Last February I spoke on two occasions about writing from the heart, Dil se Direct, as we jokingly coined it.This February, I am discovering more aspects to writing with your guts. First let me define writing from the heart as what creative writing is all about; fictional writing and writing of poetry comes from the heart. The writer chooses what he or she wants to write and does not allow any other voices to dictate what the writer should write. Dil se Direct is the way to go to bring out the best in a writer, I have so far held to this opinion. And I used to prescribe to a very personal school of thought that thought that writing from the heart was the opposite of writing with your guts. Here, writing with your guts refers to non-fictional writing. But I am discovering that there does not necessarily have to be a dichotomy between writing fiction and writing non-fiction. I’m almost convinced that the gap between the two is breachable, that one is just a leaping off from the other into a different direction, but without losing connection with the former.
I have been editing a book of non-fiction for many months, and it has been a stressful journey where one could easily feel that one was at the mercy of research and informants. The world that demands accurate, factual details from real people about historical events is very different from the other world where the people who live in my head do my bidding, and do not answer back or point to gaps that need to be filled in with more research, be it from written or unwritten history.
Having said all that, one can still feel as elated with non-fiction writing as one does with fictional writing, when a lacuna can be filled in with new information. I love technology for this very point; in a matter of minutes, it connects me to information already available on the net, or it connects me to a Naga in Kiphire or Wokha or Tuensang, who has access to the factual materials. How cool is that? You many not agree with me, and are under no obligation to, but in a weird and wonderful way, it is many Nagas coming together to write one book, each bringing a chapter or two with them. The greatest help I received with this project was from two Rengma sources, a father and son who grasped so well the importance of preserving accurate tribal history in print. Their accounts blended historical details like settling of different villages of the Rengmas, etymological history and migration narratives of the tribe. At the same time, the very natural manner by which they included the story of a pregnant sow that ran off from a village and was traced after some days with her litter, and how the owner of the sow took that incident as a sign he should start a village in that area, was rather remarkable. This kind of fascinating mingling of the supernatural and the natural is what makes up our tribal history. It is unique. Village histories have the seeds of fictional writing within them. The story of the tribe is like a tree; side stories like that of the sow are like branches that hold forth the possibility of following that story to its culmination using fictional methods.
Fiction relies greatly on fact, and is many times inspired by the little accounts that pop up in historically attested works of non-fiction. I have come across a historian’s account of a village forced to change location because a heavy landslide caused the morung to collapse. Inside the morung were many youths who perished when it collapsed. The village could not possibly continue life in that location after this abomination. But there was more to that account. A little before the morung collapsed, one of the inmates was returning late when he saw two spirits fighting outside the morung. The man was afraid to approach because the two spirits fought for a long time. Finally, he realised that what he had sighted was portentous of a terrible calamity. He raced inside the morung, pulled a sleeping boy to safety (who he thought was his younger brother), and was about to run in again when the earth opened up beneath the morung and swallowed all its occupants. The man later discovered that the boy he had pulled out was not his brother. I was writing with my guts when I came upon this story, and I had the revelation that fiction is inspired by non-fiction in just such a manner and just how much the two need each other. (to be continued).