By Richa Gupta
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway
I was always meant to be a writer of fiction. I yearned to give concrete expression to words and incidents that echoed in my mind, but my professional life gave me little leisure. I vicariously satisfied my literary cravings while teaching English literature and language for 20 years to senior classes first for the ICSE and then the CBSE syllabus. Gradually, my teaching profession became the fertile soil where the seeds of my own writing career grew.
For example, after I had explained a story or a poem in their literature course, I would stimulate students’ creativity by assigning them the task of writing a story or a poem on similar lines. To demonstrate, I would pen something myself. I would search for stimuli such as suitable photographs and leading or concluding sentences to spark off a tale and then weave a tale of my own as an example.
To make up for the lack of inclusion of creative writing in the CBSE syllabus, I organised intra-school and inter-school contests in creative writing. There were always a few talented writers in each class who possessed the spark for writing, and I included them in the Literary Club.
We met after school hours to discuss literature and pen stories and plays for dramatisation. These meetings were as enriching for me as for them. The uproarious laughter of the audience when the club’s play was performed gave me much gratification.
The art of storytelling hinges on the creation of realistic characters that readers can empathise with. Teaching creative writing in a girls’ school exposed me to all the nuances of the lives of the younger generation and the precepts for developing effective narratives.
It helped me create a large cast of women characters and develop each one’s story distinctly in my second novel Skeins (2018), a story about 16 Indian women of varied ages and backgrounds who travel to the Iberian Peninsula. I identified with each woman as her physical journey transmuted into a journey of self-discovery and triggered her subterranean emotions.
Seeking books to recommend to prolific young readers, I ended up reading an array of classical and contemporary authors. I would educate students on the distinctions between literary genres before setting them the task of writing an essay, a story, an autobiography, a diary entry or a play.
This familiarity with genera helped me to write stories in various genres ranging from bathos and futuristic sci-fi to grim realistic fiction and a suspenseful whodunit for my new book of 12 short stories, Slices of Life (2020).
When I explained to a curious young mind the meaning of the term bathos as a literary device denoting the juxtaposition of something significant with something trivial to create a sudden descent from sublimity to ludicrousness, or the use of an elevated tone to describe something insignificant for a humorous effect, I was setting the basis for its use in stories like ‘The Young Visitor’ and ‘Bridal Wear’. In contrast to the hilarity of bathos, there is the grim realism of ‘Dusk’ that describes the tribulations of a marginalised family during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the painful discovery of infidelity in ‘Disclosure’.
As I filled in the gaps in my students’ narratives and mentored them in creative writing, I gained the confidence to embark on my own literary journey.
Richa Gupta is a Delhi-based author, senior teaching professional, and an instructional designer for training and e-learning in the corporate sector