Two weeks ago, I asked the children at my Writers’ Club whether they would like to make readers laugh or cry. Three girls said they wanted to make readers laugh. 12 said they wanted to make readers cry. When a few said they would like to do both, those who had already raised their hands dithered.
Finally, though, most agreed that making readers cry was more important. This was both surprising and not.
Funny books that sparkle with humour are wonderful. Yet, I do know that the books that stay with me are books that make me cry. The best ones do both. I then asked the children what makes them cry in books.
These were difficult conversations, by the way, and I was warmed by how much the girls opened up. A 12-year-old is not always comfortable talking about crying in front of a 9-year-old. The fact that they did – and passionately – was lovely.
They spoke of happy moments making them cry and tragic moments too. And then, we started naming books about war, love and all the contradictions involved in being human.
“I don’t want to read only superb books that make me cry,” one girl confessed. This was one of the best parts of the conversation, for me. “Sometimes, I want to read other stuff, too. Those are good stories, but they’re stories that I forget about soon because they are too … light!”
That got me thinking about all the books I’ve been reading (and the books I’ve written, of course, but I’m not going there).
Not long ago, I read The Tigers of Taboo Valley. It was a fun book that kept surprising me with its irreverent humour. Lighthearted, crazy and surprising, I was struck by how oral storytelling tropes can be brought into such a different kind of story. I enjoyed it – and though it didn’t make me cry, ideas in the book did touch me.
Too light? Not light enough? Human beings are so unpredictable!
Then, I read The House with Chicken Legs. I was a bit wary of it because in the first few pages, it seemed as if it would have an element of horror, and I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to enjoy horror. But it didn’t. It was a warm, powerful story about a search for identity. It also addresses the most unusual friendship I’ve ever read about – the friendship between a girl and her house. I loved it!
But was that because in more than one place it brought me close to tears?
There were other books – many picture books on Storyweaver. I loved Ammachi’s Amazing Machines, I Am Not Afraid, The Elephant Bird … And every day, I read more. And I love that so often, I cannot understand that thing called ‘taste’. What kind of book do I like? I don’t know! That’s what makes art wonderful!
And art, of course, leads me to dance. We performed on Monday, and as usual, it was a performance that I know could have been better. Why I dance is so different from why I write. I rarely dance alone. The joy of dance, for me, is in the emotions that fill us up as a troupe. I love dancing with people, who become closer to me each time we perform together.
And dance is also about the range of emotions we experience as dancers. The negative elements include mockery, arrogance, greed and lust. I feel those when I play Dusshasan and Mahishasur.
And then we feel all those wonderful emotions of awe, wonder, love and peace.
At the end, there’s joy. Another performance successfully completed. All those things we could have done better, but didn’t. That leads to longing for our next performance. Together.