Oral tradition versus historical ‘fact’

Working on the WWII book today, making choices: the Indian National Army, as described online, is not the same as the Indian National Army in the oral history I grew up with, stories and unspoken attitudes of my elders who lived through the war. I may of course not be remembering perfectly. I can talk to people who were alive at the time, and have, but I find they don’t remember perfectly either. Some memories are crystal clear and consistent, even down to using the exact same words each time they tell the tale,, others vague and shifting. So it’s up to me. At the end of the day, it’s my book; and I’m fiction for a reason. I will do the research, but I will write from my memory of the oral tradition.

I just heard my father chuckle and say, “What to do?” about these sorts of quandaries. So I’ll stop quandary-ing now, and get to writing.

remembering kindness: 9/11

9/11: Six degrees of separation, everyone lost someone. I waited 3 days before my next door neighbor came home from the Pentagon. People in 60 nations lost loved ones on that day. But the biggest casualty has been our collective consciousness. America was a kinder country before that day.

There is still deep kindness. Fear and the instinct to self-preservation makes it easy to forget that to love, to relate, to respect the other — other nation, other race, other gender, other anything — requires being vulnerable to a certain extent. My prayer is to see the collective trauma released — it is not seemly to grieve forever — and to remember with love but also to live, into the future, with kindness.

Just after 9/11, we were kind. At least, common people were, I claim no understanding of politicians. My neighbor, a Marine Colonel, came back from the Pentagon, having stayed long enough to be sure one of his best friends made it, and his first concern was making sure none of the violent backlash hit a very nice, older Indian couple round the corner from us who spoke little English and always wore traditional clothing. They were great gardeners and cooks, entertaining their extended family to lunch every Sunday. I was too naive back then to think they might possibly have been at risk, but — he was military, he’d been in volatile situations before — it was the first thing his mind went to. And he said a word here and a word there and made sure our neighbors were safe.

I want that neighborly America back. I do not think this disrespects the dead. They were part of that kinder world. The America where, when I was a lost kid at Bennington, one older friend lent me her bicycle, another taught me to bake bread, strangers drove me to church, my professors lent me books I could not afford to buy, and on and on. A thousand kindnesses, and too little paranoia for me to notice. I’m sure it was there. I’m not asking for a community of angels. Just the community that was injured in 9/11. Time to let go and heal.

 

SubDrift

SubDrift: free-for-all open mic and Desi love fest made wonderful by warmth, camaraderie, and a really awesome quality of performance. This particular evening was NYC SubDrift March 2013. I test-drove a bit of my book with a South Asian audience for the first time and was pleased to find it grip despite the fact that it’s the stuff of our daily lives — the one early S. Asian reader commented that I was writing for clueless white people.

Speaking across cultures seems a reasonable mission statement to me. I grew up in a town where half the population and many of my close friends were Chinese, and yet learned things from The Joy Luck Club I hadn’t known. So I chose, in many places in my book, to state the obvious. There was the possibility of this audience reacting with terminal boredom, but that is not what happen. I am pleasantly surprised

This evening was also my coming out as an auntie-at-large in the diaspora, and considering what Desi aunties can do, it was greeted surprisingly cordially. Possibly because I let on about the secret of our culture: at 30 you get to start thinking what you want, at 40 you occasionally get to do what you want, and at 50 you’ve turned into the enemy (an auntie, or, presumably, an uncle) and can tell other people what to do.

Also my favorite adopted niece gave me chocolate, so all in all it was a fun evening.

Desi Auntie Universal-Interference Disorder

I sent an email yesterday morning:

‘Dear N.: I don’t mean to be pushy. But can’t help myself, I’m past 50 and the Desi-female genetic disorder of universal interference is kicking in. But I have a practical suggestion…” After which I proceeded to tell her how to gather her materials together to prepare for writing a book.

One suggestion, non-stupid, was to use a Wiki or WordPress site like this blog, with the tags allowing an organic swim through any angle of the material, for all those times that one doesn’t really know what one is doing and it’s nice if the structure can spark thoughts.

Another, both profound and silly, was to say, “But it’s good to remember, no one writes a book. We write sentences, sections, paragraphs… and then shake it together into shape.”

This is perfectly true. I am trying this minute to assemble a short story, in rather a hurry, for a submission deadline. I didn’t worry about it because the bits of the story are all preexisting, I just have to assemble and shake. Like an instant energy drink, only hopefully more entertaining.

The silly part of the exercise is this: the preexisting pieces of the story I am planning are quite old, and not organized in anything like a Wiki, but are flat files in a basic file tree. And I can’t find them.

Yesterday also included numerous other emails to young Asian friends — and middle-aged friends, Asian and otherwise — several of them packed with useful advice.

So not only do I have Desi Auntie Universal-Interference Disorder, I am that worst of Aunties, the kind that fails to take it’s own advice. So now you know.

 

 

Love Marriage: a Novel

My family is part Tamil; the sweet stubbornness of the family in this book really touched my heart, and their insistence on sometimes disastrously denying/transcending reality reassures me I’m simply being true to my culture when I do it myself 🙂 And the oldest generation in Sugi Ganeshananthan‘s remind me of my grandfather, from the bones of his face to the way he cared for his garden, and my grandmother with her careful, proper kitchen.

Perfectly Untraditional

♥ the voice in Sweta Srivastava Vikram‘s book — is she not a Pushcart-nominated poet? and somebody please introduce me to the male lead (eyes like Shah Rukh Khan!).

Seriously, an understanding of human nature, not to mention the tensions of East-West divided Indian values.

Relatives, food, and clothing

Apparently I am a shallow person; copyediting the book, and finding it’s full of relatives, food, and clothing. Hard to say if loving descriptions of food and clothing are there to support the story or if the story is an excuse to talk about food and clothing. Relatives I don’t really have a choice about: it is, after all, an Indian diaspora novel.