Confessions of a gori writer groupie: Unbound edition

Jean Spraker says it like no one could.

Jean Spraker

Today, I will publish my first short story in Unbound, the hottest, newest Indian literary emagazine. The magazine is the brainchild of Neil D’Silva and Varun Prabhu of Pen, Paper, Coffee. Unbound emagazine offers up-and-coming writers a space to explore their creative boundaries. The stories were written by the members of a Facebook writing group called For Writers, By Authors. Although the group is primarily Indian, FWBA has an international scope and reach.

As one of the contributors, I have been a member of a group chat this week that was nothing short of amazing team building and absolutely brilliant. Whatstruck me most profoundly was how much democracy played into the creative process for this group. It seems apt for a magazine making its debut on India’s Independence Day Weekend.

Indian writers have taught me so much about myself and their culture. Every book I read communicates some lesson…

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A King Par Excellence – Shivajiraje Bhonsle

Chhatrapati Shivajiraje Bhonsle was a seventeenth-century king who ruled the Maratha kingdom of India from 1643 to 1680. This is history, but what stumps most people who do not belong to the state of Maharashtra is the level of devotion that Maharashtrian people carry in their hearts for this heroic King.

chhatrapati-shivaji-maharaj-with-mavale

If you insult a Maharashtrian chances are that he will be angry but he will not retaliate. He might argue with you without becoming violent. But insult Chhatrapati Shivaji and any Maharashtrian worth his salt will turn upon you with a vengeance you cannot even imagine.

Non-Maharashtrian people are generally taken aback by this strange adulation for a King. Even I do not have an answer but I like to think that those who find reverence for Shivaji a mystery perhaps do not have any heroic king to revere. No offence intended, but in order to understand why Maharashtrians adore Shivaji, you at least need to be informed about his achievements.

In the seventeenth century, almost the entire Indian peninsula was ruled by Muslim kings. The Hindus, the majority population of this peninsula, were persecuted and had to pay heavy taxes.

The Mahratta clan, who were largely warriors, served Muslim sultans like the Nizamshahi and the Adilshahi kingdoms. The aam aadmi, or common man was not happy because the Muslim rulers imposed heavy taxes, desecrated their temples and raped their women.

Shahaji Bhonsle alternately served under both these rulers. His second wife Jijabai was sent to Pune where Shivaji was born. It is claimed that Jijabai sowed the seeds of an independent kingdom in the heart of Shivaji right from his childhood. She found an able ally in his tutor, Dadaji Konddeo, who helped Shivaji master the art of sword fighting as well as the art of warfare.

Shahaji spent his entire life serving Muslim kings but Jijabai wanted Shivaji to toe a different line. At the age of 16, egged on by his mother and tutor, Shivaji captured a small fort, Torna with the help of a handful of Marathas.

So what? might be the common refrain. So the fact is, his father did not stand behind him in his endeavor. So he won the fort without even 50 soldiers. So these teenagers had nothing except swords and dandpattas. So they used stealth and surprised the killedar, or the fort-keeper, but they did not kill anyone.

From that small fort, Shivaji went on to bring a large territory from coastal Maharashtra to Nagpur in the east and as far as Jinji in the South.

Still, what makes Shivaji so great? Shivaji is considered great because he fought powerful Muslim Kings whose armies ran into tens and hundreds of thousands of soldiers with horses and backed by cannons while he led an army of hardly a few hundreds in the beginning. He is considered great because he used guerilla tactics of warfare, knowing that he could never match his adversaries head to head. He is considered a pathbreaker because before him, no Maratha warrior, in spite of being great fighters, had dreamt of establishing their own kingdom.

Shivaji protected the people of his kingdom. The aam aadmi was not afraid of the enemy without as well as the enemy within. Shivaji established a fair method of collecting taxes and gave tax relief to citizens who deserved it. Under his rule, Hindus were not allowed to ill-treat Muslims. He killed Afzal Khan, the man Adil Shah II had sent to capture Shivaji dead or alive. Upon his death, Shivaji had him buried with full honours and built a mausoleum for him.

If you read the histories of various Kings of the world, you will find that whenever great kings attacked neighbouring kingdoms, their victorious soldiers would loot the vanquished and rape their women. Shivaji is the only King in the history of the world who had warned his soldiers not to “loot and kill the defeated people” and announced the death sentence for any soldier who raped women from the enemy camp.

It was Shivaji who created the Maratha Kingdom. He gave the Marathas an identity. He gave them a legacy of valor and pride in oneself. He was an inspiration for more than five generations of Maratha rulers. There was a period when the Marathas even conquered Delhi and all but dug a grave for the Mughal empire. If it had not been for Shivaji, the Marathas would probably have been a brief blimp on the radar of history.

The French traveller Francois Bernier wrote in his Travels in Mughal India:

“I forgot to mention that during pillage of Sourate, Seva-ji, the Holy Seva-ji! Respected the habitation of the reverend father Ambrose, the Capuchin missionary. ‘The Frankish Padres are good men’, he said ‘and shall not be attacked.’ He spared also the house of a deceased Delale or Gentile broker, of the Dutch, because assured that he had been very charitable while alive.”

Picture courtesy: Shivray.com

Info: Wikipedia

Writing to prompts

I wish to pen down some of my thoughts about prompts. This is only a point of view, and you may differ from them. If so, I would love to read your POV too. And I believe that nothing is final, change is the only constant in the universe.
1. A prompt shouldn’t be taken too literally. Eg if the prompt is ‘love’ it is not at all necessary that the story that results has to be a love story, or a romantic story. One can also create a story where there is ‘absence of love’ in the main character’s life. One can also write where a character hates the idea of love, without being under any kind of pressure to make that character ‘accept’ love in the end because s/he was wrong in hating it in the first place.
2. The prompt need not be blatantly publicised anywhere in the story. Eg if you’re writing on love, it is not absolutely necessary that the word ‘love’ should appear umpteen number of times in your text. (Neither am I trying to provoke you NOT to use the word if you think it is necessary to do so.)
3. I believe that the prompt should be thrown up in the air like a ball, and the writer should follow it wherever it goes. The writer might not know in advance where the ball will eventually fall – let it be a surprise to him. The reader will only be surprised if the writer is surprised at what he discovers.
4. The prompt should be allowed to mingle with your life philosophies, your beliefs and your comprehensive abilities, but a writer shouldn’t let the prompt be a constraint. If the prompt attacks your sensibilities, don’t try to browbeat it into submission. Instead, feel free to let your mind roam into new realms. Yes, you can write a story only if you are ‘inspired’ which is what a prompt should do, but writing to a prompt that goes against your basic nature can be a great liberating experience.