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Professor of English, Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Friday, March 15, 2013

You cannot create until your heart longs for singing

Creative writing is not any variety of writing; it is the core and essence or the very heart of ultimate writing itself. Should one learn this, or is it acquired, or gifted? I don’t know. Since I have been doing this for the last forty years, it has become an essential part of my existence. I don’t think I can survive without writing or fancying I am writing or pretending that I am a writer or contemplating writing, that is, creating. By writer I mean a creative writer, so by writing I mean creative writing entirely. However, I do not remember learning any lesson on this. I just recall how I started writing the first (creative) sentences, putting simple thoughts that came out of the blue onto a piece of paper and how I failed hopelessly time and again, and how I kept struggling endlessly despite everything. I could not share this with anyone but my heart.
I imagine today it was a useless pursuit because my parents or my society didn’t want me to practice composing poems, nor did the teachers expect such a thing from me, or any student like me for that matter. The society was fully unaware of such worthless hobbies. It was taken as a personal pastime. It has not changed much yet. Then it was natural for me to fail (in creative writing) because all books I read gave me lessons on how to spell words and how to pronounce, and gradually how to use them into appropriate sentences utmost. None mentioned, even in passing, about creative writing. One had and still has to nurture this art surreptitiously and privately. So the experience of failure was confined to my heart.
The knowledge of grammar and vocabulary is in no way related to creative writing. I also learned reading and writing, but the reading was just vocalization of black symbols and writing just copying of them onto my paper. This was merely an emotionless work that involved repeating a particular format or structure. My knowledge of sentence structure never ensured my writing skills, because the knowledge of vocabulary and syntax does not involve any faculty of imagination which is the foundation of creative writing. A creation ‘happens’ on its own as if it were an hour of enlightenment, or illumination, therefore, even a great linguist or a greater critic dies without producing a single piece of creative work. It is not related to one’s degrees or diplomas or academic accomplishments. It is solely associated with art, a discipline of humanities.
Whenever I try to define creative writing, some vague images echo in my mind and I somehow try to give them a discernible shape. I started doing this five decades ago, and I am still pursuing the same practice without knowing any better. My struggle is not over yet. The more I do, the more I feel far from perfection every day.
For me creative writing is just an art of expression, all natural, spontaneous and an inherently designed gift for human beings though this is not uniformly distributed among each and every mind or better say heart. All schools and colleges teach Mathematics and Sciences, Languages and Literatures but there is no such a course as the art of writing or say creating something with words and images, imagination and experiences. There are some but they teach answers to: What are the features of creative writing? What are some of the best examples? What makes a writing read smooth, well worded, pleasant and elegant? What makes it enduring, what is new or experimentation ? Among Somerset Maugham or Virginia Woolf or Khalid Hussini or Shanker Lamichhane or Arvinda Adiga or Paulo Coelho, who would you like to chose ? Give reasons why... But this does not guarantee one that such a worldly knowledge will make him or her a creative writer. Most of those who teach this art can never put this into practice. What a great paradox! There is not any pathshaalaa to learn and there is no way of teaching too. It a manifestation of some innate art, I guess; it can be learned and acquired both.

One may ask me How did you choose to be a writer then ? And how did you become one ? No, it was not my choice, it was time’s. It is the inheritance of the society in which I grew up and it is my family’s legacy, especially my father’s that I tried continue. All by chance by coincidence never by choice or design. My father used to sing rhythmic stanzas every morning and evening as prayer or hobby. I later on discovered there were some classic works, especially of poetry, in Sanskrit and Nepali available in our home.
            Sometimes he would sing for us children in sweet musical voice:

            jayatitedikam janmana braja
            srayata indiraa saswadattahi

We did not understand its meaning but we knew father was singing some great stanza in praise of young Lord Krishna from the Bhagawat Geeta. With a sense of veneration, we listened to him; rapt in divine bliss, he would close his eyes and sometimes stand up and dance on the floor. His was different world. Sometimes he would sing:
            Nepalile bujhaun krishna geetaka arthako gati
Geetanubada geetako gaanaa gardai yathaamati

This came from the Komal Geeta, a Nepali version of the Geeta rendered by a great scholar Komalnath Adhikary. The stanza says: O Nepalis, let’s understand, the the meaning of the Geeta is Lord Krishna and let us sing the song of the Geeta in translation.
Sometimes he would sing in a different language, I don't know which, may be Braj, he would sing;

Jo sahi dukhapara chhidra durawa
Bandaneeya jai jagadiaha pawa

I could make out its sense to some extent later: He who bears his troubles and grief and sings the songs of Lord of the Universe, will get his troubles removed with his grace.
I can remember some hundred or more of such songs and prayers, all rhythmic, all metrical; whenever he sang, all musical. Even some Vedic richas and hymns I can still recall and recite though without making any sense.
Every morning and evening he would repeat one song or the other and gradually over a period of time, they became mine too, I inherited this property involuntarily, I internalised them naturally without realizing their value and importance. Just rhythm and music must have penetrated deep down my psyche. Not only this, we could hear people singing songs in the fields and pastures, in the haatbazaars, festive occasions, in the wild, at home during the day or at night. The high hills of the east reverberated throughout the year. Such a folk power must have penetrated deep down my psyche.
I try to recapitulate today-- we orientals have great appreciation for songs better say musicality, it was deep rooted since our ancestors preserved this quality through the Saama Veda which is said to have created some four thousand years ago. Saama Veda stands for ‘melody and knowledge’. Only the great sages sang since time immemorial and this tradition got transformed into folk songs over a period of time.
Saama Veda survives in the form of mantra, hymn, prayer and last of all folk songs in its crudest form. This is my interpretation of why we are attracted towards musicality of language. And one day when I read Andrew Clemes’s appraisal of Jane Austen’s language, I thought my belief was underpinned strongly: And I love Jane Austen's use of language too--the way she takes her time to develop a phrase and gives it room to grow, so that these clever, complex statements form slowly and then bloom in my mind. Beethoven does the same thing with his cadence and phrasing and structure. It's a fact: Jane Austen is musical. And so's Yeats. And Wordsworth. All the great writers are musical.
Gradually I started to copy some of vague lines that my heart dictated trying to imitate my father’s metrical patterns into poems. But those were ridiculous, and far from being presentable. I presented some at school level competitions yet I turned hopeless many times. But I never yielded. I continued reading some books and composing poems regularly without success until I was 21. By then I had composed quite a good number of poems, some in metrical verses others in free trying to free myself from the given models yet without much success. I can compose in metrical poems perfectly but a poem is more than one’s feat performed through metre. It is the most difficult area.
Today I feel that every prospective writer in the beginning tries to grasp poetry, and every great author ends with poetry, one of the most difficult genres. In the beginning he does by imitating or copying or plagiarizing or internalizing some models. Poetry looks apparently easier and he ventures in this way. But it takes long to understand why poetry is so deceptive an art. Consequently it may read like a twisted echo, a piece of charade. You can neither struggle further nor give it up for ever. There is no school to teach how you compose a poem. One can teach feet and meters or free forms, comment and critique on a product of poem but none can teach him or her how it is manifested exactly. It is kind of self realization and never to be attained fully.
I wrote poems sparingly, which may amount to a hundred. I composed more of love poems during my youthful days, wrote some satirical ones later, practiced soe more serious and in sublime tone after that but in total hardly a dozen of them are published. When I compare with great poems, mine read quite trivial and I feel ashamed of the creation every time. This has given me a feeling that among creative writers poets must be in the highest hierarchy because a large amount of their efforts remains submerged like an iceberg by the time they become worth reading in the society. A poet like me disappears from the scene leaving heavy load of waste material behind. You don't know where your writer fits in appropriately.
Since then I gave up poetry and switched to another genre --novel. I wrote Muglan my first novel in 1974 just in seven days, got it published, editions followed and other creations followed. But I cannot say how I wrote and what made me accomplish a work that is being highly acclaimed till today. Most of my writing career is trajectory of fiction, essay and criticism with occasional toppings of poetry. Thus in creative writings there are several entries and exists, one chooses one or the other. These are poetry, essay, fiction, drama and criticism. My experience says, if poetry fails, essay, if essay fails fiction, if both fail drama and if everything fails criticism. Criticism is easier done than said. For many criticism is the first priority because they don't know anything, for some it is the last resort because they know other things. A critic may be a good preacher not an author or writer for me.
Every creative writer is a self-made person, a self-taught disciple, a self-crafted artist. I can draw from my experience that creative writing is acquired by one’s own efforts increasingly over a period of time with the gradual accumulation of experiences and addition of small knowledge particles provided he or she never gives up, or never does expect for any material gain (at least in our case) and is ever ready to continue their efforts for deciphering the mystery of the world, mystery of the larger Creation. Writing is an effort to decipher Creation; it is an effort to find out man’s position in this universe.
What makes one so? It is not made up of a single ingredient; it is rather a fusion or a blend of many. No book tells you which of the ingredients to select, for which purpose, how to measure and how to apply them proportionately so as to give it a perfect taste as if it were the proportionate use of spices in Asian cuisine specially curry. It depends on individual skill, experience, art of doing this, and above all, perseverance and patience that leads you to achievement.
Creative writing is like this. It is all a question of personal choice. This makes hundreds and thousands of poems different from each other, thousands of fictions different from each other though everybody chooses the same theme -- of love, or separation, of war, revolt, or jealousy, frustration, and death or one of infinite themes available. Creative power is individual.
What is the use of such a creation? They say a creative art recreates life; it reproduces whatever man could achieve and whatever lies unattended in his mind. So they say a creative work is the replica of broken dreams and unfulfilled desires. Truly, the past focused on recreating personal dreams and desires but today with a great shift in time society is at the centre, ethnicity, community, racial identities came to the fore and so they are recreating racial memories and ethnic identities. Poetry has truly become a weapon or voice of the voiceless. See how international poetry day awakens people from their deep slumber. An individual and in the contemporary society where every body is claiming his or her identity, they need greater power. They wield the power of poetry. A great poem fights for freedom, identity, and existence. It ensures survival.

They ask : Which language for Creation? This is mere politics. A literary creation has no language other than that of the heart. It writes in the universal language of humanity. In Samual Johnson’s terms, ‘this dress of thought’ reveals and conceals both. I must quote willianm Hazzlitt the great English essayist of the 20th century: Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for anything else.
            Some ask: In which language should I create? I answer words and images or stone, wood and clay, or your vocal cords or colours or your dancing feet. All your actions can create like a prayer to Lord Shiva

Yatyat karma karomi tattadakhilam
Shambho tabaradhanam

Whatever action do I perform walking or sleeping, eating or singing or mere talking) this is your prayer only my Lord.
            This may sound too vague and limitless scope of language of creation. This encompasses all art forms. Let us limit ourselves to words.
            In Nepal people prefer mostly Nepali as the language of literary creation. Apart from this there are considerable number of creations available in different Nepalese languages. Some choose English too. English as a medium of creative works is a recent practice. And recently it is growing wonderfully.

(Paper presented at Asian English Teachers’ creative writing conference
organized by NELTA Birgunj and Multilingual Literary Society, Nepal, 12-13 March, 2013)


  1. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Nepal? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Nepal in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28903 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog www.cartasenmibuzon.blogspot.com where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez

  2. Dear Emilio
    I am delighted to read your mail and your humble plans for the promotion of peace and humanity
    Even a small step towards this counts a lot
    Surely I will write to you but I think it may take quite some time

  3. A very powerful and self-reflective paper that explores your deep insights and ideologies behind your pursuit in creative writing. This on the one hand, draws on your personal experiences of throwing yourself into the infinite and destination-less odyssey of creation and on the other hand vocalizes the truth behind what writing and creative writing is. A great paper. I had heard it from your mouth during conference and was tempted to read it again. It has illuminated both my heart and mind.

    Sajan Kumar

  4. Blessed of reading Gurus
    The divinity of initiation
    May the mere mortals get charged
    May immortalize the morrttal creation!

  5. Through this paper you have attempted to revolutionize those minds and hearts in slumber , dear Sir .