Qissa Issue 1 and the Literary Lacuna

Those who are following me on IG might know of the publication of Qissa Issue 1 yesterday. A 65-page first issue sets high standards with poetry, fiction and non-fiction in both English and Malayalam. I am so glad that the editorial team was able to pull off this first issue. We were supposed to have it out by November 15th, which was the internal deadline; in spite of the delay, I think the issue turned out very well indeed.

The story of the birth of Qissa is a short one. It arose from the realization that there isn’t a literary magazine that meets the needs of bilingual Malayali readers on the digital level and at a global scale. As I envisioned the literary magazine to be firmly rooted in the Malabar culture, I was determined that it could not simply be a Malayali magazine. It needed a global audience; it needed a global, inclusive outlook. The editorial team, a bunch of great ladies, agreed with me. Sukanya Shaji with her fierce politics and snappy attitude is a great Fiction editor. Aiswarya Sanath and Lakshmi Prabha handle the Non-fiction section with a comfort that comes from being in academia for long. Poetry was the natural choice for me as I’m comfortable with it, any day, compared to poetry.

When we put out the Call for Submissions we did not expect to receive as many submissions as we did. I’d like to thank Inklette Magazine for helping us spread the word in the initial stages. Surprisingly, we received submissions from a demographic I never looked at in relation to creative writing and that was the Dubai Malayali demographic. The writings, filled with “marunaadan” nostalgia was agreeably cliched, but an integral part of the kind of writing we were looking for. We also received submissions that treated topics of caste and sexuality in open, inclusive ways. It turned out to be a mature issue when we began receiving the art that went with it.

What really stood out for me in this issue was the cover photo by Muhammed Sajid. When I came across it on IG I knew it was the perfect fit for the inaugural issue of Qissa. Thanks to the generosity of the artist, we could agree on the same.

At the end of the day, I am thankful to the writers who submitted and the followers on IG who make us feel hopeful about the next issue.

To many more to come.


Gaea and Other Poems – A Poetry Debut

One of my goals before I turned twenty-five was to publish a book. It’s a silly goal to have, an egoistic one. Yet, one year late, I have a book under my belt. Gaea and Other Poems is now available for sale.

Published by Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata in their hallmark recycled silk saree cover, the book is precious to me for two reasons. Firstly, it is, of course my poetry debut. I feel happy and honored to be part of the poetry community, now that I have some experience in writing and publishing. Secondly, the Foreword is written by an old professor of mine, KNC, who is not only an expert in literary studies, but an inspirational, towering figure and a kind soul. I still think his words far outshine anything I wrote.

I thought a lot about whether this blog post should be promotional or not. But I settled on it being an account of how it feels to be a published poet. Honestly, it does not feel very different. Sure, there were a couple of Instagram Lives that made me feel slightly popular, but apart from that, its been quiet. But I think the day I received my author’s copy, Sept 24th 2020, a date I won’t forget anytime soon, was one of the happiest days of my life. It felt great to finally hold the book, a product of so much back-and-forth, to look through the edits that were made, to ruffle through the final versions of those ever-changing genies called poems.

I am thankful to a lot of people in life for making me a poet, most essentially to that one teacher who told me my writing is too negative. To a high school student, that comment could have been hurtful enough to make me stop writing. It almost did. I remember walking back from school and not mentioning the comment to anyone for two days. When I finally told my mother, and my best friend about it, they scoffed and backed me. What would she know about what you can do, they asked. What does she know about poetry anyway?

I am also thankful to many who have critically commented on my work, not lavishing praise but telling me exactly what worked and what didn’t. Two particular comments come to mind: I was told once that I write like I breathe. I was also told that I make something very tough appear effortless. Its nice to remember compliments about one’s writing.

Gaea and Other Poems is “an exercise in lyric discipline” as the Foreword puts it, and contains many unseen bits of poetry from my journals. It felt weird to release those into the world, and I felt somewhat protective of my privacy. After all, much of it was written from my personal life, about love, desire, mental health, loss and something akin to ennui. All these feature in varying degrees, like a buffet of images served on pages. I have not received a review of the book yet, and probably won’t, but I like to think that it has moments that tender souls can relate to.

Meanwhile, the excitement of publishing my first book also got me thinking seriously of being a writer. I realized that I need to dedicate a lot more time to my craft that I was doing. I decided to indulge in poetry for two-three hours everyday, whether that meant reading William Carlos Williams or writing poetry inspired by Dickinson, or commenting on appropriation in the poetry of Indian American Savarna writers when they write about race or caste. I have been doing this for the past four days, and I should say, that I have written more poetry recently than in the past four months.

It is also important to write notes about writing poetry, and that is what I intend to do with this blog henceforth. It will be my little poetry learning updates space, where I jot down what I did for the day, reflect on my learnings, learn about how my readings influence my writing. It’s going to be exciting!

Gaea and Other Poems is now available at select bookstores across the country. Buy your copy here: http://www.tbsbook.com/product/gaea-and-other-poems/

On the Need to Have Opinions and Be Politically Correct

What keeps social media going? Sure, you want to know what your friends are up to. But it is also a space to build an identity and express one’s opinions. If we’re addicted to all kinds of information, we’re also addicted to responding to that information. In fact, the whole of Internet is based on this social contract of uploading, finding and responding to all kinds of information. But the appeal of social media is that your responses are in one place. Your opinions are out there for everyone you have added on your social media (or the world, depending on your privacy settings); think about that— that’s probably 100 times more than those people you would actually talk to in person, about these same opinions. There are people, who might never EVER know what you think of the latest Leonardo Caprio movie or of that weird comment by a hairy guru, if you did not post it on Facebook. Our need to respond thus, creates an Internet persona, and this leads to three consequences:

1. Jumping on the bandwagon – Posting the same opinion that most of your friends are posting. Because they’re cool and you want to be cool too, even though it’s not an original opinion and you probably did not even try to do your own research. This is especially annoying when there’s a crisis/occasion of grief and all some people want to talk about is how SAD all of it is on the Internet, without really caring about it, deep in your heart. Because, what would people think if you did not post about that earthquake/terrorist attack? You have to post SOMETHING! This sort of sharing might actually increase one’s self-perception, because “hey I did express my sadness on social media, there’s nothing else I can/need to do about it,” increasing a sense of having “done” something, without having done anything substantial.

2. Creating an anti-popular stance – Sometimes when something suddenly goes viral on the Internet, there’s a group of people who are ever-ready to diss it and want it to all stop, because they’re so hep and have found a lesser known counter view point that will let you stand apart on other people’s viral-infected newsfeed. Maybe it makes them feel slightly better than their friends. Your friends are all roped in by the popular opinion, but you.. Oh you are unswayed by such noise. You, have to be different from people, express a different opinion, mark yourself a lion among the sheep! Or a purple cow among normal cows…Purple-Cow

3. Need to be politically correct- This for me, is the most interesting one. It is the ever-existing tension between being nice and not be too uptight about stuff. Is the latest version of Jungle Book problematic due to the disproportional female voices? Wouldn’t it be more politically correct in the 21st century, to develop a version with equal gender representation? I mean, how dare Alphonse Puthren make a movie with a student-teacher romance, a taboo subject, such disrespect towards our guru-worshipping culture! politically correct

Now, while such opinions surely would have existed before social media came along, sharing such opinions online definitely made people aware of the diversity of opinions. Most humans are conformists and want to be perceived as normal. So when an instance of being politically correct (in popular terms being butthurt by stuff) or of letting things go arises, there are people who simply let it go. Others complain and whine about people not being nice and people not embodying the qualities of equality, fraternity and brotherhood in every single thing they do. Sadly, many academics, under the guise of looking for underlying meanings fall into this trend of critiquing stuff, especially art.
Take Game of Thrones for instance. People will be tempted to think of it in feminist, Marxist, sociological lens and critique it — but can we differentiate our opinion from our appreciation for creativity itself? This debate, of whether a piece of writing can be separated from its context/author is a long-standing one in the sphere of literary criticism. I don’t think it’s wrong to think of a work through any of the critical frameworks developed over the years, but what is unfair is to not recognize one’s own intention while doing so. Why is it that we feel the need to make the art we create politically correct? Why is it hard for us to digest a work, written from the perspective of, say, a rapist? Or a pedophile? It is our tendency to be “correct” and not look beyond our little box that makes us hesitant. We see anything that does not represent our empty, idealistic perspective, as trash or “wrong.” I cannot help linking this tendency to the popular use of social media, to share the “right” opinions, to seem “nice,” probably without even understanding what the consequences of such sharing are.

This rant is of course not just directed as others, but to myself too. It was not intended to judge or stifle any online habit anyone has. It is just an observation, posted among the zillions of observations posted online. Social media and opinions/organizing using social media has led to many protests and social movements, creating social change. But most of the time, social change for good is far from the real consequences. Next time you voice an opinion on Facebook or Twitter, ask yourself, why do you want to do it? Do you really mean what you’re going to post or did you do it as a part of a trend/to oppose a trend or to be politically correct? Intentions matter. Just something to be aware of and think about. Maybe you’ll realize something you never knew about yourself.

A Confession

“What is it that you find in her?”
The question startled the lover…
A moment of pensive silence
And he replies in a daze,
“She is what I want and what
I myself am not; she is the
Breeze when I’m the kite and
She is the bird when I’m the branch;
You may cut down a tree but
There are roots deep down.

And when her tears wet her face,
It’s my heart that’s torn apart…
My heart is perched on a high cliff,
It maybe wounded any day
Though I can’t tell her all this
She’s too precious to be lost…”
Let it be how fate wills ,but
Love always makes it’s own way…

IPL II – The Wait Is Over…!!

Ever since my SSLC exams got over, there have been only two things I had been looking forward to-1. Utsavam at Tali temple and 2. IPL II. Obviously the second one is the most awaited..!!

If cricket in India is a religion, then IPL is its Carnival!A fabulous, colourful festival that engages the time of the haunting sunny days when you have nothing else to do other than sit back and watch TV.More than that, it is a cricketing tournament among 8 teams comprising of renown Indian and foreign cricketers, veterans of the game and youngsters who have a lot to prove.It is where people from different nations cheer together, forgetting past quarrels and co-operating as a single team to get their hands on the coveted IPL Trophy..
IPL is of course not just about cricket.It is where billionaires, agencies, film industry and sports join hands to put up a show of entertainment for the cricketing fans worldwide.They say money can’t buy happiness.But IPL spreads smiles-especially when fans see stars like Virender Sehwag and Daniel Vettori play together for DD and youngsters like Ashok Dinda(KKR) and Manpreet Gony(CSK) prove their mettle on an international stage and earn praise from their seniors. Last season, when Bhaji(MI) hit Sreesanth(KXII) many feared that IPL would destroy Team India’s sprit and unity.But after IPL I Indian Team has not only gained from IPL by including many talented youngsters, but also have won many numerous tournaments, home and abroad. The veterans of different countries also have nothing much to prove, yet they play for the spirit and the joy of the Gentleman’s Game.And the performance of veteran Shane Warne’s RR, was really appreciable.
Amidst all the glamorous film actors, flowing money and cheerleaders with skimpy dresses IPL’s core has always been the Game itself-CRICKET.

As the opening ceremony unfolds and Chennai Super Kings take on Mumbai Indians in the first match of IPL II, my wait will be over; so will the cricketing worlds’.

(P.S. I think you wouldn’t mind if I express my enthusiasm a little as a supporter of CSK, here..