Sometimes when I sit down to write, even when I have the inspiration and I know what story to tell, I am unable to decide upon the best opening line. And yes, an opening line is very important. It makes the difference between gripping a reader hard enough for him to keep on reading or groaning inwardly and moving on.
Let give you an example – the recent Charleston massacre, when an unemployed white southern American bum gunned down nine black folks inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina(USA), sparking another debate on the issue of the Confederate Flag that flies over the state capitals of most erstwhile Confederate US states.
If you asked a supporter of the Confederacy, a demographic that I have decided to name ‘WAS’ – White American (Southern) – he’ll take on a pained expression and say to you,” Slavery? No, no, no, no, absolutely no. The Confederate Flag is about our southern heritage and ancestral traditions and culture, not slavery.” The WAS will make slavery and the Confederacy seem like they were two mutually exclusive processes, turning on it’s head the very reason why the American Civil War was actually fought. He will painstakingly weave to you his own twisted version of the cause of the war – how the north had been ‘levying punishing taxes on their farm produce’ and ‘infringing on the rights of the southern people’. Yeah, the right to own slaves, that is.
In the end, even though the Confederacy lost the Civil War, the WAS never actually lost. Sure, it has taken a full one hundred and fifty years to lower the Confederate Flag over some state capitals in the US but many towns and homes in the south still fly them proudly. In the mind of the WAS, that abomination known as the Confederate Flag still flies high. Civil War Enactments where folks dress up as Confederate soldiers fighting the Union soldiers still draw huge crowds, of course sans the slaves cowering in the background.
Wreaths are still laid by American Presidents during Civil War anniversaries over the tombs of Confederate ‘heroes’ of the Civil War, at the prestigious Arlington National Cemetery, a ‘haloed resting place’ for members of the American political and military elite, from where ordinary Americans are led to believe that the dead go direct to heaven. In fact, so entrenched is racism in America and so bereft of self-respect has the black psyche gotten, that recently at that same cemetery, a black President thought nothing of laying the same wreath on the very same tombstones of folks who had flogged his forefathers and burned their churches.
America is a racist nation which denies it is one. In itself that wouldn’t have been earth-shattering. Hey, all societies are racist in varying degrees, including India where I was born. But others don’t beat their chests and claim to be the beacon of equality and democracy. So, America being racist is different from any other country being racist.
We all know that the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. But when we have a majority convinced that blacks get the quality of life they have because they are just plain lazy and hard-wired from birth toward a life of crime, that is not acknowledging the problem. When a bigoted racist clown like Donald Trump is the front-runner within his party in opinion polls for the next Presidential elections, that is not acknowledging the problem.
I wanted to write a piece on this typically American ‘sleight of hand’ which calls the Confederate Flag the symbol of a ‘glorious ancestral tradition’, but I cannot think of an opening line that will carry a punch, something that will make the KKK cringe and squirm.
Maybe I’ll just write about seasons. A fellow blogger once told me, ‘write about what you know and have experienced personally’. Many bloggers base their stories on people and incidents in their lives. Me too. But then, in a week, month or a year’s time when I look back on the post, I realize that there was a context then and it is dated now. The piece I wrote won’t resonate with anybody other than myself. I have to look for stuff that doesn’t change with time.
So, what is constant? Seasons, of course. No matter what, the cyclic rhythm of nature is something that we can depend upon, to never change. I mean by and large, without getting into the climate change debate, the onset of seasons is inexorable. They will come. They might arrive in different ways, slightly late or a fortnight early or even at unexpected times, creeping up on you unnoticed, but they will be there.
The day that Mother Earth decided to (or was made to) tilt herself to an angle of 23.5º to her orbital plane round the sun, seasons became inevitable.
Winter in Canada is bleak, like something straight out of an Alistair Maclean thriller (no one can depict winter the way Alistair Maclean did). It gets pitch dark by 4 in the afternoon and if you’re returning home from a walk (that is if you’re daring enough to go out on foot), the neighborhood will seem haunted, the houses and the driveways covered in snow feet thick. But what will strike you is the stillness, with not a soul anywhere. If you’re alone, even by choice, despair can set in quite easily.
Or if while walking, you slip on an icy patch and fall, right there in the middle of the road, in front of all those houses, hit your head against a rock and pass out, it will take just two minutes for you to transition into a hypothermia-induced coma and another five, for you to die and you’ll likely not be discovered until the next morning, if at all, because by morning fresh snow will have covered you up completely. But I’ll tell you this – I found it easier to get used to the cold in Canada than the heat in India.
Spring happens a little late in Canada, around the middle of April. The snow is still very much on the ground but you know when its spring by the lilac buds, lovely little sweet smelling flowers that blossom everywhere. But theirs is a short engagement. They are gone by the end of May. I don’t have any shots of spring because, really, on a photograph, spring will look exactly like winter, except for a tiny bit of green on some branches here and there.
Really, spring in Canada, is nothing more than a lousy opening act in a Pink Floyd concert – summer.
A Canadian summer is to be experienced to be believed. It is all about sensations – the lush green, the pungent smell of strawberries, the splatter of the warm rain on your cheeks, the heat of late evening sunshine, when it is 9.30 at night and still not dark.
And last but not the least, summer brings out the halter tops, those bare backs full of tiny black and brown warts and moles that white women have all over, but hey, I could live with a few warts, yeah, really, don’t mind me, I swear, warts are nice. Nice warts.
And the summer shorts that girls wear here – they so live up to their name that they seem to be woven with single rows of cotton molecules, desperately clinging to each other, trying not to unprove the Quantum Theory. I bet their tailors are equipped with electron microscopes, taking measurements in ångström units.
Summer is flush with beer and all sorts of festivals, open-air concerts and more halter tops. And halter tops. Did I say that again? Must be an echo, my mouth gapes open when I’m thinking of halter tops and the words just echo around inside.
I’m guessing that by now I must be seeing a thousand different areolas every summer, some tantalizingly pink and the others a lush purple, swirling event horizons, damned to live in the shadow of their more desirable cousins, the nipples (which unfortunately still remain covered – the last bastions of Canadian modesty). I have developed a taste for areolas though I’m sobered by the thought that maybe my preference for them over nipples might hint at a lack of self-esteem.
How lucky I am not to be living in Saudi Arabia for instance. It will probably be another 1000 years before I am able to walk down a Jeddah boulevard and see an authentic Saudi Arabian free-bobbing areola, but it will happen, just like summer happens. I’m an areoptimist.
And the summer geese – come summer, suddenly Canada fills with geese – travel-hardened, weather-beaten, plump, confident geese who had just finished spending the winter in Florida. They are so daring, they won’t even bother to scoot if you approach them. But don’t try to pet them. They are cuddly but they are also usually ill-tempered and snooty and might peck you real hard. What do you expect? They’re from Florida – must have picked up Republican character traits there. No, actually all that time in the air, being constantly reminded by the lead gander to maintain that stupid wedge formation, stuck behind a goose with flatulence and then being screamed at,” It’s the aerodynamics, stupid!’, isn’t funny.
Plump, yummy, irascible Canada geese
Autumn often hints at an appearance once or twice before it well and truly arrives. This cusp of seasonal change between late summer and early autumn, which happens around mid to end-September. It is one of the most beautiful times of the year. By now the days have shortened and are almost equal to the nights and everywhere, there is red, orange and gold.
A half-hour before sunset, the gold blazes against the dying rays of the sun. If you are on the highway, a vast fairy-tale land seems to stretch out before you. Autumn is the time for romance, of broken hearts, of trysts in inns, of waking up one morning in November and finding the leaves all gone and the landscape stark and John LeCarresque once again. If you are an immigrant, your first autumn will blow you away.
By early December, John LeCarre has ceded ground to Boris Pasternak. The heavy jackets are out and the tyres have changed to heavier treads. It is beginning to turn white all over again, the knoll behind our backyard now bare and rocky with splotches of white, wind-blown and bleak. The trees are shorn and crestfallen, haunted Lady Macbeths in wrinkled halter tops that hang loosely over the shoulders. The ground is carpeted with fallen leaves that are no longer that lovely red, gold and orange, but rusty dark, wrinkled and shriveled at the edges, in despair.
Here are some photos that I found in my albums, shots of the very same spot, that I had taken over different seasons, of places in and around where I live. The contrast – season to season – seemed so stark that I decided to share them with you.
The neighborhood- Our backyard
I’ll sue you if you don’t press ‘like’ on them.
Actually I can’t. I never put a disclaimer up front that you need an attorney ta read this piece of idiosyncrasy. Besides, my blog is happy to have you as a reader. Sue you? Nah. In fact, if you are female, we could discuss the legalities over wine, around candles. 😀