How Do I Write A Story? ( Munshi Premchand’s Note: Translated from Hindi)

 

Main Kahani Kaise Likhta Hun ( How Do I Write A Story?)

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My stories are usually based on some inspiration or experience, which I try to paint in dramatic colours. However, I do not write a story simply to describe  a certain episode. I wish to depict some emotional and philosophical truth in it. Unless I get a  starting point like that, my  pen does not even rise. Once I get the base, I create the characters. Often, the study of History gives many plots. But no incident can become a story unless it showcases a psychological truth.

Until I can perceive the entire story from beginning to end in my mind, I do not sit down to write it. I create my characters with a perspective that they are truly  conducive to the story. I do not consider it necessary that the basis of a story has to be an interesting incident; in fact any occurrence with a psychological climax can serve the purpose. Recently I have written a story in Hindi called, ‘Dil Ki Rani'( Queen of My Heart). I had read in Muslim historical narrative an episode in the life of Taimur; which had reference to his wedding with Hamida Begum. Quickly I had the thought of a dramatic improvisation of this historical event. Hamida Begum had learned  combat skills from her father in her childhood and had participated even in military skirmishes. Taimur had killed thousands of Turks. How could a Turkish woman fall in love with a foe like that?  The answer to that question would determine the story climax. Taimur was not handsome, so it was necessary to create in him some  naturally good and  heart warming quality that would attract  such a very fine woman to him. That story developed in this manner.

A lot of news that one hears can serve as the foundation of stories. But an incident does not become a story with mere style and a  beautiful, perfect vocabulary. The climax is critical, and it has to have psychological insight. Also the way the narrative progresses is important,  so that the story climax keeps coming close. Whenever I get a chance to emphasise on the disposition of anyone – and  create poetic and literary  colour effects around it, I make maximum  use of that opportunity. This colour is the life of any story.

I write frugally. I have never written more than two stories in a month. Often months pass by when I  write no story at all. I get incidents and characters but the psychological substructure is very hard to find. Once that problem is solved, it doesn’t take too long for me to write a story. But one cannot describe the whole process of writing a story in these few  paragraphs.

It is an intellectual concept. People can learn to write stories by learning the process , but as in poetry or any branch of literature, one has to have a natural love for it. The nature creates plots by herself, creates dramatic hues, provides vibrancy, accumulates literary finesse, unknowingly all these keep happening.

Yes, after finishing a story, I read it myself. If I find something new, some sparkle of intelligence, some freshness of reality ,  a page turning effect,  then I might consider it to be a successful story. Else I conclude that it has failed. Both the failed and passed stories have got published- and often those stories which I considered ‘ failed’ were much appreciated by my friends! And so, I do not trust my own test too much.

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Rites of Growth

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I have heard different people speaking about ‘why they write.’

Some of them write to make the world a more equitable place, some because they see stories all the time and cannot help telling them, some to get  their agonies assuaged, some due to a sense of dutifulness….the reasons are as varied as the types of human beings around us. And that is  quite a lot.

I have been  harshly told not to write ( Only ‘bad’ women write- do you know how men look at them? Do you? Do you?),asked mockingly why I bothered to write ‘if you were going to be published by such low key publishers’ (What is the use of writing something if nobody reads it, eh?), asked if I had the talent enough to write something at all ( She thinks she is a great writer, I do not think so. ), whether I should not be spending that time doing something more worthwhile ( Women have a lot of stuff to do, right?),laughed at for not attempting a novel ( You are not capable of that, are you really?), etc etc…

At my age, I don’t give a damn anymore.

So let me tell you a story. Of how I ended up meeting one of the most brilliant women that I have ever seen. We had dinner together in a nice restaurant  and both  she and my younger daughter fell sick afterwards! The paneer, ( yes, made of milk remnants) had  been bad, and they got infected.  The rest of us, who had  shunned that dish and indulged in other delicacies hadn’t been affected.

I took a week off from work. And  in that one week of looking after a recuperating child, I  ended up translating my friend’s  taut and stunning novella- full of imageries of milk turning  bad in time, symbolising love turning malicious.  When the effect of the poisoned paneer had finally left them both, I gave my friend the first draft. Serendipity had turned a milky white mysterious angel. She loved it and then promptly asked me to ‘ sit and polish it as hard as you can.’

The fact that I was a novice in the publishing industry helped me to ignore the naysayers early on. I am a career bureaucrat, and I deal with high temperamental personalities every day of my life. Well, that  learned immunity to unsolicited negativity, helped with the less than positive comments about my translation, as it was shown around  initially.

‘Burn with the script as a writer.Improve it with sweat and blood!’ She should have been a military commander; my friend. I do not know if I burnt anything in the process, but I have always enjoyed a challenge.

That  translated novel has now been released.  If I look back, it all started with the milk turning sour…

So, why do  you write?

Because…come let us write another one.

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Yesterday, someone gifted me six Hindi classics. Four books of Harishankar Parsayi and two of Premchand.

My little girl pointed out that she had already studied a short story of Premchand: Eidgaah. Her Amma was going to ‘study’ it only now!

‘Amma, please ask me if you do not understand it, ok?’

I smiled readily. With utmost pleasure, my darling.

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