Posts Tagged ‘observations’

Whenever stuck for ideas, the news is your best source. It certainly is my best source. Just recently I was stuck for an idea for a character whose public profile was impeachable but who had a sinister private profile. And then Lt. Col Shrikant Purohit came along.

When the news first came out, it left most of us reeling with shock. A member of the Indian Army, the one institution that still commands respect, engaged in terrorist activities, why the idea was outrageous. Or was it?

Look at it from his point of view.

(Disclaimer: This is pure speculation and is not based on any facts)

He was probably a loyal member of this stellar organization, serving his country without question in inhospitable and downright hostile areas. He was probably engaged in counter insurgency ops in J&K. He was probably freezing his butt off patrolling at Siachen in knee deep snow.

For what?  To protect an openly ungrateful people and a government that doesn’t care. Through unjustified brickbats and unfair pay commissions he remained stoic and his patriotism was unshakable.

They caught several terrorists who were later let off for political or other reasons (prisoners for hostages kinda exchange). And (behold the mother of all ironies) one of these very rascals later went on to become a prominent political figure whom Purohit was forced to salute! It is just too much. And the straw that broke the camel’s back. Is it any wonder that the Mumbai Police openly refused to salute Gawli (or was it protect, or both)?

Of course this is only a general outline. Many people snap under unrelenting stress, and in a variety of ways, not necessarily anarchical. To explain his leanings towards militant Hinduism, you’d have to first concede that he was an Alpha male type personality, and then go back and reconstruct his childhood. To begin with, you’d have to consider that he was probably raised in a middle class Hindu household with allegiance to the Sangh, which was not a terrorist organization.

Even at this stage, to him, religion was private and had no place in his professional life at all. But gradually, he saw the rise of Islamic terrorism and, what seemed to him, a persecution of Hindus. This rhetoric was, no doubt, inculcated by a newly radicalised Sangh. He knew that the Government would not do anything about it, only pander to minorities. And that he had to do something if he had to arrest the inevitable downward slide of his beloved country into chaos. Here he probably saw Israel, with their prompt and retaliatory bombing, as an example. And a religious vigilante was born.

If you undertake this speculative exercise, bam, you’ve got a character. Hell, you’ve got a story.

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I travel by train. Whenever I can. Whenever I announce this to my friends they all look at me strangely and I can almost read their thoughts – “Maybe she is harder up than we thought.” No amount of declarations that I actually like doing so will convince them otherwise. They cannot imagine anyone who can afford not to travel by train, actually doing so.

But a train is such a wonderful place to observe different people and hear strange stories. From what I overhear (eavesdrop actually) reality is indeed stranger than fiction. It is such a rich source of material for writing that I wonder more writers don’t do so. Yes, even the saas bahu writers. The real life shenanigans would put Komolika to shame.

I pick out a woman (I travel in ladies’. I’m not that crazy) and based on her appearance, get a fix on her background and personality. Based on her conversations with her friends in the compartment/phone I try and figure out whether my evaluation was correct. Most of the times it’s not. Appearances are indeed deceptive.

The most gharelu looking woman turns out to be coquette, phone-flirting with multiple men with yet a third one waiting for her on the platform. I strain to listen to her conversations on the phone. It’s hilarious the way, alerted by my presence, she will first frown at me. But seeing as how I’m undeterred, she will surreptitiously turn her back to me and try and whisper into the phone. Occasionally women get spooked by my staring and clutch their gold chains tighter.

I’ve met cancer survivors, people who are on their way to a wedding or returning from a cremation, hopeless strugglers on their way to yet another fruitless meeting with a prospective employer, girls going to/returning from college, lovers on their way to a date.

My single biggest complaint is the shutting down of dance bars. Otherwise whenever I took the last train for Virar, these girls would get on at Grant Road. Now their stories were interesting indeed, more my kind of stuff. Based on their conversations I’ve got ideas for characters that I’ve used in my book Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions and countless other stories.

I’m my friends’ best friend because I’m such a good listener. I’m the only one who’s willing to listen to the most mundane of their stories. Where most people would hand them a mobile phone and says, “here use my phone, call someone who cares,” I prod them. I ask them the strangest, weirdest, most bizarre things they’ve ever seen or had happen to them.

I talk to my bai and listen to her woes about their shakha pramukh or her sister’s aphasia post trauma. She witnessed her husband being murdered and was so shocked that she lost her speech. So she couldn’t even talk, let alone, provide the police with a description of the culprit. I talk to my eye doctor (have you noticed that most eye doctors wear glasses?) and learn that he an interesting OCD (no, I’m not telling ‘cos I’m using it in my next book). I talk to my watchman, courier boys , wrong numbers and even tele-marketers. I especially love freaking out the latter by wanting to know about their job, their salaries, their aspirations etc. Usually I’m rewarded by a click at the other end.

Bottom line is, if you’re/planning to be a writer, get in the habit of observing things and talking to random strangers. Your imagination can only take you so far. For more you have to depend upon others.


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