“How do you conceive your stories?”
That’s the question every writer faces at every juncture. The only answer I can think of is, a writer not only sees, but also feels, and his mind keeps toying with incidents, people, places and emotions. It is difficult to pinpoint how exactly a particular story crept into a writer’s mind.
I distinctly remember how ‘Music of Death’ came about, though. As a member of the WRIMO India group, I participated in an year-long prompt-based story writing exercise in the Wrimo group.
One of the prompts (it was given by Wrimo Sheetal Surve) was a photograph of a girl lying on the floor of a room. A gramophone lay in one corner and she held a cigarette in her hand. The ambience was definitely American but, being a desi at heart, I wanted to write something that belonged to the Indian milieu.
Just a couple of weeks before this prompt, I had seen an old classic, Pakeezah on the net. I was born in the late 60s and my childhood was a series of gully cricket, Bachchan movies, radio music and Doordarshan. Hindi movies ruled the masses and films ran for months and years, unlike the weekend-long innings of today’s movies.
The music of Pakeezah was mesmerizing and I was immediately drawn into the world of tawaifs, mujras, nawabs. Pakeezah was a tragedy and I suddenly began to see a tawaif (dancing-girl) who fell in love with a young nawab (an Indian prince). It was during the writing of this story that I realised I was a complete pantser. I didn’t plan a thing. I just created a world, let my characters step in, and let them be led by their hearts. A large part of the inspiration was the music of the film. I know this story has a niche audience because not many of the young generation have seen Pakeezah and I doubt how many will appreciate the events of that era. But if you’ve seen the movie, then I’m sure it’ll strike a chord somewhere deep inside.
Believe me, I didn’t preconceive the climax at all. It just struck me at the last moment that this is what Rukhsar apa will do to keep her tawaifs in tow.
The story exceeded the word limit and ultimately I didn’t submit it in the group. It stayed under wraps for around 6 months. I even sent it to fellow- Wrimos for their comments and they were gracious enough to give me some tips for improvement.
When ‘Vengeance’ was voted as the theme of the the WRIMO anthology, it suddenly occurred to me that my love story had an element of revenge. Luckily the selection committee liked the story and here it is now, part of the anthology.
Is it an original story? No. I took the ambience of the kothas of Lucknow, used the lyrical magic of the Pakeezah songs and the one thing that binds two souls together – love, and created this story. Some may accuse me of lifting the characters, but in any art, you are allowed to steal anything if you can make it better, so said my writing guru Ernest Hemingway.
PS – if you really want to enjoy the story, you would do well to at least listen to the songs of the movie.
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A Sting in Every Tale
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