January 14, 2014

Studios of Your Selves: The Spaces in Which You Create

Writers' room, Jane Gardam, 2009 (courtesy: The Guardian)

Thanks to the glacial polar vortex that swept much of United States last week, I spent virtually the entire time house-bound and working on several writing projects: journalism, fiction, academic, and non-fiction (and of course, blogging!). For some reason, as I shuffled from one project to another, I started to become more mindful about how/where I wrote; thinking about that made me recall one of my favorite photography series published in The Guardian, Writers' Rooms, which were essentially portraits of the spaces in which the authors created their works. The writers' commentary about the spaces would accompany the portraits in which they would refer to descriptions of the spaces, such as the texture of the light pouring into the room or stories about the furniture surrounding them, unusual nicknacks populating their desks, and nuggets of insights into their writing processes. While it was fascinating to learn of how they wrote, it was also equally intriguing to see where they wrote.

 As for me, I have always been more concerned about my desk than the immediate surroundings. When I was younger, I used the vanity to display the pretty frivolities I had accumulated: miniature boxes, figurines, make-up, and jewelry but my desk was resolutely functional: a pen stand, journals and notebooks, and...emptiness. Even now, I find it difficult to work on a cluttered desk (whatever they say about cluttered desks = vibrant minds!) The rest of the room may be in calibrated chaos yet my desk has to be plain and unadorned and existing for one sole purpose: to be a space conducive for writing, whether in notebooks or laptop.


As I have previously mentioned, I haven't particularly strongly colonised our current living space, aware that we will have to soon dismantle and pack it all; and so, there is a conscious dearth of spaces which I have specifically carved out in which to create. At the moment, the only requirements I demand of a writing space is silence and a steady surface upon which to balance my notebooks or laptops. Apart from my home, libraries hugely appeal to me but incubating creativity in a coffee-shop is probably not for me: I would be much too distracted by the hustle-bustle and indeed, a human library of sorts to browse through: library of sounds, conversations and people!

But...say, if I were to have a writer's room or studio, what would it be like? I decided to play a little game of make-believe with myself and conjure up a Writer's Room of my own...

Indigo-Aqua (courtesy: Pinterest)
"One wall is indigo blue and that's because it reminds me of the sea of indigo-blue houses in my home city, Jodhpur. I don't like too many things on my walls because I prefer expanses of white spaces - even if you do see something, they are most likely to be statement pieces like large colorful abstract paintings or photographs, rather than a grid-like gallery of photographs, posters, and paintings.

My mother's shawl and My Mother's Wedding Dress
I drape my chair with several shawls and pashminas; sometimes, unconsciously, while I am writing and start feeling cold, I will pluck one out and drape myself with it - and when I finish writing, I am startled to find myself draped in it.They also add a lovely splash of color to the room!

Eccentric blooms and magazines

Apart from pens, my diary and journal, and of course, the laptop, you will also find a stack of magazines sitting on the desk: fashion, art, interiors, and celebrity gossip (yes, I plead guilty to this pleasure!) Suffice to say, I am a visual junkie: you never know how an image or even a line from a text may jumpstart my imagination.Finally, there is nothing like a vase full of variegated flowers, each with their eccentric, quirky personality, to impart character to room.

Well, it appears to be a rather sparely dressed studio...perhaps, with time, it will be a much more nuanced, layered room:)

What kind of a writing/creative space studio would you like to work in? And if you already work in a studio/creative space, I would love to hear its description!

January 9, 2014

The Season of Kites: A Kite Falling

Flying High

Often, while writing at my desk, my eyes straying towards my six month old kite painting sitting there, I have begun to sense that it has been waiting to speak to me for some time. The painting itself is quite simple: a cut, stringless fuschia-bodied and yellow and turquoise ear and tailed kite flying/suspended in a monotone blue sky above a tree-top full of paper pieces of kite. I didn't paint the kite; I instead glued a miniature paper kite from a bagful that I bought from a stall in New Delhi onto the canvas. The pieces of kite in the tree too are from one half of another paper-kite that I mutilated in order to adorn my painting. I cannot recall what it is that I did with the other half: it presumably sits alongside the other intact paper kites, marooned and wingless. I call the tree in my painting kite tree.

 Late last January, while visiting Jaipur for a literature festival, I used to see these kite-studded trees wherever I went. I recognized the kite remnants as leftovers from the mid-January festival of Basant when Jaipur ritually climbed up to the flat-topped house roofs and participated in kite-flying contests. Those kite-trees still retained that spirit of festivity and celebration and seemed unwilling to relinquish this unseasonal cargo of theirs, this blossoming of mutated rainbow-hued flowers. These kite-trees figure amongst my most memorable memories of that particular January in Jaipur: translucent blue glass morning skies, melted butter sunlight, and those happy, fecund trees.

It was sometime ago when I came across an article referring to the kite-eating trees in the comic strip, Peanuts; those trees sounded carnivorous, a pirhana-like sounding avatar of the scarlet-faced Venus flytrap. My Jaipur kite-trees and the one in my painting were not hungry: they rather accepted the kite fragments into their fold with outstretched arms, as that of a mother, affectionately feeding the kites' illusion that they were still aloft. It was akin to snowflakes starring a black coat, allowed to briefly retain their original and inherent individuality, rather than falling and congealing into the faceless floor of snow. You would not demote beauty into detritus by mistaking those snowflakes for dandruff; how could you then mutilate maternity into Medea by conflating those kite-fragments as objects of consumption?

 I am focusing on the tree although I know that it is the kite in the painting which seeks to say something to me. Let us train our gaze towards it. My kite appears an Icarus, his feather and wax wings silhouetted against the sun, supremely confident in this moment of aerial triumph. And yet, if you peer more closely, my kite is not as much airborne as it is falling and in possession of the knowledge that it will ultimately bypass the cushioned security of the tree. My kite is falling. My painting is a photograph of a kite falling. And I am sitting here and watching it fall, unable to do anything. 

 When kites fall in my part of India, telephone, electricity and barbed wires often disrupt their descent to earth; it is common to see kites ensnared in knots of wires, gradually turning into shish-kebabs of fried paper and wood over time. Otherwise, they fall flat on their faces and are instantly submerged in anonymity, becoming as non-descript as the nearby discarded wastepaper. At their luckiest, the kites will glide down onto lawns of house gardens; their prospective owners, the neighborhood boys will then cluster around the main entrance gate, unguently calling out to whomever they see to fetch the kites; sometimes, people of the house oblige, sometimes, they don't. The boys immediately squabble if and when the kite comes into their possession, fiercely arguing over who is legitimately entitled to acquiring this prized trophy of a furiously fought sky-duel.

Spot the Kite

I saw a kite fall this July. I was standing outside in my uncle's garden, contemplating whether to write in my journal or finish reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The air was sepia-colored, the clouds melted burnished brass, and the atmosphere thrummed with the kind of anticipation akin to that before a theatre performance. I finally sat down on a three-decade old viridian green metal bench, having abandoned both the book and journal for gazing hypnotically up into the blanched pink evening sky. There were kites too in the air: black rhombuses hovering parallel to each other, their strings pencil lines across the firmament. A baby cried; the music store next to the bakery across the road was playing a popular Hindi film song from four summers ago, instantly transplanting me to a similar evening then, redolent of the familiar odor of unwatered dust, growth, and the charged, electric finale to a deadening, hot, dull day. It was as if today had never existed and yesterday was static. I found myself holding my breath, afraid that if I exhaled I would never recover what I had just so serendipitously discovered. 

The dog heard it fall before I did. It started barking and bulleted from the house and onto the white marble verandah. The baby had stopped crying and I saw that a kite had fallen amid the stumps of the recently amputated lime tree. In the diminishing dusk light, the kite was pale-colored and sickly and I instinctively knew that no one would come to fetch and fight for it. It was destined to remain in that armless embrace until the sun and monsoon rain bleached and sheared it away into becoming a skeleton once more, returning it into the form from which it had originally grown. It had fallen and how: an ignominous descent for it remained in the limbo of falling and yet not having actually parachuted to the ground. It was a kite ghost: never to be trampled to mutilation, never to be worshipped as a trophy, and never to glamorously electrocute itself in dramatic pyrotechnics on electric cables. I wished then I could say that it was a beautiful sight, the fallen kite and the newly-turned kite tree. I could not, though, no matter how much I tried to photoshop tragedy: the kite was now merely a flat diamond shaped piece of paper and the tree, reduced and atrophied.

 I think I am beginning to understand what the kite in my painting is speaking about to me and why. It is asking me where it is falling. You are just part of a painting though, I should respond, there are no brackets to your story; the painting is the story in itself and like every other spectator, I too wonder where the kite is falling. This is the way I should respond. But I cannot. What is the use of starting to narrate a story that you cannot complete? Does not the story-teller have the right to know the ending of his story considering he is its very first audience? I am the story-teller in this case and I must find out where the kite falls. Unlike Daedalus, I could not warn the kite of the dangers inherent in the pleasure of flight; unlike Daedalus, though, I can surely narrate it the story of its fall. 



Come January and I reflect upon the many wonderful winter trips I have taken to Rajasthan during this month in the past. What with the festival of Makar Sankranti coming up, which marks the arrival of spring and witnesses many an iridescent kite dotting the sky then in Rajasthan and Gujarat, for example, I was reminded of this piece which I wrote several years ago. It was interesting to revisit it, both in terms of nostalgia as well as the writer that I was and the literary and stylistic sensibilities influencing me then.

P.S I unfortunately do not have a picture of the painting I write about in the essay. I still have these paper-kites though and some of which I have used to adorn my home, which I have depicted in this post. However, what to do with the remaining kites? Perhaps, it is time for another painting.

This essay originally appeared in Blood Lotus literary journal's Issue 8, March 2008; read it here

January 3, 2014

The Wall Project: Kasbah, Pittsburgh

Contemplating: Kasbah, Pittsburgh

Despite having encountered and photographed such an eclectic collection of walls in the last year, during my travels and particularly in Pittsburgh itself, where I have discovered a treasure trove of artistic walls, it has been really remiss of me to have neglected The Wall Project. So, let me now make amends in the new year and introduce you to all these walls...

I first spotted this intriguingly presented wall - the white Grecian-statue face frescoed upon a canvas of graduated mint-green - last July when I met up with some friends outside a coffee-shop across the Mediterranean restaurant, Kasbah of which this wall was a part. I meant to take a picture then but it was an overcast day and our evening abruptly concluded us with hurriedly scurrying back into the coffee-shop to escape being drenched in the summer storm.

Having dropped by that same coffee-shop a few days ago, the wall once again caught my eye. It was a rare sunny winter day and taking advantage of the soft, mellowing afternoon light, which gently marinated the surroundings, I photographed the contemplative face, wall, and the hedges for posterity. 

January 1, 2014

Dear 2014: A Welcome Note

...so you have arrived in our midst, quietly, unspectacularly. Last evening, after bidding farewell to 2013 by penning the last entry in the yearly diary, as I have always done for the past so many years, I took out your book- bound version and leafed through the empty pages. They exuberantly smelt of fresh ink and paper, newness, still uninhabited by the litany of meals to be consumed, conversations spoken, sights seen, and moments experienced which would rapidly populate them.

You are an unbloomed bud - and as you unfurl your petals, like a bird taking flight for the first time, I await to see the texture of your petals, hear your colors, and smell the music of you growing.