Monday, February 18, 2008


It never really pays to think about what to write, you just have to start writing. It used to work really well during classes... when I couldn't bear to listen to whatever rubbish was being taught, and was physically incapable of falling asleep no matter how bored I was. Instead, I could draw, I could write verse or a story, or sometimes... I could write an essay. A critical discourse, passionately yet objectively putting forward my arguments and my thoughts. It was a stimulating exercise, this. Now, now I have lost all the ability to write well in third person. Even in my fiction pieces I tend to write in first person. This, while making the pieces seem more personal, makes it lose a lot of wisdom in the process.

Also, I stopped attending all that many classes. And off late stopped having so many classes to attend. I can now become sleepy in class, and need to fight to stay awake in a few. Unproductive, that. And pissing off.

Thus we come to this. With some time to go for lunch, I opened up Notepad in an effort to pen down my thoughts, hoping that something worthwhile comes out.

Allegory in fiction, though I have little experience with it as a writer, is a really good device. (Look at me. Referring to myself as a writer and all. Hubris it is, pure hubris.) It gives someone the power to talk about what they want: a situation, an emotion or a relationship; in a manner that allows the readers to grasp and appreciate the gravity or the subtler nuances of the subject, yet keeps them far away and prevents them from knowing the precise truth behind the allegory and in the author's personal life. If the author is good, that is.

On the other hand, allegorical fiction is sometimes thought very little of. The main reason for this being that the subtext in the piece of work far supercedes the actual bulk of the material in importance.

Then again, the opposite is more often true. Take Philp Pullman's His Dark Materials set of books for example. (The first of which has been made into a movie, The Golden Compass) It is tale set partly in our own universe, and partly in a parallel universe, one where people's souls have a corporeal form, as animals. It is a world where the Reformation never took place, and the church (the Magisterium, as it is called,) is as brutal as it was half a millenium ago. It's also the strongest body in the world, governing all aspects of life and policing them all. While the whole series can be thought of as a modern day, atheist version of the Book of Genesis, there's more to it. The subtext is all about the dangers of authoritative religion, be it Christianity or no. I guess the basic purpose of organized religion is to impart a set of good values and temperament to its followers, and once it fails to do so, it should either get the boot or some serious reworking.

I digress. This is not a post about the dangers and the idiosyncrasies of organized religion. That would have to be a much, much longer piece and I do not have the patience for it. I doubt that you would, either. An atheist preacher is among the lowest of hypocrites. (Now you know why I hate Richard Dawkins.)

The subtext adds meaning to his prose. The anti-religious overtones can be quite jarring at times, but if read in the spirit of things, it's quite alright. The subtext makes it more than some whimsical tale, set in a mystical world where Zeppelins are still in vogue and fundamental physics comes under the mantle of theology.

I'm flexible, but usually I subscribe to a more Tolkienesque opinion of allegory. In that it should almost never be used, and certainly not in an overt fashion, for it draws the reader away from the true beauty of the prose, as and how it is written. Appreciating fiction for what it is, not what it implies. The Lord of the Rings is a classic battle between good and evil, where good is good and evil is not just the other side of the proverbial coin. Evil also gets a rather Catholic treatment in the process, where evil characters were essentially good at some point in prehistory and fell at some point after.

It isn't too surprising then, that Pullman dismisses the Lord of the Rings as mostly trivial and not worthy of comparison to his own book. It was unpolitic and a little foolish of him, as a significant chunk of his readers would include Tolkien-loyalists who would be miffed at this dismissive remark of his, to say the least. However, if the comment were stripped of contempt and suchlike, the crux of his argument is that the two: his own work and that of Tolkien's are different and essentially incomparable. He prefers comparing his work to CS Lewis' Narnia, and with good reason.

In the end, it isn't a question of whether allegory is good or bad. Or better or worse. It's just a personal preference as a reader and as a writer.

PS. Note the time stamp. It is accurate. I started writing this yesterday, and continued writing it around 2 hours back, just before the Med Chem test. Alas, for I could not finish it then.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

It was late at night. The townfolk were of a superstitious kind, disappearing indoors soon after nightfall. Or perhaps it was just too cold for anyone sensible to be out. We were out, of course. Sensible is not an epithet anyone's ever given me, and with good reason. A lone light far away casted long shadows that seemed to race ahead of us.

And lo! We make it back to a cheery fire. Warming ourselves and watching others shake themselves silly, we head to our rooms, eagerly awaiting the next day.

Yawn. Shiver. Blink. Blink. It's sunrise. Photograph the spectacular sunrise vs. freeze your butt off. The former won, surprisingly enough. You'd think that something that looks so fiery would produce a little more heat. Hmpf.

Looking down at the misty expanse ahead of you, you see the sun melting away the top layers of the mist. Small peaks start jutting up out of nowhere, eventually telling us their true size.

Only for a little while though. There are lakes there, in the valleys beneath the peaks. As the sun rises higher, it pulls up more water from them, and the mist it begins to grow again, obscuring much of what was seen earlier. And then, then you see. The Nilgiris. The blue mountains.

Hey ho, lets go. And off we went. I clicked pics of a tower near the first base camp from various points of our little trek. A little reference point in an unknown world.

The fauna I'm afraid we didn't really get a chance to see (except for some bisons for a fraction of a second while on the bus,) but the flora... the flora was quite something. From the incredibly rare tree ferns to all variety of mosses and lichens to stuff we couldn't really place.

The tree ferns were very Octopussian. (Now, there ought to be a better term for that. Lemme know if you find one.)

The day it eventually came to a close. Eventfully, at that. One nutter in our group claimed that his shoulder was dislocated, and after much hue and cry he was escorted off. Bed rest is an excellent cure for dislocated shoulders, apparently. After having slept in a warm, cozy bed (as opposed to our sleeping in crummy overstuffed tents) he returned the next day, fit as a fiddle. Even his wife was embarassed about the "cunning" he used to get a good bed for a night.

Anyhou. Sunsets, like the sunrises don't disappoint in them hills.

Lie down. Squirm. (No place to squirm.) Twist. (No place to twist.) Kick. Get kicked. Shiver. Groan. And it's sunrise again. The watery, extra sweet black coffee worked wonders, I must say. The sun it peeked up from behind the leaves.

Turn around. And lo! You can still see the tower. (You can, too. Just about.)

And the day it had just begun.

PS. There's still more from whence it all came.

PPS. The title's from this little piece of verse.
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
PPPS. Foolish of me, I forgot to put in the picture that inspired the title. The sun had already risen in parts west of us, yet we were still waiting.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I simply had to write this post. George RR Martin, in his inimitable style, talks about fantasy and how some of us just cannot do without it. Escapism is almost always frowned on by society, but is it so bad, to want to run away from the dreary dregs that the real world offers us... for a little while, only for a little while.

I'm also openly advertising the book Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective, an excellent anthology of short stories written the this Titan of fantasy, science fiction and horror.

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real... for a moment at least... that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smoke-stacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colours agin, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the song the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere the south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I'd sooner go to Middle Earth.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pine country.

Yes, I will be going on about Kodai for quite some time to come. You better get used to it.

Walking through pine country was breathtaking, I saw hues that I never believed existed outside photoshopped pictures. What you see below is exactly as it was captured, no doctoring of any kind. I haven't even changed the brightness and contrast settings on them. Best viewed on an Ultrabright LCD screen (like the one in my über-cool lappie).
And yes, you don't have work half your brain cells to death to figure out that I'm just showing off my amateurish, yet brilliant photography skills here. (Only candour here, so don't call me pretentious. I'm rather proud of my photography skills, yessireee.)
He stood there in his three layers of clothing, as the last few rays of the setting sun vainly tried to warm him up. The water reflected a serene blue sky, throwing back hues that were a little darker, majestic and imposing. Dry pine needles carpeted the lake shore, inviting him to lie down and forget everything else.
As much as he wanted to do just that, he first wanted to take a closer peek at the lake. With good reason.
He came back from that sight, ever-so-reluctantly, and tried to lie down. As he did that, he get a closer look at the little things lying around.

Things like the grey pine cone throwing a shadow larger than itself.

Or like the bright mushrooms that seemed to be everywhere. Only much, much later did he find out that these were no ordinary toadstools, but were probably really special ones. Oh, if only he had known this then.

Or like an old tree trunk covered in multi-coloured lichens lying on the forest floor.

It would take anyone some time to take all this in. And some more to photograph them all. He was no different. Only after much time did he happen to look up. Things had never quite felt this surreal.

He lay there till someone jolted him back to his senses. Realization always hits someone later than it ought to. It was getting rather cold. So off he went, racing against the sunset, to be greeted by a roaring campfire.

He woke up the next day before anyone else. It's 5.30 in the morning and an hour before sunrise. He was an idiot and he knew it. Didn't deter him in the least though. It's pitch black outside, and freezing. Literally, at that, as he'd later realize. Three layers of clothing and the muffler and the monkey cap aren't enough.

Determined, he strikes a path to the lake. Before he gets too far, he notices a huge pile of bison dung. Fresh, that too. Sweeping arcs of the flashlight don't reveal any immediate threats. Which isn't all that comforting as he'd hoped it would be. Oh, hang it all he tells himself and goes down to the lake. His fingers go numb if he clicks more than one picture at a time. It's clickety click, and back under the cuffs and into the pockets for them hands.

Dawn. Propah. Only then does he look around and realize that the ground is frozen over! Apparently, that was one of two places in South India that can reach sub-zero temperatures.

Just when he thought he'd seen it all, something else caught his eyes.

Mists rising from the lake. With a rather interesting mechanism even. The water in the lake is cold, true, but the water flowing in from the stream is even colder. The colder water mixes only very slowly, and for a while it runs forward in streaks. The air above it gets cooled and the moisture in it condenses to give mist.

And the day it had just begun.

PS. He seems to be having a lot of fun referring to himself in third person. Even if it didn't come off as well as he'd hoped. Tired from using too many 'I's in his posts, this was a welcome relief.

PPS. There's more where all this came from.

PPPS. Does anyone know what I need to do in order to make these pictures clickable, such that you get a larger version on clicking?