Sunday, October 31, 2010


It has been about six months since the last book came out. And I've been doing a fair bit of thinking about the writing life, about what it means to me to have 'become a writer' and what greater toll this way of living will exact. Still trying to figure those things out.

I've also been doing a lot of thinking about what a writer's responsibilities are, and what I might owe to whom. To that, the answer right now seems to be - not much, not to anybody much. A debt to gratitude to friends and family, of course. But that is the sort of debt we all owe. We cannot live without piling it up, and we must perforce pay it in the same coin - with support and time and affection.

But as a writer?

I'm not quite sure if I owe anyone anything simply by dint of what I choose to do. Nor do I assume that anyone owes me anything. Society doesn't owe it to me to allow me to make a living, writing what I choose. The government or cultural institutes don't owe me support. Readers don't owe me their time or attention.

But the most precious thing about having a book like this out and available (mostly) in the market is that people I don't know at all have read it and liked it, and said it transformed them. They have written back in, tweeted back in, looked me up on Facebook and sent messages.

I was already feeling a little giddy when one of my oldest girl friends, someone who avowedly reads only for 'time-pass' and usually romances or historical novels, began to read Known Turf. She was doing me a favour, really. Showing support etc. But a couple of months ago, she called to say she was surprised that I had actually spawned this thing. "It's the best thing I've ever read," she said.

Perhaps she was over-generous. After all, we have known each other fifteen years. But I will never stop feeling grateful for all the feedback from strangers who said I made them think about themselves, India or womanhood in new ways.

One such stranger tagged me on Facebook to do a list of 15 writers who influenced me or touched my life. 'The ones you carry with you in your head. The ones who shape your thinking and your dreams.'

It is really hard to think of those writers off-hand. I've been asked that questions by interviewers a couple of times and I find myself fumbling suddenly. Really, who are my influences? I've been reading since I was six years old. I ought to have a hundred! But when it comes to the crunch, my mind blanks. So I thought this is a good time to do a sparse list.

So I did the list, and since I was meaning to post something about writing in general on the blog, I figured I'd do a more detailed note here. Here's my essential influential 15:

1. Nissim Ezekiel

A poem called 'Beauty' was in my school syllabus but I cannot find it on the internet now. It jolted me into actually paying attention to poetry, instead of memorizing and led me to realise its power. If someone can find it, please send it to me.

2. Charles Dickens

Began reading his stuff when I was 8 years old - too young to understand much except the barebones plot. But his protagonists were often children and that helped. I read and re-read those books in college and understood a bit more. But I swallowed the subtext even in my childhood. I think it is just embedded within me now.

3. Hardy Boys/Franklin W Dixon (who didn't really exist).

Mysteries, adventure, high school romance. But I just couldn't fathom how Chet allowed Joe to date his sister. In India, where I grew up, boys would beat up anybody who tried to make their sisters into 'girlfriends'.

4. Jane Austen

The Karan Johar-Yash Chopra of her time. Everybody secretly likes.

5. Walter Scott

Historical romance. Still a bit of a sucker.

6. William Shakespeare

To be or not to be. All the world's a stage. One can go on and on and on.

7. Arun Kolatkar

Jejuri turned wheels inside me, opened so many windows in my head, I'm still reading and re-reading.

8. Agatha Christie.

Murder made everyday. I hadn't thought of killers as real, ordinary people who lived in respectable families and had mundane causes for wanting to kill, not until I read her. Never outgrew that style and genre either. Still love murder mysteries.

9. P. Sainath

Everybody Loves a Good Drought. One book that really did change my world view.

10. John Donne

Busy Olde Foole... allowed me to think of poetry as fun, and sexy. Not depressing all the time. He taught me to have fun with poems.

11. Arthur Miller

The Crucible. All My Sons. He said things.

12. William Golding

Lord of the Flies. Still get scared when I think about it.

13. Paash

Politically charged love poetry. Plus, what he lived like is an integral part of what his work is like. It changed the way I thought of poets and their task in the world.

14. Margaret Atwood

The primary way in which she influenced me was to make me very envious.

15. Salman Rushdie

I think he had the same influence on me that Marquez and magic-realism has on many young readers, except that I was introduced to Marquez at a later stage in life.

So that's it at this point.

Tweets by @anniezaidi