Author Anita Desai on struggles in writing

While browsing the bylanes of internet i found this wonderful interview of author Anita Desai in The Wire. It’s a deliciously long one, where the author among other things, talks about her latest book, The Artist Of Disappearance and the research that went in In Custody and Fire on the Mountain.  Here I’ve just used her struggles and advice to writers from the interview for my section Witchery of Writing. But do read the complete interview over at The Wire.


What do you think is the purpose of literature? The worth of literature is being questioned these days, certainly here in Canada.

One works on two levels. At the subconscious level one is not working with an agenda, one is working out of a compulsion to tell your story, to put words on paper, to keep something from disappearing. And the joy of using language ought not to be forgotten.

On a conscious level, after you’ve written your work, sometimes it takes you by surprise. You say, oh, is that what it was about? At the end of the book you say, so that’s why it stayed in your mind for so long. What’s the reason for writing it? And invariably the reason is to tell the truth, in a somewhat sideways, somewhat subversive way. You don’t always manage to do that openly, face-to-face, you have to find a kind of a secret way.

The truth about life?

Yes.

You have a strong body of work dating back many decades. Do you have any of your books that are favourites, that have stayed with you?

Continue reading “Author Anita Desai on struggles in writing”

Event: A graphic reading party in Bangalore

A reading party, a rather modern phenomenon of people coming together and being introduced to a genre or to read together, silently, sitting in a pub or a cafe, is a wonderful idea. Which is why when Gathr approached me for this event, I was quite excited. It’s happening this Thursday in Bangalore. I will be doing a talk on my love of comics, showing people the books I have, read other people’s collection of graphic novels and mostly celebrate the Indian comics genre. I hope there are more reading parties like this, that people sign up for and more and more people pick up Indian-made comics. Come over, peeps, if comics are your kind of a thing.
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The fifth edition of our odd juxtaposition of reading and party finds us focusing on modern Indian graphic novels, a genre that is really finding its feet. We’ve curated a set of some of the most interesting new works available for your reading pleasure. Continue reading “Event: A graphic reading party in Bangalore”

Should you write a romance bestseller?

Have you been tempted to write a romance bestseller lately? The other day, I was chatting to an author about how speculative fiction is such a hard-sell in India. (It’s the usual conversation between science fiction writers. There’s a handful of passionate us, and a handful of equally passionate readers. The others, don’t really care if it’s not mythology.) Immediately, I get a WMA (well-meaning advice):

“Write romance. It sells like hot cakes in winters.”

Umm. Frankly, all Indian writers, be it of any genre or creed, have thought about romance once in a while. After all, it’s the most selling genre in our country. I did seriously consider it for a second. I did!

And then I remembered, that the last romance I read and appreciated was between the Oankali, alien genetic engineers who  touches DNA in humans to have sex and a woman named Lilith. Author Octavia Butler‘s Lilith Brood gave me as many goosebumps as decades ago Sharukh Khan’s ‘palat’ in the movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge had done. And  I don’t read much romance myself, unless it has alien spit or monster claws involved. So I turned my eyes away from the temptation of writing that romance bestseller we all think we can write and decided to plod along on the current science fiction mess I’m in the middle of.

Should you write a romance bestseller?

Which is why when I came across this witty sketch by author Sarah Maclean over Twitter, I had to share it on my site. Sarah is a period romance writer based in New York. The flowchart tells you how to decide on whether you should write a romance novel or not. As I read it, I was ‘out’ in the first step itself. If you’re considering writing romance like me, due to a WMA given by another or by yourself, do read and go through this flowchart. You’ll figure out the truth, I promise!


Have you ever considered changing your genre and writing something else that is selling well nowadays, like mythology or romance? Do tell me the truth!

What people say when I tell them I’m an author

In workshops at schools, at literary events, festivals, interactions with writers, strangers and friends, I’ve met some really funny responses to the fact that I am a writer. The awkward conversation starts in a party or a hangout, when you chat to a stranger. Or when one is trying to get through immigration or getting a passport renewed. (shudders)

‘What do you do?’ someone asks jovially, a drink down. Heading for another. ‘I write,’ I answer with my winning smile.  Blank stare. ‘Books and articles and stuff,’ I try again. Blank stare. ‘I am an author,’ I venture. ‘An authorpreneur?’ I try again, my tongue doing Patanjali-trademarked yoga on the twisted word, desperate now, mentally kicking myself for paving in to the popular perception and respectability of the word ‘author’ rather than the more humdrum ‘writer’ which is how I see myself.

‘Oh,’ says the stranger.wpid-wp-1432640428580.jpg

What follows can be any of these responses and my response to it.

 

‘You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’

‘Great. Write it.’

‘I have an idea about a book.’

‘Great, write it.’

‘I wish I could write.’

‘Practice makes people perfect.’

‘Will you write a book for me? I have an idea.’

‘No. Ideas are like flies. They’re everywhere. Why don’t you go flush yours down the toilet? See where that leads you?’

 ‘Do you make any money?’

‘Nope.’

Oh, you mean like Chetan Bhagat?’

‘Yes. We both write fiction.’

‘Give me your book, I want to read it.’

‘I don’t carry my book, the same way you don’t carry a factory or the excel sheets you make at office all day long.’

‘Will I get a free copy?’

‘Sure. Can I drill your empty head and stuff it with empathy. Please?’

‘Oh. I need a signed copy.’

‘Great. Order a book, call me. I am always up for signing copies.’

‘Acha hai. You have to do something for time pass.’

‘I am rather fascinated to find the overflowing vat of idiocy behind that bushel of hair that grows so proudly on your head.’

‘Isn’t writing a hobby?’

‘It can be. I just do it all day long.’

‘Wow! So you will become famous like Chetan Bhagat and earn lots of money?’

‘Not really. Most of us don’t earn. It’s a silly profession. Work hard, get nothing. We have no idea why we do it. But we do. Kind of like being addicted to alcohol. Or cigarettes. Or coffee.’

‘Why don’t you make a movie out of it and earn lots of money?’

‘Did I say I was a director?’

‘I have this fascinating idea, which I think will make a really good movie.’ (From a hair stylist, cutting my hair)

‘Ok-ay. (politely, since I did want a nice haircut) Did I say I was a producer?’

‘You don’t look like one.’ (From a rather judgmental 11-year-old)

‘Oh. See my name on the tag of this literary festival? See the name on the book I’m holding? Can you even read?’

‘Oh, I am so jealous. You have an easy life. Sitting at home, making stories.’

‘Try it, will you? Please do. Practice by staring at a screen all day long, waiting to see if your brain will work and produce a publishable phrase.’

‘So how do you earn?’

‘I don’t earn from books. Period. I get my income, depending on mood, from selling peanuts on the road or stealing from overpaid MBAs, by hitting them with a running shoe.’

‘So you will get famous soon?’

‘One hopes, but no. Most authors don’t.’

‘Where can I buy it?’

‘Everywhere. Do you go to bookstores?’

‘Sorry, I don’t read.’

‘What a loss of a perfectly sound brain. Oh, wait…’

‘How was the response to your latest book?’ 

‘Umm. How many times have you had sex this week? This month? …year?’

‘Really? What’s the name of your book?’

‘Cult of Chaos.’

‘Chhaas…what?’

‘Let’s go get drunk. Please.’

(Hurries away to get a drink.)


Cross published in DailyO and YouthKiAwaaz.

5 life hacks for aspiring writers

Want to start on that first book? Aspire to get published? Here are a few tips for aspiring writers that I shared with Writersmelon.

Why do you want to write?

If you want to be a writer, the first thing that you need, which is I think a very individualistic thing, is the desire to write, the passion to create something new, to express a story, a character in a new way. I write because  characters crop up in my head and bang inside, demanding to be let out. I write because it’s addictive and I have no other choice. It’s the highest I’ve ever felt, and also the lowest. It’s hard, but I’m not going to leave it anytime soon.

Once you’ve keyed on this desire, it will drive you through the long, long process of gathering the skills and actually writing the whole thing. Ideas are easy to come by, getting the skill of writing is also not too difficult, but it’s this desire that makes all the difference. This motivation that comes from inside you, will discipline you, make sure you don’t give up halfway and will not let you rest till you complete the creative work. In that sense, it’s an intrinsic value.

A stranger browsing the book. Isn't that nice!
A stranger browsing the book. Isn’t that nice!

Finish that first draft

Don’t let your rational mind take over till you complete the first draft. Write with your instinct, write whatever you see the characters doing, just write without thinking too much. Continue reading “5 life hacks for aspiring writers”

I stole a few ghosts from Manipal

It’s a paranormal adventure, full of romance, jealousy, gadgets and ghosts, set in the beautiful university of Manipal. And it has the craziest name you’ve heard of. Welcome to my latest title with Juggernaut Books. Tadaaa!

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The only way Twinkle Kashyap can win Rohit Dandi’s heart is by becoming the best paranormal investigator in Manipal and stealing a few ghost-catching tricks from retired professor Susanto Das. But when a string of mysterious murders complicates things, Twinkle is forced to dive deeper into the supernatural world than ever before. Can she solve the cases and get a happy ending?

Buy now: Juggernaut Books App


I’m so delighted to inform you of this special book. I wrote it squeezed between two parts of Anantya Tantrist series and almost shelved it.

Thanks to a lot of encouragement (Uthara, Suki, Saba, Ashwani, Indra, Kanishka, Anchal, I’m looking at all of you), I edited it again and again till it became what it is today. And I’m so glad to see it getting published. For the protagonist, Tinker, deserves it. She’s a first year student in Mechtronics in Manipal University, full of hope for her future and love for a senior. It’s her adventure with the dark side of Manipal that you’re going to read. And how she stands up to the challenges she faces. I’m proud of the 17-year-old. For what she achieves. I would personally recommend this book for anyone above the age of 13. It’s published with Juggernaut Books, which is a mobile ebook publisher, so the only way for now to read it is on your smartphone.

If for whatever reason you can’t read it on the app, write to me and I’ll send you a e-copy or a PDF. I would rather Twinkle’s fantastical adventure is read by everyone who loves to read paranormal tales.

Buy now: Juggernaut Books App

 

 

 

Talking about Indian comics in London

I’ll be giving a talk on Indian comics at the Cartoon Museum in London later this week. This post is about how it happened. It’s a good story, do read it!

Early in May I attended a workshop on British comics, full of comic scholars in London, led by the marvellous Paul Williams from Exeter University. There I was, in bustling, sunshine-y London, closed off in a small room with twenty scholars, who had brought along old comics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 80s – all decades really. We discussed on visual imagery in war comics, what British identity means, and many other important things. And I didn’t miss the outdoors, which says something about the comics, the activity and knowledge that these fabulous scholars presented there. But I digress. What happened in lunchtime is what led to the talk.

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We munched on fried fish, aalo pakoras (you read it right), spring rolls and quinua salad in the pub while talking comics and then headed back to the Cartoon Museum, which is where this workshop was happening. It was a 10 minute walk. While walking back, I happened to accompany Anita O’Brien, the curator at Cartoon Museum and then of course it being comics, I started yapping about my love of comics and how there are so many talented artists doing fantastic things in India and how she should do something about it here in London. She told me she’d commissioned the World War I graphic novel with Campfire. I told her the artist, Lalit Sharma, was a good friend. We found out we knew more than a couple of other artists from the industry.

‘You should do something more on Indian comics here!’ I cried, my head buzzing with ideas.

‘Why don’t you do it?’ she asked, calmly.

‘Me? Do what?’

‘Talk about Indian comics,’ she said.

‘Oh,’ I said, rather eloquently.

And that’s how it happened. Before I knew it, I’d asked Jason Quinn to ask me the right questions in this talk, who was sweet enough to agree. We will talk about comics coming out from India, some of which we love, some which we don’t, swap tales, talk about my work and his and anything else we feel like really. We have the stage after all.

If you happen to be in London and would like to join in the joy ride, come over. It’s a free event and you’ll get to hear stories about comics. What can go wrong with that? All you need to do is register yourself by sending a tiny email to the Cartoon Museum at shop@cartoonmuseum.org to reserve a seat. It can be a sentence long, really. I don’t think they have a word limit to it.

Finally, the moral of the tale (for there’s always a moral): Always walk back from the pub and always yap about the things you love. 🙂

Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Why SEO is bad for your writing

I was writing the piece on Shantala, the Hoysala queen, a lyrical post which talks about her life, what she achieved and how she did it through the art she knew, dancing. I was about to post it on my WordPress when my Yoast SEO plugin suggested this:

The copy scores 56.8 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly difficult to read. Try to make shorter sentences to improve readability.

What is Flesch score anyway?

Now Flesch score  measures textual difficulty of a reading passage in English. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is. The Flesch readability score uses the sentence length (number of words per sentence) and the number of syllables per word in an equation to calculate the reading ease. Texts with a very high Flesch reading Ease score (about 100) are very easy to read, have short sentences and no words of more than two syllables. Usually, a reading ease of 60-70 is believed to be acceptable/ normal for web texts.

source: Wikipedia.com
Score Notes
90 – 100 easily understood by an average 11-year old student
60 – 70 easily understood by 13-15 year old students
0 – 30 best understood by university graduates

So for a higher SEO, the text should be simple, easily understood by an average 11-year old. Now there’s nothing wrong with 11-year-olds. They’re fabulously inquisitive and love to delve into twisted logics. But as I child, your vocabulary is limited. The aim of constant reading and writing and reading and understanding is to add in a few more words into it. Writers should aim at not simplifying but expressing, as poetically in sentences long and short. In words that’re made of more syllables.

The algorithms, the bots and the search index, making writing in English (and increasingly any language), a matter of logic. When it should be a matter of heart. Of art. Of love and labour. Of things you want to say. Things which are difficult to express. Things you feel, but can’t think of simpler ways to see. Simplicity has its own charm. Ask Hemingway. But sometimes, language and search should not be measured by simplicity and tag words alone. Sometimes, you need to new words, or a string of phrases that haven’t been used together before. Like ‘chocolate’ and ‘index’. (Versus ‘chocolate sex’). As a writer, you would want to be discovered, but think on it. Do you want to discover the inarticulate in yourself, or write for SEO Engines so a few more readers come your way?

(Yoast informs me that this blog scores 70.2 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly easy to read. Good for the 11-year-olds reading it.)

Horrible plots to avoid in science fiction

Strange Horizons is a fabulous online speculative fiction magazine. I’ve been going there for ages, hogging on the freebies, including fiction, poetry, reviews of new books and articles on fantasy, horror, science fiction and its various sub-genres. While exploring the site, I found this useful list of things that the folks at Strange Horizons have seen too many times in their submissions. Typical plots, story tropes, characters, storylines that they DON’T want to see. I read the whole list and was surprised to find how close I’d come to a few of these typical, boring, done-to-death things, myself. (Red below are my comments.) Listing down a few here which I found particularly hilarious. For more, please head to this page, where they keep adding more tropes.


The following list is an attempt at classifying the kinds of non-horror plots and themes that we’ve received too frequently. Here’s the list:

  1. Creative person is having trouble creating.
    1. Writer has writer’s block.
    2. Painter can’t seem to paint anything good.
    3. Sculptor can’t seem to sculpt anything good.
    4. Creative person’s work is reviled by critics who don’t understand how brilliant it is.
    5. Creative person meets a muse (either one of the nine classical Muses or a more individual muse) and interacts with them, usually by keeping them captive.
  2. Visitor to alien planet ignores information about local rules, inadvertantly violates them, is punished.
    1. New diplomat arrives on alien planet, ignores anthropologist’s attempts to explain local rules, is punished.
  3. Weird things happen, but it turns out they’re not real.
    1. In the end, it turns out it was all a dream.
    2. In the end, it turns out it was all in virtual reality.
    3. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is insane.
    4. In the end, it turns out the protagonist is writing a novel and the events we’ve seen are part of the novel.
  4. Technology and/or modern life turn out to be soulless. (Haven’t we all done this one?)
    1. Office life turns out to be soul-deadening, literally or metaphorically.
    2. All technology is shown to be soulless; in contrast, anything “natural” is by definition good. For example, living in a weather-controlled environment is bad, because it’s artificial, while dying of pneumonia is good, because it’s natural.
    3. The future is utopian and is considered by some or many to be perfect, but perfection turns out to be boring and stagnant and soul-deadening; it turns out that only through imperfection, pain, misery, and nature can life actually be good.
    4. In the future, all learning is soulless and electronic, until kid is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a book.
    5. In the future, everything is soulless and electronic, until protagonist (usually a kid) is exposed to ancient wisdom in the form of a wise old person who’s lived a non-electronic life.
  5. Protagonist is a bad person. [We don’t object to this in a story; we merely object to it being the main point of the plot.]
    1. Bad person is told they’ll get the reward that they “deserve,” which ends up being something bad.
    2. Terrorists (especially Osama bin Laden) discover that horrible things happen to them in the afterlife (or otherwise get their comeuppance).
    3. Protagonist is portrayed as really awful, but that portrayal is merely a setup for the ending, in which they see the error of their ways and are redeemed. (But reading about the awfulness is so awful that we never get to the end to see the redemption.)
  6. A “surprise” twist ending occurs. [Note that we do like endings that we didn’t expect, as long as they derive naturally from character action. But note, too, that we’ve seen a lot of twist endings, and we find most of them to be pretty predictable, even the ones not on this list.]
    1. The characters’ actions are described in a way meant to fool the reader into thinking they’re humans, but in the end it turns out they’re not humans, as would have been obvious to anyone looking at them.
    2. Creatures are described as “vermin” or “pests” or “monsters,” but in the end it turns out they’re humans.
    3. The author conceals some essential piece of information from the reader that would be obvious if the reader were present at the scene, and then suddenly reveals that information at the end of the story. [This can be done well, but rarely is.]
    4. Person is floating in a formless void; in the end, they’re born.
    5. Person uses time travel to achieve some particular result, but in the end something unexpected happens that thwarts their plan.
    6. The main point of the story is for the author to metaphorically tell the reader, “Ha, ha, I tricked you! You thought one thing was going on, but it was really something else! You sure are dumb!”
    7. A mysteriously-named Event is about to happen (“Today was the day Jimmy would have to report for The Procedure”), but the nature of the Event isn’t revealed until the end of the story, when it turns out to involve death or other unpleasantness. [Several classic sf stories use this approach, which is one reason we’re tired of seeing it. Another reason is that we can usually guess the twist well ahead of time, which makes the mysteriousness annoying.]
    8. In the future, an official government permit is required in order to do some particular ordinary thing, but the specific thing a permit is required for isn’t (usually) revealed until the end of the story.
    9. Characters speculate (usually jokingly): “What if X were true of the universe?” (For example: “What if the universe is a simulation?”) At the end, something happens that implies that X is true.
    10. Characters in the story (usually in the far future and/or on an alien planet) use phrases that are phonetic respellings or variations of modern English words or phrases, such as “Hyoo Manz” or “Pleja Legions,” which the reader isn’t intended to notice; in the end, a surprise twist reveals that there’s a connection to 20th/21st-century English speakers.
  7. Scientist uses himself or herself as test subject.
  8. White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk. (This one made me laugh my head off. Avatar anyone?)
  9. An alien or an AI/robot/android observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect. (Hitchhikers did have a few of these, to wonderful entertainment.)
    1. The alien or AI is fluent in English and completely familiar with various English idioms, but is completely unfamiliar with human biology and/or with such concepts as sex or violence and/or with certain specific extremely common English words (such as “cat”).
    2. The alien or AI takes everything literally.
    3. Instead of an alien or AI, it’s people in the future commenting on the ridiculous things (usually including internal combustion engines) that people used to use in the unenlightened past.
  10. Person A tells a story to person B (or to a room full of people) about person C. (This is so Hercule Poirot in SF!)
    1. In the end, it turns out that person B is really person C (or from the same organization).
    2. In the end, it turns out that person A is really person C (or has the same goals).
    3. In the end, there’s some other ironic but predictable twist that would cast the whole story in a different light if the reader hadn’t guessed the ending early on.
  11. It’s immediately obvious to the reader that a mysterious character is from the future, but the other characters (usually including the protagonist) can’t figure it out.
  12. Someone takes revenge for the wrongs done to them. (Ahem. This was the original Anantya plot, before it became Cult of Chaos. Glad I got rid of it.)
    1. Protagonist is put through heavy-handed humiliation after humiliation, and takes it meekly, until the end when he or she murders someone.
  13. Author showcases their premise of what the afterlife is like; there’s little or no story, other than demonstrating that premise. (This actually is an interesting trope for me. I would love to see Yamraj running it as a business. But again, done quite a lot of times.)
    1. Hell and Heaven are run like businesses.
    2. The afterlife is really monotonous and dull.
    3. The afterlife is a bureaucracy.
    4. The afterlife is nothingness.
    5. The afterlife reunites you with your loved ones.
  14. Protagonist agrees to go along with a plan or action despite not having enough information about it, and despite their worries that the thing will be bad. Then the thing turns out to be bad after all. (Most movies/books of single, white, urban hero. Always wondered why doesn’t he ask the questions?)
  15. In a comedic/satirical story, vampires and/or other supernatural creatures come out publicly and demand (and/or get) the vote and other rights, but people are prejudiced against them. (Sigh. Vampires, in the whole lot, should be banned for a few decades.)
  16. There’s a machine that cryptically predicts the manner of a person’s death by printing it on a slip of paper; the machine is never wrong, but often it’s right in surprising or ironic ways. [There’s nothing wrong with theMachine of Death anthologies, but we’ve seen a large number of MoD rejects, and we’re extremely unlikely to buy one.] hahahaha!
  17. Story is set in a world in which some common modern Western power structure is inverted, and we’re meant to sympathize with the people who are oppressed in the world of the story. [Such stories usually end up reinforcing the real-world dominant paradigm; and regardless, they rarely do anything we haven’t seen many times before.] This one is an interesting tool, and I wouldn’t say not to use it. Especially 1. I want to try it in a story someday.
    1. Women have more power than men, and it’s very sad how oppressed the men are.
    2. Everyone in the society is gay or lesbian, and straight people are considered perverts.
    3. White people are oppressed by oppressive people with other skin colors.
  18. Kids with special abilities are kidnapped by the government and imprisoned and tested in a lab.
  19. The author attempts to lead the reader to think a character is going to die, but instead the character is uploaded into VR or undergoes some other transformative but non-dying process. (Learn from GRR Martin people!)
  20. Someone dies and then wanders around as a ghost.
    1. They meet other ghosts who’ve been around longer and who show them the ropes, and/or help them come to terms with being dead, and/or explain that nobody knows what happens after ghosts move on to the next stage of the afterlife.
    2. They’re initially stuck in the place where they died or the place where their body is. In some cases, they eventually figure out how to roam the world.

Continue reading “Horrible plots to avoid in science fiction”

How do you escape a box created by bots?

When I was little, I used to visit a bookstore in my neighbourhood, stand facing a daunting line up of books in a random alley, close my eyes and just like that, pick up a book, at random, open it on a random page and read the first line that caught my eye. It was the answer to whatever problem or question ailed me at that point of time. I trusted two things in that book. The randomness of life and the collective wisdom that is inside most books, lovingly curated by a bookstore owner. 

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Fact and Fiction, a small bookstore in the corner of the Vasant Vihar in Delhi, opposite Priya cinemas was one such store. Being a wallflower at the time and good at being invisible (I still have that power), I would sneak in, get into the back alleys, pretending the door didn’t exist and pick up a book at random, hungrily flapping its pages for yet another wise answer. These books, picked at random, read without an aim in mind, became advisors and consultants and shaped who I became. Strangers who would just come in my life for one moment and their deed done, vanish back into the folds of mysteries of dark pages. Quiet, understanding strangers, who would suggest without judging, without even knowing all facts, and a split second later, forget they had given such advices. It was how I decided in which direction I wanted my first relationship to go. It was how I learnt that I should do my Bachelors in English. 

Unknowingly to me, these books started to become friends, advisors, consultants and guides–all rolled in one. And instead of just picking up a random page, I started to buy them, read them, page by random page, book by random book. This probably was how the idea of writing books myself planted itself inside me. Randomly, quietly, with a stubborn determination. 

I hoped (or rather imagined) these books had a symbiotic relationship with me. That maybe they too, created with words strung together by an author, and given a mysterious life, wanted to be opened, to be hungrily devoured by another, by me, page by page, to be guides, to create words, to question meanings. 

Growing up, this feeling of magic, of entering a womb or a temple or a dark hole, full of secrets, of unknown possibilities stayed with me. Whenever I enter a bookstore, an ancient one, one that’s a bit scattered, a bit messy, a bit quaint, like an old woman who has forgotten to tame her web-white hair, I enter a magical world of sorts where I know I will find a new friend, a new guide, a new path to walk on. And the wild woods has so many of them. Some of the best authors who shaped me and my voice, have been ones that came to me at random, found in the jungle that is an old bookstore. 

Which is why, a sadness grips me when I hear of yet another bookstore closing down. It’s not that I don’t logically understand, I do. Shopping online is so much more cheaper and efficient and convenient and logical and suited to the notification-hungry, constantly-connected, fast-living, multi-tasking, mutated beings that we’re all becoming. But I just wonder if somewhere in this online world, full of recommendations by friends, personalisations and bestseller lists and hyper-marketing, will I lose Ms Random?

In online bookstores, nothing is left for hubris, nothing to chance or randomness. Instead the bots avoid the accidents, the random chances. Algorithms analyse what you might like, put it in a box, and instantly serve you, like your favourite noodles, satisfying your craving. It’s based on your individual tastes and browsing habits. 

But what if you don’t want to be you anymore? Or you haven’t had a chance to really become one person? Or if you want to be many people together? Change personalities, like a chameleon or your opinions, live in the grey areas where you can’t express what you feel? 

What if you want to head into a new direction, randomly, not look out for things to change you but passively wait, wait for something delightful to fall in your lap? How do you do that online with no spaces for accidents, where everything is codified and left to algorithms which analyse what you might like? Which constantly suggest, constantly try to keep you in the box that they’ve defined for you? How do you escape this box created by bots?

I hope the online world’s future holds some of these answers. Maybe one of the e-commerce giants will give us a brick-and-mortar bookshop to find a random book which we can order online from there. Or can this space, this random storehouse, this blackhole of the unknown, be created on our screens somehow? Can I read a page at random in one of these ebooks?  

Or maybe all of this is wishful thinking. In a world that’s increasingly becoming black-and-white, where no one has patience for nuances or for questioning faith, or for changing minds, or listening to more than a tweet. Where you’re either going right or left on a set path. In this clean cut world, maybe I am only one, a foolish old lady, without a comb, dancing on the streets.