Category Archives: Johntext India

Pitfalls of Writing

Photo of John Poolieli Matthew

When I started writing, that was ages ago, I made no secret of my ambition to be a known, recognised writer. Perhaps this was considered as insolence on my part. Nobody said a kind word, in fact, I was sure they were laughing behind my back, “What he? Wants to become writer? Does he know the language? Does he know anything.” I regret having told them that I want to be a writer. Instead I should have said I want to be something else, poultry farmer, for instance.

There were some people who deliberately vilified my writing. It led to a lot of damage and self doubt. Writing as Stephen King described is like, “navigating the atlantic in a bath tub.” Yes, it is. It is the most hazardous profession there is. Even a comma, or an apostrophe can go against you.

It’s a universal thing. You may have experienced this impudence by friends and relatives. They said all they could to insult me and advised me to take up something else. There is no money in writing. How will you make ends meet? There’s money to be made in journalism if you are industrious enough, you know, make the right contacts. Journalists are rewarded for their coverage by industrialists and politicians. But when I entered journalism I realised that it was already full of bright guys who clung to their positions like leaches.

Then I worked as a content writer, a technical writer, and finally as a copywriter. I felt the pressure here, too. They think writers are slaves, who can be persuaded to turn in an entire website content in four days, yes, repeat, four days. That also includes, proof checking, and seeing if the fanciful designer hasn’t botched up the copy. Then the chairman decides to participate in an exhibition in a far-off city and all the flexes, display material, and brochures have to be written and printed and reached to a place called Kolhapur. You are told to go there by train to deliver the material. In Kolhapur you are told to share a guest house accommodation with a foul-smelling site manager who spends an hour in the toilet every morning. That, too, for four days.

Yeah, people don’t respect writers. There’s scant respect for the scribe these days. In olden times a “scribe” or “shastri” was respected and honoured. In Bible there is mention of “Pharisees” meaning priests and “scribes” meaning writers. In India Shastris were respected members of the community, accorded the greatest of honours.

 

So where’s the respect for writers? Except for the ones who have earned millions.

Vacation in Kerala

The vacation in Kerala was eventful, a revelation of sorts, as it always is. So, here I am with a bag of tales from God’s favourite country. I don’t know who all will read this and benefit, but here it is, my impressions.

Firstly, uneducated Malayali men are mostly wild and impulsive. They revel in being wild and uncontrollable, ingesting a bottle of whisky a day without any qualm and badmouthing everybody in the process. They destroy their own lives and that of their family members without thinking. All they can think about is liquor and sex. There is one such specimen in the house opposite my brother-in-law’s (BIL’s) house. He drinks, lazes around home, uses the worst profanities with his wife and children, and does no work. He is a pathetic sight, slouching his tall figure and walking on the street, trying to act dignified. He has had no education and was a waiter in a tea shop before he was kicked out. His wife is the breadwinner of the house. She tolerates him to some extent but loses her cool sometimes calling him the worst profanities when offended. She works as a domestic help and earns a good salary which can keep a family alive. But he goe s to her employer and borrows money, which is then deducted from her salary. These are people who get rice at Rs 2 and have health insurance and a pension when they are old. Yet, they can’t manage and depends on what is being doled out by the church and other charities.

Leave this specimen of depredation and move along to the services. A malayali craves for a government job as a thirsty animal seeks water in the Sahara. Once inside the job, he knows he is lord and master over his domain. He behaves like a satrap newly appointed in his august post. I wanted the schedule of a new air-conditioned bus services from Tiruvalla to Kochi. On three occasions I was given three different timings. How could I know which one was true? I was disconnected after the most perfunctory information. “That’s all you get,” must have been the understanding among them.

Then I try the Tiruvalla railway station. Here the inquiry desk doesn’t bother to answer the phone. Dang! After ten tries, I give up, in frustration. Since I have a smartphone with internet I could get the train schedule online. Thank God!

The countryside is incredibly beautiful. There are lush palms and rubber trees waving in the somnolent air, punctured by the call of exotic birds. There are the backwaters which add to the mystique of a tropical paradise. Many times I have been tempted to get down from the car I was travelling to walk along the bunds that separate the fields and have a bath in crystal clear water. Kerala doesn’t have industries so the water is pure.

There are also unsightly sights along the way. This is to be expected in all towns in India. In Ernakulam where I stay with my brother there isn’t proper garbage disposal. They have to pay for garbage to be collected. So what happens if they don’t have money to pay? They dump the garbage on street corners. Stern warnings have been put at street corners, to no avail. People still dump. This is a problem with all towns in Kerala. Development has brought with it many problems, and the towns are struggling to adapt.

With talk of development, there isn’t licence enough to develop infrastructure. The Aranmula airport project is one such. After a series of see-saw tilts and nudging, the project seems finally to have met an ignoble end with the civil aviation ministry too having withdrawn its consent. It would have meant good development, jobs, visibility to a small village to which I belong, where I was born. Yes, I belong to Aranmula village. It’s sad that this dream didn’t materialise.

The Kochi Metro is another development project that is limping. Land acquisition along parts of its route has been held up due to court cases. The work is going on, but progress is slow. It will take more than a year to resolve all these and the project will go into further delay.

On the way back I take a flight, ticket for which has been booked six months in advance. At the check-in counter I insist on a window seat and am given an upgrade to a SpicejetMax seat. It gives me pleasure to see people who have paid tens of thousands in cramped seats when I enjoy complete legroom freedom in the Max seats. Hehe! Ask and ye shall receive what?

Melissa Studdard’s Novel “Six Weeks to Yehida”

Cover Photo of Six Week To Yehidah by Melissa Studdard

Elmore Leonard advised writers not to open with the weather. However, Melissa Studdard, author of Six Weeks to Yehida goes and does just that. However, in her novel, not only does the opening work for her and her story, but it also gives the reader the feeling that here’s a talent that can do much more. This is an instance in which opening with the weather has helped the author bring a fairy tale quality to the writing.

It’s the story of Annalisa who is wafted into another world on an ordinary day with her two sheeps. The novel has several snatches of verse which adds to the book’s charm. The characters and their personalities grow on the reader and the wonderful vulnerability of the protagonist makes one sympathetic to her. Her adventures take her to bizarre worlds, lending the novel an Alice in Wonderland kind of charm. Bob the guides impresses, so does Kana.

It all ends when she realises that the magical world she has traversed was a dream and that for six weeks she was in a coma. This twist in the tale impressed me as a reader, and would impress any reader of this engaging book.

All through the book I could detect an Indian connection in words such as: Bharat Ratna, Sari, etc. Could it be that the author is a lover of India? In that case she should write a novel on India.

Subscribers Johntext India

Photo of Hans-Jürgen John

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Hans-Jürgen John is Hans John (@rafaelofirst) on Twitter and Hans.John.16 on Facebook. Hans writes on www.johntext.de and www.tage-bau.de

Book Review: Orfeo by Richard Powers

Cover photo of Orfeo by Richard Powers

Orfeo by Richard Powers is a novel that combines sci-fi with sheer mundane things like a hobby turning into an ordeal. Els is a chemistry man, a geneticist, and a life-long music addict, who plans to weave music into DNA strands in his hobby laboratory at home. He tinkers with genetic modification using equipment bought on internet sites. In addition, he composes music, and has done a few shows with his friend Richard. He is divorced, estranged from his only daughter, and lives the life of a recluse. The only thing that goes wrong in his sedate life is that he is found out when his dog dies and the police come to investigate. The policemen suspect him to be a bio terrorist and one day coming back from his morning walk, he discovers that his home has been broken into by the security agencies. He runs away, a fugitive now, sure that his genetic experiment will be viewed as being of grave security concerns by the agency, and he would be implicated.

Desperately, he runs away from home, drives through multiple states using a student’s smart phone. He realises he lives in the hell that is the modern world where every phone call can be traced to the exact location. So, wary, he plods on from state to state, depending on cash transactions, as he knows his credit card usage will be monitored by the agencies. There are excellent passages in the novel that brings us closer to the character of Els, his genius, his knowledge of music, his understanding of modern technology. Also he pre-empts discovery and arrest by his vast knowledge of science and technology.

For example, “(Russia) crumbles into a dozen-plus countries. All the world’s data weaves together into a web.” The language is terse and therefore the author holds reader in thrall, imagining what the next revelatory sentence could be. “Els said ‘do not invent simply discover.’ One or two of them understood him.” These are the sort of stray gems littered throughout the novel.

Els’ journey takes him on a whirlwind tour of the states of the United States and his wry humour keeps us involved. He visits his estranged wife and daughter. However, in the end, when he is caught in his daughter’s home, the narrative encounters its major stumbling block. There’s too much of technical details, beyond the comprehension of the lay reader. That’s the only drawback in this excellent novel. However, on the whole it’s a novel that entertains with the sheer brilliance of the author’s knowledge and innovative use of language and keeps us on the edge wanting to know more.