Saturday 5 September 2020

Questionnaire with Bharat Shekhar


So this month's featured author ' Bharat Shekhar'

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your profession and your hobbies!!

Once upon a time, long ago, I dreamed my way through a lovely childhood in the remote districts of Rajasthan. Then I waded my way through school, college and the two universities of Delhi and JNU. Among all the dreaming and wading, I managed to get an M.Phil in History, which landed me a lecturer’s job at Zakir Hussain College, Delhi.

 After three years there, I shifted to NIIT, and became an Instructional Designer (fancy word for the content writer).  Very quickly both the corporate world and I realised that we were not cut out for each other. But old habits such as lingering and procrastination die hard, and I hung around the precincts for a good seven to eight years. However, as all bad things too must come to an end, I did, at last quit NIIT, and have been happily freelancing, navel-gazing, doodling and writing for the past couple of decades.

Hobbies? I guess they are the three r’s - reading, writing and ranting in writing (less and less of the last though), two m’s -music and meditation, and at – travel (both external as well as within oneself). 

 Questionnaire with Bharat Shekhar


1.       How did you first get involved in with writing, are you an imaginative person?

I grew up in the remote districts of Rajasthan, when they were really remote. There were vast sprawling vistas, lonely, lovely desert landscapes, and large chunks of time spent in my own and in my siblings’ company. This combination really helped to develop my imagination

Then, my grandfather had a lovely habit. Most evenings, he would sit us siblings down and tell us stories that of many things under the sun- Sindabad the sailor, Sarswati the goddess of learning, Robin Hood, Ram, Mahabarat, Mohhammad, madness and Mohabbat.  As his gentle voice spoke magic words, our heads would go spinning in a journey alongside. 

As a result, as a child, I never wanted to be what children usually hanker to grow up and be as soon as they can – an adult. So I guess I have somewhere always remained a kid, a kid with some imagination, which is both a blessing and a curse.

I didn’t want to become a fireman, policeman, doctor, engineer, lawyer, astronaut, or any other exotic profession, not even a belly dancer, or soothsayer.  I always imagined that as a writer I could be all of these and more. With my words, I could recreate them all according to my designs. Of course, I did not see the downside of such idyllic imagination then. Writing is not only imagination, but it’s also experienced, and the empathy to be in someone else’s shoes. And it’s hard work, harder than many other professions. That’s another story and I won’t get into it here.

Anyhow, the gist is that I always wanted to be a storyteller, but I got down to the real grind much much later, a process that I began with a seriousness only when I started to make up and tell stories to my children as I carried them on my shoulders. And, thus, in a deep sense a loop was closed, the one which began with my grandfather telling me stories when I was their age.

2.       What do you find most challenging about your writing?

The discipline, the blood, sweat and tears, the daily grind, the routine, all of which belong to the underbelly of writing, very real but little discussed. However, without them, it is crystal clear that no writer can progress very far. Hence I do try and follow a daily routine, but sometimes I have to take myself there dragging my feet. The big idea, the initial click, the ‘aha’ moment, the flow while it lasts, is relatively easy to come by, at least for me. It is the slow, steady translation, the gradual whittling and shaping into a comprehensible shape, which is the real challenge.

3.       What do you do when you are not writing?

I doodle a lot, read navel-gaze, meditate, listen to music, and daydream a lot.

4.       Where do you see yourself in the next 6 months, and 5 years down the road?

There’s a very an interesting meme doing the round these days. Its text says, “I bet not a single person in 2015 got the answer to this question right.  ‘Where do you see yourself five years from now?’ “. In other words, it’s difficult to predict the future under normal circumstances, and these days circumstances are anything but normal. Of course, I wish for better circumstances six months from now and even better ones five years hence. That’s pretty much what humans do.

5.       How do you keep coming up with material/content for your story?

Travelling and seeing things with an open mind is essential to the process. By travelling I don’t mean travelling to any specific place, going on a lonely mountain trek, hiking to exotic locales, or becoming a passenger on an ocean liner taking a world cruise (though this type of travel is certainly important too). Travel could also simply mean loitering around a park without intent, or going to the market to buy groceries etc. Just be aware of circumstances and open to possibilities. When you see someone do something peculiar, try and be in their shoes, but also to be as outrageous in your imagination as possible Initially, the brief of the writer, the journalist and the detective are similar. Look around. Observe anything out of the ordinary. Look for clues. However, as soon as the clues are found, the three paths diverge. The journalist looks for the wider story, the detective tries to solve the mystery, the writer, on the other hand, does not seek the ‘truth’ in the sense of the mundane truth. No, she lets the imagination run in the most bizarre ad amusing of directions that a story can take.

Given below is an excerpt for a note I prepared for schoolchildren about sources of inspiration:

 It(inspiration/idea) begins with an observation of an action, image, number or word, which gets caught in the mind and then processed. You can faithfully record, or exaggerate, underplay, extend. For example, you see a person walking. You notice how he scrapes his foot on the ground after every third step.  You wonder why and then a process begins in the mind. Is he scraping off something that has got stuck to the shoe? Why after every third step? Why is he looking around suspiciously every time he scrapes the shoe? You look at the ground where he has just scraped his shoe and you can see something golden brown. Has he done something wrong? Thus floats the idea for a mystery story that could involve space ships and aliens, or a robbery, or if you are inclined towards realism of crushing debt/poverty, which his forcing into to something demeaning.

That is the beauty of imagination and imaginative thought. It does not lead in any logical manner from point A to point B, but to a whole load of tangents that could lead anywhere. Your own imagination is the only limit. That having been said, once the tangent is chosen and a story is woven, there must be an internal logic with a plotline, well thought out characters, dialogue, which must all be plausible.

For example, ‘The Eighth Dwarf’ (a story in my book ‘Talking Tales’ ) began by idly thinking about the number eight, about how it is tight and closed, how it curls in on itself, how unlike the other numbers it has no opening. Around that time, I had been watched ‘Snow White’ to my computer, and suddenly something clicked. What if there was a mysterious eighth dwarf, who nobody knew about, who did not know about herself, but was otherwise very wise. How would this impact the original story? And thus began the Talking Tale of the Eighth Dwarf. Another example I can give comes from one of the earliest stories I wrote. I was on a project in Hyderabad. It was a winter afternoon. The sun was out and it was very warm. A mother was walking with her son (aged three or four), who had a monkey cap on. The poor boy was feeling very hot and, at intervals kept trying to take the cap off, but the mother kept putting it back on. That was all that happened, but it put the germ of an idea in my head that ultimately became a story about how a wildebeest mother fools a crocodile to save her daughter and a zebra friend from his jaws. She tells the crocodile that she will make a cap out of the wildebeest hide, and a cape, but in order to do so, she has to measure the crocodile first. To give the measurements, the crocodile rolls over on his back. Have you seen insects and reptiles that get rolled over on their back? They find it very difficult to get back up. So once the crocodile is stuck and struggling on his back, the wildebeest Yimuni, her daughter Kimuni,  and their friend Zuber the Zebra make good their escape.

So your ideas for stories, novels, poems can come from everywhere- a friendship or a fight in the classroom, a ride in a three-wheeler, talk with the person who works in the house, an interesting game during recess, your mother or father talking about their day in office, going shopping in the mall, or the neighbourhood market... anything at all.  

(NOTE: While this is part of a note written for middle-grade school children, many of these ideas can be applied to any level of fiction,

Till now I was talking of external sources, which a writer finds in the world outside-by travelling and observing. Equally though, there is another source, which is less spoken about- the author’s interaction with him/herself, or his/her journey within, not without. Travelling within in a kind of dream state throws up all kinds of memories and melodies, and the sheer magic of people, places and things, you barely dreamed existed within. In the travel within, I don’t follow the route of looking for clues and then imagining different possible routes from them. No. Here I have to trust instead whatever is guiding me and to let go, letting it take me where it will. Any pressure from my side, any attempt at verbalising, and it will be gone without a trace. It is only later, much later that one can reflect on these inner experiences and to garner their essence.

6.       Any specific tips you have for new writers who want to make it big in the world of published books?

Not really, except for them to follow their heart and instincts. Do Not have to make it big in the publishing world as your primary, or even secondary goal. Instead, look at it as a by-product of your passion. Unless of course making it big is your only aim, rather than writing.

7.       What’s the best thing a writer can give to his readers?

     The ability to feel and, more rarely to think. However, I think the question itself could be framed a little differently, “What is the best thing that a writer can give themselves?” The tentative answer to that I would say is that while the writer is trying to unravel and understand the world (in whatever limited manner), it is also a slow unravelling and understanding of the self, in tandem. In the process, hopefully, he can pass on a little of the mix to the readers, whatever rubs off.