would board a bus and then take the unlit pathways that a car could barely squeeze along. These sandy pathways wound along unnecessarily making the walk too long. Often enough when it was quite late, it seemed a better option to take the shorter route that took half the time and went through properties that belonged to various people. There was no fear of being accused of trespassing. Everyone did it those days. No walls were built either and if there was a wall, there usually was an opening to allow easy passage for a pedestrian.

And one evening after having watched a particularly scary movie about a Yakshi my father was returning home when he decided to use the short cut. Now Yakshis are supernatural creatures akin to vampires although these have the ability to change appearances. Their original form is hideous but they can transform into beautiful beings. They entice their victims to their deaths and mostly they look for young men.

He was hardly half way home when he espied in the moonlight a huge form heaving not far from where he stood. It stood along a coconut tree and seemed to wait for my father to make the first move. With his heart in his throat, my father stopped, considered turning back and taking the longer route and realized it would be an unnecessary hassle. Moreover this creature that seemed to await him was surely going to give chase if he turned back. With several thoughts hounding his head, he groped around on the ground and found a largish stick. It wouldn’t help much, but it would have to do. He inched his way closer to this creature in the dark.

And for the first time that night, he wasn’t regretting his choice of route. For the heaving dark shadow turned out to be nothing but a dried up coconut leaf that was ready to fall but remained attached to the tree. Also for a long time after that, my father used the circuitous path playing it safe and avoiding chances of a run in with the supernatural.

Tempting the Muse

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Tempting the Muse

Here’s some good news. A dead muse can be brought back to life. When I started writing in 2003 I was on a roll. The ideas came faster than I could write them. I still have them all written neatly in not one but two books. I wrote about two short stories a week, could edit them without a problem as well. At the same time, I heard people talk about their own creative juices failing them. Their Muse was missing, they lamented. As far as I was concerned, the Muse was a myth—the excuse of the unmotivated writer. I know now, it is not. Idolize it, worship it, pamper it, plead with it, do what you will — but never ever lose it!!! And if you lose it, reclaim it as quickly as you can.

 hiding muse

So here are a few pointers for those who write or strive to write.

  1. Lethargy is a big enemy. Idling away time is another big one. Recently with so many ways of socializing and staying in touch with friends, we have a thousand distractions especially at those moments when it’s not a great idea to be distracted. Earlier you only had a phone or a doorbell that rang. Now there are so many other things that go ping, beep and whir. And it’s oh-so-difficult not to make that one last comment on a post or send just one email before you wind up. I’ve tried my best to beat distractions. I’ve tried not to be lazy on most days. But the thing is, the more you focus on not becoming a victim to these vices, the more you succumb to the pressure. A few possible solutions –

a)      Keep your things set and ready as soon as it’s possible. Seeing your computer on with the document open on it, your manuscript laid out on a desk with highlighters,  pencils, erasers, post-its or your painting material just waiting to blend into a new masterpiece works like magic!!!

b)      Write an agenda for every week and every day. Try and stick to it as much as possible. Remember on days when you’ve achieved the most success, the sense of satisfaction would be enough motivation to make such days happen more frequently.

c)       Your networking time can happen during breaks. Work first, take your break after that. Spend just about enough time and then get back to work. Never ever tire yourself out with either of these activities though.

d)      Routines are good most of the time. Just make sure they don’t become tedious. If you are easily bored then change them frequently.

 

2.        Most writers started writing not because they wanted to be published. Most writers started writing because of their love of the written word, their need to express themselves or just to tell stories. In fact I feel most people have an inherent writer within, leave aside language skills and vocabulary. To find a channel to get your written material across to others, get in touch with those that are skilled enough to critique your work or even edit it for you, join a writing group. But at the end of the day, remember that you write because you need to write. You love writing.

 

3.       To publish a book, you need more than just talent. There are so many other things that count. And good luck tops the list!

4.      Remember all your friends can’t be trying to please you when they say what you wrote is good. There must be one or two that will have a thing to say about it if it wasn’t. And when they do, listen to them. Your critic need not be a writer either. Sometimes readers are better judges of a good book or a bad one because they just read to enjoy, they don’t read to judge.

5.       If you feel the need to join a short-term workshop or writing class, ensure the credentials of the people conducting the same are in place. Just being an author does not justify one in conducting a workshop. Teaching skills are quite different from writing ones. I’ve been to an awesome, interesting and peppy workshop. And I’ve been to a miserably awful one. The latter took away every ounce of confidence that I had as an author at that point in time. So research them before you join them.

6.      Even Virginia Woolf thought it was alright to ‘write badly’ says Danell Jones in her book ‘The Virginia Woolf Writers Workshop: Seven lessons to inspire great writing’. The thing is you learn from what you wrote wrong. One should never stop writing even if one thinks it’s not sounding good or going the way s/he wants it to. I’ve always realized that while writing longer fiction the first few chapters are what challenge every bit of determination and self-reliance one has. Once you are past that, nothing can stop you. So just keep writing. Don’t bother to look back once that’s done and keep those fingers tapping away on the keyboard.

 Muse coming back

And remember, the keyword is ‘enjoy’ !!!