Meetup 140: Writing on Death


Harshit Gupta hosted a session last Saturday with a rather eerie focus on death. He brought for us the following three exercises.

Exercise 1: Strange words and definitions.

Here are six words that you (probably) have not heard before.


The idea is to write down your own definition before looking up the meaning. Then, after you’re satisfied with the meaning you think the word should have, compare it with the real meaning. And then write a piece justifying your definition. You don’t have to argue against the dictionary; you can perhaps write about a scenario where both you and the dictionary are right.


My word was ribazuba. My definition: A cat which is confused about whether it’s a male or a female

The dictionary definition is ivory from a walrus

And my piece went thus: There once was a cat who didn’t know whether it was male or female. He was born to a tomcat called Riba and a female cat called Zuba. The baby cat was therefore called Ribazuba. When Ribazuba was four months old, his father turned him over to settle the debate once and for all. But he wasn’t able to find it. So they concluded he was a she, even though he walked with the grace of a small lion, and when he mewed, the dark alleyways thundered.

Even after two more months when Riba couldn’t find any visible evidence of his son’s manhood, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He got the tip of a walrus’s tusk and attached it to Ribazuba’s underside so that no one who bent down for a look could miss it.

Soon, whispers began to circulate all around the alley. Ribazuba began to be known as the ivory-cat. He became the big tomcat of his age. Only on his death did the other cats realize that his member was really made of ivory and could be detached. Ever since then, whenever the cats came across the tusk of a walrus, they would point at it and say, ‘Ribazuba’.

Exercise 2: Last Four Minutes of a Columbia Astronaut

From the space shuttle Columbia, there was a video recorded. In the video, everything was normal. We have to write the thoughts of a character in the last four minutes of his life.

1. Rick Husband – 45, Texas, 2 kids, wife
2. Willie Mccool – 41, california, guitar
3. Michael Anderson – 43, Air force family, second mission, New York, ‘There is always that unknown’
4. Kalpana Chawla – 41, Karnal, Engineer from Chandigarh, certified flight instructor, ‘You’re just your intelligence’
5. David Brown – 46, From Virginia, on his first mission, life-scout in the boy scouts of America, gymnast, flight surgeon, only parents
6. Ms Laurel Clarke – 41, Iowa, flight surgeon, married to a flight surgeon in NASA, one son
7. Ilan Ramon – Israeili, 48, Israel Air Force, first mission, four kids and wife, his son went on to die as an air force pilot

My Piece (Laurel Clarke)

Rick taps at the thermometer and frowns. ‘This doesn’t look right,’ he says. Kalpana and Ilan look up from their conversation, smiles still on their faces. Willie’s guitar plays a haunting tune. He has a penchant for sad songs, does Willie. I think of knocking on his door and getting him out into the main area. I catch Michael’s face as I make to get up.

He’s looking at me.

With a sad smile, almost. It doesn’t mean anything, I tell myself. Michael’s smile is always sad. He has those drooping folds under his eyes that make him look like a lost puppy every time he blinks. Rick’s tapping becomes more forced now. He thumps the side of the thermometer. There is sweat at the back of his neck. ‘No,’ he says. ‘No, no.’

For some reason David, who had been leaning back against the oxygen cannister with a Rubik Cube in his hands, sits up and pulls out the picture of his parents. Black and white. His mother in a gown and high heels, his father in a suit and bow tie. They’re both smiling. They’re both looking at each other. He brings it up to his lips, closes his eyes.

I sense there is something I don’t know yet. But at the very base of my spine, there is a tingle, as though someone has pricked me with a pin. They say animals can smell fear in their companions. Kalpana and Ilan’s faces are frozen. The smiles have been stricken off. An ashen paleness has come over them. Their limbs slink to and fro, as though already dead.

John appears in the middle of the room, bright and sharp and full of colour. Everything else recedes into shadow. He smiles at me, as though he was just about to go to sleep. I reach out to his eyes so that I can shut them, and I croon to him, to the tune of Willie’s guitar. Thunk, thunk, thunk, goes Rick’s hand on the metal. The red of the thermometer continues to rise. Relentlessly.

We all begin to sweat now. We’re all feeling sleepy. There is fire in our breaths. The air begins to burn. I close my eyes, John’s freckled face filling my vision, and the guitar strings filling my ears.

And Rick’s hand goes limp against the screen. He slumps over it. With my last gaze I look at Mike again. His eyes are unseeing. His breath has stilled. But it is as if he’s still speaking, without moving his lips.

‘There is always that unknown,’ he whispers, deep into my mind. He sings it, like a lullaby. My eyes grow heavy, and a cold, white light comes over me. I go to sleep.

Exercise 3: Objective Correlative Assignment

Middle-aged man waiting at a bus stop. He has just learned that his daughter/son has died in a crash. Describe the setting without explicitly telling the reader that his son/daughter has died. Here the focus should be on the setting and how the man’s senses are now coloured. The idea is to convey emotion purely from the description of the man’s surroundings.

This technique is called the Objective Correlative, popularized by T.S. Eliot. As he says in his essay Hamlet and his Problems:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

Image Courtesy: Fim Fiction


  1. Whoa ! wonderful. I will do the exercises, all looks gr8 & frankly I never heard of these strange words before 😀 😀 wondering how I will define them all before looking up for reference. loved ur imagination with the word.good post ty for sharing it.


  2. Chetna Sharma says:

    This saturday would be my first time at the write club and honestly I was having second thoughts! But after reading about all the exercises, I am really excited to be a part of it.
    I looking forward for an awesome experience i guess!!



  1. […] recent Write Club Meetup on strange words – and a few recent embarrassing goof-ups – got me thinking about how […]


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