Thursday, May 26, 2005

Kali-bai, soul of the story

Every story has a soul.

No, really, it does.
We don't know when it's not there, but when we go 'Hmm...well-written story', there's a 90% chance that the writer has touched this soul (else, he/she is such a great writer, that he/she can cover up the lack of soul with sparkling wit and crafty narrative... but that's rare, for a reporter)

Most of the time, I look for a person - that one person who can remind me of what this is all about - who must the story speak for, and why.

Usually, the 'soul' gets a one-line mention in a story of a thousand words. Sometimes, that one line is chopped off, at the desk.
Sometimes, I don't bother to include this one person in the story at all - names are not always relevant.
Sometimes, it is not in a face or name, but in retrospect, in regret, or a second-hand tale.

It is not easy to find the soul, though. Not in a day.
Nor does it guarantee that you'll have produced a brilliant report, the very Pulitzer-winner, when you're done. For all the soul I may put into it, I've written many shoddy stories, and been hauled up for them. It is quite possible that I get carried away by the soul of my piece, and forget to pay attention to craft, flow and space-constraints.

All the same, I look for it...

While I worked for a daily tabloid, I must have seen this story-soul once, for every twenty reports I filed. Maybe less frequently.

While I worked for a glam-mag, I never saw it at all. Not once, in one-and-a-half years.

When I freelanced, I stopped searching. It was too dangerous to go about looking for reasons to write, when you got paid by the word.

But now, I cannot write until I have seen it. This soul is like the margin that I set my mind against, before I crank up the word-machine.

On the yatra, it took me four days to find it.
I talked to dozens of people, but I was unhappy (and nervous, because I knew a boulder-sized writer's block was rolling its way into my system); I just couldn't find my 'why' and 'what for'...

Then, I met Kali-bai.

The moment she took up the mic on a makeshift stage in Banswara, and she began saying that the women of her village do not have enough land to shit on, much less till...
I found it.

[And guess what? Got hauled up for filing a shoddy report!! Ah well...]


Amrit said...

Blessed are those writers whose souls speak through their words. What an enriching experience you must be having meeting all these courageous people who in fact are the ones with "real substance" and not the substance harped upon by the glossy magazines.


R. said...

I like your style of writing. I have taken up writing only in the last few weeks, it has been one tough experience. It seems that having a story or an idea isn't enough, putting things togather in understandable lanaguage with proper grammar seems to be more important. I've come to realise that putting words to thoughts is the most difficult thing to do.

Writing is pretty much like any other work i reckon you have to feel for it otherwise the outcome would always be average. Anyways,I enjoy your posts, I try and pick up pointers when i can.

Keep Writing. Cheers.

Annie Zaidi said...

thank you, r., and amrit
I wouldn't know about enrichment, though I agree that 'substance' is a word bandied about too easily, nowadays.

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