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All the writers I’ve loved before

My creative writing assignment required me to list out 10 of my favorite books. Naturally, I forgot all the good books I had ever read and found it increasingly difficult to name any beyond three. So, I decided to name 10 authors instead— which weirdly enough seemed like an easier thing to do. In order to protect this blog from my post-publication scrutiny, I will be listing 10 good authors at random, from off the top of my head. While it is true, that this blog post completely deviates from the task at hand, it, in many ways, does more than what was required.

So here goes:-

1. Sylvia Plath

So throwback to my sadness phase when life was shit and everything sucked. Coincidently also a throwback to a comparatively substance-free phase when I discovered, or rather was gifted, Plath’s Bell Jar. As a part of my pretentious-i-want-to-be-a-writer journey, I read the shit out of it. And even though the book was bleak and truly dark, I was amazed at how much I could empathize with.

Kinda fucked up.

But anyway, that was my introduction to the profoundly suicidal Plath— a beautiful jeweler of grief, with every book being a timid reflection of the artist who birthed it.  Singing of truths I felt, and I’m sure Plath did too.

2. Sidney Sheldon

So there are good books. The ones that make it on everyone’s ‘to-read’ lists. The ones that are at the top of the ‘good books’ charts. The ones that win awards.

Then there are the slightly trashy but unbelievably gripping ones. The ones you have a love-hate relationship with. The secret affairs. Names you would confess and not announce.

Sidney Sheldon is one of those names for me. Writing strong, seriously sexist female protagonists and their prototypical male counterparts in insane thrillers encompassing the exotic charm of foreign countries, Sheldon takes you on a trip you literally cannot look away from.

3.Manto

A truly controversial, seriously hot, Partition writer, who was called to court for his inappropriateness more than multiple times. Honestly, I cannot even describe my love for a writer like him. Masterful and strong, albeit provocative and overwhelming, this short story writer is an indisputable classic. I urge everyone to read him. Simple and yet sophisticated. Painful and yet serene. Heavy, despite being short. Truly exemplary.

4.Woody Allen

So yeah I know he isn’t a “writer”. But honestly, he is so much more.

A screenplay writer. Director. Actor. And just one of those people you are glad exists in the same time period as you— which is a really fucked up thing to say, especially after the Dylan Farrow allegations. But this article is about art more than the artist, and Allen is an artist supreme.

Anyway, I got introduced to him with Annie Hall — where I got a taste of the maestro as all things he is celebrated for. Brilliant beyond words, funny and charming, I was truly swept away. And it takes much to accomplish that.

No, I’m really easy.

Then came Manhattan, Vicky Christina Barcelona, A Crisis in Six Scenes, Blue Jasmine and so many more. Some shit. But the others good. And the good ones were everything.

(Allen works according to the Law of Averages, churning out films blind to public reaction, hoping that in the multitudes made one would be actual gold)

This man has my heart. Hopefully, he will have yours too.

5. John Green

While this is shaping up to be a hopelessly disappointing list of great names, the article is about my great ‘loves’, and the John-Green phase was a dominant one for many teenagers (along with the Rainbow-Rowell phase). I could probably fangirl about Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but a 15-year old Sashrika, who was constantly flipping through that one ratty copy of The Fault in our Stars (in its pre-fame days), will probably tell me to fuck off. So dropping my pretentious-artist facade, I will talk about John Green.

So yeah, my doctor weirdly enough recommended this factually inaccurate cancer drama, and after that I only had two things on my mind— a serious doubt in my doctor’s qualifications, and also a fascination with the new world Green introduced in his paperback. It was the world of impossible teenage love, depressing cancer (pre-cancer fame), a disarming Augustus Waters, and an unbelievably intellectual Hazel Green— who obviously became my new secret idol.

So then I read more from this American author, who had possessed me, and consequently voyaged into a world of oddly intellectual teenagers with great sex lives, no parental control, and love amidst cigarettes. I wanted these problems, this great coral-film life. The prototypical Green female fatale was always hopelessly depressed and obsessively bothered with the apparent futility of her existence— inspiring a similar need to have anxiety, which I diligently diagnosed myself with. I called my boredom an ‘Existential Crisis’.

But really, it was just summer break and Instagram wasn’t a big thing then.

It was a phase. A bold strong phase that died as soon as it caught on in the rest of the world. Exclusivity was a big thing for me.

6.Sudha Murthy

Also known as my ‘7th-grade phase’.  Along with Agatha Christie and the ever-present Rick Riordan.

Also, Sophie Kinsella. Holy shit, what was that?Probably a manifestation of my innate perversion, which now only brings me closer to the likes of Manto. Looking back at this strange assortment, one can only sigh.

Anyway, Murthy was probably one of the first female writers I ever read, second only to the magnanimous Enid Blyton. She introduced me to feminism, as well as the ‘Indian woman’ and her conventional prisons. She also brought me childhood, when mine was a raging dumpster fire.

From what I remember, there was warmth in her stories— something I needed in the cold corridors of school in the new city.

7. Margaret Atwood

Oh man. I’m not even sure if I’m qualified to do this, but this is the one person I love even though she is nothing more than a warm acquaintance.

So yeah, I saw two shows — The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace. And yeah, I fangirled the fuck out of them for months. And then I thought, “Shit, I need to read something from her”—but oddly enough never got around to it. She is on top of my list.

But I did get around to reading this short story of hers— Stone Mattress. Fuck.

8.Ruskin Bond

This guy dominated my childhood. Young Sashrika started reading with this guy right here. And no, she didn’t read any of those ‘Rusty’ stories. Weirdly enough, she couldn’t stay interested in books that didn’t have a female protagonist. But she did read a lot of his short stories. An enormous amount of short stories. The first book she ever read was A Road to the Bazaar, and she skimmed through it and pretended to have had read it. Just like she pretended to swim up until eighth grade. Picture an awkward-gangly me doggy paddling and christening it as ‘swimming’.

Anyway, I did eventually start reading him. It was easy, clean and comfortable. I liked Bond immediately. And that had nothing to do with the fact that, for the longest time, my retarded self truly believed that Ruskin Bond was James Bond’s uncle. Thanks, Dad.

Bond is easily one of the better Indian writers. No questions asked. He stirred a desire to live in the hills— which is huge for someone who hates the cold.

9. Chekhov

Another essential phase. Amongst that of Maupassant, War and Peace, Virginia Woolf, and also Khalid Hosseini. Wow. I think weird assortments are kind of my thing now?

Anyway, another segway into the art of short story writing— another thing I probably would never be able to master, Chekhov came to me as a Hindi chapter titled: Girgit, conversely known as The Chameleon. A short, yet full story which, on the surface is just an ordinary plotline, but in actuality goes much deeper. I guess I was always fascinated with Son Papdi-style literature —with layers that make it so much more fun to analyze. Also probably why I took up literature later. Odd.

While the names of the characters are hard to get used to, a collection of his work is truly worth your time.

10.Gregory David Roberts

I guess it’s only appropriate to end with Roberts. Oh man, Shantaram — easily one of my favorite books. Probably my favourite? No genre can trap this beautiful piece of art that flowed through me and left me much too quickly. Honestly, a recommended read for everyone who is looking for not only a great book, but also a spiritual journey of sorts.

Is it sad that I can probably list more shows than authors?

Also after writing this I realized what a dumbass I am— 10 books are so much easier. I guess the ambiguity of authors saved me from the anxiety of picking specific books?

Fuck. I just realized I could’ve named a lot of great songwriters.

Holy shit am I smelling another post?

no

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Chawl

 Zakir’s chappals slapped the concrete as he walked back home, exhausted. For him home was a hole in the wall. A hole shared by his mother and baby sister along with a host of crawling guests that visited unannounced. A hole that smelled like burnt rotis and sewage. A hole that was carved out by impatient hands on a small budget. The walls of Bombay had many such holes and many Zakirs. Too often had Bombay seen these drooping shoulders supporting sunken cheeks and beady eyes. And too often had Bombay lulled itself to sleep to the sounds of their snores and silences. Snores that oft wheezed into silences.

Zakir was one of the many ants living in this wall, united by the moments of our community. Where nothing was yours or mine- it was always ours, even if you didn’t want it to be. So when Manto bought a television set in 1983 Ameena aunty broke a coconut on its frame. The good wishes split the display into two worlds and nothing had ever been as exciting as the ‘83 world cup on a buffering display of perpetual suspense. Like many other things at the chawl, its defect made it ours more than theirs. And so when the one-eyed dog walked into our walls for the week or when the rain outstayed its welcome, we did not complain. Because like the brick and cement, these glitches of poverty were all that we owned and all that made us feel safe. Because while they drank milk out of packets every day, the only milk we had known was the one Allah gave for the early six months of life. Because while we stank of hell and sin, the familiar musk of penury reminded us of all things we were and loved.

And so we remember, through the symphony of cracked backs and shouting children, that we have enough. That while we are more mortal we are more awake than the shiny people racing past our lives, afraid that destitution was contagious. Our deaths are ours and so are our births. The missing are never talked about and nor are any other plagues. We battle disease and dance with infernal fires that knock down our doors- chasing us. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of the print, so we never bothered with a paper. The roll count before sleeping was the only progress report we needed, Zakir’s chappals reminding us that we were alive.