Saturday, August 09, 2008

Write Stuff. Right Stuff

Sunil K Poolani

Though I have written — and continue to write — for several national and international print and electronic journals, I have never received the kind of responses I get from the readers of the paper you are now holding in your hands.

The responses have been a torrent, if not mind-blowing, and they are of all kinds: prospective authors trying to send their manuscripts, criticisms (reiterating that my writing is pretentious), overwhelmingly patronising…

But I was touched when, last week, a Chakravarti from a small Andhra Pradesh town, wrote to me, requesting, I should bestow on him tips to improve his writing skills, and tell him which all books would eventually ensure that. He wanted to write a ‘good manuscript’.

I, a college dropout, am hardly a person to help him, I told him as much, but promised I would share some thoughts that had cropped up while delighting in some good writings that I have come across in my short life.

For me, George Orwell is god; he will always be. Apart from his 1984 and Animal Farm, those great political expositions in literature vivifying the traps of both capitalist and communist hegemonies, I was really fascinated with his non-fiction, which talked about the English language and its use.

For any writer worth her or his salt, Politics and the English Language, Why I Write and Writer and the Leviathan are must-reads that should be imbibed into the system. When I compiled the above three essays for a volume one year ago, Ramachandra Guha wrote in the Foreword: “[Orwell’s] clarity of language, his moral courage, and his principled independence from party politics set him apart from the other writers of his generation, and from those who have followed since.”

Orwell was always consistent with his claim that prose degenerated into purple passages whenever it lacked political purpose. And as Orwell once said: “[English] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He died an untimely death, and that is a pity.

Now, many readers may think this is a devious digression — from someone as meticulous and marvellous as Orwell to, well, a carefree and iconoclastic Hunter S Thompson. But Thompson, mainly due to his irreverence to everything around him, shaped the way I thought and wrote. And I was particularly in awe of the company (of the New Journalism ‘movement’) he kept.

A great collection that I still admire is The New Journalism, edited by Tom Wolfe and EW Johnson. This comprised the best ‘literary’ journalistic pieces I have ever read, written by — apart from Thompson and Wolfe — Rex Reed, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote. Fully doped, Thompson wrote The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, a seminal sports article; it still remains a marvel in both journalism and literature — a rare achievement.

Thompson’s much-publicised work is the Fear and Loathing series. Nevertheless, his short works, published mostly posthumously, really stand out. In The Mailbox he talks about his confrontation with the FBI and he sums the article thus: “Never believe the first thing an FBI agent tells you about anything — especially not if he seems to believe you are guilty of a crime.”

If you are in the august company of Orwell and/or Thompson, who needs to dope? Or a stiff drink?


I used to work with a national weekly some years ago. We were bringing out a special on Orwell on his 50th death anniversary. A trainee sub-editor was asked to make the page in which we were reproducing Politics and the English Language. When I was checking the page before sending it to the press I realised there was something amiss in the Orwell classic. What happened, I asked the scribe. His reply: “Well, the whole article did not fit in the page, so I had to edit it.” Now, that is what I call guts.

-- The Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle


Anonymous said...

Hey, I really enjoyed reading this. Good stuff. And the anecdote about the trainee sub editor, don't tell me that is for real! Oh dear, that's hilarious.
Hope all is well.
Sadhvi Sharma (

Anonymous said...

Well said and candid. I was also touched by the sincere appeal of the person from a small town in AP.

Good luck.
priti aisola

Anonymous said...

Straight from the Heart

Satya Sista


While reading your blog “Write Stuff, Right Stuff”, I could not help thinking aloud. To me, writing has always been a means of communication; whether it is a two liner thank you note, an invitation for an occasion, a message on a Greeting Card or a short caption on a memorabilia or photograph. I take it as a means of expressing ones feelings of joy, sorrow, exhilaration, concern, depression or buoyant mood. It is one which is closely related to the heart, entwined with the human sensibilities and fine tuned by ones keenness to observe, understand, reflect and express.
Any writing which comes straight from the heart, irrespective of its language, style, composition or grammar, is bound to get attention and appreciation. I feel that to be a writer one has to develop the four qualities enumerated above. I for one do not miss any opportunity to observe my surroundings, the people I come across and all the activities happening around me. I particularly take interest in the way people talk, walk, behave and interact with others. I try to give meaning to their facial expressions, body language, and gestures. I endeavor to measure up to the depth of their hearts and understand their inner feelings. This leads me to a stage where I start thinking of why one is behaving in a particular manner, what could be the reasons, as to why ones face is either filled with joy or sorrow and what kind of experiences have led them to be so and as to why one is talking to himself or gesturing in the air and what kind of mental trauma that person must have undergone or must be undergoing. This is a very interesting stage because one is venturing in to an unknown area, which is the realm of someone else’s personal world. Venturing in to someone else’s personal world has its own pitfalls, where-in, without sufficient experience and knowledge of human behavior, one is bound to misinterpret and misunderstand them. To avoid such pitfalls, I reflect and carry out an analysis or loud thinking. I try to synthesize my observation and understanding by putting myself in their shoes and co-relate, whether I too could have behaved in similar manner under similar circumstances. If the answer is yes, then I get on to the next stage, express.
I call such expression as “Straight from the Heart, because it is not based on any hypothesis or fantasy. It is based on blood and sweat, muscle and bone, mind and heart, sentiment and reality and triumph and tribulation. An expression, where in, every reader can identify himself or herself with the whole or part of it and go along with it as if it is his or her own.
In my opinion, the biggest ice breaker either between persons or with ones own self is communication. The simpler, honest and straight from the heart it is, the bigger the rewards and greater the bonding.
“Write what your Heart says,
Never mind the presentation means;
Simplest of the words,
Can capture the imagination of generations” – Satya Sista