A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG #12.

THE COVER STORY.

In my previous blog in this series, I had discussed the role of immediate environment and family support system in writing a novel. In this blog, I would discuss the visual impact of a cover of a novel.

Till I published my first novel, I was totally blind towards the importance of a book cover. Of course, this was partly due to the fact my father was a member of a public library. That library had a policy of binding all the books purchased by it. Since the binding was old fashioned leather binding, this policy ensured that the books had long shelf lives. However, as a result of this utilitarian practice, my impressionable mind was conditioned to overlook the book covers while selecting the books. Of course, my father would guide me about which authors to read. However, the visual appeal of new books had always been alien to my sensibilities in my formative years. It was only when I grew up and started buying books on my own that I began noticing book covers.

Even then, I would react to book covers almost unthinkingly. I would like some book covers and dislike the rest. To be candid, ‘ dislike ‘ is rather a strong word. I think it would be correct to say that I was indifferent towards some of the book covers. Of course, there were some book covers which I liked immensely. The turning point in my thinking about the book covers came about when I bought a novel “ A Chronicle of A Death Foretold “ by Gabriel Garcìa Márquez. It was a Penguin edition. The book cover was brownish yellow, with author’s name in white in the forefront. The title of the novel was written on a purple brushstroke. Till date, I can not analyse what happened to me when I saw that book at the Strand bookstore. I knew I had to buy it. I would like to admit that till then , I had not read any of Marquéz ‘s novels. Therefore, I did not have any expectations, but there was something incredible about that book cover. It touched my subconscious mind. That was the moment that changed my attitude towards book covers. The irony of that moment was that I became lifelong reader of his books , but I still don’t know the artist responsible for that book cover. The novelists become famous but artists who create the book covers remain anonymous.

Before I move on to my understanding of book covers, I would like to point out two of my shortcomings. Firstly, being a male, my colour sense is rather primitive. I realized this while describing that book cover in the previous paragraph. My description of that book cover is rather inaccurate. I am sure there are more specific descriptions of colour scheme of that book cover. However, I don’t think I can differentiate between different shades of brownish yellow. To me they are all same. This has nothing to do with my upbringing. It has to do with genetics. Very few of us are aware that genes responsible for color perception are present in X chromosome. Therefore, all males, including me, are endowed with only one set of these genes. Women, on the other hand, are endowed with two sets of these genes. Moral of the story is never argue with women about colours. They are better equipped to differentiate between shades of colours.

Secondly, having been trained as a scientist, I am more inclined to be analytical than being emotional. Those who have been reading my blogs, would realize that I tend to analyse and deconstruct human existence rather than describing the emotions that dominate our lives. I am more of a content person rather than an expression person. Maybe, that is why I was late in realising the importance of a book cover. Somewhere, deep within, I think of novels as vehicles of telling readers about life. I don’t think of novels as sensuous expressions.

However, this predominance of rationality started changing when I began writing my first novel. I had to, perforce, confront my emotions. The writing of novels has liberated me from analytical predilection. The climax of that liberation came when I was required to think about the book cover of my first novel. I am thankful to my publishers CINNAMONTEAL for guiding me through this process of making a book cover. I had some ideas about the design of the book cover. The artwork was provided by the publishers. Someone in my family is professionally trained in visual arts. So, the final outcome was a result of cooperation between three of us. I am already in the process of visualising a book cover of my second novel. This time, I am more comfortable with colours and the emotions that they evoke. However, the real achievement would be when I start visualising my novels rather than thinking about them. A graphic novel would be a pinnacle of creativity for me. I am not sure whether I would climb that mountain.

This brings me to the end of this blog and the end of this series of blogs :A Writer in Transition. I would resume blogging after a gap of couple of months. During this gap, my third novel would be under production and I would be busy with the ‘non literary ‘aspects of that novel, including its cover design.

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MY SECOND NOVEL BLOG #24

REINCARNATION AND EMOTIONAL CONTINUITY.

           In my previous blog , I had discussed the role of technological changes in shaping our emotional universe. I had suggested that though human emotions are absolute in some sense , their nuances would be different and be influenced by societal changes including technological changes. I had cited instant gratifications provided by communication technologies as a prime example of this type of changes. I had suggested that delayed gratification enriches our emotional development which is missing in the post Internet era.

          Purely from a novelist’s point of view , these different emotional stages are important because every character in a novel must have particular emotional depth depending on each character’s societal background , including the sophistication of technologies available in the society. While  this is a routine requirement for writing a novel , it needs to be fine tuned depending on the social backgrounds of the main characters of a novel. Normally , a novelist tries to differentiate between characters belonging to different age groups by detailing different emotional stages of these characters. While doing that , sometimes a novelist also incorporates the technological influences on these characters. In this blog , I would discuss my own experience in dealing with this aspect of characterization. In my second novel , this problem is slightly different because the character is supposed to be a reincarnation of a character present in the first half of the novel. Therefore , the reincarnated character has to be similar and dissimilar at the same time.  Moreover , since there is a time gap of around twenty five years between these two avatars , the emotional stages are different in each of these avatars. As the novel depicts the year 2016 , the present avatar had to be a tech savvy unlike her previous avatar. Therefore , I would discuss this aspect in this blog.

          As I have mentioned in earlier blogs , the key appeal of the theme of reincarnation in fiction lies in the emotional continuity of the character being born again. If the reincarnated character were not to have any memories of its past lives and emotions experienced earlier , the whole purpose of this literary device of reincarnation would be lost. Therefore  , it is vital that a reincarnated character must have such memories of the past lives and that these memories must guide the behaviour of this reincarnated character. However , I found that the problem with this reasoning is what should be carried forward from the previous birth and what should be new in this birth. On one hand , I wanted her to have identical emotions and morality , but on the other hand , she had to have different sensibility in tune with the modern times. This is where I became aware that how technology changes our emotional experiences.

        I realized while writing these different avatars , that beneath the notion of reincarnation , there lies a deeper understanding of what constitutes an individual person. I think  that when we refer to soul , we are actually referring to some aspects of an individual that do not change with each incarnation. In reincarnation , these immutable aspects of an individual must be taken as a soul of that individual which are transferred unchanged. As a novelist , I find it tempting to think that these immutable aspects are nothing but our emotions in their absolute form. In that case , the purpose of individual’s life ought to be to experience these absolute forms of emotions in their purest states. The fiction , therefore , plays an important role in enabling the readers to experience this emotional bliss.

       At present , I am detailing the second birth of the reincarnated character. This character happens to be a reincarnation of the girl friend of the protagonist. Or this is what the protagonist suspects. My problem is how to differentiate between these two avatars. It is important that these two avatars must have something in common and still be distinctly different. I am trying to use Internet access , and the information overload that comes with it , to create more forthright and open minded character which , at a deeper level , is the same woman with  whom the protagonist was in love. The novel is about whether the protagonist’s belief turns out to be true or not. More importantly , as a novelist , I am more concerned about how these changed , but still unchanged , emotions help the protagonist to find out the truth.

           In my next blog , I would discuss why a novelist should not prove or disprove any belief. A novelist’s task is to portray an emotional journey of the fictional characters that helps these characters to find their own versions of truth. A novelist can hope that this emotional journey would inspire the readers to undertake their own pilgrimage to find their own versions of truth. In my second novel , my focus is not on whether the notion of reincarnation is true or not. I am more concerned about how the protagonist travels through his various emotions to arrive at his version of truth of reincarnation. 

MY SECOND NOVEL BLOG #16

        ARE WE REALLY RATIONAL  ?

       In my previous blog , I had discussed the creative process that shapes the plot of a novel. I had discussed how personification of various emotions can create various characters and drive the story forward.  In that blog , I had mentioned that real creativity of a novelist lies in her /his ability to blend different , and sometimes conflicting , emotions to create a more realistic character. Such a character appeals to us because we ourselves are made out of several complex emotions.  Thus any character that has emotional depth because of blending of different emotions , would be more like us and therefore would be more appealing.

       In this blog , I would discuss how this blending of different emotions in a single character makes such a character a flawed character. Let us say that a character created by blending several emotions has sufficient emotional depth and is more realistic. While , as a novelist , I can tell you  that it is more  satisfying to create such a character , but the problem is that such a character turns out to be a flawed character. How does one  predict behavior of such a flawed character ? For a novelist  , this is  very crucial because the details of the plot of a novel hinges on how that  character would behave in a given situation. This problem is also faced by all of us in real life.  There are always individuals in our lives who are emotionally very complex and it is difficult to predict how they would behave. Of course , in real life , one does not have to follow a plot , whereas in a novel, the novelist has to create an interesting plot.

          I think the real problem with such fictional characters  is that their  ability to reason is influenced by their emotional frame of mind.  This is  true in our case also. Our ability to reason is also  influenced by our emotional frame of mind. Unlike computers , we think differently under different emotional framework. In this blog , I want to discuss whether we , as a species , are rational animals or not. Of course  , there are large number of books on various aspects of human ability to think  but I would sidestep the theoretical perspective.  I would write about this as a novelist and as an average ordinary human being.

       This aspect came to my notice while writing my second novel. As I have been writing about this novel in my blogs, this novel is about the theme of reincarnation. The story is actually about an average person , who in this novel , is a chartered accountant. He comes across someone in his life who apparently has memories of past births. Now , the protagonist  , being an ordinary human being , has no way to confirm whether this reincarnation is true or not.  Being a  professional, he tries to use his analytical skills to confirm whether the reincarnation is true or not.  The trouble is that he is emotionally very close to the person experiencing these past life memories.  As the story  progresses,  the protagonist is increasingly influenced by his emotions and his reasoning starts getting accordingly  distorted.

        As a novelist , I found it disturbing to realise that what if such a distortion could be happening with all of us. Therefore, I decided to observe how this  protagonist changes his reasoning as his relationship with the person experiencing the reincarnation changes. To my  surprise ,  I realized that human  rationality is not uniform or standard.  It changes with our emotions. We sometimes change our opinions over a period of time. This is actually a result of change in our  emotions. While trying to develop the character of the protagonist , I realized that there is more serious problem of how the emotions of the protagonist forced him to start believing in mutually contradictory reasons at the same time.  In order to do that , the protagonist started developing ingenious arguments. While  psychologists are familiar with this distortion of reasoning because of emotional disturbance , we do not recognise such a distortion in persons around us in real life.

       As a novelist ,  this was a good opportunity for me to try to understand human mind ,but as a human being, I was disturbed.  I realized that this could be happening to me as well. What if my own beliefs were also distorted ?  More importantly  , I realized that situation in real life was far more difficult.  In a novel, there is always a novelist who could keep characters in some kind of thematic control.  In real life , there is  no one who could exercise such a control. Maybe that is why our culture has invented a deity like destiny. By placing our faith in destiny , we we feel comfortable that our distorted reasoning is not of our own making.

        I would like to clarify that this view of our reasoning being distorted by our emotions is not necessarily a depressing view of human existence. This is because this very distortion also  produces heroic human beings. The  point behind writing this novel on reincarnation is that no matter what our emotions are , they would shape our reasoning. It might make someone a hero and it might make another person a psychopath.  The process of making both types of individuals is same. Interestingly  , sometimes an individual may be both , a hero as well as a psychopath. 

          I have asked a question in the title of this blog.  The answer to this question is that yes , we are rational , but our rationality is fragmented.  Our tragedies arise when these fragments of rationality conflict with one another. Maybe the correct answer is that  we are rational in parts but not as a whole. I would end this blog a serious comment on the nature of human tragedy.  In literature , we are taught that there are two types of tragedies , Greek and Shakespearean.  In Greek tragedy , it is the destiny that wrecks the tragedies in human lives.  In Shakespearean tragedy  , it is the human nature that wrecks tragedies in human lives. While writing this novel on reincarnation , I realized that both the types of tragedies are same if the destiny were to dictate the distortion of human mind . Maybe, destiny makes us think in such a way that our actions , based on this distorted reasoning , bring about tragic consequences.This is the core of Indian tragedy. It transcends Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. You just have to read Ramayana and Mahabharata to see how destiny operates.

          In my next blog , I would discuss how our wishful thinking actually tells us what we are. More importantly  , I would discuss how even wish fulfillment can have tragic consequences.  

MY SECOND NOVEL BLOG#4.

                 REINCARNATION AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

           In my previous blog , I had discussed the psychological reasons for the popularity of the notion of reincarnation. I had suggested that our belief in reincarnation is a projection of our own emotional needs. Our belief in reincarnation does not require a logical or a rational arguments. In that blog , I had also mentioned that apart from individual emotional needs , our belief in reincarnation also arises from our cultural and religious belief. In this blog , I would try to analyze the reasons why our religious doctrines and cultural ethos reinforce our belief in the notion of reincarnation.

             At the outset , I would like to clarify that my views on religion, any religion for that matter , are not based on some assumed intellectual superiority. I do not think that religions and intellectual attitudes are incompatible. My own view of the religion is that it plays a significant role in shaping individual sensibilities. There are quite a few scientists who had strong religious beliefs and yet they could excel in their professions. In my opinion , the religion also plays an important role in uniting it’s followers on the basis of common sensibilities. This society building role of a religion is a historical fact. Of course , this notion of common religious identity also leads to isolationist tendencies. However , I would refrain from sociological aspects of religion and instead focus on psychological and moral dimensions of religion and its role in reinforcing our belief in reincarnation.

               I think that the principal claim of all religions is the existence of an absolute entity. This entity is variously described , in different religions , as a personification of that absolute entity. This personification has different attributes depending on the sensibilities of that particular religion. The main task of all religions is to connect that absolute personified entity with mundane lives of its followers. However , the problem with this task is that the day to day life of religious followers is in absolute contrast with the attributes of the personified deity. While the deity may be a personification of piety and virtuousness, the life of a religious follower would be exactly opposite of that. Similarly , the deity would be a personification of tranquility and peace , whereas a follower’s life would be anything but that.

                Therefore the task of all religions is two fold. Firstly , they make you aware that you are separate from the deity. Therefore you must practice certain rituals to connect with the deity.  On the other hand , religions also profess that the deity is always present in each one of us in the form of certain absolute entity. This entity , being a part and parcel of the deity , is absolute and therefore indestructible. Therefore , our religious practices are of two types. Either one can practice religious rituals and  try to connect with the deity, or one can search oneself by introspection to connect with the deity. In fact , Sanskrit word for religion ‘dharma’ has two connotations. Dharma means a code of conduct as well as a direct relationship between the individual and the deity.

         Let us see how our religious beliefs shape our belief in reincarnation. To the extent the deity is part of an  individual, the deity can not simply perish when that  individual dies. At the same time, an individual has hardly any attributes that are ascribed to the deity. Therefore the attributes possessed by that individual must have arisen from somewhere else. Therefore an individual must be made up of several parts. One part represents the divine and other parts represent mundane aspects of reality. The divine part is always pure ànd absolute. The mundane parts are always imperfect and constantly changing. Thus it is necessary for most of the religions to propose an internal dichotomy of human beings. An individual is thus blend of divine and mundane. This dichotomy is inevitable once you accept a notion of absolute deity. However , the most important aspect of religions is not just to offer this type of logical explanation. The religions are also fundamental to human beings because they offer a moral dimension to us. This is where this dichotomy plays an important role.

                      In my opinion , human beings ,as a species , are a  moral species. Our need for moral justification is an inborn need. I also believe that articulation of this moral dimension has led us to the organized religions. If this is true , then it is easy to see that the notion of reincarnation would fullfil the conflicting requirements of our psyche. The absolute and divine part of ourselves can not perish therefore it must continue to exist even after our death. On the other hand , the mundane part of ourselves keeps on changing and is perishable.  Thus the notion of reincarnation enables us to accommodate this contradictory requirements of different parts of our psyche. Now ,add a moral dimension to this notion of reincarnation and you have a theory of Karma. The activities of mundane part of human beings , that can not be reconciled within a single life time  , can always be reconciled with the help of divine part of an individual. The notion of soul as the absolute and divine part of an individual , being imperishable , can be born again . Moreover , this part can reconcile the actions of the mundane and imperfect part of that individual.

Thus the notion of reincarnation accommodates the requirements of an absolute deity ,human beings made of several parts and more importantly , the moral sense of human beings. It is therefore natural that the notion of reincarnation is supported by our religious beliefs.             

           In my next blog , I would discuss the literary aspect of reincarnation. I think it is necessary to know that the notion of  reincarnation  has inherent metaphorical template. In my next blog I would discuss the notion of reincarnation as a metaphor.