WordsUp 2017 is a great initiative by my alma mater St. Xavier's College, Mapusa, Goa to bring the zing back into words and expressing them. Spread across 2 days over the weekend 10-11 February 2017, the sprawling campus witnesses frenetic activity as teams from various colleges vied for the top honours.
What took my breath away was the 'Writer's Corner' perched on the lip of the summit of the hill on which the college proudly stands.Under this leafy bower, sat a small group huddled in animated conversation when I made my appearance on Day 2. As I took as seat as unobtrusively as possible, I let the words wash over me. After I had listened to the drift of the conversation I decided to intervene.
Such is what I said: Young Adult (YA) fiction writers need not be fixed in their assumptions about what life is - or could be. When they hit their 30's life, they might realize, is a whole new ball game. ii) When you say you are writing for the market, don't compromise on your truth. iii) Who is your market anyway? Readers of print media are very different from readers on virtual media iv) Goan writers need not be hemmed in by the baggage of the past. They are free to draw on the history they are heir too, but this need not circumscribe a writer. v) Write you own stories -- not someone else's.
Rochelle Potkar was hesitant to venture into reading Jerry Pinto's Em and the Big Hoom (2014) because the characters in the book she is writing might start becoming like those in Jerry Pinto's work. This led to a discussion about what happens to a writer when his/her own work resembles someone else's. Nida Sayed author of Nasty Secrets (Cinnamon Teal, 2014) said she gave her draft to a reader and he said it read like Captain America. She refused to believe it at first, but later found it was true. I stressed the importance of ambiguity in a work of art. We try to give the readers all the answers. Cultivate the art of suggestion as one does in poetry.
When I met Rochelle later she offered me her card saying, 'I made a business card, because I don't have a business.' I had seen her read her poem 'Biscooti Love' at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival 2016. This one is by her from the same collection Four Degrees of Separation (20 Notebooks Press, 2016):
Don't ask a rose to wait.
There is no time in its petals
only the saga of one sunrise
and one sundown.
In The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories (2013) she reflects on the state of women in India. In the story 'A Place they Call Scary' she describes the life of young 12-year old devadasi in a temple. Sitting in in a conversation of drunk men in 'What Men Want' she observes, 'Every woman was one woman. The universal cunt. The wet, willing one. The juices that got herself and him flowing. . . . A woman was not her head or toe but the warm must-have place between her legs. Just like the colour of their whiskey was golden yellow, the same as their urine.'
Safina Khan Soudagar put out her debut novel The Arranged Love Marriage (Broadway, 2017). These are creative impulses which need to be nurtured. It appeal to YA fiction and the speculation about a life partner sits well with the newly spawned genre of speculative fiction. Frederick Noronha, proprietor of publishing house Goa 1556, spoke of how the years of life swept by, 'Our 20's went in studying, our 30's went in marriage, our 40's in children. And all the time we were trying to make ends meet. Only now in our 50's we can do what we really like.' He mooted the idea of creating spaces for a designation of Professor Emeritus. Thus a Professor need not retire from active teaching but can plough back all his/her experience into the University system in the golden years.
In the afternoon session I was the poet in the Writer's Corner. Gail Pinto, Words Up volunteer opened the session by asking When did you begin to write? I smiled saying as one grows older the question appears simplistic. I was always contributing to mids in the Navhind Times. But writing poetry came much later when I saw a tree being cut down in our backyard. Alice Barneto asked Why did you self-publish? I spoke about my journey. My trek to various publishers. The rejection I faced. But this was my moment and this was my space. So I self-published Last Bus to Vasco. I was helped twice by the Government of Goa with ads, the first time by Menino Peres and the next time by Sandeep Jacques. The next book A Peace of India I published alone as Govt. of Goa would not be interested in poems across India. I approached Incredible India but I was too small for them.
Prema Rocha enquired Do you miss Delhi and your work, now that you are into teaching? I said I have no regrets. I enjoy my teaching and it is good to give back to Goa. Anyways I am always editing my students' English. Gail asked, Can one teach creative writing? I said there are guidelines for writing. I shared with them my experience of how one lecture segues into another. Since we were doing Candida for the final year students I decided to ask my creative writing students to write a dialogue. One of them was going for a driving test that afternoon. I suggested that the dialogue be between the instructor and the student. What emerged was realistic. I asked the students to add one more level, viz. of creativity. Give it a surprise ending, spice it up a bit. Next you research and edit it and then prepare the final version.