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Tag: creative

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Q&A on Writing and Travel

TS101. The explorations and adventures in most of your work are set in exotic places that are shrouded in mystery and rich in history and tradition, and it seems as though you have traveled just about everywhere. Do you happen to have any connection with a small and relatively mainstream place like Belgium?

When I was a child, I was sent to stay with friends at Ypres. I was eleven years old, and I remember the visit vividly. Of course I have returned to Belgium time and again since then, but it was that winter journey that is so burned in my memory. My sisters and I were taken to the Great War cemeteries there. I can see the headstones now – all lined up perfectly, glinting white in the flat winter sun. I remember reading the names and ages of those men. They were so young – their lives having hardly begun. A day doesn’t go by on which I don’t think of them. And it is for them that I remind my children daily: Carpe diem! Seize the day!

2. I recently heard you tell a student group that they could and should be explorers. As far as I know, there are no significant mysteries here in Belgium, though there is a great deal of history. What sorts of explorations do you think have yet to be pursued here? What do you think is the best way for parents to make explorers of their children?

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Blogging

This really follows on from yesterday’s blog, about being primed at all times. It’s something which I myself have only come to appreciate recently… writing blogs. As I have ranted in previous postings, to me it really doesn’t matter is anyone reads the stuff I write, although it’s nice if they do. And writing blogs is a fantastic way of staying primed, and working on your writing skill. Some people I know write long long blogs and get their family and friends to read them by sending annoying little reminders, and mentioning them whenever you meet. I think there ought to be blog etiquette. That means you should allow people to find your blog without much goading, and let them read if they feel like it. The other thing that’s key is, I think, writing a few lines every day, rather than pages and pages once a week. That way you stay primed and the writing develops (or perhaps doesn’t) a kind of continuity. Another wonderful point in the favour of blogs is how damn impressive they look. I encourage any kid over the age of about ten to write a short blog whenever they have the time, about their life, the universe and everything. What a fabulous way to get into writing for the love of writing.



TS


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June 19, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Rainbow

OK, I can hear you, you’re thinking to yourself, ‘this guy, this Tahir Shah is just talking rubbish. He’s got nothing at all to say so he’s doing random colours now.’ OK, well, it’s not true… OK it is a little teeny weeny bit true. But this blog writing lark is very good for getting my juices juicing in the mornings. To tell you the truth, I’m getting quite fond of it.

The thing about sitting here a lot of the time, staring out at the delicious garden and the tent at the far end, is that a lot of stuff goes through my head. Sometimes I try and tell Zohra, the maid, what I’m thinking, or Rachana, and usually (99% of the time) they brush me away. They’re too busy to listen, or have no interest in random thoughts, most particularly from me.
So the blog is a way of venting thoughts, a way of sending into cyberspace all the nonsense (well, a small proportion of it at any rate) that spews out of my head. And it seems as if I have a lot of nonsense to spew. The greatest thing about the Internet is that it’s like the universe — it’s so massive, so ridiculously unwieldy that it can absorb a huge about of stuff. I could spew nonsense on an industrial scale for decades and decades and still there’d be space for more. And, the way the net is expanding, there’s always be a black hole of the size of Pluto ready to be plugged with debris from my mind.
So why Rainbow? Well, today, I was sitting here with a blank canvas for a mind. Nothing came out… not a colour, not a sound. Then, all of a sudden there was a blinding flash and POW! — A Rainbow, the likes of which I have never encountered.  I fell backwards on my chair, almost spun around.
And what is more natural, more blessed than a rainbow? Nothing, well, hardly anything at all. Because a Rainbow nature illuminated in its most dazzling perfection — like the dawn light on a dew-covered spider’s web. It gets you all choked up, all emotional. And so it should.
The next time you are lucky enough to see a rainbow and, who knows, it may be today… say a little prayer for all the thoughts from me and everyone else, floating around us in cyberspace.
TS
 
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June 16, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Green

The swimming pool has been going green again. Turn my back for a second and it’s like a secret curse, appearing for nowhere to afflict us. When the waters go green, the guardians line up and shake their heads. They say it’s the dust, and the noise of the donkeys and the cows, and the chemicals put in the tap water by the evil French-owned water company. Then, when I say we have no choice but to drain the pool, they go crazy. They jump up and down, plunge their heads into their hands. It’s as if draining the pool and filling it with an abundance of fresh water has robbed them of honour.

They beg me to buy a huge industrial barrel of Chinese-made chlorine. Only that can do it, they say… for as everyone knows, the Chinese made the world’s most potent chemicals. I don’t dispute this. But the idea of hurling an entire barrel of chlorine into the pool seems too much. Go for an evening dip and we’d dissolve. So I asked Osman to think again. There had to be another solution. One which didn’t included our flesh being melted from our bones.
Days went by. The pool went a little darker green with the passing of the hours. Mosquitos began to breed, and there were unpleasant little bubbles of air boiling up from the deep end. Again and again I insisted that we drain the water and use it on the flowerbeds. Still, the guardians refused. They said that an answer would come. ‘When?’ I asked. ‘When the time is right.’
So we waited and waited, and waited and waited until i could wait no more. I went out and bought an enormously expensive orange-coloured pump, then pointed at the device and then at the dark green water. The guardians, who had lined up again, looked sheepish.
Osman shook his head again and asked for about $2. I gave it to him. He rushed away and returned at dusk. In his hand was a twist of old newspaper and, in it, a small quantity of chalky powder. It was blue.
‘What are you going to do with that?’ ‘Just wait and see.’ Osman sprinkled the powder into the water. Next morning I came down in my dressing down. The guardians were in their places, lined up beside the diving board. They were smirking. I pushed past and inspected the pool.
The water was deliciously transparent, unclouded, clean and bright.
Osman grinned.
‘Even in filth there is purity,’ he said.
TS
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June 15, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Sunday: Beginning and end

Only someone who has tasted loneliness can fully understand the mesmerising joy of crowds. A thousand feet walking in every direction, faces smiling, grinning, scowling, or blank of any expression, bodies of all shapes and sizes, the scent of perfume and perspiration.

After my teenage travels through Africa — especially the vast empty Great Rift in the continent’s east — I took refuge in Japan, and found pleasure in the press of commuters at Ikebukuro Station on a Friday night. It was like a powder keg in those subterranean tunnels, the sound of birdsong blaring through speakers, a psychologist’s solution for keeping crazed minds calm.

There were so many people, a streamlined mass — black briefcases and rubber-soled shoes, striped neckties and poly-wool suits. I used to wade into the middle of the frenzied rush, splay my feet wide and bend my knees to be rooted to the spot, and enjoy the surge of life all around. There was no feeling on earth like it — a sense of invisibility — while being buffeted by humanity.
I have spent almost twenty years searching for the perfect crowd and have been sucked down in them all over the urban world: in Rio de Janeiro and New York, in Lima, London, Calcutta, Cairo and Rome. There’s something almost supernatural about a good crowd: something complex, random, dynamic.
Think of it — our rural ancestors could never have understood the raw energy of ten thousand, or fifty thousand people, all packed into a tight space. I can hear you cursing — ‘Well, lucky them!’ That’s wrong. They missed out. Because there’s something intensely human about a good crowd, an experience which reminds us of who and what we are.
Of course, when you have struggled across Mumbai’s Victiora Terminus at dusk, you know you have found it — the greatest crowd on the planet. For me it was like the moment when a surfer has tracked down the most sublime wave: the perfect swell. There was a sense of silence at the heart, a terror beyond all terrors and, at the same time, satisfaction like nothing I had ever experienced.
Half the world was right there, touching me, brushing past. There were beggars and commuters, dabawallas, salesmen, students, ladies in sweeping saris, fortune-tellers and godmen, eunuchs and pickpockets, and a seething blurred mass of legs and arms, and dark glistening hair, satchels and nylon socks.
But then, the other day, I found myself in Jma al Fna, the vast central square in Marrakech. It’s name translates as ‘the Place of Execution’, and hints that it was once far more than place de touristes. The sun went down and the air was touched by the muezzin’s call. Then, as if arranged by an invisible conductor, hundreds of stall keepers set up their food stands. Each one was illuminated by a hurricane lamp, eerie platinum light radiating out with the smoke and the chaotic sound of feet.
I stood there, right in the middle of the square, smoke racing,  swirling, twisting, mixing with the incandescent light. There were so many people squeezed in that I felt myself overcome by claustrophobia for the first time. I choked, my eyes wide with fear. Forget Mumbai, I thought to myself, this crowd may be smaller, but there’s something ancient about it, something so powerful as to defy description.
You are probably tied down in life, caught in a spider’s web of bills, chores and responsibility. If there was any way you could break free, I’d counsel you to make a beeline for that square. Spend the afternoon under the shade of a nearby cafe. Then, as the sunlight ebbs away, venture out. Wade into the ocean of people, and prepare yourself for the greatest show on earth.
TS
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June 13, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Thank God it's...

It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that I’m stressed. I’ve been stressed all day, juggling with a book proposal that’s taken months of thought, gallons of sweat and the occasional tear. When I started out with it, I thought I’d cracked it right away. I patted myself on the back, pampered myself for working so hard, and relaxed.

My agent asked me to rework the pages, inject some new ideas. To tell the truth I felt a little bit sick, as if I was a spent force. It was like returning to a half-eaten meal. Tasted all stale and cold. But I nudged away at it again… and again… and again. Each time, I was asked ever so politely to do a little more.
I’m on the seventh draft now. There have been times when I have cursed, shouted, waved my fists. On drab winter afternoons I would sometimes open the window in the dining room where I am working, and yell out. It sets the donkeys off in the shantytown of course, and then the dogs, and the geese. But I feel I have to vent. After all, a life without a little venting is no life at all.
So here I am, ploughing through draft number seven and — after six months of struggle — it looks as if it’s coming together. Yes while at first i was so smug, so proud, I now look at the work and see the faults in myself. It’s good, perhaps very good, but it’s just a thing… granted, a thing created from the confines of my imagination, but a thing nonetheless.
On some evenings, when I’m all hunched over the computer screen, I wonder about all the books that were almost written and never were. OK it’s a strange thought. But think of it. There must have been so many men and women of genius who were going to write, but who never quite managed to sit down long enough, or who hand to hold down a day job as well.
I think of those books… and recently I have thought of them a lot. Most of all because my proposal might be a book that is not quite ever written. I fear for it. At night I wake up worrying. What if something happens and I have to get a day job, a job in a sandwich bar, and the great book is never done — like the sculpture trapped in a block of stone?
Gulp. That would be terrible. I’d be racked with guilt my whole life. I’d feel like a failure. Or would I? Would it not be a release…? A release from this torment of themes and character arcs, wordage and symmetry. Oh yes… oh yes it would. It would be freedom.
But then, of course the writer’s secret ego — inside every writer whether they admit it or not (and most don’t) — would not be massaged. Without the book there’d be no arc of the ego.
And where would I be without that?
TS