Today, I will publish my first short story in Unbound, the hottest, newest Indian literary emagazine. The magazine is the brainchild of Neil D’Silva and Varun Prabhu of Pen, Paper, Coffee. Unbound emagazine offers up-and-coming writers a space to explore their creative boundaries. The stories were written by the members of a Facebook writing group called For Writers, By Authors. Although the group is primarily Indian, FWBA has an international scope and reach.
As one of the contributors, I have been a member of a group chat this week that was nothing short of amazing team building and absolutely brilliant. What struck me most profoundly was how much democracy played into the creative process for this group. It seems apt for a magazine making its debut on India’s Independence Day Weekend.
Indian writers have taught me so much about myself and their culture. Every book I read communicates some lesson, whether practical or profound.
So here are a few lessons I’ve learned and want to share with you.
Stop being so hard on yourselves, please.
That’s what editors are for. (It’s why we get paid the big bucks. Ha!) To succeed, you have to believe in yourself when no one else does. So, believe that you are just as good as your Western counterparts.
Scratch that. Not just as good as. Better.
That’s right. Indian writers exist who can write circles around American or British authors. I know it. Why don’t you?
In one women’s writing group to which I belong, a woman (probably American) introduced herself as CONFIDENT (her caps not mine) that she would be published by one of the big six in the next two years. Meanwhile, my Indian colleagues were discussing how they would never be as good as so-and-so American Writer God X.
YES! You will be!
OK, I don’t know that for sure. Maybe you won’t be.
But, if YOU don’t believe you WILL be, then no one else will believe you CAN be. Get it?
Love yourselves as much as I do.
My first experience with Indian writers occurred on my second day in Mumbai. Still jet lagged, I stumbled into my neighborhood Crossword and bought Immortals of the Meluha by Amish Tripathi. That book started my exploration of Indian authors. I can’t tell you how critical reading Indian literature was to my understanding of Indian culture, especially in those first days. Living in a city with a deep love for Lord Shiva and reading a book that explored his myth helped connect me to my Mumbai. Your Mumbai. Our Mumbai. The more I read Indian writers, the more I loved them. I wish you loved them as much as I do.
Because, guess what?
YOU ARE INDIAN WRITERS!
Yet, so many of you cite Brits or Americans among your inspirations and scoff at Indian authors. That would be like me saying I love only Indian writers and hate American writers. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Please don’t hate on your fellow Indian authors. Love them only. Search out those writers who appeal to you. They might not be best sellers; maybe they’re no-sellers. Champion your favorites. Champion each other.
Learn what other writers have to teach you.
From Tagore to Narayan, from Singh to Rushdie, you come from a long line of beautiful, brilliant Indian writers. Yes, even that guy named Bhagat. No. Not that Bhagat. His brother, Ketan. Oh well, OK, you caught me. I like them both. So, sue me.
[Ducks as the first tomato narrowly misses my head.]
My point is that all writers who have published before you have something to teach you. Even that guy named Bhagat. Yes, now, I mean that Bhagat. Even if what you have to learn is that you don’t like how a writer writes, at least the writer has taught you something.
Write what you love.
Stop worrying about the market. That’s what agents are for. Write what you love; write your passion. Because if you don’t love what you write, neither will anyone else. But, you say, “Indians love romance not horror or fantasy.” To that, I say, “Write great horror, and the market will follow.” Or better yet, you can create the market yourself. Chances are you won’t be able to quit your day job and become a full-time writer. Ravi Subramanian wrote eloquently on why he won’t quit his job no matter how many books he sells. Listen to him. Please. He’s sold a book or two.
Stop bad-mouthing Indian English.
Indian English is a dialect of English just like American English is. We have our slang, and you have yours.
Is Indian English a mix of Hindi and English? Yeah, yaar.
Is that wrong? NO!
It is a reflection of the complex intersection of language and culture. If you are Indian, and you are writing in English, then you are writing Indian English. Instead of bemoaning how horrible Indian English is, set a higher standard yourself. Write an Indian English that you can be proud of. An English that others want to imitate. You could start by petitioning Satya Nadella to add more Indian names and phrases into the Microsoft Word spell checker. That would help. A lot.
Learn when to break grammar rules. And when not to.
Indian writers take a lot of crap for poor grammar. Some of it is deserved. I won’t pretend that ungrammatical sentences don’t make me twitchy, especially as an editor. Readers will reward you for great, well-written prose. But, a perfectly grammatical sentence can often communicate much less effectively than an ungrammatical one. Yes, an editor just said that. Be flexible. Watch how other writers break the rules and why. But, to break the rules, you must KNOW the rules. It’s not the editor’s job to know those rules for you. It’s your job. Learn the rules well. Then, break them. Like in Midnight’s Children. Or like I just did.
I love you all.
I am so proud to be associated with Unbound in its inaugural issue. Best wishes to my fellow contributors.
Please join us tonight at 10 pm IST for the launch. Just click the link below to join.