Rummaging around Anita’s Attic

I was terrified.

Of a book.

Not just any book. A book like A Fine Balance, for instance, which was so terrifying to me that I couldn’t make it more than a quarter way through. No, no, no.

This book was no literary tour-de-force.

This book was…

my book.

That’s right. My own book.

This fear wasn’t “normal” writer fear. Is it any good? Will it sell? No, no, no.

This fear was paralyzing. For months, I had not even looked at my manuscript. Months.

It wasn’t that I had writer’s block. Over those same months, I had written plenty. Short stories, reviews, passionate Facebook posts about US politics. Thousands of words. I didn’t lack for words.

It was the content of my book, the stories themselves, that scared me. The stories I wanted to tell were controversial, even dangerous. They were politically charged and tackled sensitive topics: religion, freedom of speech, post-colonialism. If I told these stories, I knew I would be banned. At the very least, the book would be.

It terrified me. The idea that I might never be able to return to India if I wrote (and published) the things I wanted to say, the things I had to say. What did I, a foreigner, know about any of these things anyway?

But, then something happened. I saw a tweet from Anita Nair about her program called Anita’s Attic. It looked intriguing. I asked if the program was open to anyone.

“Anyone who can meet my exacting standards and is willing to make the commitment,” she replied.

As I read her tweet, I laughed nervously. No pressure, right?

I decided on the spur of the moment to apply, and I was accepted just before my birthday. I was accepted on the basis of a 400-word flash fiction that began with a sentence provided by Anita Nair herself. That piece will probably end up in my book. The piece turns political protest on its head when a writer covers herself in ink. My acceptance on the strength of this entry told me that, perhaps, some of my fears were unfounded.

Acceptance. Elation.

And, then came the terror. Again.

The terror was powered by circumstances which were both beyond my control and yet also caused by me. Sometimes, even the best communicators fail. Miserably. I started to worry that my failure would cast a pall over my time at Anita’s Attic.

But, by the time I landed in Bangalore and made my way to my hotel, that terror had disappeared. That’s the magic of India that I’ve written about elsewhere. The energy here was different from Seoul. I needed that energy to finish my book. I knew it. The moment I let that energy overtake me, I was at peace.

My biggest fear going to Anita’s Attic for the first time was whether I would be on time. Amazingly, I was.

After the customary introductions, Anita assigned us a writing exercise, which we had to complete in 30 minutes. Nothing like writing under pressure to get the creative juices flowing. I won’t say much about that exercise because I don’t want to spoil the fun for future students. But, I will say that it’s the kind of exercise every writer dreads and usually induces sheer terror. The exercise was a way to rip the Band-Aid off the wound and confront our fears.

I am no longer terrified of my own book. If I gain nothing else from my time rummaging around Anita’s Attic, that relief is enough to make the experience worth it. For here, I have found that elusive “it,” just as the marketing tag line on the folder promises.

For the record, the folder contains a reading list. Guess which book is on the list?

A Fine Balance.

That’s the magic of India.

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