Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Keeping it short

This is my post on Kreat!ve Kahaani, a website that publishes the works of new authors or anybody who wants to write any kind of fiction. Do check it out.

The short story is the best escape from the monotony of desk work. In only a few words, it creates a whole new world for you to step in and explore, to identify with a character and follow his/her path to a fitting (although not often acceptable) conclusion. It opens up a world of possibilities — of how things could have been or how things should have ended.

I like a short story because it comes as a welcome break in between editing news and features and writing more stories/articles. It inspires me to write in brief. And as a writer, that's what I need. As an editor, it gives me something fresh to think about. Sometimes, a word I've read in a short may just pop into my head and I might use it in the headline of a news story.

I hated reading novels/story books when I was at school. I found them tedious. I didn't care for the Nancy Drews, the Hardy Boys, the Enid Blytons, the Jeffrey Archers, Stephen Kings, Daniel Steels or even Mills and Boons. But I loved short stories, the creations of Graham Greene, O Henry, William Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Rabindranath Tagore, Rudyard Kipling, Saki, Mulk Raj Anand, K A Abbas and Munshi Premchand. I could finish a few at a sitting, then go out to play, then come back and read some more. I did not have to remember what I had read before.  And so, for years, when girls in my class moved on to bigger novellas and novels, I kept looking for the shortest of the shorts.

Then, I discovered Shakespeare. His plays, with many acts, became a mix of many things that English Literature as a subject had tried to categorise. It had poetry, prose, a blend of short stories and anecdotes within a longer, complex plot of a novel. I read all of Shakespeare’s creations — the historical, the comedies, the tragedies, even the sonnets.

Had I not liked Shakespeare, I doubt if I would have picked up my first novel, the Wuthering Heights. Had I not liked Wuthering Heights so much, I would not have gone for another epic romance, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. To break away from the trend, I picked up a couple of David Baldaccis for a long train journey and became addicted to his thrillers. I liked Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code but never followed up with the second (though I did watch the film, Angels and Demons). I read The Hungry Tide and devoured all of Amitav Ghosh’s books just the way I had done William Dalrymple’s after reading City of Djinns. I stayed away from Harry Potter but got trapped into the intrigue of the Twilight Saga, the Shiva Trilogy and Alex Rutherford’s series, The Empire of the Moghul.

Though I still read many more books on films, science, history, travel, health, people, economy, management and countries than fiction, I’ve warmed up to the idea of reading a novel on a rainy afternoon  sipping some hot coffee. What I miss now are the short stories. I don’t find too many compilations by new authors out in the bookstores and searching for short stories on the internet can be a bit of a downer. This is why I am looking forward to a site like this one — Kreat!ve Kahaani — so I can read new shorts by new authors at one place. It gives me the freedom to Alt+Tab whenever I need to refresh myself mentally at the desk. I only hope I don’t get addicted to it!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The things people tell a woman journalist

As a journalist and a woman, I've had a fair-share of my eyebrow-raising moments during the course of my career. Here are some of the things people have told/asked me:

  1. Why did you take up journalism? You could have done something else. (At a job interview.)
  2. You are too intelligent to be a journalist. (Was told after a successful job interview.)
  3. Are you in it for the glamour? (A Page 3 socialite asked)
  4. Journalism is not a profession for women. There are all kinds of people you have to meet – politicians, criminals, etc and then you may have to cover a war/blast/kidnapping. What will happen to you? (A co-passenger in a train)
  5. Only good-looking women are selected to work for television channels. (A male colleague)
  6. Men are for Politics, Crime, Sports, Business and Civic beats. Women do Lifestyle, Fashion, Films and Art and Culture. (A PR man once remarked)
  7. His Highness (the High Commissioner of an African country) wants to meet you. (Got a call from the Highness's office)
  8. People who write features are not journalists. (A male reporter)
  9. How can you work on a Sunday? (A guy from the media's marketing division asked. Of course, he was selling the paper's ad space)
  10. All journalists are chain smokers or heavy drinkers. (An old interviewee once said)
  11. Let's meet over dinner/drinks at some special place. (The head of a church in Mumbai)
  12. Women journalists always end up in unhappy marriages. (A male colleague remarked)
  13. Film journalists behave like filmstars. They have their own set of affairs. (PR man)
  14. Sub-editors are journalists? How? (A student)
  15. I am single and ready to mingle. (A biker I interviewed)
  16. We should be scared and be careful about what we talk in front of you. (A Peruvian mining official)
  17. When do we go on a date? (A marketing guy from the office)
  18. If your English is good, your Hindi must be really bad. Why else would you be working in an English daily? (When I interviewed for a job at a Hindi TV channel)
  19. It's a good profession for girls, only. Once you are married, then you need to settle down and do something else. (A retired Air Force officer)
  20. There is a lot more money than I had imagined. I thought journalists were paid peanuts. (A businessman who met a journalist on flight where they discussed, among other things, pay packages)
  21. It's an activity, not an occupation. (A casual remark by the HR head of a firm in Vadodara)
  22. Only a journalist can write in a train. (A fellow-passenger)
  23. How did YOU get in there? (A senior male journalist at a Gujarati paper asked when he discovered I was working as a documentation consultant at UNICEF)
Have people made some comments about you and your profession? Do write in.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When you fly into New South Wales, Australia...

...and get a full view of the beach at Brighton, 

you take in everything the place has to offer:

the lights of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney

the glow of the Opera House

the delicious (and often exotic) seafood platters,

the ocean views at Manly,

kangaroos in the wild,

the vineyards at Hunter Valley,

and the sunset at Salamander Bay.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Great Indian Train Journey

It is a coincidence that I should finish a book titled Around India in 80 Trains while travelling from Mumbai to Vadodara aboard the August Kranti Rajdhani Express. I love Indian trains so much so that the excitement of travelling in a coupé in the first class of the Rajdhani Express matches that of hanging out on the footboard of a Mumbai local. In the early 1990s, we would journey across the country from Mumbai to Patna aboard the notoriously slow Kurla Bhagalpur Express during our summer vacations. The train did not even have a pantry car. As children, who had previously enjoyed breakfasts of steaming hot omelettes aboard the Magadh Express from New Delhi to Patna, we hated it. Dad would have to alight at stations, scour around for reasonably hygienic food joints and pack up some samosas or kachoris for us to eat. 

Then one vacation, we decided to try the Dadar-Guwahati Express. It had a pantry. What I liked more about the train was that during the course of the 32-hour journey to Patna, I would have made many friends from Assam and the North East. Of course, we would never see each other again, but it did not matter. All important information about our schools and teachers, filmstars and heroes, books and magazines, video games, sibling fights and friends had already been exchanged.

In January 2005, six of us — full grown students —  squeezed into three side-berths of a second-class for a 24-hour trip aboard the Chennai Express from Mumbai to Chennai. Like every other journalist, we too would be heading to Tamil Nadu to get a first-hand account of what the tsunami had wiped off and what it had left behind. Of course, the trip was planned only a couple of days ago and all we had managed to get were six RACs (Reservation Against Cancellation). My two little girl friends had squeezed into one berth and dropped off to sleep. Two other friends — both tall men — took turns to sit in their single berth and I had to share my space with this other male friend of mine. He asked me if I wanted to sleep. I had never travelled in non-AC before. I did not even know if I would get some sleep. He propped up his pillow and dozed off, without waiting for an answer. I stretched out my legs till my toes were next to his ear. He did not even feel them. Then someone left the door between the cars (compartments) open and it became so cold inside that my arthritic friend's knuckles looked like knots on a twine. Only the chips and khakra that mom had packed into my bag gave him some respite. The next day, we were entertained by cucumber-sellers, mobile magazine libraries, peanut vendors, beggars, clowns, musicians and other passengers. The only thing I  had missed out on was sleep.

My last long-distance train journey was in 2009, from Mumbai to Jamshedpur on the Howrah Express. Since then, I have only done the short-runs aboard the Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and August Krantis between Mumbai and Vadodara. 

Nothing can teach you more about a country than a journey on a train. You see the landscape, the people, the food and the efficiencies of the systems at one go. It is for this reason, I prefer to travel to countries which have good public transport and disdainfully look down upon those that have not been able to come up with an efficient network of railways. Trains are the most economical way to get a sense of India. Like all things in this country, they are full of contrasts. There are the first-class coupés for the wealthy and the unreserved sleepers for the poor and the desperate. For people in India, the train is both a symbol of hope and despair. For the millions who leave their native places to work elsewhere in the cities or factories, it spells hope, for it brings with it the fragrance of the new. For the ones who are left behind in the villages and towns, each passing train brings in grief, for their loved ones aren’t coming back. 

In her book, Monisha Rajesh has managed to capture the essence of Indian rail travel. A British citizen, Rajesh travelled to all the four tips of the railways —  Kanyakumari, Dwarka, Udhampur and Ledo — covering a distance of 64,000 km within a span of four months, even aboard the world's first hospital train, the Lifeline Express in Madhya Pradesh. She blends humour, wit and sarcasm with factual information on the railways. Around India in 80 Trains is a tale of freedom, exploration, courage and determination. It’s a great guide for those who want to see India the way it is. To read stories of some of the people who travel on these trains or recollect your own experiences, do pick it up.