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Novel novel excerpt

October 13, 2008

In Mumbai I would often visit the beach in the evenings. That was to me the most affordable way to unwind; the easiest way to obtain some mind-space for relatively quiet reflection.  The beaches there were the least chaotic epitome of the city. If someone ever wanted a ‘Mumbai for Dummies’ understanding of the city, without suffering nerve damage, the beach was the place to be. Of course this was Mumbai we were talking about, so one couldn’t expect pristine beaches. In fact, the reality was anything but pristine.

I could go on and on. How easy it is to write a heavily descriptive novel. How easy to endlessly digress. The idea of filling 400 pages of pedestrian excrement is seductive beyond measure.
Now now Johnnie, control your mind. Avoid slinging mud at the audience (you’ve done that with ‘Mumbai for Dummies’). Harness the wild horse.
Ok, fucking voice in head, I will try to refrain from super-trite shit. :(.

That day I sat on the topmost rocks. The backs of those scattered mounds of rock lay   against the boundary walls of posh sea-facing buildings. The mounds looked like small jagged hills, with the beach beginning at their foot. From my vantage point, I had an unobstructed view of the sea and the effulgent cosmic fruit, cut in half and dipping under the horizon.

The first sense to be viciously assaulted in the heart of Mumbai is generally that of smell, followed by that of sight. Decaying fish, human and animal excrement, the acrid stench of urine, the organic and non-biodegradable litter callously strewn all over the place. All these unite to create a unique olfactory cocktail: a miasma nauseating to anyone who isn’t inured to it. I saw all that filth comfortably nested in the cavities between the rocks.

During high-tide, the belligerent waters swallowed up the beach. It was possible but hazardous then to make one’s way up the rocks. Today the low tide had graciously ceded about a hundred meters of land. More than half of that land, the part closer to the water, was wet and dark brown in colour. The fading light brought with it the continually changing hues of dusk: the overlapping of orange and yellow, then yellow and golden, and then colours that I did not know names for until I saw the penultimate transition to silver-blue. The sound of the waves was loud; the cadence–with respect to both sight and sound–of undulated waters breaking at the shore brought an uncanny tranquility to the evening.
The dry beige sands teemed with variegated life; and that life would ebb with the fading light.
People were out for their evening walks. The smooth wet sand was a mirror in which I saw their hazy reflections.
A man sitting on the rocks to my right had a notepad on his side in which he sporadically scribbled something. At other times he seemed to be trying to tap into the infinite, assuming an unusually erect posture.
To my left, I saw a group of men close to the water. They were furiously beating drums slung around their necks; there was rapidity in the rhythmic sound being created.  They were offering prayers to win the favour of the Supreme Radio, which was was hopefully tuned into every station in the cosmos.

A few kids were taking rides on ambling horses. The horse-owners walking beside them who held the reins charged a modest fee. Stray dogs pranced around. There were also those dogs that possessed a somewhat exalted status–the ones on a leash walking beside their masters. If only one could understand what was being exchanged across the canine class divide.
It was quite dark now. I could see the Mumbai skyline to my west. The silhouettes of tall buildings were dotted with white spots against a silver-blue sky. The white spots that flickered at their feet must have been the bustle of automobiles. How painful it would be to be stuck in the snail pace traffic of Mumbai’s evening rush. I imagined those tired faces lumbering homeward.

Where are you going with this Johnnie? While you are at it, why don’t you describe in detail every person you see on the beach? Surely that would fill up a hundred pages. Why not also speculate about the colours of their underwear while you are at it? How about the sexual orientation of each dog you saw? Some parts of the preceding passages are satisfactory, but remember Johnnie, the key to a good novel is that each line you write must be either entertaining or educative or both, or if neither, then at least discernibly germane to the plot. Novelty however, must be maintained in all cases. If a line does not satisfy the aforementioned criteria, it should be scrapped. I’m not telling you not to describe things: description is generally an unavoidable, and often pleasant element of a novel. People, places, events, objects–all are targets for the disease of description. Just ensure that the descriptions last only until they are faithful to the cause of maintaining these E’s, with the occasional concession granted only if a certain part’s germaneness is indubitable. A balance between the two is a good thing though: too much entertainment and too little insight would make your novel pulp; too much insight and too little entertainment would make it overly cerebral and a laborious read at best, and pretentious or wannnabe at worst. What your writing is categorised as would depend on what and how you write. This would also largely determine the audience that enjoys your work: the balance between the two E’s can help determine both the number and nature of such people. You will also have to take into consideration the inherent relativity of what is entertaining or educative; so don’t expect bouquets from everyone–just give them your best.

Have you thought about all this?

Look Mr. Know Itall, personally I care more about money than your two ‘E’s and ‘novelty’. In my experience, spice sells, even if the spice one offers is steeped in triteness. If I have to forfeit glory, I am OK with that.
There will definitely be some tugging-at-the-heart strings’ in my novel, and atleast one sexual incident — a little bit of titillation generally manages to evoke interest. Maybe I’ll enthrall them with a bit of adventure while I am at it. The good thing about my writing is that it not only entertains many people but also is conducive to stability: it causes no disquieting upheaval or questioning of their being or identity. This insight stuff is hard to write from a writer’s perspective, and can be dangerous for the reader.
So there you go, Mr. Anarchist. Now go suck an ostrich egg–hopefully that is novel enough for your tastes.

I sat there till not a whisper of light remained in the sky. The sound of the crashing waves became increasingly distant as I walked away; the city and its angst claiming me again.


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