Exploring Haibun @ Rochelle Potkar’s Paper Asylum

I first heard of the term haibun when I spoke to the poet and novelist Rochelle Potkar. This interesting form of poetry was the brain child of Basho, the seventeenth century Japanese haiku maestro. Fusing the seventeen syllable haiku and prose leaves you with an interesting fusion for while prose can be rambling causing you to time travel, poetry is dew drop and glints like time itself, fleeting.

Paper Asylum is a book of prose poems that throbs with the heartbeat of the samsara: dhadkan, mutuko dhukdhuki, dubrai, hrudaya spandana, ridai renag tarko, lungphu, yada badepa, or kalazachi udi. Potkar’s grasp over the human condition and the medley of languages and emotions that traverse the subcontinent leaves you exhilarated and immensely satisfied. I read a haibun a day and keep the book away, its beautiful cover reminding me that the experience was fictional, but was it really?

Image result for paper asylum book

Potkar does not shun the ordinary- her poems are infused with the objects of existence- property, hearing aids, vomit, in-laws, festivals, pots and CDs. Her knowledge of people and their behaviour is subtle and penetrating.  There are hungry pregnant women, adolescents navigating puberty, rikshaw wallahs and failed fathers.

Her prose poetry marries the infinite magic of living with the mundane, connecting the two, like her haibun Knowledge, an account of overlapping realities, of the two sides of the coin or in this case living itself.

You can keep coming back to her verse that acts as punctuation to the stories she tells.

A pregnant mother’s

Lost cravings

The baby drools

See what I mean? We need pauses such as these in our lives so filled with meaningless banter and information tomes. Paper Asylum is exactly  that, an asylum of meaning. Read it.

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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Books, Inspiration



Floods at Home

It’s been around ten days since Kerala, my home state, has been enduring the wrath of the open dams. The water level has started subsiding in some parts but there has been a tremendous amount of damage. Lives have been lost, people displaced and homes washed away. Kerala is no stranger to rains but the dams have bought the rivers at people’s doorsteps and into their lives, washing away everything they have painstakingly built.

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My hometown

It’s when such calamities take place that you witness amazing acts of goodness. Perfect strangers help each other. People who are on dry land go to great lengths to distribute food packets and blankets. People from all over the world donate as much as they can to help. If personal tragedies were tackled this way, how beneficial it would be for the mental health of persons who suffer great troubles in their own lives but this is perhaps a thought that should be deferred. Right now, people are stranded in relief camps throughout the state and many have no access to food and water.

If any of you wish to donate to the cause, please do so here.


Posted by on August 18, 2018 in Day to day, Nature


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Name Game

I like the Replace button in Word as you can do these little experiments: you can try to Replace all the names of one character with another more apt name. This is so easy to do but the problem is if the character feels the same to you afterward.

I tried doing this and I couldn’t relate to this particular character I am talking about at all. This is because I’ve spent some time with her, trying to get into her mind and her name is as strong a part of understanding her as her basic traits. While I write, so many such problems crop up. I thought maybe I should compile a list of the problems I face when I write, but then I thought I could do a compilation post later (an excuse to blog!) and just start writing about them. There are name generators that help you zone in on the right names and if you are writing historical fiction, it would be best if you chose an adequate enough name that suits the time, but if you find a good name afterward and your character has settled nicely into the name you’ve given in the beginning, don’t bother to change it. The character will simply not allow it.

They really do have a life of their own!

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Posted by on February 12, 2018 in Day to day, Fiction




I’ve always been curious about the Jaipur Lit Fest, the greatest literary show on earth as they call it. So I visited the fest with a friend this year. The venue was excessively crowded with the majority of guests being young people below the age of 25. Not surprising then that this literary fest stands out as a fashion destination, boot haven and selfie paradise. The star authors of the sessions I managed to watch included Michael Ondaatje, Amy Tan, Joshua Ferris, Jeet Thayyil, Amitava Kumar, Manu Joseph, Leila Slimani,  and Janice Pariat among a few. Dissent, freedom of expression, the murder of Gauri Lankesh, Scandinavian noir, singletons, me-machines, the Ganges, and healthcare were the subjects of the sessions I managed to watch.

As I watched the authors speak on podiums and saw the madding crowds swell, it struck me how invaluable the imaginations of these writers are. For instance, I’ve often read Michael Ondaatje’s books and wondered how he has retained poetry in prose — how do you write a book and sustain the poetry after repeated revisions? (He mentioned how writing by hand has aided him in his creativity and I lament my present inability to use the flourish of a pen.) Seeing him speak did not lessen that mystery…it is something that a reader can never understand– the hows of writing. And for someone who is attempting to write, watching a writer speak can be overwhelming and inspiring at once.

Amy Tan in conversation with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi at The Joy Luck Club session at Charbagh


I did want to hear something about sci-fi and fantasy, particular with the loss of Ursula Le Guin just now but those were genres that were conspicuously mute as far as panelists were concerned and absent even in the bookstore tent that I frequented several times.
So must someone who likes to write visit a lit fest? Well, if you do not like crowds and swollen feet, stay away but if you love to hear a writer you love speak or have a penchant for boots, shawls and selfies, you must.

Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Inspiration



Does Editing Change the Way you Write?

I’ve been editing manuscripts for a while now and I’ve noticed that it has changed the way I write a great deal.

In the beginning of my career, I edited scientific literature. I learnt to read without reading at all. So I may have read a scientific treatise on ophthalmology but if you asked me about it, I wouldn’t have much of an idea. The reason is language editing involves looking for grammatical errors and inconsistencies and this can be done without understanding the concepts that you are speed reading.

But you can’t do this when you edit fiction.When you edit fiction, you may need to read the manuscript twice or more, the first time, maybe in a hurry and the second time looking out for inconsistencies in the plot. I still work on the language of the book and haven’t moved to developmental editing, but I do this kind of editing when it comes to my own writing. So if I’ve written a few passages, I stitch it together and here editing helps. Editing cleans the paragraph and removes all clutter. The cleaner the paragraph is the more the story shines through.

I was advised by a writer that everything lies in the text itself. There is no need to look anywhere else, so reworking the text is what writers do and editing helps do this better.

The problem with editing this way, however, is that it takes much longer to finish the book or story at all. You are so intent on making that first chapter perfect that you do not finish the first draft at all. This method might not work with all writers. I thought it was wrong as far as I was concerned but now I think perhaps it is the only way I can write.


Posted by on March 11, 2017 in Books, Fiction


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Writing as Process

I found a cartoon on twitter by Tom Gauld….

This is exactly what is happening to my characters now. They are changing entirely. Women into men, children into women, men into monsters. The plot is not a straight line and neither are the characters. The material you thought you didn’t need and had rewritten comes back in different forms. Writing is becoming more and more about rewriting. It’s very hard to explain and best to leave confined to the mysterious word-process.

I wonder at the tutorials and videos and how-tos of writing a book. Even if you write down verbatim that your plot will be such and such and your characters will be so and so, when you combine them on the page they scurry off like ants in different directions.

Has that happened to you?






Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Day to day


Writing and Background Score

I used to be a silent writer. Which means I seldom listened to music when I wrote. The silence arranged sentences for me.

But of late I’ve taken to listening to background scores of movies and surprise, surprise! some writing seems to unblock itself. Writing to a rhythm could perhaps help when you are stuck in a particular scene. The character then climbs on the chords of someone else’s imagination and grows a life of his own. Different tunes cater to different situations, of course.

Many times when I start writing, I take a while to get out of my life and into the page. Listening to music I like seems to cut down this time.

I’m aware that many writers have playlists that they listen to while writing. Found this:

I tried listening to songs with lyrics in them but it’s distracting and pales in comparison to Oscar winning scores. Have you tried listening to Western Classical or Indian classical instrumental tunes while writing? What would you recommend? I’m new to this, so I would like some sound advice.


P.S: Music, however, has a problem. It doesn’t leave your mind…it is circular in shape.


Posted by on January 13, 2017 in Inspiration



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