Category Archives: Inspiration

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




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



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



Reading and Google

I’m reading a book called Us by David Nicholls. It’s reading in progress and I’m not writing a comment about the book or rating it, though I must say it is lovely.

The thing about this book is it’s good to have a smartphone while you are reading it. The reason being that the book is about a family’s tour through art museums in Europe.Every time I see the name of a painting I’ve never heard of I google it.

This is a painting by Giueseppe Arcimboldo famous for his portraits using vegetables and fruits. Nicholls writes about this painting in a few words. In another century the painting would have been described in much more detail, but nowadays it is assumed that the average reader will have a smartphone and if curious can always pursue curiosity. Besides the painting does nothing to further the plot in the story and so description is not required.

Another image Nicholls talks about in a very casual way is An Experiment with a Bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright. And what a find it is!

Google has only enriched the reading experience, especially with a book such as this. Have you relied on your smartphone while reading books? Tell me about it.

© neelima, 2015


Posted by on December 27, 2016 in Books, Inspiration


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For a long while now, I’ve been toying with the idea of revamping the website. That hasn’t happened yet but I suppose it will eventually. In the meanwhile I thought I should get back to blogging, something I still do where I work at InstaScribe.

Recently I was part of the UEA Creative Writing Workshop in Kolkata, India, and for reasons personal and otherwise this was the proverbial breath of fresh air.

So what happens in a writing workshop? What can you expect?

I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who have never attended a prose writing workshop before but one thing I can tell you is that you don’t necessarily write as much. The writing has to have happened before. The preparation to reach that space where you interact with writers should best have begun many months or even years before the workshop. Then the critiques that workshoppers receive will be of greater value.

I was excited by the sheer range of professionals who are interested by writing. Also the writing life. The idea of living on caffeine and inspiration. The idea of sitting at the ideal writing table immersed in creating a valuable tome. The idea of constructing the perfect tale. These are now dreams that people from many walks of life harbour.

And the mentors Romesh Gunesekera and Amit Chaudhuri showed aspiring writers and those who were writers already that a book is not ready when you think it is and it may be on its way when you think it is not.

When a manuscript is open for critique, so much is at stake. The idea itself, the theme, the syntax, the words themselves and even the author’s personality. It is a risk to put your work out there before a group of twelve or thirteen people. Not to mention experienced writers. Have you been to a writing workshop? What has your experience been like?

© neelima, 2015


Posted by on December 19, 2016 in Day to day, Fiction, Inspiration


Talking to Amy Gigi Alexander-Part 1

I don’t understand Women’s day as a concept, as everyday is just another for some and The Day for others, but there are days when certain posts are appropriate. I had the opportunity to talk with the wonderful Amy Gigi Alexander- many of us must know her social media profile. She’s an inspiring woman and was kind enough to answer all my questions in time for International Woman’s Day. You must check her fb page: she combines her interests so magically and draws in people from diverse parts of the world with her enthusiasm- quite a refreshing way of looking at the world. She travels, she’s had her battles, she writes, she curates……


Amy Gigi Alexander is a writer, explorer, traveler and believer in goodness. She writes long form travelogues mixed with memoir and fiction for publications around the world, including Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, World Hum, The Hindu, National Geographic, and more. Her stories have appeared in collections by Travelers’ Tales and Lonely Planet, as well other literary anthologies and journals.  You can read more of her work at


How is a woman’s writing about her travels any different from the travelogues by men?

I see you’ve decided to start with the easy question first. I’m teasing.

When I go to place, everyone knows I am a woman, and I am spoken to as a woman, offered experiences as a woman, and this treatment colors how I see the destination, culture, and people. The same is true for men. There are simply different experiences for men and women because many cultures treat the sexes differently.

   There are places a woman usually will not go: especially in conservative areas of the world or places which are dangerous to women as the idea of women traveling is unusual. So you might see a story by male travel writers with story lines such as crossing Afghanistan solo by horse, or sailing the high seas with Senegalese pirates—but it’s very rare to see such stories by women. There are lots of exceptions of women in adverse conditions going at it alone, such as Dervla Murphy, Arita Baaijens, Ella Maillart, and more. But the vast majority of women’s travel tales will not involve such narratives.

But I think this fine, because women have access to a world that men do not have when they travel: the world of women. This insider view is impossible for a man to witness, but a woman traveler has instant access due to being female. Some of the things I’ve been invited to do because I am a woman are: sitting on a rooftop with village women talking about their life stories; attending a childbirth; walking with female nomads across a desert. There are many ways women are living around the world, and as a woman, I’m an instant sister and able to take part.

So as women travelers, we really have the best of both worlds: we have access to both men and women, and if we want we can have solo adventures which push risk, or we can take risks in more intimate ways, developing bonds with a worldwide sisterhood.

You have so many stories on your fingertips- how do you keep track of them all?

I don’t think about my stories too much: when I travel I take a lot of notes, and sometimes the story is complete when I return from my journey—sometimes not. Once they are done, I just file them away and take them out as I feel inspired. I keep a running list of what I have completed and what is still in idea phase.

How should a woman travel—alone or in groups—what is your advice to her, particularly when it comes to safe and meaningful travel?

A woman should travel as she wishes.

There is no wrong way to travel, and both solo and group travel have value even though they are very different.

I didn’t travel a lot on my own for many years, and traveled with companions and friends. At first this had its own ease and I enjoyed it. But after I got more comfortable with traveling, I disliked having to constantly take someone else’s ideas and wants into consideration, and felt I wanted more spontaneity. I started traveling alone simply because I wanted to invite serendipity, and it is hard to include that in a structured agenda!

I enjoy traveling alone, but I also love traveling with other women. Traveling in a group of women can give you wider berth in some areas of the world, and if you don’t have a lot of time to make mistakes and get lost, group tours are really advantageous. Still, I also think when you are on that tour, wandering off alone now and again is a wise idea: it helps you see yourself as capable and strong.

Tell us about Walking Writing Women– you share 365 stories this year about traveling women in history. Where did the spark for his idea come from and how do you go about with the research of these sometimes obscure determined characters?

Writing Walking Women started because I wanted to walk across part of Newfoundland, and mentioned this on social media. I got many messages from women who said that they wished they could take a trip like that, but that they could not think of doing it alone—or didn’t want to. It occurred to me that we could all go together. Why not? So Walking Writing Women was born! We do take several trips a year and we meet all over the world, and write about the places we go as we travel together.

The #365 women idea came from a search I did online one day: I was looking for women travel writers and the Wikipedia page came up. On it was a list of travel writers who were mostly men, and a few women, most of whom were long since gone and from the period of history rife with colonialism. I began doing research on women who traveled and wrote about it, and discovered hundreds of women that needed a voice: poets, novelists, explorers, botanists, historians, and memoirists. So many women travel writers from around the world!

The idea grew overnight: why not share a woman travel writer a day on social media? Why not give a biography for each woman and show pictures of her life and literary accomplishments? Then I decided to turn these Facebook posts into a database, and with the help of the other members of Walking Writing Women, that is becoming a reality. At the end of 2015, when you do a search online for women travel writers you’ll see that tired Wikipedia page—but you’ll also see a huge database on our website. We want to create a resource which inspires women to travel and write, and we can think no better way to do that than use the women who have gone before us.

Follow Writing Walking Women on the fb page here.

You write short stories and do travel writing. Where do the lines blur between these two writing forms and where do they separate?

For me, they don’t really stand separate. I know that travel writing has a formulaic reputation, but I find that the travel genre lends itself very well to weaving memoir and stories about place. The only difficulty is that there is a framework that a travel story has to have, a start, a middle, an end. These parts have to be very clear, unlike fiction of cross genre writing, where literary forms can bleed into one another without questions.


In part 2 of the interview, we will take a look at bucket lists, social media tips and Project Inspire with Amy. Right now, let me check one to-do on my bucket list: read more about Walking Women on their fb page and inspire myself to move out of the world in my head to the World, the real construct.

© neelthemuse, 2015
Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon


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Showing your Work

The primary reason I started this blog was to post some of my poems. Back in 2012(it feels so far away!) I wrote poems and immediately posted them here. I liked the adrenaline rush of getting my work out there- even cyber space is a *there*- a place that breathes, opines, and likes or dislikes what you do. The digital world is so real, don’t you think?

However, of late what I’m doing is letting my poems hibernate- that way when I look at them later I get a better perspective of what I did and how I’ve changed.

I’ve also tried pitching some of these poems to magazines where poetry is appreciated but one thing I haven’t really tried is sending them to friends or trusted persons who critique. Critique is not necessarily criticism. It isn’t about how bad or good you are, which is how books are being reviewed these days. The whole star rating system of books is problematic- suppose it is the genre you dislike, then do you give two stars to the genre?

Anyway, leaving all that aside since reviews matter to any writer, myself included, I’ve never really shown my poems to anyone besides you the reader of this blog and my family.

I found this picture interesting- most pictures of writers are solitary. If you do a google search on writing paintings, you’ll find a great amount of detail when it comes to writing tables, views from windows and feathery quill pens. This is an unusual sort of image that I can’t find the exact source for.

showing your writing

Turns out it is a good idea to get a second opinion or a third. There is this whole phenomenon of beta reading going on- so when you write a novel for instance, a beta reader or even several readers could give you a clue about what you need to do to get your story into readable form.

This may not work for everyone. I thought it best that the poems hibernate but after a while your poems and stories want to stretch their arms and wake up. They need attention the way little kids do.

Everything needs its springtime.


Incidentally I was reading this lovely volume of poetry called ‘Not Springtime yet’ by Priya Sarukkai Chabria. I’ll be talking about the book soon.

Are you comfortable showing your poems to people besides your family?


© neelthemuse, 2014

Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon






Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Day to day, Inspiration


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