Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The excuse of having lost steam is ridiculous when you’ve been systematically dismantling the engine. Finally I have reasons. A) I forgot what it felt like to write fearlessly without fearing the merciless self-flagellation I’d subject myself to when I read my work again B) Words C) Heartbreak

It's been a year since I've written .No; ignore all the posts that happened between August 2007 and June 2008. I believed, till an hour back that writing for me was finished, in its dying throes. I dreaded turning into those adults who’d read my stuff admiringly just to add a wistful "Ah, I used to write too. That was so far away. I've never been able to do it again."

All these half-hearted posts and hesitant stories that I've referred to were failed resurrections. Bleak attempts at resuscitation. I was convinced that I'd lost voice, and that my fingers would never again tauten gratefully in that uniquely pleasurable way whenever they pressed Ctrl S or clicked a ballpoint pen shut. That I'd forget what I was like to settle down oblivious to discomfort with pen and paper, stained fingers, cricked neck and numb bloodless legs (the immovably weighty excitement of orchestrating a genesis in my head.) Memory is the most vital thing for a writer, and I don’t mean factual and list-like memory here. I forgot. I forgot everything. I forgot the high of writing a story just to get to an ending, not caring whether it was good or not (Later in the barrenness of my third year, I'd keep rereading the stuff I had arrogantly laughed off as "amateurish" and wish I were 17 and writing ten-minute stories again.)

Like most Madras households, we use mineral water (in cans) for drinking. A vessel, perilously placed between the kitchen and the fridge, exposed to the potential onslaught of hurrying maternal feet, was a constant presence under the unpredictable tap of our can for a long time. Sometimes it would be a mild trickle that tricked us into forgetting to replace the vessel every now and then, sometimes a regular drip-drop that kept us awake at night, sometimes when the fatigued tap unscrewed itself loose under ungentle hands, and the water would shoot out in a long-repressed jet that would drench the knees of every trouser in the vicinity. Finally, tired of waiting for those maintenance guys to replace the tap, we tied it up with a cloth and the tap was finally silenced. EPC Secretary ship nearly did that to my writing style. The prospect of writing Editorials for a newsletter, which had definite precedents and policies for every single thing, but what constitutes an editorial, is no ointment for a bruised uncertain writer. Except for five editorials, none of them gave me the reassurance that I had indeed said what I'd set out to say.

I knew I was in trouble when I started turning my nose up at the appropriateness of "of" in the place of "in" and "at" and whatnot. When I started sneaking in spelling corrections and suggestions on improving grammatical constructions under the pretext of posting comments on the blogs I read. When I stopped seeing the soul in a piece and mused instead, about his choice of tense and the hurried termination of his sentences, wondering whether he lacked the mental capacity to keep track of long sentences.

Words words words all over again. I set too much store by them. Expected to come up with the perfect words, the perfect sentence every time. It never happened. I'm no human dictionary. I forgot that I was writing, not solving The Guardian crossword. Words, how easy, how treacherous, how mutable, how insignificant. When something's bursting inside you waiting to erupt in a scream, it chooses the best words, the best form for itself. Have you noticed, people rehearse speeches, punch lines, proclamations of love, lies, but they never ever rehearse for abuse?

You have neither the time nor the opportunity to decide, in the heat of writing (or yelling) you’re just lulled into believing that you chose all those words. The words chose themselves. You don't need a great vocabulary or that glorified "writer's instinct" for coming up with the perfect word. The perfect word doesn't exist. You rake the driveway of your consciousness for that long-lost key of that perfect word, the thought, a traveler in a hurry has walked, sometimes never to return.

I had a brilliant time as Sec, but when I started playing inner editor to myself, I censored, gagged, cramped and nearly killed my writing. I was scared of being clichéd. Of sounding unoriginal. Of writing anything that didn't have the confident imprint of a "mature" writer. Anything beautiful and sacred ceases to be easy when you strip it of spontaneity, trust and simplicity to reduce it to technique, rules, jargon. Like Sex. Like intimacy. Like Art.

Earlier, I’d wait till I was all alone at home to write, I'd dream of beautiful secluded retreats where I'd be "inspired" to write. I'd protest while being served food, fretting over that tiny flickering light within me that would be extinguished by the lazy satiety of a full meal. Over how I wouldn't get back to my computer with that fever of finishing what I’d begun. Right now I'm painfully within earshot of an extremely loud television playing a rerun of an exciting Ind-Aus match. And the distracting thuds of fours sixes wickets and the pasted afterthought of post-production commentary didn’t have me groping fearfully at dark corners of my mind for fragile web-spun silvers of ephemeral thought, and hoping that they haven’t disappeared in the vacuum-cleaner drone of everyday life.

I write the way I love. That has been my undoing. Scores of people before me have used the pliant convenience of a romantic disappointment to explain away a variety of things from imprudent decisions to messed-up grades to depressed “phases” to suicidal and anti-social inclinations. I’ve said something in the context of a break up . “Sometimes you spend a long time typing a sentence, but it just doesn’t turn out right at that point of the story. Your fingers loathe every stroke of backspace because you’ve worked so hard on that sentence that you’ve fallen in love. But you know exactly what the story has to attain ultimately and that the sentence will not take you there. So you close your eyes and delete it. Perhaps, it would have fitted well within a different kind of story.” My story has suffered so many false starts, so many run-away sentences, and countless backspace strokes. I’m writing this in the wake of a deletion of a couple of long sentences. I might rethink the flow and plot of the story;but no blundering sentence can mess around with my mood or my ending. My story will end the way I want it to, irrespective of the whims of irreconcilable sentences and if they don’t blend well with the rest of the dough, you open the oven door, scoop out the hardened portions, mix willingly sweet ingredients instead and put it back in. Yeah the cake will take longer. It will get there eventually in spite of power cuts, improper ratios and bad eggs. And it will be a cake worth waiting for.

Evidently, my fixation with words has destroyed some of my relationships. Expecting people to use words in the tactful, sensitive (and sometimes absurd) manner that I did probably made life very tedious for my literal-minded friends. They never understood nuances, relied on blankly precise dictionary meaning and have always disagreed violently with me on the potentially offensive impact of our clashing definitions. Meanings. Whenever they would say something that contained even a single offensive word, I’d unerringly skip the undying layers of positive sentiment, mood and unmistakable affection straight away and take umbrage at form. I’d seize a tiny reference to the past, the most unconsciously inserted abuseTo my credit, my temper tantrums have always been quelled by even the most indifferent, reluctant apologies. I’m the most forgiving person I know and I have a very good reason to forgive easily too.

“How could you say something that hurt me?” has always meant, “How could you use the kind of words that hurt me? You could have said it in a thousand different harmless ways.” The Quarrel, for me instead of concerning itself with what he/she said focuses on the words they chose and the way they have said it. Of course, people lose patience with me- I get hurt all the time. After all they are playing an endless frustrating game of Taboo with me where the length of red listed words exceeds their capacity to remember what went wrong, to love me, and to choose. Every word they choose, every attempt at expression is strangulated, “taboo, taboo”, I keep crying incessantly and then the inevitable- they are left fumbling for the right words, which never occur to them. Because the first word that enters your head usually stays and their first words always, always gets tabooed. Vocabulary language mind your language choose your words, echoes both well-bred and boorish behavior, with temper and tact, and unfortunately for me words echo intentions. I’ve been accused of a variety of things from being touchy to acting weird to missing a sense of humor (Am I supposed to laugh with the rest of the room when I’m tripped and I’m lying face down and crying on a hard hurtful floor?) to showing off and seeking attention. I suppose I can’t let their opinion become my perception of my self. I stick to the Dreamy Idealist (read previous posts) picture of myself, rather than believe what I hear from others.

During all these furious futile battles (with warped love and twisted sentences, with empty unyielding hearts ad obstinately blank stretches of paper, with teary incoherence of unsaid things and meandering paragraphs) on the blood-splattered grounds of perceived meaning, intended meaning, and literal meaning, I forgot that it’s feeling that matters more than meaning.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


The brutal pants of the sea drifted into my ears as that inevitable silence crept into the conversation, like an awkwardly hungry stranger waiting for you to leave your seat in a restaurant. She looked at me fondly for a moment and then encircled her arms around me. “I might never see you again.” That was it. Goodbye. I stiffened instinctively within her warm embrace, like blood congealing within a throbbing bruise. The trailing red tape of Goodbye was gagging me shut with its usual armory - indefatigable silence and an overwhelming blankness. It was the certain consciousness of drowning as your arms flail about, painting desperate survival strokes that tar the canvas of Goodbye. I stuttered, waited for her to complete my incomplete sentences, and to mouth the inanities of Farewell. With a perfunctory wave the embrace broke.

I’m bad at Goodbyes. They remind me of those fancy scissors with jagged zigzag edges. “They lend a nice look to the edges of decorative paper- patterned and rhythmic.” My sister used to defend their use while making charts. “Why don’t you snip the paper of in one go, with regular scissors- you don’t need to waltz around with that plastic nightmare.” But the world, like my sister seems to prefer the latter.

I leapt into the bus at the last minute, as the signal flicked from red to green in a casual instant. I was leaving another friend, after discussing the possibility that we might not meet in a year. At least it’s better than “I might never meet you again.”

Goodbyes are like earthworms- every time you get done with the decapitation of one parting, a different head emerges almost instantly. Though it doesn’t actually have multiple avatars, this sneaky little earthworm has burrowed so deep into my mind, leaving behind earthen suds of phantasmal fears, the fear of separation being the least monstrous. And its sting seeps in long after the actual moment passes, when you’re bereft of words and tears. It hurts in the most improbable places, at the most improbable moments.

In the raspy creak of a broken-down bicycle. In the casual reminiscence of the everlastingly inexplicable tears of a hot dusty Sunday morning. In the wrinkled disgust of my eyelids when I screw my eyes shut while making my way through the debris of a demolished intimacy (meaning: hesitant glimpses of heated e-mail tantrums, tears, threats, conversations from the past.) Or was it an intimacy that was demolished before it was born? Right now I’m building a econd castle on the rubble of the first. Its certain collapse lies in my muted compliance with the uncertain terms of torture that intimacy establishes.

Goodbye, till had been the intermittent glip-glop sound of hesitant water drops making their leap into the communal safety of a bucket from a metallic cliff. Now it seemed like an incessant rush of water from a conked-out tap that I’d to have deal with. A presence that would henceforth be a constant, like a sporadic spook becoming a full-fledged ghost.

The muck- green colored ticket hopped across a multitude of coarse alien palms before landing gently into my pocket. It was just a tiny piece of brittle paper dripping with the dilute ink of economized printing. Rs.4.50. Goodbyes extract more punishing tolls. The change went into the other pocket with a jingle- it kept clinking throughout the journey- the insistent protests of unshed tears, the frozen tears of Goodbye. I remembered a conversation with my mother.

“Goodbyes seem to be cascading on me in multi-packs, Amma, like Pears soap, you get more than you actually bargained for. I don’t know how to handle it. I have very little time to negotiate terms of peace with these transitions. And it takes so long to get rid of that unending plastic packaging. ”

My mother dismisses my maudlin leaps of self-pity with a tact that doesn’t leave me feeling sheepish.

“Listen people will keep entering and leaving your life. People you know will leave college. You’ll leave people you know behind when you graduate. It’s unavoidable.” And after an inspired pause. “Have you traveled on a 29C?”

I was bemused. “Obviously.”

“How many people purchase tickets from Besant Nagar to Perambur? The full stretch? Two? Three? If people get on at Adyar, they might leave at Sterling. The people who sat through the Mylapore Stretch might be missing while the Bus passes Stella. You’re the bus. Remember that, you cannot control departures, you’ve just got to keep halting at places to watch periodic reshuffles in the positions and numbers of passengers happen.”

“That’s depressing. But you know what, it isn’t that simple. Sometimes they deceive you. They purchase four rupee tickets for Adyar to Chola and then they get down at Mandaveli. Or they jump off the stairhold when then bus is still moving. Or they vanish without warning before buying tickets. Or they make dents on the body of the bus, they plug the grooves on sills so that the windows stay open forever, they cover every inch on the walls with the permanent scars of graffiti. Or they puncture the tires so that bus deflates into diseased immobility. Or they burn down the bus.”

“Addicted to melancholy. You sound like you’ve had a romantic disappointment.”

I resisted the ribbing. Some disappointments run deeper than the shallow distress of romantic caprice. I wonder why that’s everybody’s favorite form of tragedy. Romantic disappointments are err… well romantic. The rites of a break-up have a certain beauty. Ever since I’ve read Helen Spalding’s “Curtain” (blame CBSE.) that clichéd dream of youth- Prince Charming-coming-down-on-his-knees-with-a-ring assumed second place (where obsessive might is concerned) to that dark brooding possibility that I might be one of the “Two Hamlets? Two soliloquies, Two worlds apart? Tomorrow” Ah. I’ve been under the spell of that impossibly romantic break-up fantasy for ages. Sigh. But then you have to fall in love first. This must be the most-repeated sentence ever, with its clauses, order of words, tense, everything intact. But then, you’ll have to fall in love first. That’s probably why half the shelves are filled with romance-self help in every book store/festival I visit. This is probably why awfully repetitive books like ‘Osho speaks on love.” “Osho speaks on intimacy” are stocked in hundreds while the two sole copies of "All quiet on the western front" have to be hunted down from the bottom of endless stacks on Kekan Dajuwala or whatever that astrologer's name might be.

I’ll post the poem here someday.