(In March, Janice Pariat, Tania James, Supriya Dravid and I were featured in Elle. We each have a short piece about why we write. Here’s mine)


My nephew is telling me a story. He is 3 and a bit. Currently the story (Joycean in length and references) is about Monkey. In a few minutes you begin to suspect Monkey bears a striking resemblance to him.  I want to ask him, “Is Monkey Jamie?” but I rein in my vulgar curiosity. The next time we hang out, Monkey is missing. Jamie is building, he says, a house for me. He fills his pail with blocks and ‘goes to office’. My task is to look around and say with dismay, “Where is Jamie?” His job to come around the corner triumphantly returning from office. We do this over and over. Exactly the same but not. Each time he develops the dialogue a little.It is the tenth time. Now I say, “Where is Jamie? Where did he go?” He shouts, “I am back from the office.” I dutifully clap my hands and recite, “Jamie is back. I am so happy. I missed Jamie.” He puts down his pail and hugs me for five long seconds and says, “Now Ni-ni, you tell me not to go to the office tomorrow, okay? And then I will say ‘No, I must go to the office’”. I stare at him despondently but he doesn’t believe in happy endings. Like EM Forster he knows there is no plot in a cat sitting on its mat, there is only plot if the cat sits on the dog’s mat.

This summer a friend and I gossiped about a favourite professor who had always complained that his magnum opus was being held up by his teaching commitments. Now for a while he has shed his students but the opus is still to emerge. My friend and I conclude that he doesn’t know that he needed his students to mythologise him. Not to glorify him but to animate him. If we didn’t repeat the stories of his quirks, who was he? If he wasn’t a story, who was he?

Later I realised that this was what makes me flail about bitterly, stupidly when I am far from home. Where was the parent who had tears rolling down her face, laughing not crying, as she repeated the story of a friend’s brother’s suicide (a poisoned banana on a flight to Bombay)? Where was the friend who would trump a story about a 90s Kannada fundamentalist stealing the second reel of a Hindi movie, with the story of a 70s Kannada fundamentalist holding a TV station hostage?

An accomplished novelist once said to me kindly, “your writing always sounds like you are having fun.” I mumbled under my breath, unsure whether this made me a clod rather than an artiste. I wasn’t going to confess— that some mornings I giggle to myself as I write, as if my compulsive story-telling friends and family were reading over my shoulder.

I once interviewed a critic who had a lot to say about the odd nature of contemporary art where artists conceptualise large installations and workmen t fabricate them. He startles me by saying, “The artist’s hand is not a digital printer” and then staying resolutely silent. It takes me a while to understand he was mourning the loss of that mysterious something that appears in the act of making art, surprising even the artist. It is the phenomena Miloscz described as ‘that thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us/so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out/ and stood in the light, lashing his tail.”

It is that slip, that twist, the mysterious something between the lip and the cup you want as a writer.