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ANOTHER QUESTION ANSWERED
I am combining these two questions:
1. WHAT WAS PERHAPS, THE MOST DIFFICULT ASPECT OF NARRATIVE CONSTRUCT OF THE SINGING GURU, THAT YOU HAD NOT EXPERIENCED DURING YOUR PREVIOUS TWO WORKS?
2. WHILE PENNING THE SINGING GURU, DID KAMLA, THE AUTHOR’S SENSE OF IMAGINATION INTERFERE OR IN ANY WAY CONFLICT WITH KAMLA , THE INDIVIDUAL’S SENSIBILITIES REGARDING FAITH/ BELIEF?
Every book has its challenges, the place where one gets stuck, blocked, unable to proceed, the place where one flounders and is lost. These challenges are often resolved by time in conjunction with probing questioning, focus, and change in perspective. Even if a book is stalled for a year, the connection with it is never lost and the work of resolution carries on both consciously and unconsciously.
When I was writing short stories for my other two books
(Ganesha Goes to lunch — now reprinted as Classics from Mystic India— and Pilgrimage to Paradise, Sufi Tales from Rumi — the US edition’s title is Rumi’s Tales from the Silk Road), I was already thinking of the third one, short stories from the Sikh tradition. I had even written several of them during hiatuses while writing the others. Though these stories were connected by the same characters, Guru Nanak and Mardana, they were isolated stories, like the others, not tied with a narrative thread that strung them together. I had thought writing The Singing Guru would be a no brainer. When I got down to writing it and compiled the stories I already had, I was stuck for about a year, owing, mainly, to an erroneous and limited idea of how I wanted to structure the book. When you are writing you have to let the material rather than your ego or preconceived ideas dictate its needs and directions. Something larger than my small and fixated conceptions wanted to happen and I, or rather my ego which thinks it knows best, was resisting it; hence, a rather prolonged block. Once I realized what was happening and surrendered, the plot took shape and the book began to flow.
In addition to this challenge, another conflict arose that had me in knots for a while. A writer above all must have no allegiances except to truth as he or she sees and experiences it. “Truth,” (I wish I could remember who said it), “has no moorings.” And here I was, writing about something very anchored to tradition, the janamsakhis, changing the context traditionally ascribed to Guru Nanak’s words, or shabads, inventing my own characters and expanding and real-izing historical ones, changing or totally ignoring the chronology, as traditionally accepted, of Guru Nanak’s travels, making the stories entirely mine to do with as I pleased, bending, stretching, twisting, adding, subtracting as I had done with the other two books. A writer musthave this freedom if she is to write with sincerity.
I am aware that traditional Sikhs, like upholders of any other religion, can be quite possessive of their own canons and do not brook disagreement or other interpretations. I had ample examples from the past. So, this time it was fear, (another form of the ego) that kept me from taking this liberty without which no writing can happen.
When I voiced these hesitations to my husband, Payson Stevens, who invariably helps when my paths get dark and tangled, he said, “You belong to the Nation of Writers. You are a writer, first and foremost.”
Having said that the above, I have to admit that my survival, literally, has depended upon just such a mooring, my faith as I practice it: gurbani, the words of the Sikh Gurus and Bhagats in the Granth Sahib. I have no quarrel with my faith because it is vast, eclectic, inclusive. Brother and sisterhood of all on this planet is its basic tenet; music is at its heart; worship of words, akhar, naam, shabad, are at its very core. Words, whether of gurbani or the ones I write in order to explore myself and the world in which I live have been my salvation.
I was helped by several things to push through my conflict and block: the reaffirmation of my citizenship of the Nation of Writers; the resolution to give precedence to literary, rather than religious concerns; to be as courageous as the Gurus themselves have taught us to be; Guru Nanak’s words: “I have no more religion than wind and fire,” and his vision of God as the Playwright of the Drama of Life, taking every liberty possible, being all the characters, and beyond, unaligned, nonsectarian, and free.
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