What distract me often are the calamitous personalities who ‘nest’ in me.

(This letter is part of an epistolary series Speaking Our Souls and is a response to Letter #8. If you wish to start from the beginning, you can look at the list here)

Back to life! Once again, thank you for writing back a well-written prose. It’s a delight to read an alchemist’s golden ligatures, born out of persistence and wonder in the crucible of his well-adjusted stoic skull. (And I appreciate the featherless owls delivering this hard-core package in 1–2 business days.)

A couple of days ago, I discovered Gauri Gill, a famous Indian photographer that I had no clue of. Shame on me.

Shame on me because her work is brilliant. If you see her multiple series based in Rajasthan (Balika Mela, Notes from the Desert, The Mark on the Wall) or this surreal series based in Jawhar (Maharashtra), you would come to know that she spends a lot of time with the communities that eventually become her subjects. The Mint article describes her way of working and building relationships as unhurried and meditative. For an ethnographer, perhaps it’s a standard practice. But for an artist, I think it’s goddamn compulsory.

A deliberate continuum between feeling something and creating something is vital and is a holy space that needs to be left unattended. I am desperate to really know something — be there for its birth and death and all its life that breathed between. I guess there’s a reason why I feel like an imposter at work. I guess there’s a reason why I feel like I am being cornered all the time.

The question is — can I peacefully attain this continuum without being distracted?

What distract me often are the calamitous personalities who ‘nest’ in me. There is one who I wish to murder. Not willing to compromise, she is a person of her own. She accuses me caging her and yet it is me who is caught in her flights of fantasy. I guess she is an artist. She wants to lead a fictional life, dreaming about characters and dilemmas and a righteous/selfish heroism. She wishes to save the world and she is not afraid to use her cunning. In fact, she sees in her cunning a brave new feministic persona — one that is not shackled in morality or fairness — making herself, her own route to salvation. In this fictional world, she often works in secrecy, like James Bond. But I think of her more like Beyonce, obviously. Maybe she is a sum of all the shit I read.

I spent one of the nights reading what I thought was a crime-thriller, that turned out to be a spy-romance kind of book. I enjoyed it nevertheless. I was cheering for the protagonists to fall in love and persevere in love. Romance is the ultimate nail-biter.

Reading about romances though often becomes about the reader’s insecurities being used against her. These writers, these men and women, have spent decades mastering the switches and buttons of the human emotional psyche to extract the perfect ‘oohs!’ and ‘aahs’ from their audience. It’s easy to fall into some of the obvious traps and defeatedly look for fictitious love in real life.

To be honest, fiction has always been harder to deal with than real life (as contrived as it sounds). Real life is secured in pragmatic decisions — there is no room for mulling over what could be and what should be. You are never dealt the same cards every day, so there is room for experimentation. You could become a whole new person the next day and can give up everyone and everything that belonged to yesterday. You can do that in real life. Yes, you suffer from the circumstantial nature of life and that can make you wary of doing something so dramatic. You have to choose your actions carefully and words kindly but once the math is in place, every informed decision can be made freely and guilelessly.

But fiction? Now that’s a mess. As a writer, I must submit to the stormy flow of rutty emotions and write to arouse. You cannot arouse anyone with events of real life, no matter how torrid a crime. Fiction is about birthing a landslide that will take one and all in its wake — a force so heinous and addictive — you do not have a chance to mull over the choice of your participation. As a reader too, you must give in and give up. You belong to the truth of narrative and it will suck out the best and worst in you to paint a picture that might seem like a mirror at first but is in fact, only a mirage.

I recently re-read Animal Farm. George Orwell, (or Eric Arthur Blair) is the master of analogy. Yes, it is a criticism of the Russian socialist government, with specific characters in the novel referring to specific people who were participants of the regime. But even if the layer of specificity was taken off, the book makes such a loud noise in your head, you want to catch a breath. It is a reading of human tendency turned inside-out. What is fascinating is that like a pack of Tarot cards, it reveals the politics of every-year. It was connected to the politics of that day and is connected to the politics of today. It has basically successfully captured the hum of political consequence.

I also happened to watch the ever-eloquent and ever-biting Dave Chapelle in his Netflix special, The Bird Revelation. He chose to spoke about Emmett Till whose black experience was a nightmare and is representative of the prevalent subjugation of black communities.

Emmet Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago who was visiting family in Mississippi in the summer of 1955, when he allegedly whistled at a white woman. A few days later, a group of white men, including the woman’s husband, broke into his family’s house, beat Till to death and threw his body in the river. Three days later Till’s body was discovered, bloated and mutilated beyond recognition­­. …Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, made the decision to leave her son’s casket open for the world to see what had been done to him. Photos of Emmett Till in his coffin helped the Civil Rights movement gather nationwide momentum.
…Carolyn Bryant, the woman whose accusation that Till had flirted with her had caused her husband and his friends to kidnap, torture and murder the young boy (crimes for which they were acquitted, but to which they then later admitted). Last year, a 2007 interview surfaced (included in Timothy Tyson’s book “The Blood of Emmett Till”) in which Bryant admitted that she had lied about Till’s actions.

It’s a complicated issue and I don’t want to end with a punchline like Dave’s, hilarious as it was. It is endearing to me, however, that he brought up the white woman who admitted to lying about her interaction with Till. He says begrudgingly that it was a good thing. Because if she had died, not admitting to the lie, the doubt of one man’s innocence would have continued, even if the event itself led to the emancipation of black rights. There is some grace even in justice delayed. But at what cost?

There is bound to be tyranny in the world, and humans are bound to live in a default, gamified version of life. Somebody is always going to be on top and somebody always at the bottom. There is inequality and in capitalistic societies, that is the inherent order. Is it ok to look selfishly out for ourselves? Is this a perspective that is out of morality’s bounds? Are we to have some kindness and solidarity, but not too much? Is social justice an achievable goal?

Perhaps the only solution is to neatly package it in fiction and sell a million copies.

What do you think, indentured labour? You think you can step out of the line, tell off the old man and get your due?

Awaiting your answer while I convince pigs to wear skinned humans and put out a minstrel depicting failings in swine politics.

Yours controversially,




Art. History. Books.

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Rohina Thapar

Rohina Thapar

Art. History. Books.

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