Writer At Work

June 3, 2012

I know a lot of my faithful readers have been extremely disgruntled that I actually stopped blogging almost a year ago (on 19 July, to be precise). I’ve had several complaints. People have called me stupid and accused me of not being able to identify writer’s block and get over it. But I beg to differ. I’m not stupid, nor am I incapable of identifying or getting over writer’s block. I just happen to know when it’s time to switch to something and time to switch away from something. Last year, it was time to stop blogging – but I didn’t stop writing. Instead, I tried my hand at fiction.

It’s not the first time I’ve tried writing fiction. I definitely remember writing stories as a child and then some very serious attempts at novels when I was in my angst-ridden teenage years. As recently as a decade or so ago, I tried writing a children’s story, which started off extremely well, but got lost and ran out of stream halfway through – the price it paid for never having been satisfactorily thought through. Then a couple of years ago I actually wrote a full length book, but I was distinctly dissatisfied with it and never gave it a second look. I liked the idea and I may go back and try to write that idea again, but it will have to be a whole new attempt, I don’t think I can salvage anything from that previous attempt.

When I stopped blogging last year, I didn’t have any conscious thought of writing anything else instead, much less fiction. I just knew that I had run out of ideas and run out of words for my blog – and if it wasn’t interesting for me to write anymore, then it really couldn’t be very interesting for anyone to read anymore either. That’s not the kind of writing I want to do. So, I stopped.

Eventually, an idea started to form in my mind. At first, I was reluctant to make a book out of it – it was too vast, too complex, much too difficult for me. But the idea lingered and I started to read around the subject. In September, I found myself sitting down to write the first chapter. That was scrapped within a few days or weeks – but it was the beginning. I had enrolled in yet another module of my online archaeology course and I did a terrible injustice to it by ignoring it altogether and focusing on writing my book instead. In the end, I scraped through that module by missing distinction by two marks – a fate I can only be profoundly grateful for, because I didn’t really deserve to do that well. But all the same, by end December, when I had managed to get my archaeology assignment posted, I had also finished the most difficult middle section of my book. And by early Feb, I had the first draft done.

I let it stew for a while and took another look at it in April. My mother, the only one to have seen the manuscript thus far, had discussed it at length with me and I had lots to work on. All the same, half-baked as it was, I sent it off to my agent. Much to my surprise, he agreed to take it on – he’s a difficult-to-please kind of guy. What’s worse was that one of his readers gave it a double thumbs down. I wasn’t surprised – it’s a different kind of book, actually. But I continued to work on it, while waiting to hear from my agent. I didn’t hear anything from him for weeks, and then – finally a thumbs up! I have a publisher!

Now, I’m not the sort to count my chickens before they hatch, especially not when it comes to my books, so I’m not accepting any congratulations yet, I’m not naming the book, or telling you what it’s about or who’s going to publish it. I’m keeping mum and I’m keeping my fingers crossed till I see a contract – and beyond. But of course, I don’t want to be accused of keeping you, my loyal fans – all five of you – in the dark.

Now that I have one work of fiction properly under my belt – done and digested as it were – I have another two brewing. Just to keep things interesting, I also have another module of my archaeology course starting next week. Those of you who’ve been following closely are going to sit up and say – wait, weren’t you done with that? Well, I was, I had completed the certificate modules, it’s true – but I decided to do some more.

So what with the new job, the archaeology module, and two new works of fiction jostling around in my mind, you could say I have my hands full. Why exactly am I spending time writing all these blog posts? And am I going to keep it up? Am I “back to blogging” or is it just a passing interlude? I honestly have no idea. But if you’re still reading this after this long, long break – stick around and let’s see what happens.


June 2, 2012

We haven’t been traveling much. We’ve been tied down with too many other things and after a while – I never thought I’d say this – you just run out of steam for traveling. Traveling requires energy. That energy usually comes from passion – the passion for travel, for discovery, for adventure. What I never realized was, even that passion can get drowned under a never-ending flood of things to be done; and the energy can be drained away in all the mundane tasks of just getting on with life.

We had planned to go to Chitradurga a while ago, but when that weekend dawned, Amit was just a little under the weather and was not really feeling up to a long drive. So we let it slip. We took up the discussion again one day a couple of weekends ago. We both thought that we “should” go and that if we went we’d enjoy it – but that was as far as we got to committing to the idea. Right up till Friday morning, we were still telling each other that we “should” go, and periodically checking with each other that we would go, right? So Friday dawned and it was Amit’s job to research the route. It was my job to find accommodation. I spent two-and-a-half minutes on Google and found out the names of two hotels. I didn’t know anything about them apart from their names and the fact that at least one of them was a couple of km from the sights. That was good enough – my job was done!

Amit had done nothing. He had not checked the route and he had not tanked up the car and checked the tyre pressure. We hadn’t bought so much as a single packet of biscuits to fend off starvation during the long drive. And packing? What packing? Do you really need to pack for a quick weekend trip?

Despite a complete lack of energy, passion and momentum, we pushed ourselves out of bed at 6 a.m. – an hour later than ETD. Some clothes had been assembled on the dining table the night before and we squabbled about whose job it was to throw them into a bag. The kids bounced out of bed and were dressed in less time than it took us to tell them to go and get dressed. By 6.45 we were on our way – to the petrol bunk. It was almost 7 by the time we were really on the way, and of course nobody had had any breakfast. Also, nobody had researched the route out of town, so we spent at least half an hour taking various wrong turns and arguing about them, but finally we got on to an endlessly long flyover that looked as if it might abruptly terminate in the middle but it didn’t and eventually we were on a lovely tollway heading out towards Tumkur.

Chitradurga is about 200 km from Bangalore and though Amit broke the speed limit consistently and even touched 140 kmph for a brief stretch, we took a few breaks so the drive stretched to five hours. We had a packet of peanuts to keep us all awake and occupied until we reached Kamat for breakfast. An hour later we stopped to let Mrini work off what might have been car sickness, or possibly just boredom. Then we drove another hour or so, till we took an exit off the highway and five minutes later, we were at the hotel. This hotel boasted a basement parking and getting that big fat Honda Civic into it was quite an experience and one which words are completely inadequate to describe. At any rate, we were in a room by 12 noon and out by 12.45. We were supposed to head for lunch, but we thought we’d grab a bite somewhere near the sights and set off walking in the general direction of the ruins that had been visible from our window, asking for directions along the way.

Chitradurga, as you might have gathered from the photos, is famous for its fort. If you want to know who built it and when and why and how, you’ll have to Google it, because didn’t find out much about it myself. Yeah, that’s how much time I spent educating myself for this expedition – such a pity. I normally dive into doing the research.

(NOTE: Mouse over each picture to read a caption. Click each picture to view a larger version in a new tab or window. Click on the picture in the new tab/window to see an even larger version.)

The fort is supposed to have seven levels of fortification and it obviously climbs up a hill, using the tumble of natural rock to its advantage. The outer levels have been enveloped by the town – right outside our hotel was a tank that would once have been inside the lowest levels of the fort. The entry to the fort is up a beautiful ramp and through a number of doorways – there must have been at least five, but they are so spread out that I never managed to count them without forgetting where I’d reached. Inevitably, the path ascends steadily, with massive ramparts rising around you and in most places you can go through a doorway, and climb up the rampart and walk right on top of the doorway you just came through. The walls must be a good four feet thick, so it’s more like being on a path and not so much like standing atop a wall. I followed one of the ramparts until it ran into the solid rock boulders of the hill. The lovely thing is, despite the obvious dangers of just taking a tumble down the wall or down the hillside, there are no walls or fences or cordoning off of any area whatsoever. It is absolutely wonderful. I always like to be able to wander off along some interesting looking path or to some fascinating little vantage point and most of the forts I’ve been to in Delhi, Mandu, Daulatabad, and Rome have the interesting bits cordoned off in the interests of safety. Here – no such restrictions! Super!

Of course, it was a little disconcerting to find a collection of huge, white windmills cropping up in the backdrop of every panoramic view of fort and rock. Quite an anomaly – makes you wonder what they would think, if those ancients happened to come back to see what had become of their old lodgings.

The kids were moaning and groaning. We’d been wrong in thinking that there would be decent food places near the fort – there was only one pokey little place and one that was slightly less pokey, where we had a scrappy lunch of greasy lemon-rice (which I couldn’t eat). We’d bought some guavas and 2 litres of water. It was 2 p.m. when we entered the fort and that means probably 36 degrees Centigrade, what with the rocks all around and not a bit of shade. By 3 p.m. we’d been through several gateways, 3 guavas and most of the water. There was lots to see – we couldn’t even see the whole of the interior of the fort yet. Things were beginning to look a bit desperate. Luckily, we found a water cooler and it even had plenty of water in it, albeit securely chained in a little metal cage. Thus fortified (forgive the pun!) we continued our ascent.

Once you get done with all the gates – or all but one, actually – you are in this massive open space with one more gate off to the left, a large but ruined mud brick building off to the right, and a deplorable snack shack full of picnickers right in front. Deplorable because, while sustenance is critical, the crowds, the noise, and the mess is abhorrent. We quickly exited via the gateway on the left and found our way up to a temple. This one had railings – but that was only because the wind is actually strong enough to knock you over the edge if you aren’t careful. It was absolutely wonderful at the top. If we’d had more time, I’d have settled down there for an hour or two. As it was, what we did have were two little girls and even in that heat, with two five-year-olds what can you expect? Nature calls. Luckily, again, there was a toilet – one all the way down near the entrance, and another closer to the deplorable snack shack.

With that side trip out of the way, we explored another little temple that was said to date back to 1328 – I think it must be the oldest part of the fort – and a sort of cloisters or school nearby, called the Ankali Math. There was a sign pointing towards the palace, but I couldn’t see any hint of one, apart from the crumbled remains of a few stone buildings, so we turned away and headed towards the palatial mud building, which I had thought must be the palace, only to find that it was, in fact the mint and treasury. Wow.

After a while we continued on beyond the mint and treasury and found another two tanks side by side. This was their rain water harvesting and filtering system and it was amazing. The water was still and covered in scum, but we went on and came to a larger tank higher up, filled with fresh clean water. The idea was, when this higher level tank overflowed, the water would flow down a channel (through a little doorway, no less) and into one of the lower tanks. From there it would permeate through a rock barrier into the next tank. From there, it would flow down to a tank near the entry gate and finally down to the tank near our hotel. Wow! It was really impressive!

It was about 5 o’clock and the Mrini was tired. Tara was in top form – she wanted to be the leader and pioneer a path straight up the hillside to the enormous rocks at the top. We climbed and climbed and she couldn’t have enough of it! But now we were so far from the entrance and Mrini was so exhausted and it was getting so perilously close to sundown that we decided we would have to turn around and go back. I really didn’t want to – there were more fortifications calling to me from every direction. There were unexplored areas beyond and behind. We hadn’t found Onake Obbave cave and we hadn’t even seen the actual palace! How could I possibly tear myself away from this fabulous relic of the past at this juncture? But then again – I didn’t fancy them locking up the gate and going home and leaving us there all alone all night. (Of course we could have climbed over the fence somehow, or maybe, with Tara in the lead, we could have pioneered a moonlight path over the rocks… so we weren’t really in danger of being abandoned overnight, but still.)

By 6.30 or so, we were back in the room, and the kids recovered by playing games in the cupboard, locking themselves in and periodically erupting to buy chocolates, ice cream, or vegetables from the local supine shopkeepers (i.e. Amit and me).

Naturally, we didn’t give any thought to what we were going to do the next morning. We had dinner and put the kids to bed and crashed pretty soon after that. And in the morning we woke up in a terribly leisurely way and had breakfast before really considering what to do next. There were caves in the neighbourhood that sounded interesting, but in the end – we headed right back to the fort. It was 10 a.m. already and we had to check out at noon, so I made the kids literally storm up the path through all the gates, past the mint, and all the way up to the Akka Thangi tanks. There we found the way to Onake Obavve cave and spent a few minutes there. The legend associated with this place is interesting. The pictures of the cave were not worth displaying, though.

Then we found a narrow path leading around the upper lake and followed it, skirting the water, and wending our way through a patch of wilderness till we came, at last, to our destination – the palace.

These folks had the right idea – the palace is set so deep inside the fort and is backed up against such a steep outcrop of boulders and it is practically invincible. As Amit pointed out, most enemies would be exhausted even before they got there – they’d probably stop at the snack shack along the way and then take a long snooze under a shady tree, if they could find one.

The palace is a complex of buildings, all of mud, many of the walls still standing. It was taken over by weeds and wilderness but it was lovely. The best part was, like any other invading army, the crowds of Sunday picnickers never made it this far and we had the place to ourselves. It was just amazing. The best part was, one of the cold drink vendors near Onake Obavve cave had told us that the palace could be accessed either via the upper tank – the route we’d taken to get there – or via Ankali Math, where we’d seen a sign board and disregarded it. So we took something that looked like a path and it curved around and led through remote and scenic places and eventually emerged somewhere between Ankali Math and my favourite temple! Amit insisted we didn’t have time to linger, so I cast a wistful glance at my favourite temple, promised myself I’d be back, and allowed the family to drag me away, back to the here and now.

Road Rage

June 1, 2012

This happened to me a while ago. I was driving on Outer Ring Road there was one portion where flyover construction work was in progress and the road was narrow and broken. As I was going slowly, suddenly a Mahindra Xylo hit the rear passenger side of my car with his front fender. At once the driver of the other car stopped to look at the damage to his car. As I didn’t want to hold up traffic, I continued to drive.
After this the driver of the other car got back into his car and started to come behind me aggressively.  At the next intersection he came alongside me and started to shout at me. There was another man in the front seat with the driver. I could not see if there was anyone in the back seat. I went on driving, and at the Bellandur intersection I was a little ahead of him, but then he went ahead of me and stopped on the side of the road. He got out of the car and started to run towards my car. As the traffic was moving, I still continued to go forward.
Then the driver of the other car ran back to his car, got in and started to drive at a high speed. By the time we reached the flyover at the Sarjapur-Outer Ring Road intersection, he was chasing me at high speed and trying to get in front of my car to force me to stop. I was very scared by this time and I also started to drive faster, so that he could not cut me off.
On the IBLUR stretch of Sarjapur Ring Road, the Xylo overtook me aggressively and stopped his car on the right lane. His intention was to block me and again the driver got out of the car and came running towards my car, but again I managed to drive by in the other lane and went on ahead.
I drove fast till I reached the flyover at Agara lake. Here I left the flyover on the left and went under the flyover, to take the right fork towards Koramangala. The other car was far behind and I couldn’t see him anymore, so I thought he might have taken the flyover, or maybe he stopped chasing me. But when I cleared the Agara intersection he again came after me and managed to overtake me. Here the road is narrower, so he stopped his car right in front of me, blocking both the lanes of traffic going towards Koramangala. He got out of his car and came to my car and started to shout at me. Luckily, other people started to shout at him telling him to get his vehicle to the side. He did this, and I went past again.
Still, he followed me and when I was just opposite Farsh Italian Marble showroom, he again blocked the whole road and came to my car. He grabbed the handle and tried to open the car door. The door was locked, but he went on trying to open it and telling me to get out. Since I was alone in the car, there was nothing I could do. I was very scared and the only thing I could think of was to call my husband, Amit Mukherjee, and tell him to call the police. I thought if I call the police myself, they might not understand what I am saying, since I was in a panic by then and my hands were shaking and even my voice was unclear.
I told my husband the vehicle number (KA 03D 9620) and make (Mahindra Xylo) and I told him my current location. He immediately called 100 and reported the matter to the police. The person at 100 said that a police van will reach the site immediately but it did not come.  At this time it was 11.30 a.m. I also told my husband that the Xylo had a Jyothi Car Rental written on it, so he called Jyothi Car Rental to lodge a complaint. Jyothi Car rental confirmed that they have a vehicle with the above mentioned registration number and that the name of the driver was Mallesh.
When the driver of the Xylo saw me making a phone call, at last he went back to his car and parked it on the side. Then I continued to drive and after this he did not follow me anymore. By the time I reached Jakkasandra intersection, I stopped at the side of the road and again called my husband to tell him that I was ok. But actually I was still very scared and shaken and could hardly resume my drive to Koramangala.
My husband again called 100 and they told him that I should file a complaint at the HSR Layout police station. Around 12.30 p.m., after finishing my work at Koramangala, I went to the HSR Layout police station at IBLUR, near the Sarjapur Road-Outer Ring Road intersection. There the person I spoke to said they will not register traffic complaints at this police station and I should go to the Madivala Police Station for this. I told him that my husband had called 100 and they had said that a police vehicle would be sent from HSR police station, but he again said they do not handle traffic complaints and he even spoke to my husband on the phone and again said the same thing. So in the end, I could not even file a complaint against the driver, even after being subject to this kind of intimidation and harassment.

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