Confessions of a writer wannabe

I have had different ambitions at different points in life but to become a writer was never one of them.But seeing my passion for reading, my friends in different stages of life had suggested I try a hand at writing. After resisting for a long time, I finally decided to throw my hat into the ring and started this blog in April 2008. Though I am still even nowhere near becoming a professional writer, my journey into the world of writing so far has been fascinating nonetheless. So as my blog is nearing its second Birthday, I wanted to reflect upon my experiments with writing.

When you begin to start writing the easiest thing to write about are opinions. As the crude saying goes opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and they all stink. The saying might be a bit harsh but giving opinions is the easiest thing. The key things to take care in expressing opinions is to structure ideas in a logical flow and to back your arguments with sound examples. Some humor and an anecdote can add a bit of spice to the otherwise bland piece. The main challenge with these type of writings is that it usually matters more who is saying than what is being said. When Brahma Chellaney the professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi talks about India's foreign policy, he has credibility. When an obscure blogger who calls himself 'The Fool' talks about China's intentions and why India should not be talking to Pakistan, nobody cares.

Once one gets into writing grove, personal experiences are the next easiest. This is more difficult than opinions however  because one would have to use words to bring to life the green experiences in one's mind.Unless one has a way with words, some of experiences that feel so exciting to oneself may look mundane to the reader. In this type of writing, there is a risk that one might go overboard and share too personal experiences. Everyone likes to peer into other people's lives. That is the core reason for people's love of tabloids, gossip and reality shows. So one might end up putting up one's own personal life on the stands for entertainment. The writer's purpose is to entertain with his writing and not to sell out the personal moments of one's life. So utmost caution is needed to ensure that the writer's description of an event is the source of entertainment and not the personal details.And the other drawback is there is only a finite number of interesting experiences one can draw upon and soon they run out. Take Chetan Bhagat for instance. His works based on personal experiences - '5 point someone' and 'Two states' were the most popular ones. Now that he has exhausted personal experiences, I wonder what he is going to come up with next. Maybe one on the world of investment banking. After that, what next?

One of the key components of any story is perspective. In real stories the difference in perspectives are subtle. But it is easy to understand perspective if one were to consider perspectives that are really divergent. I experimented with really skewed perspectives such as an ordinary event in present day viewed by a person from the past or the future, a film hero as a difficult company CEO, the election manifesto of a cow belt politician with ludicrously regressive ideas etc.

The most difficult aspect of writing is creating a completely imaginary story totally consistent within itself. It will have a healthy mix of different pieces from author's personal experiences blended with ideas from other works that the author might have read cemented together by the author's imagination. In doing this one has to freshly create the setting, the characters and the events and ensure consistency. For the past 2 years I have been waiting for my writing to gain sufficient maturity before I venture on a full length short story. Recently I came across a online story writing contest. I decided to take that opportunity to make my first foray into the field of short story writing.I managed to put together 'The Lonely Bus Stand' and 'Mohiniattam'.

Going ahead if I am able to manage these stories well, the ultimate challenge would be science fiction and fantasy stories. Whereas in regular stories, one tends to take the basic laws of the world as constant,in fantasy and science fiction one gets to vary them as well and see how that affects the interaction between characters and the event possibilities. Novels of course are a different league and writing an grand epic like 'Lord of the Rings' would be a dream for even established best selling authors.

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Reservations Policy : My views

Reservation has been a bone of contention in our country from the time of independence. There have been views for and against. As they say opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. I too seem to have an opinion on this one and what better dump for my opinions than my personal blog. So here goes.

Lot of people totally oppose any kind of reservation except railway ticket reservations. I am not really in the same train compartment as them. I rather believe affirmative action in form of reservation can be a positive social force but am totally against the unscientific and crude way in which it is being implemented. Let me first present the reasons why I support reservation and then the way I believe is the right way to do it and conclude pointing out what is wrong in the way it is currently being done.

A big nation like India is a conglomerate of multiple social groups. And it is a fact that people like to stay within their social groups and their future is tied to that of their social group. Clearly some social groups have managed to acquire a greater share of opportunities than others and try to exclude members of other groups. In this situation, it is imperative for the government to intervene to ensure a fair representation for all groups across spheres in order to ensure in the long run the group identities disappear and there is only a national identity. This can happen only if members of different group get to work with each other and interact across spheres. The easiest way to achieve this is reservation.

Having given my justification for reservation let me move on to what I think is the best way to do it. There should do a holistic nationwide survey to see what the social groups exist in the country. Government spends so much money on so many other things. I am sure they can spend money on this. This may also be an opportunity to give at least temporary employment to thousands of unemployed youth. This survey should give accurate figures of what the logical social groups are and what percentage of population belongs to these groups and what is their percentage representation in different spheres such as schools, colleges, government jobs, parliament, administrative service, white collar private jobs, blue collar private jobs etc. It will show which groups have representation that is less than their percentage population. All these groups should get reservation in the respective sphere equal to 50% of their population percentage. Say Muslims are identified as a social group and they constitute 18% of the population but in various spheres they are found to be less than 16-17% (90% of 18%), then they should be given a 9% reservation. This should be evaluated every 5 years and continued till they reach the 16-17% mark. They should define a creamy layer and exclude them from reservation. They should set minimum entry criteria. If enough candidates from the social group are not found satisfying minimum criteria they should open the seats to the creamy layer of the same group. That way it will be a focused and scientifically controlled program.

Now I will point out the flaws in the current system. Firstly one does not know if the caste based system represents the entire ground reality on social grouping. The next flaw is that they have broad grouping called OBC, SC/ST which may not represent the actual social groups which may result in certain groups within SC/ST or OBC garnering greater share of the opportunities than what their numbers mandate while others going unrepresented. Third the percentage are all arbitrary and do not have a basis on accurate data. And last but not the least, the way it is being implemented. An issue that has to be handled sensitively has been politicized a lot and given an image of caste struggle against oppression. Some leaders have even begun to give an angle of revenge to right historic wrongs against their social groups. So instead of seeking to destroy social groupings, reservations have become a tool for accentuating the social groupings. Leaders have emerged for every group and claim to fight for increasing the group's rights and share of opportunities. This has pitted one group against another and it is going to lead to an endless struggle with no resolution in sight.

For the solution described here to be put into action, one needs a strong single party government at the center with a vision and a true desire to work for the country's progress. The perceptive reader may point one flaw in the system I have mentioned- it gives incentives for certain social groups to increase their population and if social groups are based on religion to promote conversion. To avoid that, the government should bring strong population control laws and laws against any opportunistic or forced conversions.

That is my view on reservations.  I look forward to any arguments with a strong basis in reason against my views.

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Swami Nityananda incident : A few uncomfortable questions

The scandal involving Swami Nityananda has gripped public attention for the past 3-4 days. The TV channels are all abuzz with discussions regarding fake God men. But to me it raised a few uncomfortable questions of a different nature regarding the state of the country.

First let us see the facts of the case. What we have seen is a television footing of a so called saint in compromising positions with an actress. Let us assume for a moment that the video was not doctored. In that case what right does a public media have to air a video of private moments between two consenting adults? And then the reactions. So called members of public vandalizing the ashram property and government instituting probes to confiscate his wealth. All this happening within 2-3 days. Doesn't all this smell fishy? Consider some of the other incidents involving other individuals as a case in contrast.

We all have heard of the case of this senior police officer who molested a young girl and then continue harassing her ultimately leading to her suicide. Now 18 years after the incident, inspite of being convicted by CBI of at least the molestation, the man is roaming free. Except for a mentally deranged youth from Ahmedabad, no members of public attempted to cause him any harm nor is the government talking of confiscating his property. Then there is this case of the film star, who has reportedly raped his maid servant and medical tests have at least proven the maid servant's assertion of him having had sex with her. But no mob seems to be interested in attacking him or the government in seizing his property. Instead he is still continuing to act and I doubt if the public will boycott his films. And then we have this corporate honcho who is supposed to have embezzled millions of Rupees of shareholder money and adversely affected the life of so many of his employees. I don't see any move from the government to confiscate his wealth and give it back to the shareholders and employees. One can keep going over more and more such examples. And I have not even talked about politicians. Let us leave them aside for they are above law.

And as far as prosecuting him goes, under what law has he done something illegal? Are there Sanyasin law boards laying down what is right and what is wrong for a Sanyasi similar to Hindu and Muslim law boards. Talking of which I can't help but think about the hypocrisy of these religion specific laws. Whereas a man is allowed to marry more than one woman because his religion allows, he is not penalized for consuming alcohol which the same religion considers as one of the 70 deadliest sins. One member of the community does not receive any punishment after killing a person driving a vehicle drunk. Even if that is acceptable, what does one say about him continuing to drink even 7 years after the incident? Let him walk free and act in films and make money. But can't he at least be handed over to his religious leaders for a public flogging every time he drinks?

And then assuming the government go ahead and seize his property. What are they planning to do with it? Trace all the donors and give them back their money? After all aren't they the affected property if it is taken as a case of cheating? Or would there be well defined poverty alleviation programs for which the government would use the money? Or at least give it to the poor chief minister of a northern state who having spent all the state funds for building statues and memorials is desperately in need of funds to support stampede victims? I doubt. I am sure we will never hear what happened to all the seized wealth and no one will ask.

Thinking of all this, I begin to wonder if there is really a rule of law in this country. I don't think one needs to look far to see why Naxals and Jehadis are getting public support.As far as the case of Swami Nityananda goes, I don't know if Nityananda is genuine or a fraud and what will be the final outcome. Nor do I care. If he is a fraud, there are so many in the country and in the world. One more or one less hardly makes a difference. If he is genuine, I am sure he will happily accept his fate like the great martyrs and I am sure martyr's sacrifices ultimately do not go waste.

A reader who has read up to here may be tempted to ask "Ok. We accept all that you have said. But what is the takeaway?" Something similar to what my first manager asked me "Why do you always come to me with problems? Why not you come with solutions instead?' I have thought about a few solutions. Most of them may seem crazy and otherworldly. Maybe I will pen them down in my blog sometime. But how to make them actionable on ground, I still have not worked out. Maybe one day I will. As of now I only crib and theorize in air. If any of my regular readers feel these kind of ramblings have no value add, do post your views on the blog. Probably I will steer clear of such topics in future. After all I write to be read and only comments will let me know what will be read and what will not.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces