Sunday Brunch!

Sunday morning, the innocent yet utterly delightful novelty of sleeping in for that extra couple of hours, rather than his brisk two-hour walk. Kabir relished every minute of the incremental rest. Then, like clockwork, he jumped out of bed, into the shower, dressed in his Sunday best, decided to walk Rover just before Tara, Trishna and he, would set out for brunch. A ritual, the young family had so enjoyed, each weekend. Their favourite haunt, Anokhi café, where Kabir could partake of a few Vegan & Gluten-free options, Tara would religiously order her Margarita Pizza that she’d share with their daughter, and then while Kabir would devour his Vegan Chocolate Pudding, his well-earned indulgence after week-long abstinence, the mother-daughter duo would wolf-down the highlight of their meal, the famed and quite sublime, baked cheesecake!

As Kabir descended from his apartment, alighted the elevator with Rover leashed, it hit him like a ton of bricks. Lockdown. Quarantine. His world, their world, the world’s world, had come to a standstill since the past month. Because of the alarming spread of Coronavirus, the entire world, India rather strictly so, had imposed what can only be described as a national curfew. The pandemic that Kabir’s mind had unwittingly erased from his consciousness was staring him straight in the face as he signalled his masked & gloved building security guard to open the gates that would otherwise never be shut!

The human mind is a fascinating and mysterious creature. In Kabir’s case, as he now, rather with a sullen demeanour of a defeated sportsman, ambled along with Rover by the pale and vacant roadside; he wondered if he was in denial of the lockdown, of being forced to give-up ‘normality’? Or was it merely force of habit, that had jolted him into Sunday-morning Brunch-action, despite knowing fully well that there had been no such outing for an entire month now! He felt a feeling he hadn’t before felt. His fingers twitched as beads of sweat formed across his brow. His heart felt like it was the erratic drumbeat of a teenager learning how to play, loud but inconsistent. Rover’s ‘job’ done, Kabir promptly turned back towards his apartment building, desperate to have a lie-down.

The bell rang and just as Kabir was entering, he saw Trishna right in front of him. The curious toddler asked, “Papa, why are you all dressed up? We cannot go anywhere till the Coronavirus goes away, can we?”

Kabir’s own petulance, in the few moments that followed his daughter’s comments, turned into a huge smile as he said to Trishna, “But that does not mean we can’t have a yummy Sunday brunch at home missy!”

Taking his daughter into his arms, Kabir changed Trishna into a lovely floral frock, and along with Tara, the trio prepared a delectable brunch-menu, laid a special table on their balcony, and play-acted the entire brunch scenario, complete with Kabir taking the ladies’ orders, bringing out the food to the table, down to presenting a made-up bill to Trishna. The little girl’s delight was palpable as she revelled in the food, her parents’ company, and the sheer novelty of a Sunday-brunch at home.

As Trishna went to the ‘pretend-counter’ of the ‘café’ to pay the bill, Tara and Kabir held hands under the table, and looked at each other, smiling.

Understanding Need Vs Want in FICTION WRITING

At some point through our schooling, we would have been introduced to the concept of Need vs Want. Perhaps in Economics class, maybe in some other subject – we would have been familiarised with the difference.

The interesting thing is that the world that exists between Want & Need is where a great story resides. See, stories aren’t about places, or setting, or events. They are about people. And people are flawed, conflicted, grey-shaded individuals who are grappling with issues that exist inside of them. It is these internal pushes and pulls, this inner tug-of-war, this churn, that leads to conflict. And stories are about peoples’ conflicts, about them overcoming, or not overcoming them.

There is a simple way of defining Need & Want in terms of Fiction Writing. Want is something a character is convinced, he or she ‘needs’, in order to be happy. A very blatant example of this could be an alcoholic who has persuaded himself/herself that the one absolutely essential means to happiness is alcohol. Need, on the other hand, is what that character or person Actually/Factually needs to do, in order to be happy. Following from the same example, it may well be that the alcoholic really just needs to find a life-partner and put an end to his or her loneliness (the actual problem of his life).

Characters in stories, like people in real life, are often completely unaware of their ‘need’. And thus they blindly pursue their ‘want’, mistaking it for their ‘need’. These two facets of their lives need to be reconciled, and it often needs an event, in cases, a series of events, that journeys the character from aimlessly chasing his ‘want’ to realizing his ‘need’. If the story is to be a triumph, the protagonist realizes and accepts his ‘need’. If it is to be a tragedy, the character continues to deny himself his ‘need’. Irrespective of the outcome, it is this journey between the two, and the resultant conflict, that makes for real, compelling, engaging characters and stories.

My advice to writing students always stresses on the vital importance of this need vs want in their characters. One must work hard to identify characters with conflict. Because once this is done, the rest will naturally follow. Once the character has been properly fleshed out, he or she will tell the writer where, how, when, and what to do with them. In which circumstances they are to be placed. What events they should go through. Often we fall into the trap of being overawed by a scenario, a setting, a situation and an event, into which we try and retrofit our characters. I believe it would make for much more believable, organic, human characters if the story were to be conceived the other way round. Character first, rest later. And if we can understand and figure out the Need vs Want of our characters, we’d be extremely well placed in the service of our own stories.

Prologue Encore!

So we did our 1st 6 day Fiction Short Story Writing Workshop at the lovely TOSS (The Open Space Society) a couple of weeks earlier. I really enjoyed teaching the workshop, and by all accounts, my students learned and enjoyed as well.

I’m delighted to share that we’re back with an encore. The second batch begins the moment I’m back from the World Book Fair in Delhi, on the 15th of this month..

Until then, I leave you with this wonderful moments-video of the 1st Prologue Workshop, made by the lovely Hitesh & Shilpi, owners and dreamers of the fully realized creative vision that is TOSS. ENJOY 🙂