Of Soul Sisters


Aren’t there some blessings that we take for granted? Aren’t there people in our lives, especially the ones close to us and available all the time, whom we neglect to say thanks to? Don’t we sometimes forget to consider how much they enrich our lives?

When I started writing about things that mattered to me, someone told me to write about other women because being a woman myself, we have a ‘universality of experience’. It sounded odd, to be writing of my sisters, many of whom are separated by time and cultures. Did I really understand their struggles, their concerns and their joys? It takes maturity to be able to identify with the other, across such gaps but yes, we are all of the same soil.

There is something about soul sisters and women who feel like kin, even when we are not related. A woman to woman solidarity is one of the most precious things that we know of.

I recently read about a book, an epistolary novella, ‘So Long a Letter’ by Mariamma Ba. Claire at ‘Word by Word’ has written a very fine review. I expressed an interest in the storyline and here is what Claire had to say,

“…I think it also reflects something unsaid, but obvious, the importance of both having a close female friend, a sister in solidarity and also having a notebook and pen, that place to express oneself when the friend isn’t there, when there is a need to get things out of the mind and give them a kind of home, the journal, the unsent letters, things written without interruption.”

This viewpoint struck such a chord in me.

It really is a gift to be able to speak, express and share with a kindred soul when things get difficult and when we ourselvexs do not understand which path to take, whether to react with belligerence or to bear it with fortitude.

For a woman, having a soul sister or a maternal figure in her life is invaluable. There are times when we need to make sense of circumstances and of our choices and there is no one better who can counsel us. Mere listening is also enough sometimes.

To be able to write, to pour oneself in letters, sent or unsent, to address someone in our minds, who is sympathetic and can see our viewpoint is priceless. To be able to ramble on, to be able to talk over tea, to have someone understand our pauses and the unshed tears is invaluable.

It made me aware of how fortunate we are to have someone to listen to us and how precious soul sisters are.

I am grateful to all the women in my life who have been around, waiting for me to speak and being patient when I chose silence over words. But for their understanding and strength, I would have been confused and taken a longer route to being who I am today.


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: The Place and the Dead Woman

Daphne du Maurier

The du Maurier classic, Rebecca (read the book review), was publicised as a Gothic Romance even though the author disagreed. She wrote it as a study on jealousy and power shifts between relationships. For Daphne, it was a difficult novel to write and it drew heavily on her own life and experiences.

Rebecca reads like a thriller as well; there is an air of mystery, there is a murder and vile characters abound. The book has its fair share of machinations. The plot has a murder, sunken ships, suicidal tendencies, uncontrolled feminine sexuality. But most of all, Rebecca is a study of memories and impressions.

The place is Manderly. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.” This famous opening sets the tone of the novel. It is a dream sequence in which the narrator describes the iconic mansion. It stays dreamy; much of the book’s narration is set in the mind of the narrator, the unnamed young woman, gauche, confused, painfully shy who even after becoming the second Mrs de Winter, struggles to act in a socially acceptable manner.

Apart from the dreaminess, the book is characterised by glorious detail that does complete justice to the beautiful house and the gardens of supposedly one of the best properties in England. It is not just the house or the gardens or even the sea, it is also the details of the people and their thoughts and motivations that make up much of the story.

Rebecca, the book, curiously has a narrator whose first name is never disclosed; we only know that it is an unusual name that most people cannot spell right (though Maxim de Winter gets it right the first time around). But the woman after whom the book is named is dead and yet she looms larger than life, casting her shadow on the places she has been and the people she has been with, long after she has gone.

Manderley, the house and Rebecca, the first wife, come together to exert the strongest influence on the narrator and the rest of the cast.

Manderley is revered- it is so beautiful and mysterious and it has had its rituals set into place from the time Rebecca reigned. And yet, Manderley is destroyed by the time we close the book, we see the flames licking the walls from the ‘ashes (that) blew towards us, with the salt wind from the sea’.

Rebecca, the woman is the epitome of benevolence, charm and beauty, when she is alive and yet she has a hard fall from grace, mostly through her husband, Max, when the circumstances of her death are reopened and an inquiry conducted.

At a deeper level, Rebecca is a psychological drama. The dead woman is portrayed to be manipulative. Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper cum companion for Rebecca is malevolent, manipulating the second wife to immense social embarassment. Maxim is not above suspicion, for all the reader knows, he could be manufacturing the truth about his dead wife, painting her in sinister tones just because he could not rein in her individuality.

It has been 80 years since Rebecca was first published. On March 1, a new Virago edition of the book is being published and it has been speculated that the book not only mirrors the places (Menabilly in Cornwall) she has loved and the people she has felt jealous of (her husband’s fiancee) but also her own sexuality. In Rebecca, Daphne gives a free reign to the first Mrs de Winter who makes unconventional sexual choices. The author is aware that this does not go well with the society and even though not explicitly stated in the book, Maxim is possibly the husband who felt unable to ‘control’ his wife, leading to resentment and violence. This failure leads him to marry the second time to a young, impressionable girl who is likely to obey and revere him.

Two years after the book was published and notched up impressive sales, it was adapted for a mystery film by Alfred Hitchcock. The murder in the book had to be erased in the film for the murderer could not go scot free as per the cinematic conventions of the time. This has an oblique parallel in the book, where the person who murders is forgiven by his wife, inspite of it being a morally dubious choice.

Over the years, the popularity for the book has only grown and the dark, brooding thriller continues to enthrall millions.

To BuJo and Back

When I started blogging, I would always write my blog posts first on paper and then type them out. Labour intensive yes, but I just could not seem to think well while typing. My ideas flowed better with a pencil in hand and the scratching sound on paper reassured me that something was happening. I was making progress.

Then came modernity. I wanted to be able to type long documents, not the office communication or the reports kinds but the imaginative ones. The ones that had stories or articles or posts. So I moved from the paper to the screen. Soon, I was doing very well for someone who could only write on paper. Thus started my journey into the world of typing on keyboards and keypads. Soon, even the grocery lists on paper were replaced by the ones on my phone. It was just easier and convenient.

But over the years, I found that I was in need of inspiration a lot of times and I was just getting very tired of looking at screens. One day, while going through my things I came across my journals that I have filled with my scrawny writing over the years. And the itch to write on paper started again.

I like things to be organised and my writing too and of course, I love making lists. That was the perfect recipe for falling for a BuJo. For the uninitiated (I don’t think there are any), a BuJo is a Bullet Journal, which is a simple and innovative journal designed to keep everything in place, aka the notes, the tasks, your progress. It helps keep you on top in terms of assignments, to-dos, the social calender etc. For me, it also meant not letting go of those creative ideas and the little moments in a day that I could write about.

BuJos beckon the artistic and the organised. It is like a person’s mind, on the page. I had always wanted a journal that would carry Everything that I had ever wanted to write and that had ever crossed my mind. There were the lists, the random things that struck me through the day, the useful resources that I discover, the facts that I uncover from long time mysteries. There is the progress on my daily, weekly and monthly goals. There are the new ideas that just cannot go cold. There are opportunities and there is potential waiting to be tapped and I have to write it all down. And yes, there are my emotions and blog post ideas and things I must share with my group of friends.

I tried creating a very beautiful looking, artsy Bullet Journal. But the entire planning process took days. It was more of a balancing act, writing what, where and at the same time to not let it descend into chaos and an overwritten page.

I know that half the world is crazy about BuJos and the other half is just the ignorant lot. But, somehow, the planning took away the spontaneity.

I got back to the ordinary notebook, grateful for the simplicity. I now carry a bunch of them around with me; colour coded into sections so that I can find what I want without the option for a digital search. My pencils are right next to them and I am happy with the scratch of the pencil on paper.

How much do you write by hand? Do you have a journal? Do you do a BuJo? What have your experiences been?

To You

Image courtesy doxzoo.com

Dear D,

You would be surprised to hear from me. No, you would be puzzled. You would look down to the unfamiliar name at the end of the letter, frown, search your memory and come up with nothing. Who is this from, you would wonder. But, your memory would fail you.

I first saw you in a crowd, that year of the extraordinarily hot summer, wearing blue, your coiffed hair losing strands in the heat. People around me whispered, pointing you out, for obviously, even then you were a head turner. I wondered why and pulled myself away to enter the rectangular, dark room, with the cobbled floor and took a seat next to the wall lined with little jars holding condiments, herbs, pickles.

The lady holding her pans and measuring spoons would appear at just the right time every day to teach us to put together simple ingredients to rustle up a gourmet meal. I was then struggling to master the craft, in fact trying any craft that would help me earn my livelihood and you, on the other hand, looked the pampered daughter of a rich scion.

I did not really want to talk to you, I was content to feel your presence. I thought of your soft flesh as I carved the juicy, soft mangoes to extract the pulp. The slow and precise slicing of vegetables made me aware of your long nails that flashed exotic colours every day. Your nails were sharper than my knives for they could tear apart hearts. I could see you in the milk vessels as the milk formed a thin layer of fat slowly on the surface accentuating the white colour. I smelt you in the fresh herbs that we tore with our hands, not daring to bring the blades near them.

I sat, listening to the teacher’s polite, cultured voice, imagining instead yours, talking to me, asking about me, my life in the dingy, one room with thin walls that could not mute the next door whisperings and the sound of scrambling mice.

The day, I was asked to come up to the cooking platform, I shook inside for even though I was getting good at the stirring and the cooking, the cold surface of the cooking stove made me think of you. For many minutes, I bent my head and concentrated on cooking the perfect sauce. When it was about to be done, I dared look up to steal a glance in your direction. I expected, feared, prayed for an admiring glance but you were busy talking… That felt like a rejection and I froze for long seconds till the sauce boiled over and the sizzle brought me back to what I was doing. Silently, I mopped up the mess, feeling like a failure.

Did you look at me then? Do you remember me now? Do you know that after that day, I stopped coming to the class? I redoubled my efforts at mastering the culinary skills in my one room house. I went on to have a successful career, yes, it would be successful in your eyes, it got me money and recognition. Sometimes, I felt empty but I considered I was making you proud.

I saw you the other day, no, saw your picture in the glossy that was on the shiny table at the dentist’s waiting room. Your eyes looked sad, the corners of your mouth downturned and you seemed to have spilled some wine down the front of your designer gown. People around seemed to be laughing at you, rather than with you. Does beauty fade so fast?

I had to write to you and tell you that I dream of you still. That I am here waiting to make the perfect meal, to feed your appetite.


Sunday Trees #326

I took this picture on a rainy day, having gone out to capture the tiny flowers near the sidewalk. The delicate petals drooped with the weight of the water droplets but I looked up to see this fruit hanging down from the tree, ready to be plucked, as the others had been, before this.

Looking at the verdant green makes me long for the rains again, the steady beat of the drops on the tin roofs of the balconies and leaves and buds sprouting everywhere.

Winter is mild here, a touch and go affair. It is getting warmer and the dried foliage around, however, means that I can see more of the lake from my windows and admire the sun shimmering bright on the water.

Big mercies.

I am inspired to post this picture for Becca’s Sunday Trees.

What I have been doing…


Image Credit: Background Plumeria by Jade Moon

I keep getting the urge to yell ‘I am Back‘ on my blog and I really could not let this entire month go by without posting anything. So, at the far end of the month, rather than the brand new beginning of a new month or even a new week, I am trying to make some sense while writing this.

I have been away for some time and I had the usual reasons. I didn’t know what to write, I was busy, I wanted to shake up things but did not know exactly how. I wanted to start the year on a good foot, with an elaborate plan for the blog, planning out content with editorial calenders, posting a number of things, a judicious mix of the serious and the light hearted, the long and short.

But I never got around to making those plans and really, even after all these years blogging, I work more by the seat of my pants, blogging while feeling inspired or intensely emotional or wonderfully elated.

And all this inactivity has led to a deeper disquiet, more than a mere lethargy. It is a sense of boredom, of apathy, or an ennui. Of course, life gets in the way of writing and just too frequently for my liking.

I started the year by having monthly writing goals. No surprises and because there has been nothing posted here, it is safe to assume that I did not meet those goals. They need to be refined for month 2 of the year. I am also getting back to writing by hand, as opposed to be always typing on some keyboard or some screen and got two journals, plain white sheets with colour coded sections. However much I like them, the inertia kicked in and my first few days of the shift was characterised by staring at them in dread.

The stress of the shift to pen and paper, coupled with low productivity nearly led me to binge eating but I reigned myself in, just in time. Now, I am experimenting with healthy meals, which are sometimes so bland and uninteresting that binge eating is impossible.

I am still reading though, many books and yes, here too I should step out of my comfort zone. Perhaps I should read fantasy or sci fi. I am still writing the reviews so that is some writing I am doing, even though I am posting them elsewhere.

I am also wondering if I am a writer and this quote made me sure that I am.

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” -Thomas Mann

I think a change of scenery would be good. I have been traveling and had a good change. On the blog, I need to change the theme and the layout and some change in content.

I am also dipping my toes in social media. I joined Twitter and am loving the brevity and the wit and the sarcasm. It’s a great tool for getting more eyeballs but I am still taking baby steps.

Any tips and tricks for Twitter that you could suggest? (@Writenlive1)

Coming back to the original question, what should I write about? I hope to sort this out soon.

I welcome your suggestions.

And This is Where I Summarise

The things we do for the love of reading and writing! Here are some of the things that I put up on my blog this year.

Book Reviews

I have written a lot of book reviews this year. But the most fun I had was in the months of September and October, when I raced against time to read the Booker shortlist, before the winner got announced. I managed to read five out of six, Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1 being too long for me, even in the best of times. Reading these excellent books back to back provided me with some great insights regarding the storylines and the plots. I was excited to read these vastly different voices, from the richly imagined Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (the 2017 winner) to the ethereal History of the Wolves by Emily Fridlund (an excellent debut). There was another debut work, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, which had excellent world building. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid has received effusive praise and I would let others do the talking here. Autumn by Ali Smith made me long to write something on those lines; light, contemporary, witty and yet poignant. It sounded from the heart; it talked of things close to us, the ones that touch us deeply in life.

I also marveled at how these adept writers broke the rules and how books are wonderous even when they are flawed.


This year, I made public my love for writing lists. Ideally, everything I know or think of can be written in the form of lists. It isn’t just the satisfaction of ticking off things; it is the fun of enumerating things without having to structure my thoughts much. So, I kicked off 2017 with a weekly feature on lists. Those listicles ruled the blog till October when I realised that I was repeating myself and would do so unless I found different things to write about. Most of the listicles were about the writing process and really, nearly all of them are my favourites. Still, I would recommend this one on keeping the writing inspiration strong. And this one on the Muse. Also this on creativity. I wrote one on goodbyes. And why I write.

NaNoWriMo 2017

I completed the NaNoWriMo this year too and saw the difference it makes when one writes a lot, even though initially a lot of it may be crappy. I learnt a lot more about the writing process and what my strengths (obstinacy) and weaknesses (outlining) are.

If we were having coffee…

I wanted to write many coffee posts and have a heart to heart talk with my readers but this year, I was also stuck in the bubble of not wanting to talk much about myself or what was up in my personal life. I wanted to cut out the I, Me, Myself completely but our blogs are essentially a reflection of our selves. I need not have played the hide and seek. Hopefully, in the coming months, I would be able to talk more of my experiences.

Through the Mist

The best thing in the journey of reading and writing came in the form of a collaborative book that got published this year. I got together with four other writers and penned short stories for a collection titled, Through the Mist. Writing with others turned out to be a new and fun experience and having my own published book in my hands is a priceless feeling. Being part of a very supportive team of writers, the editor and the publisher has been an enriching writing experience.

Sunday Trees

This year has also been about the trees. I cannot help noticing them wherever I go. I am incredibly fortunate to be in cities that are teeming with so many of them. And as a blogger friend pointed out, we appreciate and take care of trees and that’s a fantastic thing on our part.

I was also very fascinated with flowers. For some time, I happened to be in a place where the houses are fronted with magnificent gardens, a plethora of flowers in every yard. I was hooked as I saw their colours and forms with new eyes. And then we moved places and there are no flowers in the boxed apartments. I have taken to clicking leaves of the potted plants. But that’s a story for another time.

Thanks and good wishes to each one of you in the blogging community. I wouldn’t be here, if not for you.