Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules for Writing a Short Story

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WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT LIFE BY WATCHING PEOPLE DIE

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Death is a fearful word,but inevitable.

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“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

Mark Twain

I was a child the first time I saw a man die. I don’t remember the event as particularly traumatic. The man was a stranger and I watched the tragedy unfold through a window, the glass glaring the line between reality and fantasy and giving the sensation of watching a particularly disturbing television program. While swimming in the basement pool of our apartment block my father, sister and I noticed a group of 3 people sleeping on the private dock outside the building. We saw the beer bottles and noted that all three were in their underwear and figured they were just “sleeping it off”. My father ran outside after one man got up, stumbled to the end of the dock and got into the…

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Amaryllis

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Its simply amazing piece of prose.The words draw you into a world of your own

Intensify It

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Shinedown – Amaryllis

‘I don’t want to tell you who I am,’ she whispers just as I’m thinking how much I want her to keep talking.
I want her to talk to me until I know enough to make her the main character of a novel I’d never even thought of before her.
‘You don’t have to,’ I say, ‘but I would love to discover you.’
‘Create me, then.’
She takes my hand and wraps it around her waist, and as I hold her I think that maybe this girl shouldn’t be out there. I shouldn’t think of her as a character, artistic as that might be. She doesn’t need to belong to the world. She doesn’t even have to belong to me. Some paintings aren’t meant to be exposed, they’re only meant to express something.
To keep flirting with God’s masterpiece feels almost embarrassing. I just want to capture her essence and remember it…

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Intellectual Freedom vs Censorship

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As a librarian, the hardest part for me has been when I have asked an eager student not to pick a particular book just because the teachers felt it was inappropriate for the age. The long drawn face still lingers with me, years after the experience. The incident made me think that how can a teacher be the judge for a child as to what he/she should read. Isn’t it impinging on the Intellectual Freedom of the student?

The school libraries play a very pivotal role in dissemination of information and promoting intellectual freedom. It serves as a nodal point of voluntary access to information and ideas in the form of books, periodicals, journals and other materials. They also serve as learning avenues for students as they acquire critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Thus stopping a student from accessing a material is equivalent to censorship, thereby flouting his/her freedom to read. And yet creating a curiosity in the young minds about the content of the book, as they say forbidden fruit tastes better.

The ALA( American Library Association) describes censorship as, “Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! ” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone”. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship/faq)

Being an avid reader, I was devastated as a student myself when I found some of the most popular classics to be banned for the flimsiest of reasons. But, on the other hand it also throws light on the issues that the authority fears the most, or the society wishes to suppress. For eg: Little Women  by Louisa May Alcott  was challenged frequently for having female characters that are independent, resilient and open to make their own choices. This was unacceptable at the time it was published. Similarly, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie  has been banned and challenged on the grounds of promoting homosexuality and miscreant-ism!!!!! Any answers to that??? A book that is a classic par excellence, which is a blend of pure fantasy and magic, transporting the readers to an adventure ride is seen as objectionable !!!!. But then , the question arises: Who gives the power to curtail the freedom to read? and why? Please answer.

In my 9 years as a Librarian, I have invested my time, energy into acquiring all types of  resources for my students. I have made it a task for myself to satisfy their hunger and yet keep the hunger for more. But out of the blue,  there is an email, or a letter asking me to explain myself as to how I let myself fail at the job, and allow the students free access to all kinds of books. It is not pleasant to read or answer them since may parents and teachers refuse to understand my stance of defending a books, and end up using very harsh language against me. It took a lot of courage, integrity and character, not to answer them in their own tone yet defending my reason. Most often I have had to back off since Heads also do not accept the stance of why a particular book should not be removed.

It has been of utmost importance to me to be judicial when dealing with students. They are like open pots. So I refuse to label a book that might prejudice a potential reader. I wish to fill them knowledge that surpasses all kinds of prejudices, biases and intolerance. I take it upon myself as a librarian to “defend the right to read, to speak, to learn, to explore, to question, to differ, to contradict, to grow, and to think?”. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship/faq)

To educate my students, I organised Banned Books Week, to educate them about their Right to Read, Intellectual Freedom and Censorship. My efforts paid off. The display board outside the library was the ‘Talk of the School’. And even now I have students stop me and discuss as to why they feel its unfair to put a blanket ban on a books, or the judge of a book should be the reader. They were thinking for themselves and also questioning the rights of the author to be read , and the rights of a reader to read, reasons why a book was banned when the author wrote for the very same reasons to come to light, etc. The appropriateness of a book should not be handed down, rather one should judge themselves whether the content is suitable or not. Here,  I would like to add what Michelle Luhtala, Library Department Chair, New Canaan High School, CT, had said in one of her webinar: ” We will have a book for every child, but not every book in the library is right for every child”. 

Thus my job as a librarian becomes even more riskier since we are always under scrutiny for allowing the freedom to read. I would also like to add  that the mere presence of a particular book in the school library does not imply endorsement of the ideas expressed by the author. The library is simply acting as a a neutral provider of information . The freedom to read is essential for our world today to harvest young minds that make informed decision, and develop creative culture.

So dear all, if you find your favorite book in the library, be appreciative and grateful of the librarian who has been the voice behind it being there for you, defending  your right to read.

 

 

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There could be no better timing than this to be writing the book review for a book by Krishna Sobti. The 2017 Gyanpith Award winner, also known as the grande dame of Hindi Literature.

The book I am reviewing here is To hell with you Mitro. This book caused an uproar upon its publication owing to its language which is sexually explicit. Krishna Sobti wrote at a time when desires of women were to be suppressed and she did not openly express her desires. In Indian patriarchy, women have been given stereotypical roles as a mother, wife, mistresses or sex-object which man uses to gratify sexual appetite.  Sobti compels us to rethink the status quo through her strong and vocal female characters. Articulating provocative issues in her novels, she yanks society out of its comfort zones.

To Hell with You Mitro (Mitro Marjani) is the story of Sumitravanti, nicknamed as Mitro, the unstoppable daughter-in-law of the Gurudas household. Her mother-in-law aptly describes Mitro’s character in few words, “When she’s good, she’s better than the best. When she’s bad, she’s worse than the worst. If in a good mood Mitro is your friend and all her belongings are at your feet. At other times, she becomes so estranged that she spits on her husband. ” Mitro thus is an expression of Sobti’s uninhibited portrayal of female sexuality. She is what can be called physicality incarnated. She defies the set norms by expressing unequivocally her sexual desires and pangs. Her struggle is against the patriarchal structure. The basic honesty of her nature allows her to face herself and all she has believed in as unflinchingly as she faces her husband’s thrashing and mother-in-laws awed remonstrations. What makes Mitro special is her indomitable spirit. Even though towards the end she realizes the hollowness of her mother’s existence outside family, she refuses to buckle down under the patriarchal setup.

One of the basic theme of To Hell with You Mitro is that any positive change in the position of women cannot be brought about without addressing their position within family. Apart from being a set of kinship relations and household structures, family needs to be viewed as a power structure, maintained by patriarchy, through which a particular set of household and gender relationships are given meaning. The women are shown as subservient and at best a mute spectator to the happenings around them.

Thus, Sobti has shown an ideological dimension of family. An ideology which  is primarily patriarchal in nature, according to which there are preordained roles of men and women in family and outside it. This ideology of family describes and creates separate spheres of work for men and women. The unequal gender relations are valued not only by male members of the family but females, conditioned in patriarchy also support these norms with full devotion.

It is with the character of Mitro that Sobti using the character as a mouthpiece to deconstruct patriarchal norms and conventions. Mitro’s resistance against the repressive forces of patriarchy manifests itself in her transgressions. When she feels dissatisfied with her husband, leaving behind the age old sentiments of the much adored Sati and  Savitri ,she fancies about her escapades with males other than her husband.

Unlike her mother-in-law and elder sister-in-law, Mitro is not of the type of women who
feels content in performing subservient roles to their husbands thinking that this is what they are meant for. Her thoughts, actions, behavior are not even least controlled by the male. And what is more attractive in this bold diva is that she is fully aware of her physical charms. She thinks that she can win over any man as long as she has a beautiful,
attractive body.  Whenever and wherever she feels suffocated, she raises her voice, but never felt pathetic about her being a woman. For her there is no difference being a man or woman. She views both as equal, no one subordinate to other or dominant over other.

Mitro was met with a lot of agitation by the society that ‘expects young women to safeguard their sexual reputation and avoid being labeled as sexually promiscuous, while young men had to demonstrate their sexual reputation in order to enhance their standing with their masculine peer group’. But Mitro is open about her sexual longings. Her indomitable spirit and frank, open expression of her insatiable sexual urge is something totally unbecoming of a middle class married woman. Because of her openness in speech, she becomes the target of criticism by the members of her family. Her husband also finds her ways wanton and wild.

The high point is towards the end when Mitro visits her mother’s place and arranges for
sexual escapades with one of her mother’s clients in the very presence of her husband in the same house. Mitro realizes the hollowness of her mother’s existence outside family when her mother reveals her that now no one visits her mother and thus she feels terribly lonely. Now the same husband she cursed day in and day out now appears to her as a treasure she cannot afford to lose. By making a character like Mitro understand the importance of family life, Sobti perhaps reaffirms her faith in the institutions of family and marriage which irrespective of their restrictions, seem to her important and therefore must be preserved.

In this way in To Hell with You Mitro, on one hand Krishna Sobti made the other daughter in laws and the sons as mouthpiece of patriarchal norms and convention while on the other hand with Mitro she has given an antidote to patriarchy. Mitro’s family members reiterate the codes of patriarchy and for Mitro it is her chief task to dismiss these codes. She never follows patriarchal standards, whether it is in her speech, act, thinking or behavior

Patriarchy even today demands women to be silent, submissive, unselfish, timid, conventional, and with no display of sexual desires; contrary to all this Mitro is loudmouthed, domineering, bold, frank, unconventional, and openly displays her sexual desires. Towards the end she comes to realize the worth of familial and social norms but for her these norms also have meaning after personal individuality only. She understands the value of being virtuous and chaste , but that is not even a slight hint that she will bow meekly to patriarchy. There is no change in her even towards the end. She remains as vocal and expressive even in the end as she was in the beginning. All that changes is that she accepts the significance of following societal norms which are essential for a morally upright society, but this is not at the cost of losing her own individuality.

Nothing much has changed since then. Till date the desires of women are repressed and if a woman openly speaks about her sexual exploits or even her desires, she is easily labeled as promiscuous. The tongues start wagging and she stripped off her dignity and respect, leaving her cold in the dark society. Even an attempt towards the same is thwarted. For eg: Lipstick under my burkha,  is a movie that speaks about how the desires and dreams of women are licensed by the menfolk. Women seem to have no say over their own bodies when rape in marriage is normal. Thus, Mitro is an apt read in today’s times, when women need not hide their sexuality under a burkha.

 

“In memory of children, girls and women victims of silence.” — Edge of Humanity Magazine

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Artist and Photographer Simona Bonanno is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of these images. From her project ‘Chains Of Silence‘. To see Simona’s body of work click on any photograph. In memory of children, girls and women victims of silence. Silence can have many forms: it could be expected […]

via “In memory of children, girls and women victims of silence.” — Edge of Humanity Magazine

 

Every picture speaks a 1000 words…

Stories of pain.

‘We had no other choice’ – rape culture & sexual exploitation of girls — Conversation Zimbabwe

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Original post: ‘We had no other choice’ – rape culture & sexual exploitation of girls On 6th September, StarFM’s show Pane Nyaya hosted two children who spoke about being forced into prostitution in Harare. One was 9, the other 13. The interview, painful to listen to, sat with me for hours on end. The 9 year old girl explained how […]

via ‘We had no other choice’ – rape culture & sexual exploitation of girls — Conversation Zimbabwe

When rape becomes a culture, and the female body only a tool for deriving pleasure, the matter of choice of ceases to exist. In such situation if a woman is desired by a  man, she will be made to succumb, because she does not exist as a human. She is rather only a means of gratifying sexual hunger. Thus, reducing her to the status of an inanimate object to be used and disposed as per will. Think, ponder and discuss why is it that only women are at fault. Its high time that men own up and the society paves way for gender equality.

World Intellectual Property Rights Day: 26 April’ 2017

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Earlier this year, as part of my profile as an IBDP librarian, I thought of introducing the topic of plagiarism and academic honesty in a way that will be better understood by the students. I wanted to make an impact that would stay with them. So I thought of improvising and combined World Intellectual Property Rights Day with a talk on plagiarism.

So, on 25th April, a workshop was conducted for the IB students regarding World Intellectual Property Rights Day (26th April’2017). The aim of the workshop was to inform the students about: What is Intellectual Property? Intellectual Property Rights, Copyrights, Patent, etc. The primary aim was to inform and educate students about the need and importance of copyright, and how plagiarism relates to this. In an earlier session, the students had been briefed on the need and importance of plagiarism and referencing. Thus, the workshop on Intellectual Property was appreciated by the students since they better understood the concept of copyright in literary field and how it affects their work as well. The students could draw connections between the two topics and discussed the same.

The topic for this year was Innovation: Improving Lives (in fields of Education, Healthcare, Clean energy, Agriculture and Communication). Students prepared talks and poster on this topic and presented it before their class. The unique style of presentation and their own understanding of the topic is reflected in their works. The posters reflect their creativity as well grasp of the topic. Each poster highlights a different field where Innovation has brought about change and improved the lives affected by it.

The idea was met with huge appreciation by both students and heads of school, who found that the event was successful in reinforcing the need for academic honesty and how the rights are violated when work is plagiarized. I, on my part was thrilled to see that my efforts paid off to incorporate a topic that they are aware of (Copyright), and merge it with their own skill and work.(plagiarism and copyright).

Memory’s Daughter by Krishna Sobti

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Reading this book both angered me and yet also made me feel heart broken at the plight of women in Indian society. Not much has changed from where she started. Women then and now are treated as mere cattle with value only for the womb that bears offspring, only to be pushed back into backdrop soon after. She has no identity for herself except daughter of, wife of , or even mother of. It is only in the 2oth century that women began to think for themselves and also carve a niche for themselves. But there is not much difference in the then and now. Atrocities at women still continue irrespective of where she comes from. The female species is still eyed upon as possession to be acquired as when desired by men. If she refuses then dominance and violence is used to overpower her submission.

Sobti’s Memory’s Daughter ( Daar se bichudi) is set in rural Punjab of the early 19th century. It is the story of a young woman named Pasho. It traces her life as she is sold and bought like cattle in a charged world of war among Afghan and the Anglo-Sikh of the 19th century Punjab. The female protagonist Pasho in the first few pages seems to be cast in the stereotypical mould of ideal Indian girl; and yet at times she rises to impresses with her strong will and courage. Despite being a victim of manifold oppression, physical abuse and violence, she handles the challenges of her life successfully and overcomes all difficulties.

In the novel, Pasho displays the tendency of every village girl, devoid of education, to accept the four walls of the household as her domain. She can be viewed as an out-and-out traditional woman who is completely ignorant of her rights as a human. She has no aspirations at all, other than bearing and rearing children for the family and feels content in performing the household chores. She rightly justifies the angel-in-the-house image of woman. As an orphan she is dependent on her maternal uncle for shelter. Thus her plight  from the traditional Indian mindset is that of finding a home. Without home, she is insecure, vulnerable and thus a cause of shame to the entire family. Therefore, once she has crossed the threshold of her maternal uncles’ house, circumstances keep on tossing her from one household to another and she has absolutely no clue as to what to do under the circumstances. Which only highlights the narrow minded societal set up where women are best kept inside the four walls of their homes.  And it is this insecurity that breeds within Pasho , binding her to the  threshold of her maternal uncles’ house, which she cannot cross, in spite of incessant abuses and thrashing. Finally, when she does that after sensing a potential danger to her life, she arrives at places which she considers her home, even though she is treated as a slave and at best a tool for deriving sexual pleasures. She does not run away from these places due to her fear of lack of shelter.

The journey of Pasho is the journey of every woman who fails to recognize her worth, and only measures herself with the capacity of her womb. In fact, she is no better than a female animal, a bhogya – a thing to be enjoyed and a toy to be played with by the male. Nevertheless, Pasho also displays a  “will to live”. This is a strong desire in her and this trait of her personality renders a touch of grit and liveliness to her personality. In spite of all hardships, she never loses heart or contemplates suicide. This physical beauty imparts a sense of arrogance to her character though outwardly she appears timid. This narcissism however becomes her greatest strength as she is able to get through all critical phases her life has in store for her amidst some happy moments. Had she not been in love with the self, she would not have been able to take so much suffering. Again a fact that needs to reiterated often to women to love themselves and to be in charge of their own lives. The protagonist emerges victorious even after being repeatedly sold and purchased like a cattle, played upon like a piano and treated like a servant.It is her desire to live even against heavy odds that becomes her forte.

So the reading of the book requires one to be ready to dive deep down into the rural India that existed before partition, and to see that women were marginalized and abused at free will of men. But Pasho can be seen as a strong, gritty character who despite her traditionalism, stands tall and she does display a sense of inner strength and personal courage. She may be seen in the women we meet on the streets who have no means of education and for whom living means to be totally dependent on their menfolk. They are at the mercy of the men they are married to or born to, to be used and disposed as and when they please.

 

Sunflowers of the Dark: Krishna Sobti: translated by Pamela Manasi

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Katha has always offered a wide array of literature through translated works. I recently finished reading Krishna Sobti’s ‘Memory’s Daughter’. And the after effects are that I am drawn to books by the author. So I managed to lay my hands on another masterpiece, “Sunflowers of the Dark”. The title of the book is enigmatic, and I was hooked on to it from the first page.

The content is highly relevant even today, and all women who have ever been a victim to sexual assault or abuse would find this book liberating. The words seem to have a life of their own that create images before your eyes even as you read. That is the magic of this book.

Plot: It is the story of Ratti, a woman who was sexually abused in her teens . Her spirit continues to be tormented by demons from her past. It raises its head like the hood of a snake to spit venom on her present. She fails to establish relationship with any male  as the past grips her in cold fear whenever she tries to be physically intimate. Yet has an indomitable spirit that refuses to kneel though it weeps. She has a fire, a spirit that does not allow her to succumb or mask herself for the sake of pleasing the ego of her male friends.

The book brings to fore front many issues that assailed women before Independence. But have a look around and not much has changed for women. Ratti is a strong girl, who faces every situation head on and does not shy away from them. She asserts herself boldly and does not bow down even as a teenager when confronted. What happened to her was beyond her control; so why should she carry her dead past over her shoulders always? But the incident does leave a scar on her mind and heart, rendering her helpless against the angst she feels. There is no respite for her and adding to her woes is the mindset of the society that holds her responsible for the accident and constantly reminds her of the misfortune in the form of her schoolmates who fabricate stories about her leaving her amidst the jungle of sexist comments.

Even after years, she is unable to let of go of the incident which hampers her  relationships with men and snubs any of her attempts to realize her womanhood. She tries to consummate with her male friends but the cold grip of her past sends her freezing. Little do they understand her agony and frustrated, they name her sexually perverted and “lacking in heat”. A remark which stayed with me was “…That you have no heat. Barring that of the clothes on your body.” Just because she refuses to give in to the demands of the males she is labeled as a cold wretch-less woman. 

Her saying is unacceptable to her male friends. She refuses to  submit herself to a male who like the unidentified rapist wants to overpower her using brute force.All her male friends let her down emotionally and she is unable to connect with any to let go of herself. Her guards are always up and she refuses to accept any contact where she is not an equal. 

Sobti chose to write against the conventional social fabric of the time and has presented a woman who is in control of her sexuality and refuses to bend to the dictates of society. Ratti can be viewed an an important milestone in the journey of Indian woman
towards self-actualization. She can be called a liberated woman with a modern clear ideas about womanhood and her rights. She is economically independent, courageous and does not allow her past to bend her down. She does not let the traumatic incident crush her personality and mind.Even in the absence of emotional support Ratti successfully maintains her equilibrium. Through Ratti, Sobti shows how a woman can assert herself rather than sit on the sidelines as a marginalized victim waiting to be rescued. She is her own savior. In this sense, she rejects the idealistic, utopian solutions and adopts a practical, down-to-earth take towards the real life problems.

A must read for all women to salute to the never die spirit of all women who struggle and yet smile through their tears.