An Indian Summer

It is burning here. Mercury hovers around forty. The mango trees keep the house shaded from the worst of the heat, but the harsh winds are unrelenting.

Cohen’s Nevermind plays on my device as we prepare for landing. It is appropriate for all the conflict in my head as I see the familiar skyline. I was born here. I spent years here, at my grandparents’ home, and then at a hostel.  I remember being eighteen and directionless, having a vague notion that the future would hold a job in a major city and a husband (chosen for me) who held a similar job in the same city. It wasn’t a dire fate to me then. I had very little perspective. I am first-born – no older cousins or siblings.  It was said to be inappropriate to look to others outside the family for perspective, so I didn’t. There was no burning ambition. There was a murky notion of a life’s purpose to be found in the pen.

I have been dabbling in writing science-fiction recently. Thanks to that, I happened to see unfold the drama in the community about Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. It was the last place where I expected extremism of this sort to flare up. Perhaps I had some idea in my mind about the genre being about exploration and world-building instead of agenda-pushing. There is almost always a sprinkling of an author’s personal philosophy and beliefs in a work of fiction, but rarely does that eclipse the actual plot in a good book. I read some of the works that were at the centre of the controversy and felt a bit tainted at the end.

Words have power over the reader, and a writer should use them carefully. Edit your work, have other people edit it, throw it all away and start from scratch, devote your life to it, rise above yourself – strive for perfection, because what you write has the power to touch your reader for years to come.

The recent trend of writing self-help books and publishing them online is something that bothers me. How do you know that you are helping someone? What kinds of tests have you run? Are you simply passing your own experiences as the general case? People try hard to improve. Using one of these uncurated, published-everyday by the dozen, self-help books as a tool towards progress can bring terrible results, or a lack of results.

[The same with blogs. Recipes and fashion tips are relatively harmless (as long as they don’t have lead or mercury in them?). The internet is a powerful medium, and an easily accessible one. When everyone writes a blog on how to best achieve a desired result, there is such a deluge of data with little information content. There is emphasis on sensationalism instead of results (‘Here is how I lost 5 kgs in 10 days’). Biases are hard to identify (what is the percentage of men and women using reddit? what is the distribution of the age groups? how does all this affect the experiences narrated or the recommendations given?). ]

It is becoming increasingly difficult to ‘trust’ unless you spend a considerable amount of time cross-verifying everything you read. While I don’t expect a blogger to have done comprehensive research, I expect a self-help author to have done that. A reader should have a seamless experience, without having to resort to cross-verification every sixth page, without being tricked into this or that simply because he believes the writer. If you think your work needs to be written, then it is worth the research effort. Don’t push that onto a reader. That is a breach of contract.

[end righteous indignation]

Nothing tells me that I am home as much as the breathless admiration that sets in when I see a beautiful woman from my home-state walk by. A form of voluptuous curves draped in the folds of the traditional white and gold saree, the lush hair tied back loosely to cascade down in contrast against the fair skin, unrestrained laughter with no regard to social constructs of female propriety – ah, I’ll never recover from the visual pleasure. Sadly, it takes considerable effort to move grain from chaff, to find one where grace is matched by intelligence, and I have little time to devote to that task.

[ Oh, hi! Hello, hyacinth! 🙂 ]

Have a good weekend. I hope to write more next week. I have a few, pleasant experiences to share about the science-fiction writing community I have had the good fortune to fall into.