Saturday, October 19, 2013

My tryst with co-writers

My tryst with co-writers started long time back, very unexpectedly. It was just a few days before the higher secondary exams. Lately, my problem with writing had aggravated significantly. I'd noticed it for the time first time, perhaps, few years ago, before the secondary exams, when I realized that my pen would suddenly stop moving, how much ever pressure I exerted with my fingers. Later I learned that this is something called writers's cramp, a rare neurological disorder, which can't be cured easily. Certain muscles in our body can suddenly get fatigued and restrict certain actions. In my case, the action was writing. Unknown to myself, I'd given the secondary exams with writer's cramp and continued for two more years. But suddenly, just before the higher secondary exams, I realized that I was no longer able to write even a single line, effortlessly, forget writing a full paper for three hours.

Providence had been always providential to me. She'd always appeared before me at the right time, with the right solution, whenever I had a problem. This time too she appeared in front of me and flashed the solution in a wink of hers. There were a few visually challenged students in our college and they gave all the exams with the help of writers - they dictated the answers and the writers wrote on behalf of them. I went to the principal and requested him to arrange for a writer for me. A whimsical one, the principal took time to appreciate my problem. 'You've to get approval from Vikash Bhavan,' he said, asking me to go to the administrative office of the Ministry of Higher Secondary Education in Salt Lake. My mother and I went there the very next day and met the right person. The officer expected someone with no or broken hand, but was surprised to see me with everything visible in right order and number. 'You're not handicapped!' he exclaimed. The mention of the word handicap reminded me of the seats in buses and trams, reserved for physically challenged people. Was he concerned that I sat in those seats? 'Sir,' I said, 'I've writer's cramp and I can't write.'
'Why can't you write?' he asked, staring irritably at my unbroken and intact limbs.
'Sir, I've writer's cramp,' I repeated. 'The muscles on my hand get fatigued...'
'Okay,' he interrupted, and passed a white paper to me. 'Write an application,' he asked. I knew it was my test. I wrote a few lines in English, stopping at each word, and dragging the pen to the next word, as if I was lifting a heavy weight and dragging it along a rough road. I passed the test - I could prove that I was handicapped.

Next a writer was assigned to me - a stout guy, a year junior to me, who had acted, I recalled, in the role of a fat and funny villain in a mythological drama in school few years ago. The language papers went well, with me dictating the answers to my writer. The problem happened with the maths paper. While I was thinking how exactly I would 'dictate' mathematics to someone, I didn't realize that my writer had already fallen asleep. I turned back as his snores were loud enough to shake me off my contemplation. I jerked him and he sat straight, with an apologetic look. 'I'd to see a movie last night,' he said excitedly, 'and I returned to the hostel quite late. I couldn't sleep much...' He was a big fan, he said, of Ranjit Mallik, an aging Bengali actor whose latest action flick - a genre funnily interesting in Bengali films - had been released the previous Friday. I asked him to wash his face. By the time he returned, I'd already started answering the maths paper myself, struggling to write the numbers and Greek alphabets slowly. Luckily, I realized, I could somehow write the numbers, with some effort.

So, from being a writer, he became a co-writer.

Years later, I'd just completed my first book, The Ekkos Clan, and was working on my second book. I no longer needed to write with pen. Typing into a laptop luckily didn't fall under the jurisdiction of the muscles which would get fatigued in the past. So it was not an issue for me to become a writer, despite the writer's cramp. The Ekkos Clan is a fast paced mystery novel, where there was not much scope for writing about romance, love, passion, sentiments etc. It was based on lots of facts and the events happening one after another, without much break or respite either to the characters or the readers. It was like the jhala, the final movement of an Indian raga recital, where a plethora of notes are played very fast, not giving any time to any note to settle down, or linger languidly. On the contrary my second book was a romantic one where languidly lingering is the key aspect of writing. Love needs time to grow. It needs leisurely moments to appreciate the beauty, feel the passion and swim in the graceful thoughts. If there's no time, no leisure, there can't be love. It's like these lines from Ghalib I'd used in The Ekkos Clan

Fursat-e kar-o-bar-e shauq kise, zauq-e nazzarah-e jamal kahan?
Dil to dil woh dimag bhi na raha, shor-e sauda-e khatt-o-khal kahan?
Thi woh ik shakhs ke tasabbur se, ab woh ranai-e khayal kahan?

Leisure for the workings of passion, who has it? An appreciation for the glance of beauty, where is it?
Not to speak of the heart, even that mind didn’t last, the tumult of the madness of a mole, where is it?
Was in the imagination of someone, but now, that gracefulness of thought, where is it?

Love is all about fursat-e kar-o-bar-e shauq, the leisure for the workings of passion, shor-e sauda-e khatt-o-khal, the uproar of the madness over a small mole on the cheek of a woman. It's like the alaap, the first movement of an Indian raga, where there's no haste of rhythm, no bondage of meters, no laya, speed. Each note is played leisurely and allowed to settle into the depths of the senses. Each note is given enough time to gracefully float around. Each and every minute aspect of the sound is allowed to grow and create a magnificent ambiance. That's when the laya and chhanda, the tempo and the meter, the various forms of garnishing and ornamentation make sense to the listener. And this is where I realized I would falter. My style is like the jhala and what I need is the alaap, which is perhaps beyond my capabilities to create.

That was when I felt I could get a co-writer who would create the alaap for me. I tried to figure out how many such collaborations are there in Indian fiction writing. To my surprise, I realized that there are not many fictions co-authored by two people. But I found it very logical. If collaboration works in corporate houses, why can't the same work in writing? After all, a novel is also a product, like a phone or a tablet, which need diverse skills to create complimentary features all of which add up to the satisfaction of the users. The skill needed to design the attractive casing of an iPhone and that needed to create the touch screen are totally different. Both the skills need creativity and the end product, the iPhone, needs to be a perfect solution with the various solutes seamlessly disappearing in the solvent. How's that different from a novel with complimentary writing elements merged seamlessly into the plot and narration? I would provide the jhala and my co-writer the alaap.

So I started looking for a partner, someone with whom I could collaborate. But how do I go about? I registered into various literary groups in Facebook and tracked each post. Almost all appeared to be too intellectual, most of which I didn't even understand. Suddenly one day I bumped on a post, a very simple one, and I had a feeling this was what I wanted. The post was by a lady, whose name told she's a Bengali. I went to her FB page and read a few other posts. I figured she has the habit of writing something every few days and posting it on her wall. More I read more I realized I needed her to co-write my second book. That leisure, fursat-e-karobar-shauq, that attention to the small things like the tiny black mole on the cheek, that languid playing of the notes of an alaap - she has everything.

I sent her a message requesting her to read my newly released book The Ekkos Clan. 'I only read canonical books,' she said very bluntly. I understood I write non-canonical books. I didn't lose hope. I sent her a friend request. I started communicating with her and in a few days I finally divulged my intention. I believe she was more shocked than surprised with such a proposal. Out of courtesy, I believe, she agreed to check the first draft of my second book. I sent her the PDF. Very soon she said I write quite bad. 'It's cliched,' she said. Still I didn't give up. I kept on communicating with her, discussing about our common admiration for Tagore songs and music in general. But very soon a misunderstanding happened and she blocked me.

So that's what I would say a "writer's block", a nightmare to any writer!

My tryst with co-writers continues.

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