LitSoc Creative Writing (Solo) – Prose

LitSoc Creative Writing (Solo) for the academic year 2015-16 was held in the July-Dec semester. In this first part of a two-article series, T5E presents all the top five winning entries under the Prose category.


First position

Prompt : You wake up as a human lie-detector and find out that everything your best-friend told you was a lie including his/her name.

Author: Aroon Narayanan, EE12B077, Alakananda.

The Inhuman Genome

The sun’s unforgiving glare wakes me up, as the curtains dance wildly in response to the south-eastern gale gushing in through the window. I feel dizzy. How long was I asleep?

The house is eerily silent – the wake-up retina scan must have failed. I rub my face fervently and my groggy eyes finally focus on the wall, lighting it up. The coffee maker, microwave and solar geyser whir into action. Simultaneously, my digital assistant crackles into its dull, transparent, blue, female form.

“The time is 10:56, Sir. Your sleep cycle began at 23:08. You were asleep for 11 hours and 48 minutes.”

“Thank you, Nari.”

Almost 12 hours? I’ve never slept this late into the morning. Dr Subaru will have a scathing reprimand ready, I’m sure. The plant must already be running at full capacity.

I glance at the headlines flashing in the sky as I get ready to take a bath. The Mesopotamian crisis is worsening. A record number of heart transplants had been performed the previous day, saving millions of lives. Well, at least it’s not all bad news.

My head throbs gently as I bathe. I am afflicted with migraine on the odd occasion, but this feels different. The very insides of my skull seem to be reverberating. I should meet up with Dr Bale.

“Appointment request sent to Dr Bale.”

“Thanks, Nari.”

Dr Subaru’s room is buzzing with activity. The plant’s current and past functioning is being tallied and filed mechanically by the scientific assistants. Dr Subaru himself is engaged in incorporating details of a research paper into his mind using a Google neuro transmitter.

I decide to skip our routine morning debriefing meeting. It would be pointless this late, anyway. I walk steadily towards my desk.

“Yes, Sir, the code was ready yesterday night,” I overhear a young programmer whimper to his manager. My head immediately starts throbbing faster. I turn around and look at him in surprise. His palms and forehead are sweaty – he’s clearly lying. But how could that affect my headache?

I walk over to his cubicle.

“Say that again.”

“What?” He looks like he’ll faint.

“Repeat what you just said to your manager.”

He swallows hard and manages to faintly whisper – “My code was ready yesterday night.”

And there it is again! The throbbing quickens up for a second and summarily subsides.

What happened to me last night?

I spend a good half an hour at my desk contemplating this bizarre turn of events. Clearly, the inside of my skull had been accessed without my knowledge or consent – a violation of the second article of the International Constitution – to implant a lie detector of some kind. But how? And more importantly, by whom?

Although this is a serious breach of personal privacy, I must talk to someone before alerting the authorities. I am privy to a host of confidential information related to the plant, and the corporation, in an effort to placate investors with a speedy response, will hold me liable for any leak, regardless of my innocence.

In this dog eat dog world of commercialized science, there is only one person I can confide in without apprehension – Karthik. Dr Karthik and I have known each other since we started working at this plant, almost twenty years ago, and have grown very close. We trust each other and are keepers of a multiplicity of each other’s innermost secrets.

“Hey Karthik,” I call out to him from behind his desk.

“Minsk! Why are you whispering?”

“Follow me.”

I lead him into a washroom. Thanks to privacy laws, no evidence obtained in washrooms is admissible in the courts, so we’re the safest here.

“Something strange happened to me last night.”

“Really? That’s funny – Leena was enquiring about you last night.”

The throbbing escalated.

“Huh?”

“My sister, Leena.”

Another escalation. It doesn’t make sense.

“Why?”

“We were planning to visit my hometown, Chennai.”

And another. I’m caught completely off my guard.

“Oh…okay.”

I feel him staring intensely at me. I gather my wits somehow.

“The birthplace of the great Karthik Ramasamy, eh?”

He laughed. “Yes, me, Karthik Ramasamy.”

And it speeds up! I look at Karthik in horror. Something is terribly wrong.

I excuse myself and hurry back to my desk in a daze. As my head clears, the implications of my conversation with Karthik hit me. His name is a lie. His sister, or at least his sister’s name, is a fabrication. Even his hometown is a lie, goddamit!

I need a sanity check. I need to be absolutely certain of my findings. I look around. Most of my subordinates are swiping away at their virtual screens.

“Hey, Rubio.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“What’s your name?”

“I beg your pardon, Sir?”

“Tell me your name.”

He frowns, bewildered. “Mario Rubio, Sir.”

No escalation.

“What’s the capital of Azerbaijan?”

His confusion intensifies. “Baku, Sir.”

Still no escalation.

“Tell me that coffee is made from tea leaves.”

“Sir…” His left eyebrow shoots up like a leaf in the autumn breeze.

“It’s okay. Just say it.”

“Coffee is made from tea leaves.”

And there it is – the pounding in my head speeds up. The detector seems to be working.

“Just playing with you, Rubio. Go back to work.”

He hesitantly resumes swiping, glancing at me sideways to assure himself of my sanity.

“This is unbelievable!” I whisper angrily to myself as I return to my seat. Now, I’m carrying two perilous secrets, instead of just one, and I can make neither heads nor tails of either of them. I look around the floor in trepidation and despair.

Then it hits me.

The corporation keeps exhaustive records of each employee’s official documentation. As a board invitee, I can access these records without setting off the alarms. What will Karthik’s records reflect?

I hastily log in to the system, constantly looking over my shoulder for trespassers. But the records disappoint – they do not differ from Karthik’s version. But just as I’m about to log out, I notice that an additional file has been logged into his records just two hours ago. Excited, I download the file onto my local system.

The file is just a scanned copy of a ledger report dated twenty years earlier. One section in the report catches my attention and throws me into a tizzy – “A new supervisor, KR, has been acquired for experiment ‘New Blood’. Operational restrictions have been applied. The subject, ZM1048, is stable.”

KR. Karthik Ramasamy.

I remember ‘New Blood’. It was launched during the height of the human cloning frenzy. Every scientific company worth its salt was engaged in an intellectual battle to create the first cloned brain matter. A couple of years before I joined, the scientists here at AmadaCorp succeeded and as a result, ‘New Blood’ was launched to create a full-fledged human clone.

But understandably, the project faced stiff resistance and was cancelled. The ability to clone a human opened up a theoretical Pandora’s Box – the very concept of ‘the individual’ would have been destroyed. Humanity wasn’t ready to cope with such a drastic challenge to its founding philosophy.

This ledger report changes everything. The project wasn’t cancelled, as I, and the rest of the world, had been led to believe. How far had they progressed? And more importantly, how was Karthik involved?

“Minsk!” Dr Subaru thunders.

Fear grips me and I scramble to close my system down.

“Minsk, we have our two o’clock right now.”

I heave a sigh of relief. I’d forgotten about the weekly board meeting.

My presence in these meetings is purely procedural. Approval of all members is required by law, but I am rarely up to date on the specifics of the plant’s functioning and hence I seldom pay attention during discussions.

But today is different. The surplus adrenaline in my system is causing me to scrutinize every word that is being uttered in the room, in an attempt to unravel the mysteries that have been thrown at me over the past hour.

“We’ll have updates on our new products first. Dr Karthik?”

I avoid making eye contact with Karthik. His betrayal stings deep and I can barely suffer his presence in the same room as mine.

“Thank you. As we all know, we launched a new variant of our animal tissue programme last week. There’s only one significant change in the new product – shelf life, which has been increased threefold.”

That’s a lie – my detector picked it up. I stare at him in bewilderment. Why would he mislead the board on shelf life?
Thereafter, my detector could barely stop buzzing. Every second sentence being spoken at the meeting is a lie in some form or the other. This baffles me beyond words. What lie had my company been living in front of my own eyes?

Providence decided to provide me with an opportunity to discover the answer myself. Karthik had forgotten his manufacturing access key on the conference table.

I tiptoe my way to the highly secure manufacturing area. Karthik’s access key gets me through the first door, but the second requires a 4 digit code. I panic, knowing that the alarms would be set off if there was an inordinate delay in opening the second door.

I stare at the number pad in desperation. Should I venture a guess? If yes, what number? I look back in dread. I feel surrounded. Technology and lies – it is almost as if everything portends an Orwellian future.

I stall, and then hesitantly type it in. 1984.

The second gate opens noiselessly. My confusion is reaching tormenting highs. And then it all falls into place.

The entire manufacturing floor is filled with human bodies whirring around on overhead rods like suits being moved on a dry-cleaning line. At regular intervals, instruments noiselessly slice into each body, extracting parts and organs with surgical precision.

New Blood.

“Minsk!” I hear Dr Subaru exclaim.

I turn around slowly. Dr Subaru and Karthik are standing at the door, blocking my exit. I stumble back onto a side wall.

“What have you done?” I hoarsely shout at them. I feel disoriented and weak, as I begin to comprehend the monstrosity of what I’d just witnessed.

“The right thing, Minsk.” Dr Subaru slowly begins to walk towards me. “We’ve already saved millions of lives with harvested organs and tissues from clones, and it’s only been two days! Imagine the number of sick and dying humans we could save, if we could just overcome our myopia.”

“That myopia is called a conscience, you monster!” I scream as tears well in my eyes. I turn towards Karthik. “And you! Is this your new product? The one with “only one significant change”? How can you live with yourself?” I stop as I run out of breath, heaving heavily.

“You led me to believe we had something special. You…” The tears are flowing freely now. “You conned me, while I loved you…”

“Don’t shout at him, Minsk. He’s just a prop. In fact, when he was acquired, we programmed him so that he could never tell the truth.”

‘Operational restrictions have been applied’. The last puzzle in the jigsaw fell into place. I hear Dr Subaru chuckle. “In fact, if he tells you the truth, a small bomb in his head would explode.”

I look at Karthik in horror. A single teardrop jumps out of his left eye and sadly saunters its way towards his chin.
It all made sense now. He had planted the lie detector. He had inserted the scanned copy into the records. He had set the passcode to 1984.

He dashes up to Dr Subaru and restrains him. Smiling pensively at me, he pulls out a small gun and shoots it through Dr Subaru’s temple.

I am immobilized by shock. He looks at me with a tragic glint in his eye, the smile still lighting up his face.

“I love you” he says and collapses on the floor, his head blown to small pieces.


Second position

Prompt : This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.’

Author: Varsha Subramanyan, EE11B077, Sabarmati Hostel

Hey, you. Yes, you. You know who you are. Welcome. Welcome back. I feel like this has happened before. I feel like I’ve seen you before and felt all these things, just like I am feeling them now. You know what I mean. I know you do, and I know you feel them too. How do I even describe it? It’s the feeling you have when you sit down after a long, hard day, when you didn’t even realize how much you needed to sit down. It is the feeling of a drop of cold water unconsciously running down your lips and your neck, as you gulp down a whole jar on a hot summer’s day. It is that feeling you have when two pieces of a puzzle just serendipitously fall in place, and suddenly, the big picture is clearer, more beautiful, more meaningful. And suddenly, you’re not sure how you lived this far without spending every moment of existence searching for that puzzle piece.

And you’re back now. And you have stories to tell me. And you tell them, just like you did before. Except they are different stories now. They are edgier. Raunchier. Scarier. And before I know it, I’m telling you my own stories. And you tell me you want to hear them.

You know I am no writer. How do I tell you about that catch at the back of my throat? You know how it is – it’s that feeling when you have so much to say, and yet, nothing at all. Really, how could my unpolished words possibly capture all that I want to say? I suppose the only way is to get the words out, one by one. When did something that simple get so hard? You know you have that effect on me. And still, you tell me you want to hear my stories. Isn’t it amazing how that breeze outside makes the world both cooler and warmer at the same time?

Yes, you’ve made me feel all that before too. Or maybe you didn’t. Maybe I’ve created this complicated world of illusions in my head, where dreams and reality overlap into this heady concoction, making me see and feel only that which I want to. But I’ll let that go. What matters is that you are here, and I can’t stop looking.

Have you ever noticed how you never really see things clearly in a dream? The edges blur into each other, and the colours are all hazy. But you never realize that when you’re actually dreaming. And if you try to focus and take a harder look, the dream withdraws and forces you to wake up. The harder you look at what makes you happy, the sooner you have to wake up to something you might not necessarily want to be part of. And now that I’m looking at you, I start to see the frays in your edges. I see all those flaws that I can’t help but feel I’ve seen before, perhaps in the mirror. For a moment there, it’s all magic, we’re moving in perfect harmony to soundless music. Every step I take, I’m so scared you aren’t going to take it too, that you cannot hear what I’m hearing. But then you do. And I want to take a harder look. And I do.

That’s when I start to see the cracks and jagged edges. All the thorns that are just hidden beneath sight. I touch them, knowing I shouldn’t, and sure enough, my fingers are now bleeding. It hurts, and I want you to know it does. I look up in pain to catch your eye, and, my god! I see the pain in your eyes too. Your fingers are bleeding too, and I can see you are hurt. In horror, I realize I have all those sharp edges and thorns too. Is that why you will only dance with me at arms length and no closer? But no! Don’t come any closer! your thorns are just as sharp…

Have you ever found a piece of an old puzzle when clearing out a cupboard? Most people just sigh and throw it away, because it did not turn up when they needed it. What never really never leaves you at peace is when you find a whole puzzle with all but one piece. You know the piece doesn’t exist, but you cannot help but turn your entire house upside-down hunting for it, irrationally messing up everything, because you can’t bear to look at the puzzle itself anymore. All you see is that gaping hole where that one piece ought to be, and your heart breaks a little more every time you look at it. I keep hunting for my missing puzzle piece… But now that I’ve met you, I know that finding the piece can be as hurtful as losing it. When the missing piece comes back to you, it is no longer the same thing. It is frayed, it is bent, it is discoloured. When you place it back, with bated breath, in the spot it once occupied, expecting your entire world to burst into all that colour you’ve only seen in your dreams, you see that it doesn’t fit anymore, like it used to. You still can’t look at it. It sits there mockingly reminding you of how you hunted for it all your life, and now it is here for you to take… But you’re bleeding, and it hurts…

Yes, you’ve made me feel all this before. Or maybe it wasn’t you. But now I remember why I let it all go. Why I let you go. As I pull away from you (again?), I know I’m going to let it all go again. Our edges simply don’t fit with each other. But this time, maybe, just maybe, we’ve bled hard enough for our fingers to scar. And the next time we run into each other, they’ll remind us to try to fit in the sharpest edges first…


Third position:

Prompt : Magic was outlawed years ago. But did I care? No. The kids loved it; they came down the alley just to see it.

Author: Kalyani Subbiah, HS13H015, Sharavati

Murder in Budapest

I produced the vanished embroidered silk from behind a child’s grubby ear with a flourish and they applauded cheerfully. Magic was outlawed years ago. But did I care? The kids loved it; they came down the alley just to see it. Many of my friends kidnapped these children and sold them, but mine was an honest trade. “How did you do it?!” they piped eagerly.
“A magician never reveals his secret. Now one more trick if you give me a forint…”

“You there!” I froze. Three burly policemen strode toward me from the alley’s entrance. I looked at them calmly and said, “Yes?” The red-bearded one looked at me from head to foot and back up again. The sharp-nosed policeman slowly and deliberately said, watching the expression on my face, “There is a dead man in the next alley.” I let my face express nothing. The blond one looked at me curiously, “Any normal woman would express shock..”
“I am a gypsy.”
“Yes, he said slowly, but does that explain this?” A little blood showed at the edge of my smock and I cursed. He ripped the smock off with his rifle knife and the other two policemen’s eyes widened at my blue skirt covered with dried blood.
“What a way to treat a woman! I make a living in a butcher shop by night.”
The sharp-nosed one grabbed my wrists behind my back as the other two men busily raided my paltry stall, and brought out a short curved ornate knife from my rucksack, covered in dried blood. “And this my lady?” the blond one mocked. He had seen guilt in me since the start. My explanation was cut short by a groan as the sharp-nosed policeman kneed me in the back.

“Stop!” said a voice from the end of the alley. A short, slight man stood in the entrance of the alley with a neat black goatee and magistrate’s clothes. He possessed piercing green eyes, shoulder-length hair and the soft velvety voice of a hypnotist. Surrounded by two of the King’s men, Sir Matias strode forward and took my hand, “Innocent, or guilty, we must treat a lady as a lady. Perhaps the scene of crime will reveal more.”

He led me to the neighbouring alley, where a man in captain’s clothes lay face down, his purple cloak wet with blood. “Captain Adorjan.” I breathed. “Do you know him, lady?”
“Which gypsy does not? He has slain and imprisoned more gypsies than my unlettered mind can count. He is the man to lead an assault on our gypsy settlement on the morrow. Many women and children will die.”
Matias raised an eyebrow and walked gingerly toward the man. The blond policeman gripped my shoulder, “And so did you kill him, lady?”
“Hush Daniel. Hand me the knife. Yes, this is doubtless the murder weapon. The wound is small and deep. Yet, it appears the captain may have come here alone after dark…. Why?”
“Witchcraft,” hissed Daniel grabbing my shoulder painfully.
“To meet someone,” Matias concluded, “It must have been someone he trusted to come here with no weapon, and something of import for the meeting to have been before dawn,” he mused.
His soliloquy was interrupted by a fat hysterical woman who entered the alley wailing. Captain Adorjan’s wife flung herself dramatically by her husband’s body and buried her face in her hands in agony. Then she gripped Matias’s arm with her bejeweled fingers. “Sir Matias! Many call you the Sherlock Holmes of Hungary! You must know the famed detective whose books are all the rage in London? Please find who killed my husband!”
She then fainted dramatically next to his body.
“Szuz Maria! Take this woman to the clinic” he huffed. He signaled to the policemen, “Bring me his mistress.” They blinked at him, “Of course he has a mistress! Which swashbuckling Captain would ever resign himself to such a tiresome hen?”
“I know who she is,” one of the King’s men interjected, “she is the talk of the soldiers. A fiery Russian specimen- Anya Kobalkov- from Moscow, with bewitching eyes…”
“Ah,” Matias said, “sounds promising.” He knelt by the body as the policemen scurried out to find her. A small crowd had gathered by the entrance of the alley. “Someone of strength must have overcome a Captain of his standing. But if the person where to take him entirely by surprise it would be possible…” He suddenly flipped the man over, and everybody gasped: a dead chicken slipped from his chest onto the ground.
“Witchcraft,” murmured the audience, “Witch.”
Daniel gripped both of my shoulders even tighter.
The crowded parted as a figure clothed in white with a minister’s cap and a large cross around his neck swirled into the alley. Minister Edvard exclaimed when he saw the body of his captain on the floor. He then caught sight of me and my bloodied skirt, and drew his sword, charging toward me. “You vile gypsy-“
Matias signaled to his men, who promptly kept him back. He continued to glare and curse at me in his calm, melancholy voice that sent shivers down my spine.
“Minister, the gypsy’s skirt is stained with goat’s blood not human.”
He turned to Matias, confused.
“Captain Adorjan was close to you, Minister?” Matias queried, gently.
“He is my close friend and together we hoped to rid the city of the gypsy menace- this is the foul gypsy’s work, Matias. You see black magic written all over it.”
“Yes, yes, it somehow seems too obvious.”
The Minister’s wife waded through the crowd and put a hand to her throat, “Marta, this is not a sight for a lady-”
But, right at that moment, the crowd cleaved for the Russian woman who was greeted with murmurs at her sultry beauty and spectacular gown. The Minister’s eyes widened and he recoiled as if hit. Matias carefully watched his response. “Minister, do you know Miss Anya?”
“Of course not, Matias.”
“Lady, you do know the Minister?” Her husky voice sang “I would not say I know nor not know.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

The Minister’s wife gasped and stared at her husband in shock.
“To associate a man of the church with such a disreputable, lying two-faced creature – “ Edvard began.
The Russian had drawn herself to full height- before she could retort, Matias cut in, “It took you little time to arrive, Madame?”
“Monsieur, I was in the locale.”
“This early in the morning?”
“I had plans, none of which is your business.”
“Oh Touché. The Minister himself was not too late… So, we have three suspects so far.” Matias paced, voicing his thoughts. “Adorjan’s wife, who may have killed him out of jealousy and put up a drama to elude us. Madame Anya who may have killed out of fear of some uncomfortable expose…”
She hastily cut in, “I will explain. It is true that I was angry with Adorjan. He was suddenly plagued by the guilt of his sins and wanted to confess to the Minister before waging his war, though what prompted him I cannot imagine.” The Russian flipped the lock of hair covering her forehead indignantly, “The great fool would force a rather hasty departure for me from this city, and perhaps it is a good thing he is dead. But I assure you I loved the man and did not kill him.”
Matias turned to the Minister, “What about you, Minister?” he asked.
“I spent the night pleading to the lord in our monastery for the banishment of the sinful gypsies and peace in our town.”
“Is it so Father Adrin?” Matias asked an elderly man standing in the now sizable crowd.
“Sir, I cannot vouch for him,” the Father hung his head. “I knelt in the main hall and prayed for my ill sister and did not see him enter nor leave.”
“I came and left through the back entrance, Adrin. You wouldn’t have seem me.”
“Why so Minister? The shortest way from your house is through the front entrance.” The Minister stood silent and stared at Matias as his wife looked suspiciously at him. His voice rose in a deep rumble, “Are you accusing a man of the church Matias?”
Matias paced, “You have no motive, Edvard, unless,” he stopped and stared at him, and then deliberately looked at the Russian. She slowly nodded. “There is an inn
nearby,” she began, wringing her hands, “Edvard promised he would not throw me in prison if we-“
Edvard’s wife exclaimed in shock and took a step away from her husband. The Minister exploded “No no never, you fiend – you you succubus! How dare you-“
But, Matias interjected, “Before we let fly accusations, let us examine the evidence, like who is he? Sherlock.” He theatrically paced around the body, his robes swishing. “The ornamental knife could have been gained easily at the church’s storerooms. Anyone could have taken it given how poorly they are guarded.” He suddenly turned to the Minister’s wife, “Do you make chicken soup on Saturday mornings my lady?”
“Yes sir, every Saturday morning. I ask Edvard to get me a chicken from the market the night before.”
“How many chickens did you buy yesterday Edvard? Do not lie. I can always ask the butcher.”
Edvard started to explain and then his eyes opened wide and froze, then he relaxed. “As a church-man I do not lie, Matias. I bought a chicken, but halfway home it was stolen, so I headed back and bought another one. It is common for men to be stolen from on these dingy streets. The devil is in hearts of many.”
“Yes, yes. And it would not be proper for an upper-class woman such as Anya to buy chicken in the market.” Matias nodded intelligently.
The crowd had begun murmuring at the Minister, whose brows were furrowed.
“This is how it happened,” Matias announced grandly pacing around, “The arrival of Madame Anya stirred the hearts of many, but none more than Minister Edvard. Once he understood that she was involved in an affair with a married man, his close confidante Adorjan, he blackmailed her into an affair with him, threatening her with prison or exile. This continued for a while.” The Minister glared at Matias, lost for words, bristling with rage. “Until Adorjan planned to divorce his wife – he is not wearing his wedding ring – and marry Madame. That was when she told him of the Minister. Adorjan was furious- he threatened to expose the Minister to the rest of the city, but that would mean her exposure too, so Anya panicked and told the Minister. Do you deny this Madame?” As about fifty pairs of eyes fastened on her, the Madame slowly shook her head.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

“And hence the Minister called Adorjan to discuss his plans for the attack tomorrow and the Minister. Killed. The Captain.” At these words a ripple swept through the crowd and the Minister in his rage of fury leapt at Matias’s throat screaming the most obscene threats. He was restrained and handcuffed by the King’s men. Fool. One must never show guilt when accused.
“And to top it all off,” Matias continued, “he detested the gypsy girl selling magic in the street next to his Church and sought to blame her for the murder. You, Edvard are not a Man of the Church but a Man of the Devil.” Edvard’s wife collapsed to the ground sobbing as the Minister was led off in chains through the scrabbling hands of the mob.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

“Alda”, Matias murmured to me later. He was shrouded in black. “That was quite a performance,” I remarked.
“Pretend to be the clever detective and you can fool the world. Pace around and make witty conclusions from the evidence.” He mockingly put his hands behind his back and swished around in his robes. I laughed, “Thank you, thank you.” I gripped his arm fervently. “Thanks to you my people are safe. Though I’m not sure if our souls are.”


Fourth Position:

Prompt: This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.

Author: Vikram Venkat, ME12B155, Narmada

A Primer On Writing For Engineers

Writing is easy. This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard. It’s not a science, it has no governing equations- but since every engineer requires some laws and rules that act as governing principles, I will take a shot at setting up a few theorems that could help every engineer weave his way through the mysterious, magical world of the written word.

Let’s start at the very beginning- for, as the song says, it’s a very good place to start.

Rule number 1: James Hadley Chase’s Law of Catchy Titles

The title makes or breaks your piece. Simply put, no one will read an essay, novel, article or anything longer than a Tweet unless it has a catchy title. My own essay is an example- if I had titled it ‘14 Ways to Get Your Dream Job’, I’m sure a lot more engineers would have read it; or, better still, ‘How to Talk to Girls About Something Other than General Relativity’ (Editor’s note: You’re not a magician. You’d just be lying with that title.) (Marketing Manager’s note: Change title. Change title now. We need sales.)

You’d need to be an exceptionally good writer to get away with a bad title. ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ did sell, but ‘Does God Ever Speak Through Cats’ did not. (Editor’s note: Hey, I liked that book!). Be short, be catchy and be effective.

Rule number 2: Modesty Blaise’s Location Theorem

This rule applies only to those seeking to write fiction- setting the scene is essential. You cannot set anything anywhere (except London- Editor). This law has often resulted in sending several authors into a tizzy, and has been a source of significant research for authors (Editor’s note: Sure it did). In particular, some of the theories that have arisen out of Blaise’s theorem are Larsson’s Determination, Andersen’s Paradox and fforbes-Frobisher’s Law.

Let’s take the first of these, which provides the clearest instructions: Larsson’s Determination, which states, ‘If you are writing a depressing story, set it in a depressingly cold and dark place, where the population is low and silence is everywhere; in other words, in a place like Scandinavia.’

Seems easy, doesn’t it? Well, that is until you get to Andersen’s Paradox. ‘Scandinavia is also the place that gave us the ridiculously happy fairy tales, and has the highest per capita happiness outside of Bhutan; thus, Scandinavia, as per graphical determination and with a high degree of correlational accuracy, should be the setting for stories other than morbidly depressing novels.’ Andersen suggested that those are to be set in Germany. ‘Even their fairy
tales are Grimm’, he said, justifying his findings. His theorem, while it seems exceedingly complex, can be broken down into a very simple form: Larsson can go flow a kite.

If you’re still with us, we’ll move on from the world of paradoxes to a more concrete law: fforbes-Frobisher’s law of the British: ‘If any character has a stiff upper lip, a hyphenated surname, hates the Scots, drinks copious amounts of tea, or is rubbish at football, set it in the English countryside’. This pretty much sums up Britain.

Rule number 3: Chandler’s Stylistic Thesis

This can best be explained by means of an example. Take a paragraph, take any paragraph (Editor’s note: No, you’re not a magician. Quit trying to sell your ‘How to Talk to Girls about Something other than General Relativity’ article). Like this one for example: “It was a warm sunny day, and the sun was shining brightly in London. The sounds of the city were there, and so were the sounds of chirping birds, and St. Paul’s dome shown in the glorious morning. Peter Arterton walked down Charing Cross Road, peering in at the bookshops. He was tempted to walk into each one, roam past the shelves and take in the delightful musty aroma that only old books can have. He looked longingly in at each window that he passed, dreaming of what could be, if only he could walk into one of those bookstores, and experience the aroma so different to the one he was accustomed to. But he could not- he had places to go to, and promises to keep.”

Now, if that seemed like fairly good writing to you, dear engineer, Chandler’s advice would be short, simple and unambiguous: put a bullet in it, sweetie.

Here’s how it would be written as per the laws put forth in Chandler’s thesis, a ponderous tome of a few hundred pages, written in the same hard-boiled style that he espoused. It remains a seminal work that changed the way novels are written- rather like when your quantum mechanics opened up new vistas that Newtonian mechanics had only dreamed of.

“The day was warm, and Peter Arterton’s blood was cold. The big city blared around Arterton, and the birds shrieked bloody murder. St. Paul’s glistened like the barrel of a Colt revolver. The bookshops were dank and musty; much like the place Arterton came from. He looked into the shops, and thought of their characteristic smell, different from the blood and sweat that he was accustomed to. He walked by, never stopping at any of the stores lining the
mean street. He had to reach his destination, and finish his job.”

This shows pretty much everything Chandler had put forth in his thesis. Cities are evil, streets are mean, blood is cold, and everything must have a sense of foreboding, terror or awe. “Words are meant to create a picture, they are meant to punch the reader in his guts repeatedly,” as Chandler himself is rumoured to have said to his students, while swigging his Bourbon (straight from the bottle, it has been said) and telling them, in rather more colourful
language (Editor’s note: The kind that I use with you?) what he thought of their stories that had happy endings or cheerful characters.

Chandler’s writing style changed people’s perspectives, and brought out the dark side of people and the city, and is often one of the easier styles to work with. Do note that it is usually not compatible with the British countryside, tea parties or little old ladies eating strawberries and cream. That is better explained by Christie’s Principle, Wodehouse’s Axiom, or Austen’s empirical relations.

Rule number 4: Richard Nixon’s Second Law of Non-Fictional Accuracy

Unlike some of the previous laws, this one of concern solely to prospective writers of non-fiction, and within that category, it is most relevant to biographers (or ghostwriters of autobiographies).

Simply put, it states that on most occasions, what actually happened can be substituted by what the subject of the biography believed happened, or what the subject would have liked to have happened, or what the subject would like others to believe he or she would have liked to happen.

This law has been of great utility to biographers, especially when used in conjunction with Nixon’s First Law: “Words are nothing more than a tool to blur the truth; accuracy can be substituted by superfluous text, with hundreds of words being utilized where just a handful would be sufficient, so as to accentuate a sense of incomprehensibility on the part of the reader, thereby guarding the truth.”

Nixon also had a less celebrated Zeroth law, which has often been neglected in texts: “If the President writes it that means it is not illegal (and also not recorded on any tapes).”

Rule number 5: Hemingway’s Rule

Be short.

That was simple, wasn’t it?

Now that we have examined a good many laws, we shall deal with one of the most important theoretical points that every writer should know- namely, how to cope with Writer’s Block.

Writers are a happy lot. When faced with a deplorably devastating lack of words flowing out, or face a roadblock in their journey towards a Pulitzer due to an absence of ideas, there are several solutions at hand. For a start, they can go out, roam the city and hope for inspiration. When that inspiration strikes, they can go back to their typewriter, notepad or computer, and simply make the changes, bringing to life their work of art. Artists don’t have the same luxury – paint dries fast, and the delete key isn’t an option.

I shall end with one final tip to help you complete your masterpiece- as important as the beginning is the end. A good punchline is essential, and preferably should sum up your work, perplex and intrigue the reader and leave the reader wanting more. Something like –


Fifth Position:

Prompt: If I had a box just for wishes and dreams that had never come true, the box would be empty except for …

Author: Atul Shreyas, ED14B009, Narmada

It Won’t Make Sense

There are these times, these times where you’re stuck. Trapped, lurking in the corner of your own mind, looking at all these thoughts flowing, but not sure which one you’re ready to ambush, which one you let orchestrate your ingenious.

Sure, it may not be so graphic. Needless to say though, it happens.

It’s funny what a single thought can trigger, what’s funnier is how you get yourself stuck in this chain of thought. The funniest though, is the literary pun in the last line.

“If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true,
The box would be empty except for …”

Anyone from the 70s or a good ear or a smartphone could tell you these lines are lyrics to a classic called “Time in a Bottle” (I used google to find out more about the artist, although I’d heard the song before)

‘Jim Croce’, wrote this song when he found out his wife was pregnant. A father’s heart poured out on a piece of paper; it’s a beautiful song which has brought tears in the eyes of one too many.

So what does this have to do with anything that has happened so far? How did we get here, from talking about the absurdity of thought?

An international criminal, a drug lord, a man who can’t do anything without it ending in a stand-off. His name is Leslie Chow. He’s hilarious. But why are we talking about him now?

I’m personally a sucker for comedy, and one to kill for a hilarious motion picture. I’ve watched too many movies.

It took me a while to connect the dots.

Getting to the point. When I said I’d heard the song before, it wasn’t just Jim Croce’s alluring version of a father singing for his unborn child. There is also the version where Leslie Chow is singing it in the elevator, on the way to try to free the protagonist’s brother held has hostage by the Bangok Mafia; in the Hangover series.

A writing prompt is defined as a statement to inspire response from anyone attempting to write.

Those lyrics sure did a hell of a job.

It was mind-boggling how those particular lines, prompted such a magnificent array of thought.

There was nothing as grand as creating order out of chaos here, but it was simply connecting those random dots.

Initially when I read those lines, all that was going through my head were thoughts of that one dream that hasn’t gotten fulfilled. Well, that’s essentially what the lines mean.

A lot thought, reminiscing all of the ups and downs in life. Thinking about all the things I’ve achieved, all the things I’ve missed out on. But that’s when I read them again, and this time, it reminded me of a song and a movie. I used that to open.

Although the prompt may not have pushed me quite in the direction it was supposed to (although there’s no one really to pick what’s right or wrong), it certainly got me thinking.

If it were any other day, sure I’d risk it by playing it safe and writing elaborately about that one missed out opportunity somewhere growing up, or about how I wasn’t born into the Ambanis or about how I can’t walk on the moon or about any of a million other things.

But today was slightly different. It was baffling to see what a slight change of perspetive does to you. How, just giving it something a slightly thought can get your wheels turning.

It made not have made sense, but there are only so many ways you can see the same thing.


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Comments

  1. Brilliant writing, especially the winning piece. The writer displays amazing mastery over his plot setting and pacing.