Writing For Money?

I opened my inbox this morning to find an invitation to a blogging contest hosted by Indiblogger. Along with Yahoo! Real Beauty, they were hosting a blogging contest with the following announcement:

What does real beauty mean to you? Is your perception different from what most people imagine beauty to be? Let us know and win the biggest prizes in the Indian blogosphere, ever!

They were offering a prize money of Rs. 100,000  for the best blog on the topic of ‘Real Beauty’. I was stumped.

Naturally, my mouth watered at the prospect of making easy money and I opened my editor on WordPress and started writing. Three sentences in, I hit a block. I just couldn’t write anymore. I sat at a different table, I used another computer, I smoked, I had lunch, I tried to plagiarize, but I just couldn’t finish writing it. Every now and then, a tantalizing thought came into my mind about all the goodies I could buy with the prize money, and I smacked my lips, hunched over my computer and tried to type a word. In vain.

Absolutely no thought came to mind. In all the vast writing experiences I’ve had in my life, I couldn’t draw on any one of them for inspiration. I just could not write an article all morning. It was weird. I had never had such a strange writers’ block in my life. True, I’ve had a few, and I haven’t been able to write anything for months on end, but all those were times when I had no motivation. Today, I had the biggest motivator in the world – easy money! And yet, I couldn’t write a word. I knew I had to write, I knew there were words on the tip of my fingers waiting to get transcribed on my keyboard, but I just couldn’t get them out.

For a writer, the biggest hurdle he will ever face is himself. If he has some principles in life, then no matter what he does, he can’t break them. But that’s not me! I have absolutely NO principles in life. I’d sell my liver for more alcohol. I should be the last person to be facing a writers’ block.

Writing for money is something half the world does. I was a journalist before I decided to ruin my life, and I used to get paid for whatever I wrote back then. I wrote two books and I certainly used all the money I got from the sales on alcohol and other vices. I have done if before. Why should this time be any different? Then, the answer struck me, like a slap in the face from an ex-girlfriend – this time was different because this was a contest. I have never written for any contest before. THAT was my unwritten rule back when I had a few remnants of principles left over. I had vowed never to take part in writing contests because it wouldn’t be fair to the other participants.

And incidentally, that was when I had my illumination. “Real Beauty,” according to me, is a person’s ability (audacity?) to use vanity as an excuse to explain his shortcomings in life.

Phew, I just tricked my brain into entering the contest.

Second Chances

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.”

– Elie Wiesel,
American Author,
Nobel Peace Prize 1986

One of the greatest attributes of life is its ability to deny us what we really want and give us what we really need. His life has been a constant game of badly-played chess, with every move as unplanned and sometimes, as stupid as it can get. Talking about friends and how they helped him reconstruct a broken foundation takes him back three years – a time when he almost convinced himself that he was a burden to everyone around him and decided that there wasn’t anything else that he could offer to the world. His time here was up, and he had to make a quick exit – to end his life and escape to that blissful afterworld where there’re no more complaints, no more angry glances, no more walking into a room filled with people who stop in mid-sentence and look at him as though he’s an unwanted piece of garbage, no more hints and subtle suggestions about him being a loser – and he chose the tried and tested path of a blade to the wrist in a bathroom alone at night.

It was in his second year of undergrad that he found out he was really a loser. The faculty treated him with disdain as if they were teaching him only because they were forced to, and his classmates never even acknowledged his presence, let alone talk to him. What was the point to all this, he thought. Why am I here? I don’t belong here because I am not wanted.

The situation at home wasn’t any different as his parents never really had the time to sit with him and talk about anything. There was a big pile of unopened progress reports on the refrigerator, and every day he looked at them in the hope that at least one of them would be opened. His grades were good but not great, and he just wanted his parents to know about the time he got a 25 on 25 in math or the time when he cleared the physics term paper. He wasn’t asking for a pat on the back and he wasn’t asking for a present in return. All he wanted was for them to smile at him occasionally, or at least look at him. He returned every day to an empty house and an emptier home. His time was up.

The person who helped him get through his hurdles – Aziz – died on May 4th, 2006 in Bangalore, India, after being diagnosed with a malignant type of blood cancer. He held his hand in the hospital on the third and told him that he’s going to live in San Jose, California, and that he owed his life to Aziz, because if it weren’t for him, there would have been no second chances.

This post is in memory of Aziz Muhammed, who celebrates his 2-year death anniversary today – a fact I was reminded of by an email from San Jose this morning, an email that gave me the permission to write these words and make his story known to the world. I had had only one cup of tea with Aziz, three years ago, and at that time, Chuckie, who was with me, said, “Life has so many things to show us and teach us and it will, only if we give it a chance to do so.”  Aziz smiled and made me smell the hot steam rising from the cup of tea. I dismissed him as a junkie at that time.

Now, I always smell my tea before drinking it.

Play Your Part!

Earth Day 2008!

I won’t join the ranks of all those do-gooders who seem to be hell bent on reminding everyone of how much damage our planet has suffered and how we need to pull up our socks and save our Earth from a certain destruction, which has been round the corner for the past three decades.

Instead, on Earth Day 2008, I’d like to remind everyone of how beautiful our world is and how lucky we are just to be born in it and to experience the pleasures of a warm sunrise, a gentle breeze or the lazy lapping of the waves against our feet.

Take one day; just one day. We wake up to the warmth of the sun streaming from the windows and from the light peeping in from behind the curtains, know that it’s already well into the day. The birds have been up for almost an hour now, their chirping audible from the branch of the tree outside the window. If we listen carefully, we might even hear the rustling of the leaves and the soft whistle of the gentle, early-morning breeze. We stand up, stretch our arms and legs and walk over to the window and pull the curtains aside to reveal the vast expanse of open skies, dotted with white, fluffy clouds here and there, moving lazily with the breeze, casting distant, benign shadows on the ground below. Here and there, flocks of early birds fly towards wherever their instinct takes them. The breeze, now uninhibited by the curtains, move in to the room in soft waves and wash over us, bringing a satisfied smile to our faces with the least effort.

Even as we stand there, the bigger of the clouds move and make way for the brilliant morning sun, still low over the horizon, and throwing the occasional red-orange ray amidst the shining yellow. No amount of words can describe this sight, and no camera however powerful can do justice to it, and we know it. So, we refrain from describing this splendid sight and move over to splash our faces with cold water.

The water cleanses our sleep away and wakes us up in a way that coffee can never do. The cool water, trickles down our faces, accentuating our smile, and we hesitate and reach for the towel. We don’t want to dry our faces. Water has that lingering satisfaction.

We then pick up a glass of water and walk over to the tiny potted plant in the corner of the room, where the young, green leaves are bathing in the gentle warmth of the morning sun. As we trickle the water on to the plant’s roots, we almost feel the leaves breathing and we see the tiniest, almost imperceptible shudder as the cold water hits the stem. we feel light inside. A perfect start to the day.

When we look at the calendar on our way to the kitchen, the date reads April 22. We start thinking of ways to play our part in keeping our beautiful home clean. No plastics today, we think to ourselves. Recycle everything and don’t litter.

No matter how much money, rock shows and propaganda go into spreading awareness about the state of the planet, we know that the change must come from within ourselves. We glare at our neighbor, who throws a half-empty packet of potato chips out on the street and roars away on his motorbike. Al Gore can preach and make all the movies he wants and win all the Nobel prizes he wants, but we know that unless we realize the truth ourselves and unless we intend to make a change, we cannot. Keeping our planet clean for just one day in a year may not sound like enough, but if only we knew the amount of abuse the Earth takes in one 24-hour period, we wouldn’t wonder about it.

Play your part. Be clean. After all, it’s just for one day! 🙂