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Writing Story 2021: My Three Dragons

I am back with the third edition of my year-end writing updates. And what a year it was! A year of dragons, both personal and collective. They were with us everywhere we went. They stayed with us at home under quarantine, and followed us when we left home.

This year, dragons also became an important part of my work. They entered the zoom classroom of my course and led discussions on an arts-based approach to life. They featured in my story-based workshop on courage and resilience, star antagonists of participants’ pandemic adventure. As I reflect on this closing year, I share my three dragons, how they showed up in my writing and creative ventures, and what I did to ‘slay’ them.

Dragon 1: The Body

This was the year our bodies demanded our attention in many ways. In safety and immunity, in distance and isolation, in negotiating space with loved ones, in longing to be held or hugged, in fears of being held or hugged.

The pandemic also brought shifts in our experience within the body. Food became a primal source of enjoyment and comfort. Despite all the self-care, motivational quotes and yogic discipline, we succumbed to illness and lethargy, fatigue and exhaustion, age and heaviness in our skin and bones. Yet, there was something human in discovering our shared vulnerability, and looking back to a simpler time. I muse over these comforts and discomforts of ageing in my poem Younger me. The paradoxical relationship of women with food, with beauty and self-image, is central to my short story Fat.

I also discovered the role that theatre and movement have played in my evolving relationship with my body, bringing an ease, playfulness, and grounding that ‘living in my head’ never could. I share these experiences in my personal essay on this subject, written for a Body Positivity project.

Dragon 2: Past as Present

As life opened to a ‘new normal’, lines blurred between the old and new. While the present felt tentative and liminal, we coped with fantasies of the future and nostalgia of the past. We drew parallels with dystopian novels and sci-fi films, history, myth and fantasy.

As the past became present, familiar rituals were experienced as if for the first time- working in a café, meeting friends, travelling, dancing at a wedding. Along with old books and sitcoms, I revisited my own past writing that somehow captured realities of the present. In Ilaa turns into a woman, a young girl makes sense of her social constraints and shrinking zone of permissible movement. My poem Sisyphean Strivings recounts a recurring nightmare about the anxiety of leaving home and returning home.

Another blast from the past was reviving my PhD research for my first non-fiction book. It felt utterly familiar and truly uncomfortable at the same time, as I anguished over choices of tone, structure and the balance between academic and creative writing. Reaching out to friends from different worlds and worldviews brought in new perspectives and enthusiasm, and occasionally momentum. Overall, I learnt that time is more cyclical than linear, and that books and life both move forward at their own pace. 

Dragon 3: Grief

This was also a year of living and creating in the backdrop of grief, a living study on what is grief, how does it present itself, where does it hide and reside? We learnt to grieve not just people but lost times, ways of living and doing things, and former versions of ourselves.

I discovered that grief is a shape-shifting dragon which hides in the corners of your daily routine, and surprises you when you least expect it. It can take time to surface, numbing itself in the face of a significant loss. I explore this surreal phase of dissociation, denial, humour and ritual in my auto-fiction piece Fire therapy. Or it can live within you for years, stuck within a deep, secret place as the outside world continues to live on. My short story The Penthouse narrates a day in the life of one such man.

As the year drew to a close, I concluded that grief is an attention-seeking dragon which refuses to be ignored. It grows larger and scarier if you try to hide from it, or worse still, to banish it. It wants you to pause and really see it, get to know it, befriend it. So that is what I did, through journaling, poetry, colouring, meditation. I now try to co-exist peacefully with this dragon, and it behaves more like an ally.

I would love to hear from you. What was your year like? What were the dragons you encountered? How did you fight or befriend them? 

As we move into 2022, I wish you peace and belonging after this turbulent adventure, so we can all put down our armour and rest in our caves. Sending you love and gratitude for being part of my tribe, for supporting and nourishing me in your big and little ways.

A moment of serenity!

Writing Story 2020: Towards Silver Linings

This has been a strange and difficult year, unfolding in an ever-changing and surprising world.Last year, I started a ritual of an end-of-year update, to reflect on my writing journey and share it with my community. Bravely taking that forward, this is what 2020 was like for me.

Love and Difference  

My forever genre as a writer is love stories. What can I say, I am a romantic! Intrigued by the unusual and unrequited, I enjoy unpacking popular tropes, bringing together characters from contrasting worlds to uncover the approach/ avoidance dance of romantic love. This year, my published stories explore various nuances of love. ‘Coming-of-age youthful love’ in The Good Girl,  ‘Missed connections’ in What were we?, ‘Opposites attract but do they live happily ever after?’ in Sea Creature, Land Creature. In times like these, love is what anchors us and gives us hope and patience, love for our families, friends, communities, and most importantly for the hidden parts of ourselves. So many more story plots brewing within, here’s hoping they bubble to the surface soon!

Gender and Society

Another theme that intrigues me is the interplay between self and society–between individual agency and authenticity, and conformity to roles and norms, especially for women. Last year, I published a research paper on how age 30 shapes women’s work identities and aspirations. This year, I draw upon cultural narratives- history, myths and fables, to shine a light on how gendered structures replicate themselves in contemporary lives. In Ilaa turns into a woman, we dive into 19th century Maharashtra as a young girl makes sense of her changing adolescent world. The Lost Slipper, a contemporary retelling of a classical fairy tale, explores the power dynamics of class disparity. This story is selected as part of an anthology on violence against women, likely to published next year.

Integration and Expansion

This year I launched my author website, and challenged my resistance to social media. One of my struggles was around identity. Am I a fiction writer, a PhD researcher, an arts-based facilitator? How do I choose or balance between these possible selves? I am now learning to integrate these paths and find joy and nuance at their intersections. I taught my first postgraduate course on Art and Organizational development at my alma mater TISS. I published a research article on my experiences with Applied theatre in the management classroom at IIM Bangalore. I conducted an Improv session for writers at the Bound Virtual Writers’ Retreat. I approach next year with the intention to move into a more expansive vision of my work, grateful for the multiple platforms for creative expression.

Loss and Liminality

2020 has been a year of liminality, a constant feeling of in-betweenness, between past and future, isolation and connection, security and existential dread. Personally, I was grappling with ambiguous loss, grief and exhaustion. By the end, there was a need for a pause, to heal and recover. These experiences foregrounded the ‘personal’ in my literary choices, drawing me towards memoir and non-fiction. My story Fire therapy makes meaning of love and loss during the pandemic. I started outlining my first book, a work of narrative non-fiction drawing upon stories of radical career change and insights from my PhD research. I look forward to the inspiration and flow to complete this in 2021.

I do hope you too have found your moments of solace and belonging, whether in your creative projects, Zoom gatherings or hot cups of tea. And I wish that 2021 leads the way to our desired and much deserved silver linings!

My Writing Story 2019

2019 has been a wonderful and eventful year for me as a writer. I am eager to share my experiences and milestones with you.

Publications

At the beginning of this year, my strongest aspiration as a writer was for my stories to be published- to be freed from my notebooks and files, out into the world, to be read and hopefully appreciated. Initially, it felt challenging to put myself out there; whether it was submitting to magazines/ publishers or sharing with friends and family. Over time, I have been able to accept and learn from perspectives different from my own. Readers’ responses of course make it worthwhile; someone connecting to a line of  a poem or a character in a story. I had three new short stories and four poems published this year. Find them here.

PhD.

An important milestone (and a huge relief) was completing my PhD. in Organizational Behaviour. My doctoral thesis on career transitions is in many ways my first big writing project. Through working on and towards my research, I rediscovered my interest in writing and in human narratives. In seeing my participants as protagonists of their life stories, I began to think more deeply and patiently about the many ways stories impact our lives, and how we make sense of ourselves and our world through ‘storying’. I look forward to writing my first non-fiction book out of this research (wait for it!) and to work with narratives and other art-forms to facilitate learning and exploration in workshop/ classroom settings. More updates on how this unfolds in the coming year!

Process

By the middle of the year, there was a yearning to return focus to the process of writing. I attended my first Writers Retreat in August (Bound Retreat in Divar Island, Goa) and several festivals (Dehradun Literature Festivals and Tata Lit Live, Mumbai). Writing had up until now been both a solitary and intuitive process. So, it was exciting to participate in formal learning sessions on the craft of writing, receive feedback from fellow writers, work with mentors. This opened up possibilities to think ‘technically’ about aspects like setting, plot premise, and character motivation; and find my voice. It also revealed writing to be a social process involving a community of significant others- readers, editors, coaches, other artists and their work. 

Purpose

In the recent months, I have found myself searching for the purpose in my writing, and experiencing writing as a source of purpose during difficult times. I learnt that to think deeply about your stories, you need to think deeply about the world around you. To create compelling characters, you need to be aware of your own feelings and motivations, willing to ‘see’ and ‘listen’. Up until now, I mostly wrote stories about coming-of-age and romantic relationships in contemporary, urban settings. Now, I find myself in unfamiliar territories- writing historical fiction, feminist narratives, personal or memoir-style prose, exploring themes such as body image, identity and sexuality. I am now the Editor of ang(st), a new, exciting body-themed zine.

In the coming year, I am excited about moving forward in these new directions. I wish you a very happy, fun and love-filled 2020!