Who knew artists had such diverse stories to tell?
In April 2020, when the whole of India was locked down to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, I came up with a fun idea to be productive in those difficult times.
I started a series on Instagram called #LockdownDiariesWithAnangsha where I did interviews via live sessions with eight poets, artists, and published authors from India.
It was a tumultuous time, with each session filling me with a surge of positivity and motivation. These eight content creators came from such diverse backgrounds and had such inspiring stories to tell that I felt I needed to compile everything I learned from them in an article.
Here are the eight invaluable lessons I learned from these incredibly talented authors from all over India.
Day One: Manali Desai
Manali Desai is a freelance writer and editor-cum-blogger. Alongside her professional writing, she is the author of two books: A Rustic Mind and The Untold Stories.
Since Manali has experience in editing novels and writing poetry and short fiction, I picked her brains in the hour-long conversation we had about writing tips, poetry prompts, and the importance of editing in the book publishing process. Here are some of the critical points of our discussion:
- When you feel you are out of ideas to write about, look around you, and seek inspiration from the people you meet daily. You can even observe random strangers you come across on public transport. Try to imagine where they are coming from and the circumstances they might be living in, and weave a micro tale with a twist in the end.
- Sometimes, it helps to look at a picture and write a story or poem around it. Writing prompts on Reddit and Pinterest can spark creativity (rather than constrain it, as I had previously believed).
- The most crucial process in bringing out a novel is editing. Manali suggested going through the manuscript at least four times before sending it for publication and stressed the importance of taking breaks between two editing rounds.
Manali recommended two brilliant books that are a must-read for writers:
- On Writing by Stephen King for the honest writing advice.
- Neti, Neti by Anjum Hassan because very few literary fiction books are as beautifully written as this one.
No matter how perfect you think your novel is, as an author, you cannot undermine the difference a professional editor can bring about.
Day Two: Dipanshu Rawal
Dipanshu Rawal is a writer and purpose coach who helps young professionals discover their purpose and live a life full of passion and growth, via his books, 1-on-1 coaching, group programs, and online courses.
Since Dipanshu is a purpose coach, our discussion revolved around how to stay happy and healthy during trying times. He shared with me three effective strategies for dealing with COVID-19 times and staying positive in general. Here are some of the key points of our discussion:
- The three simple steps to stay mentally and physically healthy are: eat well, sleep well, and keep moving. Avoid junk food, but if your body really craves for some, don’t restrain yourself. Compensate by doing some yoga or calisthenics later on.
- Breathe, meditate, and let go. Understand that not every situation demands your immediate attention. Practise mindfulness, meditate and detach yourself from the situation.
- Repeat this to yourself: I am the creator of my life. Instead of blaming the situation that you’re in, take responsibility for your actions, and turn your circumstances around.
Dipanshu’s book recommendations were self-help books that have the potential to impact a person hugely.
- Mind Full to Mindful by Om Swami.
- Be Obsessed Or Be Average by Grant Cardone.
All the answers you seek are within you. Your coach or mentor can only show you the way and give you a different perspective, but ultimately, you are the one who has to do the actual work.
Day Three: Balakarthiga M
Born and raised in Madurai, a small town in Tamil Nadu, Balakarthiga M is a blogger and author of three books. When she’s not drinking coffee or busy disciplining her fictional characters, she buys more books than she can fit in her shelf and stalks kittens on the internet.
When I had the live chat with Balakarthiga, she was on the verge of tremendous emotional upheaval in her personal life (a change for the better, fortunately). Our conversation mostly veered around how to keep up a tough facade under challenging times. We even titled our talk as The Imperfect Guide to Surviving the Lockdown. Here is a gist of what I learned from Balakarthiga:
- Motivational posts on social media might make you believe otherwise, but it is not possible for anyone to stay happy all the time. Embrace your emotions, don’t try to deny them or run away from how you are feeling.
- Recognise the impermanence of what you are going through and understand that this too shall pass.
- The most essential element in times like these when you feel stuck is to communicate with the people around you. If someone is not respecting your boundaries, assert them more strongly and let them know they are violating your personal space. You have every right to want to protect yourself. Don’t let someone else make you feel guilty for doing trying to take care of yourself.
Since Balakarthiga is on a mission to read more books from Indian authors that do not veer on the stereotypes of urban millennial romance and Hindu mythology, the books she recommended border on dark themes and cover a range of topics:
- Daughters of the Brothel by Deepak Yadav — an epic catalogue of a dark world, presenting sweeping accounts through the prisms of loss, captivity, grief, oppression, and motherhood.
- Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita — an insider’s take on the exiled Pandits of Kashmir who have been reduced to refugees in their own country, still waiting to return to their homes after 20 years.
Embrace your bad mood with open arms like you would embrace your good mood. Nothing lasts forever, and the sooner you make peace with this, the more emotionally stable you will be.
Day Four: Virat Vilas Pawar
Virat Vilas Pawar is a law student, digital marketer, and writer who penned a dystopian sci-fi retelling of the Mahabharata. In his own words, Virat is a true passionate millennial who believes in expanding his horizons.
The live session with Virat was all about discussing the importance of fiction in life, finding inspiration for writing, and just two authors chatting about what they loved best. Here is a summary of what we talked about:
- Fiction provides an escape from reality, a way to look beyond the mundane and explore the horizons of possibility.
- As a genre, science fiction helps readers expand the boundaries of their thoughts and gives them a lens to look at a different version of the world they inhabit. Reading sci-fi is a great way to lose oneself in the passage of time and explore fascinating new versions of reality.
As a science fiction and mythology enthusiast, the books Virat recommended belonged to the genre of retellings of old Hindu mythology with a perspective of sci-fi.
- The Ramayana Secret by Anurag Chandra.
- The Vault of Vishnu by Ashwin Sanghi.
Though most millennials these days focus on self-help and personal development books, the importance of fiction in general, and science fiction in particular, as means to escape reality and broaden our horizons cannot be ignored.
Day Five: Bhawana Sarma
Bhawana Sarma is a storyteller and poet from Guwahati, Assam who specialises in open-mic poetry and recitation. She has represented her state and performed in several national-level poetry recitation competitions.
My conversation with Bhawana, an expert performer and raconteur, was mainly about poetry, open mics, writing inspiration and tips and tricks for a beginner to get started on the poetry scene. Here are the important points I learned from Bhawana:
- It is natural to feel nervous while performing for the first time in poetry open mics, but the best part is that most audiences are supportive.
- When a performer puts themselves on a stage, they are exposing themselves to a lot of criticism. If there is no constructive feedback in the criticism, the best way to deal with it is to grow a thick skin and learn to ignore the meaningless hate designed to pull you down.
Here are Bhawana’s tips for aspiring open mic artists:
- Perform from your heart. It’s a safe place. No one is going to judge you.
- Practising your piece is the key. Make the mirror your audience, and practice the lines, expressions, and work on intonation and pronunciation.
- Sticking to a particular theme for long can be tricky. Try to explore new topics, styles, platforms, and artists.
Day Six: Nilesh Mondal
Nilesh Mondal, famous as hungover.hamlet on social media, has been a writer for Terribly Tiny Tales and Thought Catalog and a creative writing mentor for MyCaptain. He has published three collections of poetry so far and is currently working on his debut novel.
I first followed Nilesh when I came across a post on @ttt_official that I loved. Since then, I was so touched by his posts that I pre-ordered his poetry book Invisible Cemeteries — an anthology of travel poetry that made me lose my heart all over again in the streets of several cities strewn across India that he made me see in a different light.
Our conversation in the live session was spent talking about poems, books, the love for literature, and an honest ask-me-anything session with the audience. Here is what Nilesh had to share:
- It is possible to be a full-time writer in today’s times. Still, one needs extraordinary levels of self-discipline, perseverance, and the dogged determination to keep writing daily despite the constant demotivation by family and friends claiming that being a writer is not a viable career option.
- When the content you share online does not get the views or appreciation you feel it deserves; it is essential to remember that by writing, you are creating a volcano. You don’t know when it will burst and make you famous, you just have to believe that someday it will. The result is not in your hands; the process is. And all you can do is focus on creating more and better quality pieces each day.
Nilesh left me with a quote from the movie Midnight in Paris to ponder on:
“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” — Ernest Hemingway
I was so excited when Nilesh mentioned his two favourite books because they were close to my heart as well.
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (literary fiction).
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (science fiction/comedy).
Day Seven: Shreya Badonia
Shreya Badonia is the author of two books and a self-love coach.
“We all have the power to change the world; all we need is a bit of self-love to achieve that.”
She educates and coaches people on this one principle-loving themselves and finding their true potentials.
“The biggest investment we make in our lives is ourselves.”
She is also a Quora Top Writer 2018 and hosts her podcast, Silver Lining with Shreya.
Our discussion went on for almost one hour, talking about the importance of self-love, the journey towards making yourself a priority, and all things related to books and Quora. Here are the main points:
- The way you talk to yourself manifests in the behaviour that stems from your words. Instead of blaming yourself for your faults, try telling yourself this — I am awesome. I am going to give my best. I love myself.
- Love yourself and become your best friend. In other words, treat yourself with all the kindness and patience you would treat your best friend with. Become so content with yourself and so rock-solid that nothing that happens on the outside can touch you.
The books Shreya recommended were compelling stories of putting yourself over all else and will be helpful to every reader:
- Choose Yourself! by James Altucher.
- You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero.
Shreya gave me three tips to deal with negative influences:
- Spend time with yourself in silence. Meditate. Just be.
- Maintain a journal to acknowledge your emotions and write the things you are grateful for.
- Stay away from negativity. If it means not listening to the news, then so be it.
Day Eight: Sakshi Salil Chavan
Sakshi Salil Chavan aka themerakispace is a literature student residing in Kolkata and has been the winner of the Young Author Awards by the Times of India twice. She is the senior editor of @globalagepoetry on Instagram and also has an anthology with Half-Baked Beans coming up, that she is very excited about.
Sakshi gave some really insightful tips and suggestions. Here is a quick summary of all the important lessons I learned from her:
- What to do when you’re unable to put words to paper? When you feel overwhelmed, write down a few keywords. You can expand on them later. Another suggestion is to look up writing prompts or read the work of poets you admire and draw inspiration from them.
- What to do when no one appreciates your efforts? Don’t get discouraged. Instead, introspect on what made the particular post fail. Maybe the concept was good, but the execution wasn’t as attractive? Ask for feedback from friends you trust and think of ways you can present the idea better.
- How can you improve your vocabulary when you are not a reader? Pinterest is a great way to keep track of new words. There are several other apps that help you do this. Also, if your attention span is too short to read a book, you can try listening to audiobooks.
A big lover of poetry herself, Sakshi’s book recommendations were stories told through poems.
- Ariel by Sylvia Plath.
- Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.
Don’t let the tags you set for yourself restrain your creativity. Your emotions can find expression in different formats like art, painting, or poetry as well. Keep exploring newer dimensions. Keep creating.
For someone like me, who gets anxious before any public appearance, reaching out to so many people for interviews was hard. Harder still was appearing for a live session on Instagram where hundreds of people were watching my every move, probably judging me.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say this — before each session, I had the urge to message the guest for the day and cancel the session (I was that nervous!).
But, I stuck on. And I am so glad I did.
Each artist I talked to was so talented and hard-working, and already achieving great laurels in their chosen field. These interactions left me feeling full of positivity and with a spark that burns brightly, even today.