When My Ambition Exceeds My Talent (Or, The Talented Ms Roy)

I read Arundhati Roy’s interview notes recently as she’s ready to pose for Elle. She calls herself a black woman- for eyeballs and to emphasize on her darker skin, making light of what it means to be black. Maybe she needs to move to east Detroit to know, especially without a career bounty of a few million pounds. This isn’t new. She also calls herself the scholar on Kashmiri studies having not lived there in the winter of 1990. Both these are annoying and inaccurate descriptors of her privileged reality. And work wonderfully well in fictional stories that she weaves like someone truly in control of her craft. The talented Ms Roy wrote one of the most beautiful pieces of fiction I’ve read, and lately it’s been bothering me. Not in a resentful way, no. It’s making me question the ambitions I live with. How long will I have to try before I finally tell myself that my ambition exceeds my talent realistically? Or should I in fact live in the la-la land of new world optimism?

Between you and me, to lay things on the same page: If you were wondering, here’s more on styles of ambition (source). I am most definitely a leaper. I consolidate often and my ambitions also change over time, after I plateau and ask myself the same questions again:

When My Ambition Exceeds My Talent (Or, The Talented Ms Roy)

The Talented Ms Roy Peaks at 34

Vishal said, Ms Roy is interesting and sometimes that’s all that matters. I thought this through but disagreed with the sentiment. Arundhati Roy has views on Kashmir that I do not ascribe to. And for that reason alone, I don’t care about her books or ideas. It’s a matter of principle. I won’t support Adolf Hitler, even if he wrote he wrote the best piece of fiction ever known to mankind. I am not comparing them, I just want to insist that people in positions of power have responsibilities. I am not against a new discussion, but I feel weighing in on issues that you don’t have (or had to) to experience the aftermath of, shows me your apathy. It’s easy to assume the position of intellectual willfulness and take up causes that you didn’t have to suffer through. Especially when you win half a million pounds just for writing a book. And when your book goes on to keep all the promises that it makes. All this at 34, when you had no business being so nuanced and delightfully direct in your fiction.

Talent Is Omnipresent/ Rekhte Ke Tum Hi Ustaad Nahin Ho Ghalib *…

Sadly, her wild fictional talent doesn’t make me suffer from somebody-ism. (That can be dealt with, see definition below in the image from my writing workshop recently.) It makes me question our middle class emphasis on hard work being the savior of all our worries. This may in fact be the biggest lie I’ve believed in. Everyone has access to the same set of 7 notes. Most people I know work hard. But everyone does not share stories with the grit that makes you wonder and cry at the same time. Everyone who has had a childhood worth talking about isn’t able to convert it into a story that’ll be a literary marvel. After a point, hard-work reaches its own paltry limitations. And euphemisms like “everyone has their own unique talent” sound exactly what they are: inadequate.

When My Ambition Exceeds My Talent (Or, The Talented Ms Roy)

Should I give up my lofty ambition of creating anything of consequence? Naturally, I don’t mean just writing. Creating anything that defines or brings across another perspective isn’t as easy as it sounds. Especially when you suffer from taste.

Side note: See now this is exactly where I do wish to be a courtier (even) in Zafar’s darbar. I am sure, I could sit on the side being paid to write his letters (or anyone’s for that matter.) Or basically just watch Mirza and Zauq.

Because age mellows down any wine

On a related note, once while working in McKinsey, I read a blog post by this girl in the room next to ours and it blew me. It was so beautifully composed that I went across in all my optimism asking her to write a book. At that very moment. She brushed aside my recommendation saying she had read so many good authors that writing anything of consequence seemed far away. She couldn’t write something that she didn’t love with equal intensity as a reader. At that time, I thought this was just one of those times when you define yourself by someone else’s talent and not your own. In fact, I encouraged her to not compare and move ahead. She would have her own audience (me).

But as I have aged, I feel differently today. I run through edits and reruns of what I write now and I often want to give up far too many times. I don’t disrespect the audience I have, but I am my own audience first and I want more. This is true of many things in life at this moment. Not greed, but those times when you expect more out of yourself. And in some very creative cases- especially those without deadline- you hit the wall of this is as good as it gets. That scares me. Have I run out of talent? Is creativity like the believable myth of long distance running? Will I improve as I age? Or, is this in fact as this as good as it gets?

Ira Glass said the key to success is getting over these moments of disbelief and trying. I believe that. Not because I know enough to agree, but what options do I have? Besides, like Ghalib, I do side with Mir:

Dil va Dilli dono agar hai kharaab;
Pa kuch lutf uss ujde ghar mein bhi hai…

Sure, the heart and Delhi, both are desolate
But there are some pleasures left in this ruined home too…

Maybe I should stop obsessing with random people I dislike but instead focus my energies on things I dream of. The quality notwithstanding: I create because I do. There’s no factual reason for me to believe I won’t improve, just like there isn’t any fact that leads me to trust that I would. Maybe there’s some love to be found in this ambiguity.

*  Full Ghalib couplet:
Rekhte Ke Tum Hi Ustaad Nahin Ho Ghalib
Kehte hain agle zamane mein koi Mir bhi tha

You’re not the only expert of Rehkta, Ghalib
It is said that in another time, there lived a Mir too…