Boo boo in select company

Boo boo in select company
Something to say?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Lakshmi Saghal

Lakshmi Saghal - she died this week at the age of ninety-four. What a woman!

  Took me back to that day in August 1949, when she came to Thalassery. Harvest was over but the field known as Konor Vayal was still untidy. Dry tufts of rice stuck to the soil. So the clods were turned over very quickly - and sloppily - for the big meeting on her behalf. 
     She would address the crowds in our little town. The objective was to raise money for the forthcoming general elections on behalf of the Congress Party. Because the ground was uneven, reed mats were brought in and rolled out over the soil,our version of the red carpet.  (Where did so many come from?) They could not sit flat because the mud was all over the place.

     Mani and I , like many other children, were given little cardboard boxes, with a slit at the top, and instructed to collect donations from the crowd. I remember stumbling over the mats as I went from line to line of people sitting on those mats. Nobody really had any money those days, so the haul was meagre.

     We were allowed to wear our best dresses - shiny cream frocks with silver thread running through it. Naniechi tied my hair up in two big bows on the left and right of my face - I felt perfect.

     As payment for our efforts we were allowed to meet Lakshmi later, after the speeches and the felicitations. She was accommodated overnight in the house of a lawyer near our house and she met all of us in his sitting room upstairs. My impression was of grace and confidence.

     I remember her as young and very pretty. She had curly hair in a short bob, which was unusual in our little town. Bobs were for white women and the Anglo Indians, not for Hindu women. And Lakshmi was definitely neither Anglo Indian nor White.

     I had read much about her - she was known as Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan. Apparently she was a pilot in Netaji Subhas Chandra Boses's notorious Indian National Army. She was all those distant things, which were on my unreachable horizon.

     Of course the INA got a bad name because of its association with the Japanese army. Quite rightly too. But Gandhi and Nehru knew full well the dangers that the INA would lead India into and they made their voices heard.

     Bose split from the Congress party and went away. But it must be said that Gandhi's strategy of non-violence worked only in part. Violence broke out all over the North of India in 1947. The concerted punishment meted out to those caught rioting against Britain was terrible. The War was the excuse for this lack of moderation. And many Indian men and women believed that retaliation in kind was the only way India could persuade the British to get out.

     In retrospect I still believe non-violence is the most effective form of protest if ordinary men and women can sustain it under severe pressure. Last summer's riots in London are a case in point. Would it have been better for the protesters to lie down on the roads and take what came their way? Certainly the looting and running amok achieved little. Perhaps strong and intelligent leadership was missing.

I followed Lakshmi's life wherever I could find information about her. I rejoiced when she married Saghal, one of Bose's triumvirate. I am sorry to see her go, but she had a full and interesting life. What more can you ask for?



Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Colours of Words

I suppose we all do many kinds of writing. I'm thinking of honesty in connection with my writing. And where the writing comes from.

     I try to create fiction, but the fiction has its origins in reality. I cannot write about places or sense-images that I have never experienced. I'm sure I could pretend, for instance, that I am there in China, when I write about it. Fact is any number of books and videos will give me the details I need for the project. But no - I am not good enough for that. I would struggle and slip and lose confidence.

   Making fiction is a creative process - by definition.  Let's say, I have two people in my story discussing something mundane, such as the washing up, and I think, 'Is that what she would have said? at that moment, considering her character, her lineage? Decisions to make: would she have said 'I can't do that' politely, or maybe, just an obstinate, can't? What did that place smell of? If they are in the kitchen, did it smell of shallots or stale egg? What was the texture of the kitchen surface? I can play God and make up all these things.  That's the fun part.The words in this situation would have been neutral beige, like a great many British drawing rooms.

      Then there are flaming red words: anger exploding all over the room.  Rage has to be  - orange - red- incandescent white at the end. Purple, I think is about passion and gray about depression and that dull, barely-alive feeling. The words I like best are the green ones, about the outside, the calm, I-like-this-world words. In Kochi there are many of those. Life is slow, relaxed, like the small boats out on the back waters.

     However, in fiction there is no honesty. There is no transparency. Whereas the blog is all out there. No room for prevarication here, especially if I am writing for my Asha Molu.

     Whether blog or story the origins are the same. Thalassery the main provenance, the truest one. There, the colours are those of sunshine, of light splintering on the veranda-edge, of puddles catching the rays to show small rainbows. 

    There must be a lot of mud in it somewhere as well: we went to school and college bare- footed, we didn't own slippers or shoes. What was the point of them in that constant wet? And then again, the houses did not have lawns, they had compounds, which were dug up every year to make the coconut trees and other produce grow well.

    There were strict rules about where we left that mud from outdoors. After school we were not allowed indoors without washing our hands and feet in water from the brass kindi spout. The kindi full of water was a permanent reminder at the edge of the veranda. 

     Years later, in remote Kamakui, in the north of Sierra Leone, I was at a workshop. Our lunch of fish and rice had been consumed, but there was little water to wash our hands. The man in charge dispensed it in a dribble from a pot, carefully. Watching me wash my hands he said, 'You have done this before, haven't you?'

     Should I add mud to the colours of my words? Chocolate brown with flashes of palm green.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


I have not written for a few days - I am busy finishing my second novel. The thing is a mess. Needs about twenty edits and I am into the second.
     303 pages and 76000 words, straight from the heart - or somewhere close by.
   It is like the last clumsy weeks of pregnancy. Cumbersome and dull - waiting for something.
   The title eludes me too. Not a clue as to what I shall call the damn thing. Any suggestions?
     Set mainly in the war years in Thalassery and then through to 1960, ending after the communal riots in Ceylon of that decade, it traces the life of Indu, a little girl whose father is jailed for being a freedom fighter.. Quite autobiographical in the beginning and after that not at all.
   A journey of the mind and heart - what shall I call it?
     Wish me well.