I was fully occupied most mornings and several weekends in the last 18 months to write my grandparents’ life story. Their story is a recount of my grandparents’ journey, and in all these years they were together, they gave us nothing short of the best. They were simple folks, yet they could strive through life’s challenges because they had super-hero-like qualities.
I have always looked up with fascination at my grandparents, Granddaddy and Ammoi. This is how I have called them ever since I have made sense of the world around me. Granddaddy is this loving and caring person who is always there for you in every critical step in life. Ammoi is stern but knows what is best for you and will go above and beyond in protecting you. Although their personalities are contrasting, together, they have been like the yin and yan that brings wholeness to our lives. 60 years of togetherness in working and striving hard for their loved ones is a testimony of the bigness of their hearts.
Why a book?
I knew about their journey because I heard every bit from my granddad. And I knew no other way but to write a book to ensure that someday my grandchildren should have access to know the story about their family.
I started writing this book when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world. Suddenly I felt I had more time whilst working from home. I also thought this would be the perfect god-giving time for me to take Granddaddy through those times that he still relishes in his memories. It was humbling, and as the stories piled up, so did my gratitude towards all the elders in my family. Who they are now was definitely forged by their experiences in their life. The richness and the contrast were too much to ignore for the current age.
In the process of uncovering my grandparents’ journey, I discovered a value system to stick by. As I had to write the story, I was forced to live and experience each moment my grandparents would have experienced. This allowed me to navigate through their lives, and in the process of comparing how it would have been to today’s world, it made me understand the difficulties and sympathise with their life more. And over the events, I realised that simple yet strong values help navigate difficult times and guide in making hard decisions.
Inspiration and Anchor – What we search for from the past is determined by what we look for in today’s world.
Through this experience I began appreciating everything around me more. I am grateful for my family and others because everyone has a story to tell. Two constants we all yearn for (at least in my opinion) are an inspiration and an anchor. I didn’t have to travel far because I had them in my family; I just had to learn to see them.
If you are embarking on a similar journey – You have my support
If I were to take this project up again, I would give myself some tips. I hope these will come in handy when you sit down to write your story.
1. Overestimate the time you would need.
Be innovative in how you capture the story. If your story has a simple objective of just capturing the story for friends and family only (not win the Booker), then 1.5 to 2 years is a good target to keep. Also, give yourself good breaks and don’t have just one spot from where you write because the source for creativity can be external. I spent a lot of time transcribing before beginning the writing process, and as a consequence, I doubled up the work when I could have been more thoughtful about it.
2. Rewrite-rewrite-rewrite? And just when you feel you are happy with it, rewrite it again.
Spend most time rewriting. I am a big advocate of how quality comes with editing. Many authors and editors recommend this. From my experience of blogging, I say the same. And every time you begin the next iteration, refresh your mind and think you are starting anew. And this can be the most frustrating feeling in the journey. To spend months (if not days) to edit through all chapters and only to find yourself having to repeat it again.
3. Don’t remain fixated on your way → be open to new ways of working
I was down to a particular way of editing when in retrospect, it is not the most effective way of using time. I found it easiest to edit on paper (or at least I thought). The pros are reducing screen time and staying super focused on the task. But the con is you spend more time in the process because you have to re-type the text with the changes in the e-copy.
The book is far from finished. It could do with at least two more rewrites (I have done 5 so far), but nevertheless, I wanted to take this moment to appreciate the journey so far. I gave the book (or at least the first version of it) to my granddad this year. Although I was not next to him when he read the whole book, I know he liked it. And for that I am happy.