[Continuation of Lalitambika Antharjanam’s short reflection on her practice of writing.]
My first publication was a story titled ‘The End of the Journey’ (Yathraavasaanam) which appeared in the Malayala Rajyam Illustrated Weekly. It was an independent retelling of Sitadevi Chattopadhyay’s story that was published in the Modern Review.
In my early days as a short-story writer, Tagore was ‘God’ to me. The Tagore I had met through the translations of Puthezhathu Rama Menon and Kalyani Amma. And later, Bengali novelists like Bankim Chandra and others — and as I had close interactions with the Sriramakrishna Ashram since childhood, the influence of Sriramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda helped to shape my ideas. My imagination gropes, to this say, in the shade of these mighty shadows (no, of illuminations).
If you ask me which of my stories I like the best — which of my offspring I like the best — I cannot give you a reply. Since I do not read again what I have finished writing, I can only say — all that you like are liked by me too.
An experience that may sprout in the mind as a story-seed is not always easily recognized. After much time– some days — maybe even some years — later, it rises to the memory. From the unconscious to the conscious mind. And you write it. The heat and mobility of reality might have waned by then. But the rawness of the incidents that inspired it would have given way to a more mature and new state. One does not submit to the story-seed. One makes it submit. But that may not be achieved, always. No one writes a good short story making notes for it from beginning to end. The end, too, is shaped as one writes. I have seen stories planned as tragedies turn into tales with happy endings, and vice-versa. Endings that arise as the characters’ experiences develop along with them are the right ones.
‘Inspiration’ (sic.) is truly the awakening of creative impulses. Behind great works of storytelling, there is likely to be great creative impulse. The irrepressible urge to give rise to molten, bubbling, ideas. There are those who claim that there is no such thing as the inspiration (sic.) and that it is possible to write without it. But if one starts writing, it will awaken — unless one is writing to get rid of a nuisance. I will not describe the sweet unease that lasts from the emergence of the seed of a tale till the birth of a well-shaped story from it. Because if such a sweet unease does exist, it cannot be described.
It is after all the images and experiences of real life that mirrors in fantasy and turns into the work of art. Maybe one did not mean it deliberately. Maybe it is not clear whose it is, how, when, and so on. Though in a complex way, it is still something that struck its inner world that fantasy traces. In Romantic stories, the idea may be more important. When people of similar mindsets write, there may be similarity. It is possible that one may be accused of stealing ideas too.
Among my characters who were purely imagined, I am particularly fond of the Punjabi girl in the story ‘A Leaf in the Storm’ (Kodungattil Oru Ila). That’s because she is purely a product of my imagination. I had not seen Punjab then. I had no direct knowledge of the refugees. I read in a newspaper article, an item about how abducted young women were exchanged. When I went to bed that night, this news item came to my mind, quite unexpectedly. And with it, the form of the young woman refugee, bearing the weight of unthinkable sorrow. I sat up and wrote the whole story. This symbol of the moral dilemma of womanhood is my favorite. Because her creation was entirely achieved through my fantasy.
I have never experimented with any particular style for a story. The style appears, appropriate to the tale that I narrate. It will be different for Romantic stories, realist ones, and sketch-based ones. The style that suits one will not fit the other. I did strive to experiment only once. I tried writing a story about the emergence of the human as a seed of life — I had hoped to write, step by step, a whole series on it. But because I felt that I did not possess enough scientific knowledge necessary for the subject, I gave it up.
No one probably starts writing with a full-fledged view of life. But it takes shape as one writes. It is impossible otherwise. The author’s view of life is visible all through the story.
Not meant for propaganda — but the ideas, wishes, aims, which became one’s own, they are circulated through one’s art. Good literature has such a side to it. Even Valmiki and Vyasa wrote in forms that could be circulated.
I believe that it is duty of the kalaakaaran (the male artist) — as well as the kalaakaari (the female artist) to take apart the narrow and decrepit rafters of social life and along with it, replace these the resources with which a reformed and healthy new abode may be constructed. Novels, short-stories, poetry — all of artistic creation can only be an instrument to this end.