Friday, March 16, 2012

Long Break

I'm on a long break, of a couple of weeks or more, from the blog.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

VS Naipaul’s (Writing) Rules for Beginners

In his introduction in ‘The Humour and The Pity’ Amitava Kumar, the editor, mentions coming across a list of rules that the writers of ‘Tehelka’ magazine (on whose board of Trustees Naipaul is a member) had asked Naipaul to give to improve their own writing. It is through ‘The Humour and The Pity’ that I found at Abids recently that I came across these seven rules for writing that are simple and yet highly useful for those learning to be writers. Here they are, ‘VS Naipaul’s (Writing) Rules for Beginners’:

1. Do Not Write Long Sentences. A sentence should not have more than 10 or 12 words.

2. Each Sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

Friday, March 09, 2012

A Haul of Penguins

There are a lot of books on India and Indians out there on the bookshelves, written by Indians and others. Of these I have a few on my own bookshelf like Pavan K Varma’s ‘Being Indian,’ Sunil Khilnani’s ‘The Idea of India’, Naipaul’s ‘An Area of Darkness’ and ‘A Million Mutinies Now,’ Mark Tully’s ‘No Full Stops in India,’ and books by otherwriters. I have managed to read only the books by Naipaul and Mark Tully. It is not enough to know superficially about India but one needs to know about the history, culture and everything else required to understand the country and the countrymen. The more number of such books one reads the more you realize how little you know about the country. But it requires a different frame of mind to read such books and understand what they have to say.

Anyway, the previous Sunday I had seen four books that I wanted to buy but could not for some reason. I was relieved that I found all the books except one book intact at the seller at Chikkadpally this Sunday. Only ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ was gone which was okay since I had already read it long back. Of the remaining three books I picked up only two- ‘The Argumentative Indian’ by Amartya Sen and Shashi Tharoor’s ‘India; From Midnight to the Millenium.’ It was a tough bargain with the seller but I gave up and paid what he asked for- a hundred and fifty rupees for each book. It meant that I had to leave alone Amartya Sen’s ‘Poverty and Famine’ which looked the sort of book with a lot of tables and statistics, something which is difficult for me to understand.

After spending two and hundred and fifty rupees on just two books I did not expect to buy any more books later at Abids. However, having developed a sort of nose for good crime fiction (mostly due to luck) I’m still picking up good enough titles. When I saw Sarah Dunant’s ‘Birth Marks’ I picked it up for two reasons- it was a Penguin title and I could get it for only twenty rupees only. I hope it turns out to be as good as another random title that I had picked up the other Sunday- Jake Arnott’s ‘truecrime’ that I’ve already finished reading and plan to write a review about one of these days.

The next find was a book that I almost did not pick up though it was a title on my ‘To Buy’ list. I saw Eric Newby’s ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ at one of the sellers who asked eighty rupees for it. I showed him a sticker on it that had Rs 90 written in pencil and asked him how he could ask eighty rupees for it. He then turned over the book and showed me the price in pounds ($ 7.95) at the back and said that was the real price. I asked for thirty rupees but he wanted nothing less than forty rupees. By then I had decided not to go beyond thirty rupees even if meant losing the book to someone else. Ultimately he did not agree to my price and I walked off but not without regret at being too stubborn.

Later in the afternoon I realized I could not afford not to have the book and so rushed to Abids. Luckily the book was still at the same spot where I had seen it in the morning. I picked it up at forty rupees consoling myself that the book was worth much more than that and returned home feeling very glad. Curiously enough, after I put the Sunday’s haul on the table at home I noticed that all four of the titles I were Penguin titles.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Dose of Calm

There’s nothing more stress busting than spending an hour early in the morning near a lake all alone. Never was the need for a dose of solitude more felt than now what with a busy work schedule playing havoc with my mind and body. I desperately need a vacation somewhere near the sea in a cooler climes but as luck (and my finances) would have it I can never hope to go anywhere other than the Necklace Road for a couple of hours that too early in the morning on a Sunday. It is exactly what I did on Sunday. I was there much before the sunrise, in fact it was so dark I actually had to search for the bench I usually sit on.

Somehow I felt that the magic of my earlier visits had waned or was missing. I wonder if it had something to do with the fact that a major part of the wrought iron railing on the edge of the lake was missing. The whole place seemed to be lacking in upkeep. Then there was the fountain that got switched off at exactly six making a whooshing sound and shattering the calm of the morning. However, the sunrise itself was magical and calmed the nerves. I sat for about an hour trying to get all the major worries out of the mind but not exactly succeeding completely.

There are some places where things are totally different early in the mornings. Irani hotels are such places where one can spend an hour or two poring over the papers in an unhurried atmosphere. After spending an hour or so watching the sunrise by the lake I sat in Adarsh CafĂ© going through the Sunday papers while sipping on Irani chai. As usual there is never anything interesting in the papers except the pictures. As usual a couple of the waiters picked up the papers lying on the table and went through the pictures of movie stars. My friend the smoker wasn’t to be seen since a long time. The last I had come to Adarsh so early in the morning was sometime in November or earlier than that. I spent an hour reading the papers and returned home ready to face another month of turmoil.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The Haul That Wasn’t

On most Sundays the regret of not buying all the good books I see at Abids is offset by the joy at having picked up at least one good book among them. On the Sundays I do not find anything there is a sense of disappointment. But it is difficult to explain how I feel on the Sundays when I do not buy the book that I later tell myself that I should have bought. The reasons for not buying are only a few- money and sometimes a sense of cockiness that the book will be around. Last Sunday, being the last of the month, money was the reason behind not buying the books I saw.

At Abids I get most books that do not cost more then fifty rupees at the most, and most of the books I buy do not cost more than twenty rupees on an average. When I come across books that are priced at hundred and more rupees I get second thoughts unless it is a book I must buy. Last Sunday I came across not one but four books that I wanted to buy right away but couldn’t buy even one. That’s because the seller asked for hundred rupees for each book.

The seller had two books by Amartya Sen’- ‘Poverty and Famine’, ‘The Argumentative Indian’, and also Shashi Tharoor’s ‘India’ and Robert M Pirsig’s ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ that I wanted to buy. What added to the urgency of my desire to buy these books was that the copies were almost new and original copies. I wouldn’t be able to get them anywhere at those prices. But sadly, it was the end of the month, my wallet wasn’t exactly full and I had almost another week to go before payday. So with a heavy heart I let them be. I forgot to tell the seller to keep aside the books until next Sunday. Now I wait for the next Sunday with a prayer on my lips hoping that no one would have bought those books.