Thursday, January 09, 2014

Day 9 - The story of a story

My story Kanchenjunga, which won a contest recently, was received warmly by a lot of people.  Some told me it touched them, some wrote to me to tell me how it stayed with them for several days after reading it.  And many people observed that my writing has improved since my last few stories.

It is this last comment that I treasure most.  Just because this improvement hasn't happened just like that.  It has been a long journey, and in many respects, the final version of Kanchenjunga embodies that journey. 

How does a story get written?  Not many people can start with the first word, and produce a perfect product at one shot.  Most of us need to rewrite.  Like James Michener said, "I am not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter."  I'm sure many writers will identify with this statement. 

So for those of you who think that I churned out this story in one effortless gush, here's the story of the story.

It began 14 years ago, when we visited Darjeeling from college, as part of an industrial tour (yeah right.)  We awoke at 3 30 in the biting December cold to drive out to the nearby Tiger Hills to watch the sunrise.  Watching the sun rise, and watching its first few rays slowly illuminate the Kanchenjunga was one of the most ethereal sights I have seen.  I have tried to express it in words several times (whenever something overwhelms me, it helps to write it down.)  but my account hasn't really done justice to that feeling.  Anyway, after watching the sunrise, we drove back to Darjeeling, and on the way, stopped at a momo shop to have the most delicious momos I've ever had.  And from this shop, we could see the Kanchenjunga, which was now bright white, and this experience, though not as sublime as the first one, was memorable in its own right. 

And then, 4 years ago, a writing exercise required us to write a story fragment in a setting that we were expected to describe in detail.  I chose to describe the momo shop, and then wrote a little story set in it.  The feedback I received was excellent, but I felt that the story seemed incomplete. 

So I abandoned it temporarily.  But it kept coming back to me.  So, over these four years, I revisited the story again and again, until finally, I struck upon an ending which satisfied me. I made the required changes,  and then I let the story be. I would visit it once every two months, and with whatever new knowledge I had gleaned about the craft of writing, I would modify the story.  Each time I came back to the story, I changed something.  Tiny things, but they satisfied me.  And sometimes I changed whole sentences - agonizing over a sentence for ages - until I got it down to my satisfaction. 

Finally, on one visit, I read it, and the ending brought tears to my eyes. And then I knew that I was ready to send it out into the world.

So along came this contest, and well, you know the rest.


Aarthi said...

I actually was going to write to you and tell you about your story and you posted this today!
I read your story to my 10 year old niece and at the end of it, we both were in tears...kudos to you Shruthi!

Radhika said...

I was also curious to know the origin of the story. Thanks for sharing.

Mangala said...

I remember reading one of your earlier versions of this story - it was memorable then and it is memorable now. Something about it is as crisp, clear and sparkling as the mountain air it describes.

IMO, the most insightful line in this story? " for significant stretches of time, I forgot that I was so miserable."

You'd said you were ambivalent abt calling yourself a "writer", but now you've certainly arrived, cos what you describe here is exactly what all great writers do :)

Madhu said...

After sharing this experience of seeing something so spectacular and then reading your story I can tell you it couldn't have been expressed more beautifully!

P~ said...

Do you have a personal favorite among your own stories? I actually liked Duet more than Kanchenjunga ;)

Shruthi said...

Aarthi, I was so touched by this comment... was flying all day :D

Radhika, my pleasure :)

Mangala, thanks! And ha ha about having "arrived" :D

Madhu, thank you :)

P - no, I don't have a favourite... and yes, many people have told me that they liked Duet better than Kanchenjunga.. :) It is fascinating to see what touches whom :)

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