The Well-Tended Garden: the story that wrote its own ending

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I have taken a hiatus from social media for the past ten days to knuckle down to publishing my next story from The Purana Qila Stories series. I had delayed it for reasons that were not clear to myself until today, when I realized what was missing. I revised my ending and restructured the story, impelled by a logic that I could not even articulate to myself, but which just felt right.

When I wrote the last sentence, there was a sense of relief that comes with a story that has righted itself, like that moment of ease you get riding a bike, when gravity, motion, weight and direction work together to get you where you want to go, and that infernal front wheel stops wobbling. It is undoubtedly odd that the creative process is mystifying even to the writer. It has always made me feel slightly sheepish, as if I cannot fully take credit for my own writing (I have felt this as a child), because it comes from I know not where; this can also be nerve-wracking, because if I don’t understand fully where it came from in the first place, there is always that fear that I will not be able to summon it again. But then, I sit down to write, and the words take over. It is as if my subconscious is merrily conversing with the world, and leaving my conscious being out of it, as if to say “You wouldn’t understand, just stay out of the way.”

I think this is an explanation as to why there have been many times I have not been able to admire the artist, but have loved his/her work, as if the creative self has a whole different personality that speaks to me, when its owner may be a boor. I’m thinking of some early 20th century chauvinistic British poets, in particular, who were cads to their wives and drank themselves into the grave but wrote poetry that could make you weep.

The creative process and the fundamental schism at its heart are eternally glorified by Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: The Creation of Adam. One Being (God) is passing the spark of life/inspiration into the other (Adam), but it is worth noting that their outstretched fingers do not touch. There is a vast, insurmountable distance between Creator and created captured in that small blank space.

What inspires you, and what surprises you about your own writing/art creation? Do you feel in control at all times, or does the creative process lead you? Do you fully live your art, or is it something you nurture in the hidden depths of you, that people who know you rarely glimpse? Do you like who you are when you write? Do you like who you are when you don’t?

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“My Mother’s Sari” guest post

I was invited to guest post at Rachelle’s Window and I wrote a piece about my mother, the first storyteller in my life, and how memories of her childhood inspired my writing. When my mother talks about those early days of hardship, she radiates so much happiness, that I always had the impression that there was something magical about those times. I feel the sense of community she had in those days, and the joy that could be found in the small things. These were times of poverty and tragedy in India, both on a national and personal level, but my mother taught me about facing adversity cheerfully. I can’t always emulate her, but I recognize the value of the gift she has given. I also learned how education and survival were inextricably linked in her life, another lesson I have taken to heart and tried to share with my own children.

I hope you will stop by and read “My Mother’s Sari.” When I first started my blog, I wrote about why I had called it “Coins in the Well” (you can find that post in the archives). My mother is a practical kind of person and not given to rhetorical flights of fancy–she would probably giggle with embarrassment if she were reading this–but she is a well of inspiration to me.

Having a cup of tea with my friends at Curious Book Fans…

Return of the Bee

A beneficial dialogue. Return of the Bee (Photo credit: MightyBoyBrian)

…well, figuratively speaking, at least, and in keeping with all things British for this UK book review site. I was interviewed by one of my favorite reviewers about The Purana Qila Stories and it was nice to be made to think deeply about my writing. So often, what we do as writers is to tell our stories and sit back and wait for people’s reactions in the form of stars and 25 word reviews on Amazon. Those reviews, while helpful, don’t often add to the conversations that I think every writer would love to have about their writing: what worked or did not work and why. What themes we deliberately constructed, and what is the sub-text that we ourselves may have missed? What rings true in someone else’s experience and where we may need to make a course correction. As a literature major, I loved sitting in a professor’s snug office and pulling out the thematic threads of a novel or play; it is an honor to have a reader take the time and care to give the same consideration to your own work.

The author-reader relationship is symbiotic. Someone who knows me and read A Deconstructed Heart is a psychology major, and she said she could not help reading my book, wondering what part of me or my psyche was woven into the story. I could have asked her too, what part of her was integral to her reading of the story. Perhaps I still will; I think we could both learn a lot about ourselves in the process.

Tiger Dreams: The S. Asian Diaspora in the West

Tiger in Ouwehands Zoo, Rhenen, The Netherland...

Tiger in Ouwehands Zoo, Rhenen, The Netherlands. Taken in spring 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was asked to write a guest post for The Serious Reader. I thought about my parents’ generation and how they sacrificed their close-knit connections in India and Pakistan to find opportunity in the West, fifty and sixty years ago as young adults. I have grown up seeing the costs of that sacrifice and also the benefits for second- and third-generation children like me. It’s something I come back to often in my writing, particularly in The Purana Qila Stories. I hope you get a chance to visit The Serious Reader and read about the wave of emigration that brought my family and many others to western shores.

Do you find yourself being drawn to the same theme again…

Molen Lava (kindof)

Molen Lava (kindof) (Photo credit: lrargerich)

… and again? Either as a reader or as a writer? I can’t explain my attraction to stories about India/Indians and Pakistan/Pakistanis. Well, duh, you might say, your Indian heritage explains everything… but indulge me for a moment… what exactly is at work here? Is it a desire to see if someone is doing this better than I am? (Writing about, or simply being Indian?) Or is it a sense that something is inadequate… there is a missing piece that a novel, a story, even one I write myself, will tease out? A childhood memory that I am grasping towards or an inarticulate loss? I thought back to all the writers whose work I have coveted: Naipaul, Rushdie (for Midnight’s Children), Anita and Kiran Desai, Amitav Ghosh, Mohsin Hamid. While they rework the molten silver into strange and fantastical shapes, each utterly original but shining with that familiar gleam, I am rapt.

A Deconstructed Heart

A Deconstructed Heart is the story of Mirza, a middle-aged Indian college professor whose wife has left him. He moves out of his house into a tent in his back garden, where he sets up an outdoor classroom and serves tea to his kind but bewildered neighbors. He is visited by the irritable spirit of his long-dead teacher, Khan Sahib, who is befuddled by the dysfunctions of modern life.
In the north of England, Mirza’s niece, Amal,is finishing up her last year of college before she is expected to join her parents in their new home in India. Asked by her father to talk her uncle back into his senses, she moves into Mirza’s house, and they soon are connected by their shared loneliness. She meets Rehan, Mirza’s student, and is intrigued by the path of certainty he has built over his own loss and loneliness—a certainty that is threatened by his growing feelings for her.

When Rehan disappears, Amal’s suffering forces Mirza is to face the world once more. Together, Mirza and Amal must come to a new understanding of what it means to be an immigrant family when the old traditions have unraveled.

A Deconstructed Heart is a novella that explores the breakdown and rebuilding in one immigrant family trying to adapt: how lines in families and cultures are forcibly redrawn, how empty space can be reframed by a tent into a new definition of home… but how, no matter how hard we may try to forget, the past refuses to be contained.

A Change in the Weather

When Imran was a young doctor in England, he faced a decision that would change lives forever. Now, as an old man entering the last days of his life with his loving family in India, the decision he made fifty years ago has the power to upend everything he stands for and destroy the devotion of his family and friends. One person knows his secret and must decide what is revealed or remain hidden. Reminiscent of the style of “An Atlas of Impossible Longing”, “A Change in the Weather” is a poignant tale about honor and loss, and how these two forces have unforeseen consequences that spill from one generation into the next

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