Essential writing skills: editing ain’t simple

Matthew Wright

Every so often I see something on social media that makes me blink a bit. Someone’s just ‘finished’ a novel – they’ve hit a word target – leaving just a spot of editing to do, and it’ll be out on Kindle in a couple of weeks.

Wright_Typewriter2I kind of go ‘auuuugh’ when I read something like that. Not least because long-experienced authors don’t usually measure results in terms of word count. Nor do they suffer under any illusions about the amount of work to be done on a manuscript after the first draft is done.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Word count is a tool. It’s a device for identifying the scale of a book – for getting its structure right. It’s a way editors commission work. And authors do need to provide work to the commissioned scale. But it isn’t an end-point. Or even much…

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A TALE OF THE TOWN

NIGHT MOVES
NIGHT MOVES

A vibrant darkness

Descends, ruffling

The rigid silence.

A siren wails somewhere,

Shattering it. Everywhere

The shadows retreat,

Creating space for

Dreams to curl in.

Pale and thin, the

Young moon crawls

Across a cobalt sky,

Behind fast-flying

Clouds that proceed

Without shedding a drop.

Some sound, probably

A mechanical hybrid,

Growls at the shaking

Silence that stands

Transfixed, staring

With glassy fearful eyes.

Suddenly it stops,

Stumbling over a hand

That presses a lever.

Through it all,

Summer, the sentinel,

Keeps vigil,

Sitting atop the darkness

On a rock outcrop.

ANASTASIA

PROLOGUE

Many, many years ago, in a little known village in India, named Jhilpaar, there lived an old doll-maker, with his pretty, devoted daughter, Dulari. They lived some distance away from the village, at the very edge of a dense forest that surrounded it, in the ruins of an ancient, underground passage. While the old doll-maker was busy night and day, making pretty little dolls that stood around ten inches tall, it was his daughter who did all the work, besides taking care of every single need of her father. For the doll-maker’s fame as a master craftsman had spread so far across all the neighbouring villages and still farther, that even the king and his family, who lived in the old castle on the hill, miles and miles away from the village of Jhilpaar, had become his regular customers. So he had no time for anything or anybody other than his precious dolls.

Dulari, however, did all the household chores and the work outside without any complaint. She never even complained about her father’s indifference towards her. For years, her life had followed the same unwavering pattern and she couldn’t recollect a time when she had not acted as her father’s guardian angel. She had no memories of her mother either. She had heard from her father that she had lost her mother as an infant; and in answer to her other questions, he had given her a doll – a doll that he had crafted in the perfect image of her mother. So her only amusement, in the course of her busy days, was to look at the doll and wonder what their life might have been like, had her mother been alive. And whenever she touched the doll while cleaning it and washing its dress, she would look into its eyes – very sad, but alive – and miss her mother.

The old doll-maker and his daughter might have continued with their lives in the same fashion for many more years, had a complication not surfaced in the form of a young sipahi, one of the trusted royal guards. One afternoon, when Dulari was at the village well, fetching water, a soldier sporting the garb of a royal guard, rode into the village and up to the women fetching water at the village well and asked for directions to the doll-maker’s place. Now, royal guards coming in search of the doll-maker, was no spectacle in this village. The women immediately pointed to Dulari, who offered to show him the way to her house.

On the way home, Dulari and the young sipahi, who called himself Ramlal, fell talking and he told her a few stories of battles and ambushes that he had been in and the girl felt a growing curiosity about the world outside the village, a world she had never known and would, possibly, never ever get to know. On the other hand, Ramlal was as much intrigued by the girl’s beauty and manners as by her curiosity – he had never before come across such a sympathetic listener. Soon they were at the doll-maker’s, and after asking him to sit on a log of wood that served as a stool, and calling out to her father, she went inside to resume her day’s work. That evening, unlike on other occasions when the royal guards came back later to take back packages for the king, Ramlal didn’t leave; he had to stay till the next morning when the doll-maker would hand him a special package to take back to the king. So, late in the evening, Dulari, after having finished her chores, sat at the mouth of the passage, listening, while Ramlal, pacing to and fro, continued with his stories. It was already quite late in the night, when they both nearly jumped out of their skins, hearing the shout of the old man, who had stormed outside to see what the matter was, having finally missed his supper for once. As a guilt-ridden Dulari scampered away to fetch her father his long-awaited meal, chastising herself for this criminal negligence, the doll-maker glared at the soldier for a few moments – a glare so terrifying, that Ramlal’s blood flowed ice-cold in his veins for those few moments – before going back to his work.

The next morning, Ramlal left early, just as soon as the package had been delivered to him, without saying goodbye to his young friend. That day and in the days that followed, Dulari missed him in a strange way, and wondered whether he would ever come back, because she, somehow, could not shake off the feeling that his hasty departure had been the result of something that her father had said or done. For she had also lately become aware of a change in her father’s attitude towards her; whether it was a jealous possessiveness or simply suspicion, she didn’t quite know, but she had a feeling that something sinister lurked behind it, whatever it was, and so she had grown to fear him – a feeling she had never before associated with her father.

Almost a fortnight later, one afternoon, when Dulari was washing clothes at the well, Ramlal again came to see her. When she asked whether he was running an errand for the king again, he answered that it was his day off and that he had come there only to see her again. So, all the while that Dulari washed and cleaned, he sat beside her and they talked. And before he started back for home, late in the afternoon, he made her a promise to come see her again on a certain day. And so, it came to pass that these two young people started to meet more frequently, in secret, and eventually realized their love for each-other. Some months later, they married secretly and took the vows of undying love and their happiness knew no bounds.

All this while, the old doll-maker had been watching his daughter closely, without her knowledge, and detecting the tiniest changes in his daughter’s behaviour. She suddenly seemed more alive, spent more time outdoors, burnt the chappattis while being lost in thought – in short, she had changed visibly over the last few months. And the old man’s face began to ominously darken each passing day, as he started to divine the reason for this change in his daughter.

One night, Dulari had a strange nightmare. She dreamed that as she slept, something small crept towards her through the darkness, up her bed of straws and finally started pacing across her chest. As it paced, it grew in size until it turned into a hazy image of her mother. As it grew in size, Dulari started having difficulty in breathing. It seemed to her as if her mother’s image was trying to warn her about something. It kept pointing towards the door, as if it wanted Dulari to wake up and go out into the full-moon night. Just as it seemed that Dulari was about to lose her senses, the weight on her chest suddenly lifted and she woke up from her nightmare, glad to be able to breathe freely again. She started to get up for a drink, and while pulling off the tattered old blanket off herself, she heard a tiny clunk, as if something tiny had fallen. She lost no time in lighting the little earthen lamp and as she looked around in its light, she was very unpleasantly surprised to find her doll lying on the floor, next to her bed. She couldn’t understand how the doll could have moved itself down the shelf, where she always placed it, and across the dark room and up her bed. Yet one look at the blanket showed her the tiny dirty footprints of the doll on it. For one moment, she thought of throwing away the doll or burning it and then she decided that that could wait; she first needed to go outside into the night and find out what was going on. So she extinguished the little lamp and went to see whether her father was still asleep. That was when she got the second shock that night. Her father was nowhere to be seen; his bed hadn’t been slept in. She couldn’t imagine where her father could have gone at that hour. So, with a terribly unpleasant feeling, that she was about to witness something horrible, washing over her, she made her way outside, where the first thing that caught her eye was a light in the forest. Having decided that the forest was her destination, she slowly and carefully picked her way through the forest, creeping past hedges and going around the thorn bushes, until she finally came upon the source of the light. It was a clearing in the forest; on one side, a small fire had been lit using twigs and dry branches, and beside the fire, nearly facing her, was her father, dressed in black, seated squarely under the light of the full moon, on what looked like a blackened human corpse. In front of him and a little to the side, a small group of people were kneeling, one of whom, a man, was bound tightly with ropes, with the others holding him. At a sign from the doll-maker, a woman cut the ropes and freed the man, who jumped up and made as if to fly at her father’s throat. Just then, without a blink, her father threw some powder at the man, while uttering something incoherent. Imagine the girl’s horror when she saw the man, who was in mid-air, fall upon the ground and start to shrink, amidst his own screams of horror and pain and the raucous, cruel laughter of the others, until at last, all that was left of him was a ten-inch doll. It took all her courage to keep from screaming out at this horrifying spectacle, a feat which she accomplished by neatly ramming her fist into her mouth and biting down on it. She lay like this in the dark undergrowth for a few moments, before she decided that she now knew enough about her father, the doll-maker -or should she call him the tantrik? – to understand that her immediate safety lay in running back home, as fast as her legs could carry her, before someone here discovered her presence. For she could well imagine what might happen to her, if she was discovered. So Dulari flew back home and got under her blanket once again, feigning sleep, while in her mind, she went through the horrors of the night, over and over again. When her father came back home at the crack of dawn, after completing his nightly rituals, and stealthily came up to the door of her room to check whether she was asleep, she stiffened under her covers.

The next morning, Dulari, shaken but determined, went about her daily chores as usual, making every effort to conceal her terrible knowledge from her monster of a father, the dabbler in the black arts. For in the course of the night, she had decided upon a course of action. In a fortnight’s time, her Ramlal would again come to meet her and she had decided that this time she would leave this place with him for good. So she went about doing the household work with her usual air of calm, while she kept her brain busy with planning her escape.

The next few days were the longest of Dulari’s life; on one hand, she battled to control her terror every time she came in close proximity of her father, while on the other, she couldn’t wait for the days to pass so she could escape with her husband and leave all this horror behind. She had decided that she didn’t want to take away anything but a container of water and her mother’s doll. For she now had reason to believe that the doll was only trying to save her. Also she couldn’t imagine leaving the last vestige of her mother behind.

After a long wait, the day finally came when Ramlal came to meet Dulari. It was the day of the amavasyaa, the day of the new moon. As soon as Ramlal arrived, Dulari gave him a short account of what had happened in his absence while Ramlal himself told her of the frightening stories that he had but recently heard about the doll-maker. So they together planned the final details of their escape, before Dulari, for the time being, went back to the doll-maker’s.

That evening, when the doll-maker was at his busiest, trying to complete all his work before the night commenced – for he had to perform a sacrificial ritual on this auspicious night, before a certain hour – Dulari stealthily peeked into his work-place before hurrying away to get ready for her journey. Then, hiding the bundle behind the voluminous folds of her dress, she told her father from the door that she was going out to gather firewood. The old doll-maker only grunted in reply. Soon after, the girl was tearing down the village road towards the other end of the village, where Ramlal was waiting with his horse. As soon as she arrived, Ramlal scooped her up onto his horse and the two tore away into the deepening darkness of the new-moon night, at a breakneck pace, as if the very devil was behind them.

Here, at the doll-maker’s, the night was already advanced when the old man realized, for the second time in his life, that his daughter hadn’t brought him his meal. So he hollered out her name a few times, before, getting up to see what the matter was, when his daughter didn’t answer his call. He first went to her room; no sign of her there. Then he went through the rest of the inhabited part of the old passage; still no sign of her. So he went outside and called out her name. No answering cry came back to him. Finally he started looking frantically for her, up every tree, behind every bush, combing through every inch of the dense forest, until, upon reaching the clearing in the forest, an evil spirit, one of his many minions, whispered into his ears the details of his daughter’s escape. The roar of rage that the doll-maker emitted, resounded across the forest and the entire village, waking up all the evil spirits who gathered around him to do his bidding.

The unhappy couple had long left the village behind and were tearing across a vast stretch of open ground, on the other side of which lay the fortified royal city, the darker outline of which could be dimly made out against the dark sky, when all of a sudden, the tantrik doll-maker appeared before them out of nowhere. The horse, letting out a neigh of abject terror, reared up on its hind legs, throwing the terrified riders off its back, before bounding away into the darkness. The old magician thundered, ” I am Birjapadd tantrik, disciple of the witch-prime Biraja and master of the black arts, who has control over the elements and spirits alike, and you two imbeciles thought that you could outrun me? Your naivety makes me want to laugh.” Their insides cringing with fear, Ramlal and Dulari helped each-other up with an outward show of courage, knowing their fate only too well. As the evil spirits, acting on their master’s orders, came towards them to bind them apart, Ramlal, in a vain effort to try and save themselves, unsheathed his sword from his kamarband and attacked the doll-maker. Without flinching an inch, without so much as batting an eyelid, the doll-maker, curving his bloodless lips in a cold, cruel smile, raised his hands and sprayed something on the advancing figure of Ramlal, while reciting something incohorent. Suddenly there was a blast and a green smoke obscured everything for a few moments, through which, however, Dulari could well hear Ramlal’s screams of agony. She dived blindly into the smoke, tears pouring down her face, looking for her husband, until she tripped on something small. In another moment, the smoke had cleared and she found herself looking in horror at the earthen doll that had been her husband. Her terror and sorrow were so deep that she forgot to scream; instead, she slowly turned to face her father. The doll-maker threatened her to come back to him, and it was then that she screamed at him, losing her reserve. “So is this what you had done to my mother, you monster? And all this time, you had been lying to me about how she had disappeared when she went to bathe in the river. What had she done to deserve such a fate? How long have you been doing this to helpless, harmless people like that man in the forest, the other night?” The doll-maker and his minions cackled like maniacs for some moments, before he proceeded to answer her question. “Oh! So you knew about me already and yet was foolish enough to think that you could run away from me and live to see the end of it? How very unfortunate! How very like your mother, who thought that she could save you by running away from me! She, like you, never imagined that I had the knowledge and speed of the elements and spirits under my command. You see, you are absolutely powerless against my knowledge of the dark arts. Submit and I might yet pardon you.” Furious on hearing this, Dulari rushed madly at her father, with the intent of finishing him off, only to be shoved away by something huge that came between them. What, then, was her surprise when she saw that it was nothing but a bloated, distorted image of her doll, which was trying hard to protect her from her father’s wrath. For a few fleeting moments, even the cruel face of the old doll-maker wore an expression of utter incredulity. Then, with one wave of his hand, he seemed to wipe away the expression of incredulity off his face, and with it the bloated image of the doll. “You were weak when alive, and you are weaker still in your present state. You know that you can’t save our daughter and yet you dare confront me! She is mine to do with as I wish,”  he thundered, looking at the doll that once again lay at Dulari’s feet. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, he performed the same black magic on his daughter, turning her into yet another ten-inch-long earthen doll. Thereafter, he turned to his minions and ordered them away, before coming back for the three dolls that lay there helplessly, covered in soil. He gathered them up in his arms and went away into the night, never to be seen or heard of again.

*End of Prologue*

A SMALL NOTE OF THANKS

TY

The world of bloggers and blogging is a new world to me, a world full of surprises, which I’d joined just over a couple of weeks before. And I already feel very much a part of this world, as if I was born to become a part of this, eventually. Becoming a blogger was not an easy task for me, the most important reason being that I literally repel technology. All this tech stuff, which comes so easy to my generation, have always felt like a burden to me – I seemed to go nowhere with it. My lack of technical knowledge was nothing short of a morbid embarrassment to me. Had it not been for my few dear friends, who refused to let go of their trust in me and continue to inspire me still, I might not have become a part of this interesting world at all. Yet being here is nothing short of a good fortune, because the air here is full of inspiration. With each passing day, I seem to find something or the other that stimulates my mind a little more. As I go through the posts of my fellow bloggers, a whole new world of ideas and emotions are laid bare before me. The more I try to express how much I enjoy being a part of this world, the more I begin to realize how insufficient words are to express how I truly feel.

However, I take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt thanks to all my fellow bloggers who have joined me on my literary journey as followers, providing inspiration as well as sound advice and guidance, through their own posts. I also wish to thank all those friends who have never ceased to trust in my abilities or worth. Since my words fall far short of the sincerity I feel in my affection and regard towards all these people who have inspired me beyond measure, I do hope that this little post of mine helps to bridge the gap between feeling and expression and succeeds in reaching out to all those wonderful people, carrying all the benefits of the good thoughts that I’m sending them.

ON BULLYING

bulll

Time and again I wish that I’d been an animal – any animal – instead of a human being. Life would not have been such a bad experience then, because I wouldn’t have had to feel so helpless upon hearing of the cruel things that people do to other people. There is so much cruelty in this world and so little love; yet, everywhere, love is the most talked about subject. Should I, then, believe that what we always preach and talk about, what we most dread losing, should not rule our actions? That love is important only with respect to ourselves, not with respect to others? That only the ones who have the means to make the weak suffer, can enjoy love and associated feelings as some kind of a prerogative?

I’ve been a victim of bullying myself, for years; so I know how painful it can be when you are at the receiving end of it. I’d been bullied in school when I was a kid and as a teenager in college. And the greatest lesson I learnt was that there’s no one beside you, no family, no friends who are willing to pluck the thorns out of your body.You are alone in your suffering and unless you fight back, nobody else is going to fight your battles for you. I will always remember with regret that whenever I complained to elders at home or in school, it was always I who got the scoldings and the beatings, accompanied by some ‘sound advice’ on learning to tolerate. I’ve even been called a liar; that I was a jealous attention-seeker who wanted to make her more intelligent and academically-advanced friends suffer. That really hurt me, because back then, I used to care about what people thought of me. During my long fight against being bullied, the one thing I missed most was a support-system. So when I got an opportunity to become a support-system to somebody else who was a victim of bullying, I didn’t let it go waste. I used both my voice and my hands to fight back, for my sake and for the sake of others, and I will always be glad of the fact that, though I bear the scars myself, I’ve been able to shield at least a few other children from being scarred. And I like to think of those scars as the necessary price that I gladly paid to save somebody else’s innocence, maybe even life. The people around me, who know me well, can count on me, because they know that I’m a fighter, if not a winner, and that if ever they are in need of support, I’m always there for them. Because all it needs to prevent bullying, more often than not, is raising your voice in support of the victim, because bullies are, after all, perverts who enjoy torturing lonely souls and fall back when strongly opposed – just like wild animals who are afraid of fire.

bull

LEISURE

I lie on my back

On the cool floor,

My head cradled on

Upturned palms,

On lazy afternoons.

I spend lone hours

Crouched over books

Or over sheets of paper,

With brushes and colours;

Or I lie on my back,

Listening to music,

Earphones plugged into

My ears, lazily letting

The music wash over me

And the coolness

Of the hard floor

Flow into me. And

While my eyes watch

The hours grow older and

Daylight change colour ,

My mind wanders off into

Strange realms, thinking

Too much or too little,

Picking its path, so that

History, Philosophy, Fantasy

And music, a bit of

Everything, blends in,

Comfortably,

With daydreams.

CHASING DREAMS

dreams

She is one of our own, just another face in the crowd. She’s as simple in all her complexity as any of us, for the art of being simple is a complicated one. Most nights, she screams in her sleep until she wakes up, bathed in cold sweat. She lies awake in her bed, planning and re-planning and fearing for the safety of her dreams, until sleep steals across her tired eyes. During the day, she goes around cooking, cleaning, arranging, working, busy as a bee, going through the same mechanical motions, catering to the needs of others, while her heart keeps dwelling on her dreams. For she’s somebody’s mother, sister, wife and daughter and she has to shoulder responsibilities and meet expectations that often require the sacrifice of her dreams. Therefore she has to fight tooth and nail to keep her dreams alive, to keep them from being sacrificed. So while her hands keep working and her feet scurrying to and fro, her eyes sometimes wear a lost look, as if she’s trying hard to catch hold of a thought that’s eluding her.

For chasing dreams is a lonesome, one-way journey over a rough, rocky, windswept path, with deep, dark chasms on either side of it, that are always ready to mete out a slow, painful death to dreamers and dreams alike. Many of her friends have never embarked upon such a journey and never plan to do that, ever. For we, humans, are much more a slave to comfort than we might care to accept. These friends are the ones that try to hold her back, recounting to her, often and again, the frightening tales of the dangers that lurk along the way. They are also the ones that try to persuade her to stay back, flooding her with suggestions of safer, surer, less dangerous options. There are others who give her a gentle push on her way forward, from time to time, because they have had to abandon their journey, often without having started it at all, and it gives them some peace of mind to support someone who’s still trying. Then there are those who are indifferent, like they are to most things.

She knows that, for her, chasing dreams comes at a price, a dearer one than most people would care to pay for anything, least of all for chasing dreams. Therefore, with each passing day, she makes her preparations to leave behind all that is familiar to her, the usual comfort, the old familiar faces, the little nook she has carved out for herself, when she goes off  in search of the unknown, along unfriendly ways. When doubts crowd in to seize the territory that her dreams hold – and this is not an infrequent occurrence – she steels herself with the thought that this is just a necessary precaution, so that she doesn’t end up dangling in mid-air, held back by the shackles of familiarity, when she takes the final plunge.

ON HYPOCRISY

HYPOCRISY DESTROYS
HYPOCRISY DESTROYS

In a very recent issue of a popular magazine, I came across an article describing a rare but hilarious incident. A bride-to-be had refused to marry the would-be groom after he failed a basic maths test. It’s apparently a funny incident, but it couldn’t very well have felt like fun to the bride herself. She absolutely refused to have to do anything at all with somebody who couldn’t solve a sum that was easy enough for a child studying in Standard I.

This is not an uncommon problem in the country. While a majority of the women are well-qualified, a large portion of the male population has already started falling short of an equal level of qualification. As a result, a prospective bride’s dream of getting a perfect match for herself, has already suffered a huge set-back. In fact, a recent survey has stated that the present scenario is expected to worsen by 2025, resulting in at least a third of the women population having to compromise on the very important aspect of marriage – equality. As far as I can see, the situation is already bleak enough.

Why is the educational qualification of a prospective groom so important to women? Is it not enough that he has a job, can provide for the needs of his family and provide shelter? These are questions that need answering. The answer is no. It is not enough that a man has a job and can provide for his family. Just as every man dreams of certain qualities like beauty, good cooking skills, a well-paid job and so on in his wife, so does a woman. A woman’s dreams are no less important than those of a man. Dreams and the hope of realizing them are what keep us going; therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we strive to provide an environment that’s conducive to chasing dreams. The least a woman can expect from her husband is understanding and a stimulating conversation; how can her expectations be fulfilled if a man is only just qualified enough to retain a job? Education is the only thing that can improve a person’s ability to understand and relate to other people and keep jealousy, depression, inferiority complex as well as a sense of unfulfillment out of a life-long relationship. A marriage needs much more than just financial security; why else do so many of them end in divorce? The sense of being equals is what makes a bond strong, not the compromising on essentials. When a relationship starts with a compromise, it doesn’t promise much stability in any case. One compromise leads to another and before long, one partner starts feeling cheated. No wonder that person would want out of such an unfair situation.

Coming back to the incident of the groom who flunked in Maths, isn’t it surprising that the bride and her family had been kept in the dark regarding the educational qualification, rather the lack of it, of the groom? And this is just one of the many incidents of this kind. How can these people have such a mentality and how can they hope to get away with such fraudulent practices? Isn’t this proof enough of the hypocrisy that is practised by our society? That, while the groom and his family gets to choose a bride from the creme de la creme in any given situation, rejecting and indeed insulting, prospective brides and their families on such flimsy grounds as beauty, figure, colour of skin, size of dowry, superstition and so on, when in fact these women are well-qualified and often hold positions of responsibility, the same choice of being choosy while selecting a partner is not available to most women?

It is time that we started questioning whether some of these age-old superstitions and practices shouldn’t be changed. They do not belong in a modern society afterall. We are so proud of all the progress we have made over the years; is it not wrong then that our mindset hasn’t undergone much progress, so much so that we never think twice before acting like the hypocrites that we are? We expect others to be honest when we ourselves are still not ready for the truth. Are colour of skin, caste, physical beauty or the lack of it, size of dowry offered or whether it is offered at all and superstitious beliefs so much more important than a woman’s education or her inner beauty, that she has to face rejection time and again just because she falls short of the former? We harp on and on about self- respect and treating others with respect; what, then, happens to that sense of respect when we hanker after somebody else’s money? Where goes this respect when we treat perfectly capable women and their families with such disrespect? And do we still dare to wonder why our society and its values are deteriorating when the answer is just an introspection away?

hyp

OF FEAR

What is fear? What causes fear? How does it affect a person? How are nightmares related to fear? M y personal feelings about a topic that is common to all. Read on to find out more.

fear

Fear is, probably, the most real of all human emotions and has the most long-lasting effects on the human mind. The myriad emotions that we feel everyday, for the most part, might be interpreted in terms of the element of fear. Happiness and  peace, for example, is a state of ‘no fear’. Courage and thrill, if we come to think of it, is a state of ‘little fear’. Tension, stress, suspicion are all variations of a state of more than usual fear, while unhappiness is the fallout of fear. And then there is FEAR in its purest form.

The thing about fear is that it’s very difficult to understand. More often than not, a fear is real only to the person who experiences it. Other people, even those who are nearest to him or her, find it difficult to understand a fear that seems quite baseless or even, harmless. It is, perhaps, this lack of understanding that drives people to the edge and forces them to hurt themselves in unimaginable and often, irrevocable ways. Yet, considering the fact that all of us suffer from some kind of fear or the other, is it not strange that we still find it so difficult to understand the realness of another person’s fear?

Nightmares are a semi-visual rendition of the fears that lurk inside us; semi-visual, because we see them, with our mind’s eye, while we sleep, when the mind is at its most vulnerable, the consciously-erected mental guards being down. Nightmares, like dreams, are very vivid in their details – they make us feel as if we are in our very own horror movie, one half of ourselves acting our part, while the other half unwittingly watches. This is, perhaps, the most fearful aspect of fear – it paralyses us from within, so that we end up gagging on our own dry tongues, have trouble breathing and finally wake up, after breaking out in a cold sweat, in the most painfully torturous positions imaginable, with a general feeling of being very dead.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been very prone to having nightmares. They, literally, plague me. The earliest ones, if I remember correctly, were the ones that dealt with loss; more particularly, the loss of a parent. I remember whimpering in my sleep, followed by a frantic search for my mother, upon waking up from the nightmare. They came in black and white, mostly black, like in the movies of old. Next came the most violent ones, around puberty, in the hues of the darkest black and red, and quite action-packed. I just hope that nobody else ever has the misfortune of having such nightmares. Next in line, were the ‘snaky’ ones – where a huge serpent, with the head of a human that I most loathed, used to sneak up on me, in a variety of situations, but always with the same insidious intent of crushing me to death. The serpent, in most cases, was either green or red. I’m not sure whether my general fear of serpents was the only thing that was responsible for these ‘snaky’ nightmares.

After I had left the university for good, I started having a very different sort of nightmare. I started waking up at night after dreaming that I was appearing for an exam, absolutely without any preparation, so that I knew none of the answers. As a result, I started losing my sleep over a preposterous fear, which, nevertheless, felt very real. I still have this nightmare sometimes and, in my sleep, experience the agony of uncertainty and doom that I’ve never had to experience as a student.

The other nightmares that I encounter these days are the falling-through-the air and the elevator ones. In fact, I might never have realised my fear of elevators had it not been for these recurring nightmares. Wherever I go, I’ve always preferred taking the stairs, to using the elevator. The number of times I’ve used an elevator is certainly less than half-a-dozen; that, too, when I was accompanied by somebody I trusted. Ever since I started having them, I’ve become even more wary of elevators, anywhere and everywhere.

The nightmares I experience, have changed over time; they’ll possibly undergo further changes. What hasn’t changed, though, is my reaction to nightmares. When I wake up in the morning, after a nightmare-ridden night, looking like a ghost of myself, I never forget to thank nature for this gift of light that drives away fears.

top-10-fears

WOMEN IN INDIA : A REALITY-CHECK

Indhuja vs India’s Daughter : Should women in India celebrate their ‘freedom’ or is there a need for a reality-check? How does Indian society still view its women? Read more to find out for yourself!

India’s Daughter  Indhuja’s Matrimonial Blog

Quite recently, two things have gone viral over the internet – one, the extraordinary matrimonial website of Indhuja, a 24-year-old girl and the other, the India’s Daughter documentary by Leslee Udwin. Both have come as a shock to the Indian society, but for very different reasons. While Indhuja’s matrimonial site is hilarious as well as inspiring due to her blatant honesty in declaring that she is, in no way, a perfect “marriage material” and that she has her own demands regarding a prospective groom, Udwin’s documentary has once again shocked the Indian public into realizing that even in this very modern age, the position of women in India, in the eyes of a substantial part of the population, hasn’t improved much since the dark ages. So should women in India rejoice and be hopeful after witnessing Indhuja’s courage in speaking her mind or should they actually go in for a reality-check regarding how Indian society still views women?

Speaking for myself, I’d prefer going in for a rapid reality-check. For where I come from, things are pretty dark for women. The key-word here is “compromise”. No sooner is a girl born into a family than she is indoctrinated in the concept of compromise. All her life, she’s expected to compromise on every single thing that is essential for a fulfilling life, for the sake of somebody else – father, brothers, husband, in-laws, son. The list is endless. She can have no demands and make none; and nobody is expected to give something up for her sake. She has to cater to the needs of everybody else before she can cater to her own, and once she has done that, she has to go in for some more self-sacrifice. If she has a brother that needs to be taken care of, she has to sacrifice her childhood to become his  guardian angel. Her family is not too well-off financially, so her brothers go to expensive, English-medium, private schools, while she goes to a government school. Why? Because she doesn’t need a job as she’ll eventually be married off to somebody, while her brothers need jobs as they are the future bread-earners of the family. Often, while her brothers go in for higher education, she has to give everything up in favour of learning household chores, so that she can become the perfect ‘marriage-material’. I feel very uncomfortable saying that while I give up a job and go in for some advanced course, as and when I like, for my personal benefit, many of my friends were interested in getting a good education or a well-paid job only in order to marry well. Most of them have given up their jobs after marriage. I also feel quite embarrassed to mention that the rest of my friends, who are still unmarried, are deeply depressed because as time passes, their families find it more and more difficult to get proper grooms for them. I’m not really surprised that none of them have ever considered living alone and having a life of their own. I know of one instance where the girl discovered that her prospective husband was addicted to drinks and cigarettes, and when she mentioned it to her family, her mother explained that if she didn’t compromise on stuff of this kind, she would end up living as a spinster. Any girl who has specific demands regarding her prospective husband, is to be steered clear of; otherwise she might end up corrupting other innocent girls. Girls, here, have to compromise on their food-habits as well, for fear of being a disgrace to their families. There are myriad other examples of compromise in a girl’s daily life, and one blog is too small to accommodate them all. The worst thing about this entire scenario is that today’s girls are tomorrow’s mothers, and the concept of making compromises is steadily carried forward by our women, from one generation to the next.

Leslee Udwin’s India’s Daughter has shocked our people; I wonder, though, whether the shock is due to the fact that the Supreme Court and the Government have banned it in India, or is it because of the fact that it features the views of the lowliest of criminals regarding how a rape-victim should react to sexual assault. I also wonder, on this Women’s Day, whether, in spite of Indhuja’s courageous revelation of her true self, her extraordinary website is enough to make women in India feel jubilant, forward and safe.