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


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?

Judging a cover by its book…


The Well-Tended Garden Cover

The old adage is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. An author must judge the rightness of a cover by the book they have crafted. It must resonate with the story, have visual appeal in large and thumbnail sizes and carry text with aplomb.

I have written about the trials of coming up with a succinct title for the next story in my Purana Qila Stories series. Finding the right artwork was no bed of roses either… until I found the essence of my story and a title that captured that truth: The Well-Tended Garden.

With that title in mind, there was one image that jumped out at me. The photograph speaks volumes about a beautifully cultivated, but hidden love — in the case of my story, it is a modest, restrained middle-aged love; one that can only be spied through the window of a crumbling facade (the figurative is suggested by the fabulously textured wall of the Qutb Minar in Delhi). My daughter used her incredible graphic designer’s eye to make it work as a book cover.

The Well-Tended Garden will be released before the end of this month, moving forward fourteen years from Safiyah’s journey to Lahore at the time of Partition (The Dust Beneath Her Feet) and a few years after Imran has returned from working as a doctor in England (A Change in the Weather).

Safiyah has returned from Lahore without her husband and made a life as a servant at Purana Qila, while her daughters pursue their education for the chance of a better life. There is a wedding in the house: Imran is finally getting married and Safiyah and her daughters are enlisted in the preparations, unaware that their own lives will be changed irrevocably soon. Safiyah is given a second chance of love with a man who has long admired her in silence, but she is a mother first. What is the best decision for a family that has known suffering and loss? And how will that decision affect Safiyah’s daughters, Henna and Laila, who have also been vulnerable to the unspoken longings of the heart?

The Well-Tended Garden will be released in March 2013.