My Struggles With Brevity

I love to write.

I love to write a lot……Unfortunately.

I don’t remember how old I was when my mother, an English teacher, told me that I should always while writing answers in a literature paper take it for granted that the examiner knows nothing. Explain everything. Provide as much context as possible.

I don’t think even she realized the widespread repercussions her words would have, but since then my answers in the examinations, especially my literature paper, have just grown in size. The smallest answer I ever wrote for an English literature paper was three-quarters of an A4 size sheet! A close friend joked that if I had written the entire Shakespeare play verbatim in the answer sheet my answer would probably be shorter. It wasn’t even that big an exaggeration. For one exam, I remember taking 11 supplements or extra sheets, after finishing the initial 12-page booklet. I would probably have written more, but I was running a mild temperature  that day. The same friend joked, that next year our juniors could probably just bind my answer papers and read it instead of the textbook. It never hurt me however. In my final Literature exam at the end of high school, I wrote more than forty pages and scored 99 out of 100.

Verbosity has always been a loving friend to me. My essays in middle school used to be six-seven pages long, and I would only stop writing, once the final bell had rung, and my teacher had more often than not literally snatched the paper away from me. Writing till the last possible second is a habit I am yet to curb, during exams.

I remember one glorious day in tenth grade when all our lectures had been cancelled  due to some emergency teacher’s meeting, but unwilling to leave us all free for the rest of the day, our teacher had asked us to write a story on the topic ‘I wish I had wings…’ Unsurprisingly, no one in the class did…except me. When in the last period, our teacher came to collect the essays she found that no one had written anything, and the one who had was unwilling to give it. I had written ten pages, but I did not want to submit it yet. I told so to my teacher. Surprised, she urged me to tell her why. After a little pushing, I confessed that I had yet to finish my story….or to begin it one could also say. You see my plot was simple: a young village girl dreams of flying and on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus gifts her the ability to fly, and what she does after that. When my teacher came to collect the stories, I had only written till the part where she dreams of flying, and even Santa Claus’s grand entry was yet to be made. After I had explained this to my teacher, she was speechless for a second, and then groaned, “Archita, you shall be the death of me! Please, please don’t do something like this in your Board examination!” She was afraid I would waste so much time on that one question that I would not have enough time left to finish the rest of the paper. Despite her warning, my essay in my tenth board exams nearly reached twenty pages, but I made sure that I finished the rest of my paper beforehand. Yet this was the first time that I realized that as much as I loved my verbose style of writing with grandiose descriptions, brevity has its own charm.

Since then, I have trimmed my style a lot. I write my answers in bullet points, and try to be as concise as possible…at least in academic examinations. But at home with a pen and a sheet of blank paper in front of me – I run wild. My journals are filled with pages and pages of the day’s account in excruciatingly precise details (this year, I have already finished two 400 page journals. Last year, I used up 3 notebooks as my diaries). My ultimate dream is to write a diary entry so intricately detailed that when I open my journal, ten years from now, I can experience all that I am experienced a decade back with the same intensity that I felt then. Needless to say, I haven’t yet been successful in my attempt, but I am trying hard. I write in as much detail as Time and Memory would permit.

For me, words are the path to immortality. Maybe when I am 80 years old, I shall flip through the yellowed pages of my youth, and through the faded blue scribbles relive once again the forgotten past – laugh at the old jokes, chuckle at a daring prank, fondly remember forgotten friends, and for one moment someday the lines between the Past and the Present would blur. 

My verbosity is well known among my peer groups. My friends might tease me, but I am also pretty much in demand. Whenever someone has an important essay to write, they seek my advice. Sometimes before a literature exam, I have had to turn my phone off, so that I could ward off advice-seekers and study. For friends’ birthdays, I don’t have to waste a lot of time looking for the perfect gift. I usually give my friends a book (usually a personal favorite) with a personalized message inside. For some I might even write a poem, and those few scribbled lines alone often overshadow any extravagant gift anyone else might have bought 😛 On the last day of middle school, I was the one everyone wanted to have their slam books filled by. I remember, a girl with whom I had throughout my school life barely ever seen eye to eye with came up to me with her slam book, handed it to me, and said hesitatingly, “Write something good, ok?” 

Yet as much as I love verbosity, I do believe that brevity has its own utility. Sometimes the lesser you write, the better it is. I love reading and occasionally writing Flash Fiction.

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Earnest Hemingway’s six-word story, written as part of a bet, is according to me more poignant than dozens of thick volumes of tragedy taken together. It is one of my favourite works in literature. The story leaves you wanting more, like any good short story should. You yearn to know more about the individuals who published this notice, but you can’t, and that’s when your brain start filling in the blank space underneath the words. You imagine the pain, the angst of the dead child’s parents. You question yourself is the child really dead? Was it a miscarriage? An abortion? Was she kidnapped? You try to imagine the mother’s pain, the pale face of the father …and the story stays with you, because it has, through its brevity transcended the world of fiction and entered the sphere of reality.

Someday I would love to gain that much mastery over the elusive skill of brevity. But never at the cost of losing my verbose style!

Today’s Daily Prompt: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” — Blaise Pascal          Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?

Advertisements

1st July 2014: The Slow-Fast Conundrum

Let me at very first tell you that only people who have experienced the vagaries of Mumbai Western locals will be able to empathize with my current predicament.
To go to college, I needed a fast local and so I decided to catch the morning 9:00 fast. My usual dilly-dallying not withstanding, I arrived at the station at the exact moment the train arrived at the station! We couldn’t have planned it better even by intention. This resulted in the usual clogging of the overpaes stairs, with panic-stricken passengers like me hurrying to alight the stairs and board the train, before all the seats were taken; and other harried passengers, who had just alighted from the train attempting to rush up the stairs and to their connecting train/rickshaw stand/bus stand.
In the moment of panic I just let the crowd carry me to the coach, got in and made myself comfortable. It was only after the train left that I realized that:
a) It was running before time, something that hasn’t ever happened or was likely to happen. Running behind time – sure
Running ahead of  time – oh no,no
b) There was another train standing on the other platform, marked for the same destination!!
A little conversation with my co-passengers established that I had indeed boarded the wrong train!! A slow, instead of a fast, which added some extra 20-30 mins of travel time. So I did what any (in)sane person would do – get down at the next station, and wait for my train. A Word Of Advice: In Mumbai, once you get on a train, you hang on for dear life till you reach your destination!
My train guide told me the next train to come would be a fast, BUT the neon railway indicator and the people waiting on the platform assured me it was a slow, indeed supposedly the same slow my railway guide told me I had been on!!!
When the train arrived I asked (unwilling to believe my trusted source could be wrong) one of the passengers in the train, whether it was a slow or fast. She assured me it was a fast. I quickly got in.
Like with doctors, it is my personal dictum that one should always take a second opinion. Like with doctors, it only further adds to the confusion. Doctor W will tell you that you have fever and the stomach infection is just it’s offshoot, and you must follow X prescription. Doctor D will tell you that it is clear you are suffering from stomach infection due to improper functioning of your liver enzymes, and the fever is just a reaction to the same, and you must follow Y prescription, while following X will only make you sicker!!
On the train, the second person I talked to assured me it was a slow local, when her neighbour chimed in “No,no. It’s a fast!” I was just about to thank her, when the lady near the window burst out, “What nonsense! This is a slow!”
Now the debate intensified and people started voicing their own opinions. One was of the belief that it was neither a fast nor a slow, but a government propaganda to create strife. Another blamed the underground militia. One was of the opinion it was going in the opposite direction, and nothing anyone said could change his mind. It was his belief, and by God, he was going to stand by it!
Let’s just suffice that the station left, and the one after that, but no one could reach to a conclusion. I am still on that train, like the rest of them, hoping and praying that it is indeed taking me where I want to go. But who knows, who can predict?! Man proposes, the Railway Company disposes.

The Room of Requirement

Today’s Daily Prompt: An extra room has magically been added to your home overnight. The catch: if you add more than three items to it, it disappears. How do you use it?

My own room!! Oh yay!! Been waiting for that for so long. 

Hmm…only 3 items are allowed :\ Ah, that’s okay, we will manage. All I need is:

  1. My Laptop with a Good Strong Wi-Fi Connection: So that I can type away to my heart’s content, update my blog posts, chat with friends, download e-books, watch films and videos. 
  2. My Diary: As much as I love the rhythm of my keyboard, it really can’t compare with the magical melody of my pen’s nib scratching against the blank white paper, leaving beautiful inky designs behind. Looking at a blank white page in my diary always gives me an adrenaline rush – if you keep a diary too, maybe you can empathize. A blank white paper today will be stained and etched with my heart’s dearest secrets tomorrow. Events I can’t even imagine today is already destined to be etched onto that page in the future. How can one not find that exciting?! 
  3. My Mp3 Player: My third love (after reading and writing) is music, so having my mp3 player with me at all times is a must. In this room, my own secret lair, I can blare my favourite songs at the maximum possible volume, and maybe even sing along (I hope the room comes with soundproof walls 😉 )

There my Room of Requirement is designed. Now, where is that extra room??????

25th Februrary 2014 – Running into Zoya Akhtar

Ever since I came to Mumbai, nine years ago, my friends and relatives back in Kolkata would ask me whether I had seen any ‘celebrities’ around. Because this is Mumbai, the city of dreams, the home of Bollywood, surely actors and actresses, and directors and singers, just casually roam the streets. Why one might run into them while shopping for groceries!!

I am not saying its improbable. Heck, one of the signs of being a Mumbaikar is that when you see Sonam Kapoor sitting behind you in a cafe, you turn away, spitefully saying, Meh! She looks thinner onscreen. Or find Salman Khan walking in front of you with his entourage, and your only thought is Move aside! I am late. These are not fictional stories but actual experiences recounted to me by some of my friends. But Fortune hadn’t chosen to till yesterday bless me with the good fortune of having come face to face with a ‘Celebrity’. The closest I came was a car parked outside Nehru Science Gallery, which the watchman gleefully informed me was Sharukh Khan’s car. I was eight at the time, and was frankly quite enraptured (in retrospect I am pretty sure he was lying).

Once while on a guided city tour ride with my relatives who were visiting from Kolkata, while passing Akshay Kumar’s house the entire party got rather excited when we saw a black silhouette at the window. Turned out to be his servant…oh well! Similarly I have encountered the maid of Aishwarya Rai Bachan’s house, when she was busy cleaning the windows. Still better than nothing I thought.

But today, Fate finally decided to bless me with the sight of a real, true to God celebrity. Perchance I happened to be in the same building as the Excel Entertainment offices, and when the lift doors opened – there she was. Zoya Akhtar! The celebrated director of ‘Luck by Chance’ and ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’. Frankly I didn’t recognize her in the beginning. She looked so ordinary. Dressed in normal tee-shirt and slacks, with her hair tied back in a neat bun. She could have been any other woman. She could have been me. The realization took a moment to sink in. And when it did I think my mouth kind of fell open with shock and awe. For her part she gave me an exasperated look that clearly said she was tired of bimbos like me staring at her, and sidestepping me went off to wherever she was going.

When my shock wore off I started to realize how stupid I was to think of celebrities as perfection embodied. They are ordinary people, like me and you, just that they are extremely talented, and have used this talent to create a niche for themselves in the world. We can do it too. Hone our skills, so that someday when we walk out of a lift and run into a 18-year old girl, she stares at us open-mouthed.

24th February 2014 – Confessions of a Rookie Weight Watcher

Last week, my best friend somehow managed to lure me to a gym. I honestly feel that she used hypnotism or maybe the imperius curse on me, because there is no other way on Earth that anyone could have dragged me, the lazy foodie (a bad combination anyways you look at it) to a gym. Maybe she told me I would find cute guys there – at least that part was true (you don’t know how much more bearable a stiff workout can be if you have a good body to stare at). Anyway somehow she managed to convince (read brainwash) me, and so here I am – five days into the training program and yet to lose a gram. Of course I lose around half a kg everyday, immediately after the workout, but somehow I manage to gain it all back by the next day, sometimes a gram or two more. My gym workout as you can see is pretty much going nowhere, kind of like a car going at top speed in a circle, and never really reaching anywhere. But what has changed is now, all of a sudden and completely out of the blue, I am starting to care about my appearance. Till date I was an ultra-modern feminist who just believed in wearing comfortable clothes, no makeup and eat anything I want – a guy who loves me will have to love me for me, I believed, for what lies in the interior and not for any polished exterior. But now I care about how I look!! When dressing up for college, I mentally debate on which dress does a better job of hiding my love handles. And food – suddenly, me the lover of all types of exotic and tasty dishes, is now suddenly reading the nutritional levels behind tins and boxes. Suddenly a packet of crisps is not a tasty snack for the train, but 34 extra calories I will have to lose!! Out of the blue my kitchen is filled with low fat milk, cheese, sugar and butter – all of which taste awful, and burn a nice round hole in my pocket.

 A-Note-for-My-Diet-Plantumblr_mvervsUnrC1rhix7to1_500

Now, in all earnestness, my dear friends, I am going to tell you that gyms are only brainwashing centers run by supernatural beings that take over your brain and lifestyle. It robs you of the happiness of eating in bliss, without wondering how many calories you are gaining, or dreaming about how many kilos you are going to lose in how many days (and how then finally THAT guy will ask you to the prom). But its also true that it boosts your self-esteem. The euphoria of losing a few grams is quite unparalleled. Yet, just remember to ask yourself – is it worth it ? 

22nd February 2014 – An Indian Weekend

# Statutory Warning: All incidents mentioned her are strictly true…more or less. 

So, today while sitting in class and aimlessly doodling in my notebook while my professor droned on about ‘The Effects of Media on Adolescence’ I had a sudden brainwave of keeping an online diary. Heck why not? I thought. I am hopelessly single, a term employee at Jobless Incorporated and have a negligible social life – so I definitely have the time, and I have been itching to try something new for quite sometime now. Though knowing my innate and astonishing ability to procrastinate, it might soon reach an inevitable end anyways….well that’s enough depressing talk for one day, and before you start wondering how in the world you ended up here, I better start what I intended to start when I start(ed).

Most Indian Colleges have still to catch up on the true meaning of the concept of ‘weekend’. As far as they are concerned it means getting students to wake up at half-past five and come to college looking like zombies, so that you can further doom them with tedious lectures, and finally pile up enough homework and assignments to make sure that they don’t even have time to breathe on Sunday. Indian College Professors would excel at world domination. Anyways that’s how my day started. The only perk being that the hot guy I kinda-sorta like sat next to me in class today – I wish it was because he wanted my company, but I have a nasty feeling it was only because that was the only seat left available in the classroom when he arrived – and every now and then during the two hour long lecture, his hand would brush against mine. Once he actually started tapping my fingers with his, probably a game, or a desperate attempt to keep himself awake – whatever the case it generated enough adrenaline (and some other hormones) in me to keep my eyes open in class.

On my way back, in the notoriously slow Western Locals of Mumbai, I met up with a friend. She told me of another disastrous weekend she had with a couple of her friends. All of them had bought drinks and gone to one of the boys’ house for a booze party. This was the first time that they had purchased vodka, and thus did not have much of a clue as to when to restrain themselves, and also ignorant of the fact that the effect of vodka takes a while to sink in. So they kept drinking till they felt ‘high’ and the result was they passed the borderline of sobriety and sanity. After an extremely wild party they went out to a family restaurant to display their inebriated state to the entire world. One of the girls, my friend told me in between bursts of embarrassed laughter, dipped her paper napkin into the gravy boat and ate it. Yet, she continued, the worst part of the evening was yet to come. “You see, we were so drunk that we had forgotten to clean up the place; and when my friend went home he found all the bottles we were supposed to throw out on the table, the place stinking of alcohol and his parents standing in front of him, arms crossed”.

“So what happened?” I asked.

“Oh nothing much. He made up a story. He told his parents that did they honestly think he was stupid enough to drink, if he did drink, in his own house, and not clean up”.

“And they bought it?” I asked incredulously.

“Oh yes! You see his parents thought that no one could be that stupid. But we were. That stupid!”

“So, you were saved because his parents underestimated your stupidity!!” 

And that’s enough for today. I write again soon….maybe. Please feel free to leave a comment on what you think.