Monday, August 08, 2005

Eklavya and the Art of Writing

How many writers, authors, whatever, read books on writing? I have such a strong, adverse reaction to these books that teach you how to write. But then there are writers whom I like and respect who do read these books and use them well. Perhaps I am just an elitist pig.

How do you do that, teach writing I mean? You can teach grammar, spelling...all the technical aspects of writing. But how do you teach a writer to write, to create compelling characters, plots, etc? To create life out of blank paper and ink?

Is there a precise formula to make a character come alive? To make a setting and a plot believable. How do you teach someone to create? In my opinion you either have it or you don't.

So, perhaps you can put together everything you find in books and create a competent story. But if you don't have that spark, that electricity within, that vision... all you have are well crafted words but not much else. That's just my opinion but what do I know?

There are books and writers that do *teach* me how to write. The writers whose work I admire, who don't have to consciously teach me to write. But they do.

I am reminded of this great, poignant tale from the Mahabharata. The story of Eklavya, a shudra, who was forbidden by the shastras to learn the art of archery. But he wanted to be an archer, he was born to it, he felt the call of the bow, the song of the arrow as it rushes through the air to its precise destination. Since none would teach him, Eklavya made a statue of the great teacher, Dronacharya, made offerings to it, and started to learn the art of the bow and arrow.

One evening when Dronacharya and his brightest pupil, the Pandava prince, Arjun were out walking, near Eklavya's hut they were disturbed by the loud barks of a dog. Eklavya skilfully sewed up the mouth of the dog by weaving an arrow through its mouth.

Impressed Dronacharya came to the realization that Eklavya, a shudra, was much better than his prized pupil, Arjun, whom Drona proclaimed as the greatest archer in the world. Upon meeting him, when asked who his guru was, Eklavya prostated himself in front of Drona and proclaimed him as his teacher, showing him and Arjun the statue. Blessing him, Drona asked for his guru-dakshina (the gift a student gives a teacher as tribute).

Drona asked Eklavya, for the thumb of his right hand, stunning even Arjun with the cruelty of this demand. But Eklavya, overcome with love and devotion for this teacher, cut off his thumb and handed it to Drona, without hesitation. And the gods in heaven wept and rejoiced at the greatness of Eklavya.

The story of Eklavya has always resonated with me, the classic noble underdog. So, here's to all my teachers who came before me and did it much better than I can ever dream of (in no particular order and a very diverse and incomplete list):

Ghalib, the many writers of the Mahabharata, Zauq, Homer, Manto, Qurratulain Haider, Ismat Chughtai, Rushdie, Saul Bellow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mahadevi Varma, James Fenimore Cooper, Nuruddin Farha, Vikram Seth, Borges, Vikram Chandra, Manil Suri, Rohinton Mistry....a never-ending list.

I thank you all but you are not getting my thumb :-).


fruey said...

I like this post. The story from the Mahabharata is poignant and shows that you can sacrifice the very thing you strive for to prove how much it means to you. That's pretty philosophical. In Hollywood Eklavya would of course grow a perfectly accurate thumb back in its place.

I'm writing myself, just another blog though. I see you've recently started blogging (at least on this site) and wish you luck.

Jawahara Saidullah said...

Thanks Fruey. Or Eklavya might start wearing a black glove, become totally evil and try to take over the world (whatever that means).

I briefly visited your blog (I'm at work so kind of hush-hush)...I've bookmarked it and plan to visit again.


Anne said...

"How do you teach someone to create? In my opinion you either have it or you don't."

Exactly! Great post :)

Bina said...

you don't teach them to create. you teach them to think, to see, to hear, and to understand. The creating comes on its own.

Anonymous said...

That's some list of 'teachers' ye. But at the risk of offending you I do see a spark of Jhumpa Lahiri in your writing. Apologies in adv.