iContemplate | What’s In A Story?

I have been grappling with a strange phenomenon since my return from India’s northeast three weeks ago.

I have been struggling to find a starting point to begin re-telling the many experiences I have had the good fortune of witnessing. It’s a first. Here’s what keeps happening – I think of an incident from the road; be it an interaction with a local or a moment of connection with nature, and my monkey-brain hops on to another incident. And then another. And then some more.

If there is any such thing as the opposite of a writer’s block, then this ought to be it!

And in spite of its oddities, it’s a mental place I am okay with. This is the equivalent of sitting under a gushing waterfall!

waterfall, Meghalaya, India, water
Views like this from Meghalaya inspire lines like the one you've just read above ;) | Meghalaya, India [February 2017]

While I find a way to channelize and re-route this salvo of ideas, I’m reminded of an incident from exactly this time last year; an incident I never got around to talking about then, so I may as well do it now.

It was the 30th of March 2016.
The 12909 Bandra Terminus – Hazrat Nizamuddin Garib Rath had brought a friend and me from the country’s financial capital to its political one. And an Ola Auto ride from the railway station later, we were at the teeming Connaught Place. In our bid to get a respite from lugging our 60 litre Quechuas as well as the sweltering heat while we had time at hand to kill until we hopped on to our Shatabdi for Chandigarh later that day, we nestled ourselves at F Block’s Chaayos.
The stomach was making its presence felt and grub was deemed a non-negotiable.

chai, tea, coffee shop, coffee, Chaayos, Delhi, India
Chai-time at Chaayos in Connaught Place (aka CP) | Delhi, India [March 2016]

Inside, it felt good to sense nothing but the weight of your own body while we made our way to the counter and placed our order. So what if the body was still acclimatizing itself to the fetter-like trekking boots?

Sinking my jaws into that bun-maska and alternating it by taking a swig from my cuppa chai was a reminder that 24 hours had elapsed since my last flavoursome meal at home the previous morning.

Drifting in and out of such disconnected inane thoughts, I was jerked back into the moment when a stranger planted himself beside our table and said, “I see you’ll are backpackers…”
Eh. Sorry, what? Who are you? And then I realised that this was a real scenario and I hadn’t made myself audible yet.

Next to me was a well-built man, somewhere in his late 20s or early 30s. Not that I can tell such things. And he was keenly expecting either one of us to take the conversation forward. Now, since my friend smiled as she stuffed in another bite of her bun-maska, I was left to do the talking.
“We’re not backpackers”, I say, not sure what his implication was beyond merely seeing us with our backpacks parked at our table.

backpack, Quechua, trekking shoes, trek
The 60 litre Quechua backpack and the fetter-like trekking shoes

“Where are you headed to? Or are you heading from somewhere?” he continued to take the conversation forward. A raised eyebrow from me got him to then add, “Oh! I’m sorry. Let me introduce myself…” while he thrust a visiting card in my hand. I reluctantly placed my bun-maska onto the tray and accepted his card.
It was cluttered with too much jargon, his business card (not the tray).

“I’m a freelance writer…” he continued without a cue and went on to elaborately talk about his writing portfolio. Or so he claimed, as he threw in some fancy big names of publications he had worked with.
I was being polite while nodding. I didn’t know where we were going with this. He had long since taken a seat at our table – with our permission, of course and what was I going to say to that anyway? In hindsight, I thought of many things but I’ll admit I was curious to see where this was going.

I let him know that I blog and sometimes write externally too; more because I wanted the bragging to stop. Which he thankfully did but not before introducing me to his partner who had walked in a couple of minutes ago. He then broached the topic that he was writing about ‘female solo travel in India but with a twist’.

I continued to nod politely. This was certainly getting better.

He took my nodding to connote approval and asked me to share my solo travel experiences. Which I did. I spoke of my interactions with home-stay hosts and being warmly received everywhere I’d been to within the country. I spoke of my five weeks in Bihar and never being cat-called even once. I spoke of my many conversations with bus and auto-rickshaw drivers here and there and how those re-instilled my faith in good people.

But my audience – these two men in front of me – were not happy with my happy stories.

Backpacker? Female solo traveller? Is there more to nomenclature? I'd like to think so | Sandakphu, West Bengal
(April 2016)

“Oh I see…” he said wistfully, “but tell me, which is that one place you would never want to go back to? You see, there are way too many sappy stories about how female solo travel in India is liberating and I want to write about the unspoken dark side.”

Eh. So that was his twist.

Note to self: Time to politely bow out of the conversation.

And that’s what I did.
I let him know that unfortunately for him (and quite fortunately for me) there was no dark side that I had experienced first-hand and hadn’t written about.
Nothing that had deterred me from travelling – whether solo or not. I do not claim nor aspire to represent any group, so while I acknowledge unpleasant and nasty things have and continue to occur, I could not be a part of his story idea.
He took that gracefully and assured me he would reach out for another story, another time.

Except, he had never asked me my name nor enquired about my blog's!

But here are my questions:
What about ‘constructively positive’ stories/life-experiences do people find off-putting?
Are we wired to consume sensationalised stories of disasters?
Is click-bait designed to reconfirm our worst nightmares?

Have we lost our ability to critique and discern what goes into the making of positive and negative stories?

Anyone got any answers?

PSST! I am facilitating workshops on expressive writing in Mumbai this April. To know more, click here

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