Let’s Talk About A Certain Kind of Freedom

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“This anthology features the work of 33 talented new writers, representing almost all parts of the globe. Their pieces have been selected from the intercultural, literary showcase The Writer’s Drawer, run by academic editor and writer Beryl Belsky. The stories and poems in the anthology reflect not only literary merit but also the multicultural nature of the website and its contributors. The book is divided into three parts: Short Fiction, Stories from Life and Poetry. The Stories from Life, in particular, provide a fascinating look at the cultural mores and religious rituals of the countries of the writers. The book is an ideal gift for lovers of all genres of writing and for those who enjoy literature from different cultures. Its mix of cultural-specific and universal themes makes it an excellent tool for teachers to use in the classroom, too.”

 

A writer’s drawer

Imagine a writer’s drawer or small compartment filled with secret poems, jotted notes, scribbled words, and life experiences. Sometimes these words grow into wonderful stories. Beryl Belsky’s new book, A Certain Kind of Freedom: Stories and Poems from The Writer’s Drawer, boasts 33 writers from around the world. The culturally driven book features essays, poems, and short stories from her website, The Writer’s Drawer.

Launched in 2012, The Writer’s Drawer grew in both publicity and content. After about a year, Belsky realized that some of the material she was posting was very good and deserved a wider readership. The book is like giving a whisper of a voice a bullhorn. “Several riveting stories had come in, as well as some fascinating essays from writers living in various parts of the world, such as Iran, India and Vietnam,” she says. “Some of the poetry was also good, although I don’t consider myself an expert on poetry; I go more by instinct.”

When Belsky decided to publish an anthology of stories and poems from The Writer’s Drawer, she already had several pieces in mind. “I posted the concept for the anthology at the website and on various social media, with a deadline for submissions.” Several more outstanding stories and poems found their way to Belsky, which she knew immediately should be published in the book. “When I was in doubt about a piece or wished to choose between two or more pieces by a particular writer, I sent them to a writer/editor friend to get her opinion. This process continued for a few weeks after the deadline until I had lined up the 33 writers and their work.

 

The process

Belsky helps writers by editing their submissions prior to publishing their work. She explains the complex issue, “First, let me state that I don’t accept all submissions to The Writer’s Drawer. I do require a minimum standard of writing ability and potential reader interest. Second, most of the submissions, even those from more experienced native English-speaking writers, do require some editing, some a lot more than others. Since the website attracts also non-native English speakers, their work is the most time-consuming to edit, but sometimes very interesting, which is why I make the effort to edit and post them.”

The process for publishing A Certain Kind of Freedom was an entirely different one, says Belsky. “The stories I selected needed further work. Therefore, all the pieces I chose had to be polished and even re-edited, some substantially so.”

 

Diversity and intimate cultural glimpses

A Certain Kind of Freedom is multi-culturally driven with a wide range of cultural diversity. “There are stories and poems from Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Iran, Pakistan, Liberia, Israel, Switzerland, Australia, England, the USA, and Canada, among others. Some of the so-called Stories from Life, in particular, give some fascinating glimpses into countries and cultures most of us know little about: a girls’ day out, for example, in Iran, or the fate of a woman in India who was prevented from living in the parental home of her new husband after the family discovered her secret.

Belsky also included stories that focus on universal themes: “a mother from Israel, for example, expresses her feelings of disappointment and sadness after the break-up of her late-30s daughter and her partner.”

 

Communication challenges and a frog factory

Working as an editor and somewhat of a translator takes great patience and effort. “Yes, indeed. Some stories were particular challenging. Although the Iranian writers’ English is good, they sometimes confuse words and phrases. Thus, while talking about the sorry ecological state of the swamps in north-west Iran, one of them was ‘surprised’ to see a ‘frog factory.’ It took me a long while to grasp that she meant ‘frog reservation.’ The Liberian folktale was tricky because it needed a fair amount of style editing.”

 

Judge a book by its cover

A lovely peaceful image of a lone kayak graces the cover of Belsky’s book. “It is actually connected to the title story, A Certain Kind of Freedom. But while the story ends unhappily, I wanted the cover to reflect optimism, and especially, ‘freedom’ to think and write, which explains why the scene is tranquil rather than threatening.”

 

The Writer’s Drawer

Belsky’s website, The Writer’s Drawer is a global experience. Filled with posts and stories from around the world. Her very first entry came from a work colleague. “After I told her that I had just launched the website, she confessed to me that she wrote poems for the drawer. And amazingly, she agreed to let me post one. After that, the website grew slowly: a friend of a friend in Australia sent some tales about  his adventures in the bush; an elderly gentleman in India began sending me fascinating stories related to his past and to life around him, and so on.”

 

Live anywhere; belong everywhere

Few people are fortunate enough to experience living abroad. Belsky is well-traveled and I would love to see her passport entries. Born in Ireland, her family moved to Australia when she was eight. “After I graduated in Far East Asian studies from university, I got a job in Japan, where I lived for a year. After that I moved to England, where I lived and worked for five years, and then visited Israel, where I met my husband. All this traveling means that I feel I can live anywhere but belong nowhere!”

Belsky and her husband like to holiday in Europe, but their next big journey involves travel in the States, where their son is studying.

 

On the bookshelf

It is no surprise that a world traveler reads novels from just about every continent. “I’m a huge fan of Indian writers and writers about India, as well as Asian literature in general. In fact, I titled one of the posts in my blog The Asia Collection Indian Writers and Writers about India: An Introduction to a Rich and Colorful Literature. So my shelf contains works by many Indian and other writers about India, such as Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Sujit Saraf, Paul Scott, Salman Rushdie, and Gregory David Roberts. I have just finished reading The Accidental Apprentice, by Vikas Swarup (author of Q&A/Slumdog Millionaire), and have begun a semi-biography by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, about – strangely – the Irish nationalist Roger Casement.”

Belsky loved reading as a child and read the usual childhood tales, including many by Enid Blyton, “who is now frowned on for her racism and sexism.”

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“I also read the classics: Anne of Green Gables and all the books in that series, Dumas, Dickens, Etc.”

 

In the DVD collection

Beryl is a great fan of British period drama and has seen nearly all the great TV drama series produced in the last two decades of the last century (I Claudius, The Jewel in the Crown, Wish Me Luck, Tenko, etc.). “And of course, I am currently addicted to Downton Abbey and eagerly awaiting the special Christmas episode. I also enjoy some British comedy. I love Monty Python, the Black Adder series, Hello, Hello, Absolutely Fabulous, and others.”

She’ll occasionally watch a film that has been “highly recommended that is not of the above genres – as long as it’s not an action, thriller or horror movie,”

 

Last words

Beryl Belsky is an experienced writer and seasoned editor. She lives in Israel with her husband.

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Beryl Belsky is the innovator of The Writer’s Drawer and her first book, A Certain Kind of Freedom: Stories and Poems from The Writer’s Drawer is available NOW on Amazon. She also has a tennis blog. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

 

If you are an artist (author, writer, actor, painter, sculptor, etc.) and would like to be interviewed, please shoot me an email at therese@fishlip.com.

Let’s Talk About The God With A Red Dot

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Akki, a teenage boy, grows up in an average middle-class family in India. He sees conflict on the streets and the community, and pain within his own family. The boy desperately needs a God and struggles with the selection process. Which one out of 330 million will help alleviate the hardships he faces?”

Prashant Chopra’s new story is titled The God With A Red Dot. This engaging tale was inspired by his mother’s endless and selfless devotion to improving her children’s lives. Sacrifice runs through the veins of this bittersweet tale of one mother’s devotion.

“I often miss my mother’s passion,” he says. “Her passion died as our ambitions rose. I miss the dreams in her that faded as we lived and breathed. I am fortunate to have walked with her. I can love because of her. I can live because of her.”

 

Life in India

Chopra was born and raised in western India where struggles were many and luxuries were few. In The God With A Red Dot, he describes a young boy’s life that wasn’t too far off from his own childhood. Chopra always had a fondness for writing and reading but “many times we could not afford to spend money, but somehow my mother managed to find a way to get us a few books. It was like magic.”

Chopra’s mother exposed him to reading at an early age. There were no libraries and only one bookstore in town. Fortunately, it was located next to the Lord Vishnu Temple. “Sometimes I would announce that I was going to the temple just so I could sneak off and get a glimpse of all the books next door.” Ironically, Chopra’s mom would reward him with a book if he kept up with his grades and practiced good moral and ethical behaviour.

 

Writing process

Chopra’s primary motivation for writing (in Paulo Coelho’s words) has been to “empty my mind and fill my heart.” In Chopra’s opinion, the purest age is right around three or four years old. “A child has the clearest intelligent vision. She doesn’t know prejudices, classification, or shame. The child is not cautious and is unafraid. The child experiences everything around. As we grow up, formal education systems corrupt us. People start to classify, divide, maximize, and suppress. It is all of this poison that I wish to empty my mind of. I write and I am left with love, positivity, passion, ambition, and drive.”

 

On the bookshelf

Chopra’s favourite book from childhood was Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan, a far cry from Harry Potter or Hunger Games.

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Malgudi Days is a collection of short stories published in 1943 by Indian Thought Publications. The book was republished outside India in 1982. The book includes 19 stories, all set in the fictional town of Malgudi, located in South India. The stories all portray facets of life in Malgudi. The New York Times described the virtue of the book as “the characters all seem to have a capacity for responding to the quality of his particular hour. It’s an art we need to study and revive.” Chopra writes mostly fictionional stories about love, human nature, and perseverance.

On Chopra’s bookshelf now is The Zahir by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. Like the earlier book, The Alchemist, The Zahir is a story about a pilgrimage. The book touches on themes of love, loss and obsession. Chopra is also reading short stories by Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) whose originality consists in an early use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, later adopted by James Joyce and other modernists.

 

Print or E-reader

Chopra believes in a full sensual experience whenever possible. Books included. “There is no virtual interface that replaces the touch or smell of a book. I like to watch books change and interact with light moment by moment. The paper changes with the time of day.”

 

Indian holidays and one you’ve probably never heard of

Chopra celebrates Diwali (Festival of Lights), Holi (Festival of Colors), and Rakhi (Festival of bonding with your sister). The Rakhi festival has roots in warrior traditions. “Sisters would mark their brothers with a safety smear (mostly red) on their forehead as they marched into battle. The sisters hoped that in return, the brothers would protect them when needed. Females were culturally dependent on males for survival. In today’s context, the meaning remains.”

 

In the DVD collection

Chopra is most impressed with independent films that are not made to gross tons of money. Most of these low budget films tell engaging stories. He enjoys films that make the audience cry, laugh, feel pain and think but “the best ones make you act.” In terms of a true South Asian film experience, Chopra recommends The Namesake (2007). “It’s a very authentic story. Films like the celebrated Slum Dog Millionaire (2008) use drama and gimmicks that over-exaggerate and synthesize the facts.”

 

About Akki’s tea

In The God With A Red Dot, Akki’s mom brings him tea. Chopra says his mom really used to do that. “Yes. Every morning. Without fail. Rain or shine. Sick or healthy. Every single morning. I like loose leaf tea and I drink it stronger than most people would be OK with.”

 

Last words

Chopra spent a good part of his life in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, known for its princely heritage and royal battles. “Having spent a good part of my life in the second world, I can really appreciate the quality of life in the western nations. In my stories, I hope to convey the message of humility, resilience and cultural diversity.

It is a luxury in the western world to have so many choices. People are people regardless of culture, appearance, class, or religion. “They don’t choose their circumstances and conditions, they are born into them. Millions like my father surrendered life before they were given a choice. I hope we can open our hearts to life and the fond memories and valuable lessons within it.”

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Chopra lives in San Francisco, California, with his wife, daughter, and mother. Prashant Copra’s independently published book, The God With A Red Dot is available NOW on Amazon. Connect with Chopra on Facebook and Goodreads.

If you are an artist (author, writer, actor, painter, sculptor, etc.) and would like to be interviewed, please shoot me an email at therese@fishlip.com.