Delusions of grandeur

The first time we were going back to India after moving to the States, in the summer of ’97, my father declared that I was allowed one pair of jeans, one pair of sneakers and a shirt to travel in. My attire after landing in India was to be salwar kameezes, lenghas and long skirts. As a fifteen year old and a part of the 1.5 immigrant generation growing up in NYC, I cracked a few smart ass comments at my father’s dictate, but didn’t fight it too much. See, this wasn’t worth beating my already sore hands on the drums of teenagedom caught in the middle of the immigrant experience. I could mouth off to mom and dad, insist on my independence, rail against the stereotypes they attempted to impose on me and generally be an Indian version of the bratty American teen (where, really, my parents got off quite easy) all in the safety of my life in Queens. Being on Indian soil, however, wasn’t reality; it was vacation, where what happened in India, stayed in India. For a month or so while we visited family, I could play pretend and be the Sati Savitri type if that’s what my family wanted.

While in India, I never made an attempt to explain my life in NYC to my family members. Maybe it was sheer selfishness on my part of wanting to avoid the lectures on how I’m still Indian even though I live in America that came with opening up with my conservative family about my life in NYC. Staying general usually worked best: yes, school was good; yes, I still remember how to speak Kannada; yes, I do have Indian friends. I smiled a lot, I ate a lot, I wore what they wanted me to wear and I wrote in my journal a lot. I was polite, respectful and most of all, just plain quiet. We never discussed anything deep and certainly nothing related to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

My writing, however, has never been quiet. I will break my personality into pieces for the various different compartments of my life, but my writing is one place where I live, whole and complete with total honesty. It never concerned me in the past that when I get published (yes, I said it – when, dammit, when), as a creative non-fiction writer, I would be laying my life out for public consumption. With my immediate family, I began to hang the family’s dirty laundry out to dry starting at 16, so it would be nothing new to them. Everything else, I justified. My parents are so closeted about their lives that it’s not like their friends and acquaintances would recognize me as the child of someone they know. My extended family in India – well, I’ll just make sure the book never gets translated into Kannada and besides, how are one brown woman’s words ever going to travel across the ocean anyway? It’s tough enough getting published and being known locally.

What I hadn’t counted on was technology shortening the distance between my lived reality and the person I pretended to be to keep the peace with my extended family. Before, there were phone calls between NYC and India where surface words lay like sweet, sickly icing on top of a cake. Now, there are emails and Facebook updates between my life and my cousins’ in India. With the internet came Google and Facebook and off they ran, snatching my delusions that my writing and my life could be kept separate from my extended family in India.

While working with Noor to edit a short piece of mine for volume 7 of Papercuts, towards the end of the process, I realized I hadn’t changed one of the characters’ name. That realization broad-sided me as I realized I was telling quite an intimate tale that involved people other than myself. With Papercuts accessible online and subject to Google’s tentacles, there’s a possibility that my cousins in India would now have access to that part of me that I hid from them. (Sidenote: I’ve seen the re-designed website for Papercuts and it rocks. It’s shaped up to be quite a strong representation of the talent at Desi Writers Lounge. You all should be uber-excited!)

There was a brief moment where I considered breathing into a paper bag, but then the writer in me, the one who has always had the backbone, snarked, “Well, then you either better hope they never find it; hope that if they find it, they’ll understand; or if they read it and don’t understand, then you better get ready to deal with the fall out – because this story is getting told.” After another dirty look thrown at the hyperventilating pansy, the writer strode off to start penning the continuation of her story.

Reading, much?

So the first ever reading held by Desi Writers Lounge finally went through, and it was a meeting of the minds in interesting ways. It also gave us moderators an excellent idea of how long it takes in general terms.

Held at Rif’s Cafe in F-6, Islamabad on March 29, 2008 (Saturday), it began with our members coming in at various times, generally close to the 5.30 pm time set. Once we had everyone, we began with a member reading out her recently written and unedited poem, and this I’ll have to confess was exciting especially since this was the first we were hearing/reading about it. The entire point of the readings is to present new, unread work to an audience and it was interesting hearing the poet’s thoughts about the poem, a little background information on it, the varying perspectives brought in by the listeners.

Before beginning the reading, however, each piece had been printed and set on a table to encourage the participants to come in and pick up a copy; something like a program for the evening. They were also encouraged to pick up a pencil, to write their thoughts in the margins of the distributed pages. However, we wavered a little from our original conception of just having the writer read out his/her work by encouraging the participants to read the work ahead of time, so they’d have their thoughts assimilated and could draw a little from what they had already understood from the piece, before a discussion. A good step, I think.

However, the critique on this one poem took up about 20-30 minutes having gone into the poem in detail, down to deciding what lines should be changed, where it can be broken up, where to add a little emphasis, etc…and where to make it a little more apparent to the reader. We ended up not having time to read out all four pieces, which means we’ll probably ask for less pieces to be read out in the next readings.

Another consideration that was brought up, was the possibility of adding a book club into the scenario, but this might prove a little unfeasible if some participants haven’t attended the previous readings, etc. Of course, the idea might be to assemble something of a general crowd, so even if we have a few new participants, we can circumvent it by possibly having the book club meet on alternate readings or something of that kind.

Something else that we’ll need to do is impose a time limit on how much time will be spent on each piece’s critique, so we can fit in a maximum of about 3-4 pieces thereby helping more writers as opposed to helping only 1-2.

Meanwhile, we pretty much settled on having a reading once a month, and what this means is now that we’re branching out of the members-only cloud we enveloped ourselves in for this reading, we’ll be diversifying. So, if you’re interested in attending the reading as a reader (writer who reads out his/her work) and more importantly: live in Islamabad, remember that you can email us at readings@desiwriterslounge.net with your name, cell phone no (please note: all information transmitted is confidential. We will not distribute your name or other contact information to anyone else, and you won’t be spammed or bombed by intrusive messages and/or emails) and the piece you’re interested in reading out, as an attachment. This is done so we can print out hard copies to make it easier for our listeners to read before the reading itself, making notes on the side which can be helpful when providing feedback to the writer concerned.

Exact dates and venues will be finalized, and when done will be put up here, as well as on the website’s main page and forums. So one way or another, member or interested bystander, you will be informed. We will also try for having a few fliers and/or posters done up for the event to be distributed in cafes and other “intellectual” hangouts.

That’s it for today, folks.

- TPTB

The Green Light

The three core members of the ‘Lounge based in Islamabad, met yesterday to talk about the reading and approximately three hours later, we had a full-fledged plan chalked out for the reading series and the first in that series, in particular.

We also covered the e-zine selection policies that were placed into effect with this issue and will be further refined for Vol 4. In the future, we will be allocating 2-3 months for the publication of each issue (beginning on the day the polls end), which will in all likelihood result in about 2 issues being published each year. The decision for the process now reads thus: once the polls close and the pieces have been selected by the core membership, a deadline date will be set by which all editors must have their pieces edited and finalized respectively, by each editor, feeling that they are all up to the par. After that, all pieces will then come to me, where the next 2-3 weeks after the deadline date will be devoted to going through them all . If I feel some pieces need to be further worked on, I will contact the respective editor asking for these changes. The editor will then see about those changes. This will thereby eliminate the need to eradicate any pieces that have been edited. I do however, stand by all decisions I’ve made for Vol 3.

That said, I also feel some writers have suffered because of the lack of a 100% effort put in by their editors, and for that I sincerely apologize. With these new rules in place, this will be eradicated in future issues and I thank those who graciously received their rejection letters. It was a ridiculously hard thing for me to do, having been the recipient of one myself. But…it only makes you stronger. And I have no doubt that our members will deliver for the next issue.

There is also another event planned in the future, which will be announced after the reading which itself, is planned for the end of March. We will be calling out to our members based in Islamabad to please email in their poems for the reading, or…if they have nothing new, to choose from their old material they would like to present. The emails will be going out presently.

For the event hinted at above, we will be chalking out an extensive marketing campaign.

Again, we urge our members in Islamabad to let their friends know about the reading…the only way we can get the message out there is through word of mouth, which is about the biggest weapon we have. After this, we’ll be opening up our readership to everyone else out there. Call the first reading a test run. And, to answer another question, we will be bringing in celebrated writers and poets as our readings progress. The reason why we aren’t introducing any in the first reading, is because of organization. We need to be thoroughly organized and professional, and once we’ve done it a few times and have a thorough feel for the whole thing, we will better be able to handle it when the celebrities waltz in.

So, everything has been discussed and once a date’s been decided, I’ll post it here emailing our membership to let their friends and/or family and other relatives out there interested in readings (not restricted only to poetry), to rope ‘em in. At the end of each reading, we’ll have a sign up form to let people sign up for the next reading, giving us their names and email addresses (or other contact information).

As you can see, we’ve covered all our bases. If you’ve got any questions relating to the reading, ask away.

Reading, Reading…Wherefore Art Thou Reading?

Now that the e-zine has (finally) been published, things are moving towards holding the reading. You may have thought that with all the recent activities that it wasn’t going to happen….WRONG! When I said we were planning a reading, we were definitely planning a reading. Because everything has been stretched, pulled and pummeled into place, things have been taking a little longer than originally planned.

Since we haven’t made anything official however, I am forbidden to tell you. Once we’ve chalked down a full plan, I’ll put it here for your viewing pleasure. Until then, just wanted to give you all a heads up that the reading will take place, and it will be one among a series of readings…which may or may not stretch into Lahore & Karachi judging by the success of the ones we host in Islamabad.

The only sure way to be successful is to spread the word…to your friends and friends of friends. For now, only people we know and who know others will be allowed. Like an invite only thing…again, judging by the reception of the first one, we’ll broaden attendance for the next. We will also be holding an open floor allowing budding poets from the audience to come up and read out their stuff.

And that’s about all the details I can give you. More as and when they come to me. Meanwhile, check out the ‘zine…it’s live, published and hopefully better than before. What do you think? Weigh in below.