From my TOI blog : Freeze Frame
This morning, the postman returned the last few letters that I had written to you in autumn last year. As always, I had posted the letters to your address in the Ivory Tower. But they came back with “the addressee has moved” stamped on them. So, have you changed your arrogant, skyscraping address? Do you no longer sit by your lofty window on the Ivory Tower and watch the clouds float by? Have you finally come down to dwell amongst us commoners, in the city of Babel? Or have you lost your way among the crowded alleys and the bazaars of Babel? And I can’t help but wonder why? What would have made you leave your lofty abode and come down to earth?
Do you remember the first time we had met? I was a little girl, recuperating from what sounded like a bout of a strange disease to my young ears. I remember, I was propped up by my pillows on the bed, staring out of the window, scraggly and tired of being ill for so long. My father removed the brown paper cover from the package he held in his hand and a book appeared – a book about a vet from the deep African jungles by the River Limpopo. I was still to learn my alphabets well, so it became another reason to bond with my father – his baritone reciting from the book at any hour of the day I whimmed upon.
And from then on, we embarked upon a journey – my father, you, dear writer and I. He would read fascinating tales that you had penned, about the little boy who spoke to animals, about Shakuntala, Raja Vikramaditya, Thakumar jhuli, Tuntunir Golpo – magical creatures, prince and princesses, dragons and demons – the list grew longer. You and I had become best friends. You know, I was in a great hurry to learn my alphabets, so that I could return to you on my own. You see, later, when my father stayed away from home on long official tours it became very difficult to fill up those empty hours without listening to your stories. And all through the years of my growing up – my girlhood, my torrid teenage years, and confusing early adult years, I found shelter in your words, your thoughts, your expressions, your imagination, your prose. You sealed all the lonely gaps, filled up my life, the solitary corner in a chaotic party, long lounging hours on my father’s easy chair, the junior school library, the forbidden shelves of the senior school library, boring lectures, stressful exams and in between heart breaks with old moth eaten books from the old book-alleys of Kolkata, just because I always loved whatever you wrote. Just because I loved you speaking to me through those pages, painting my world with a sea of stories, dear story teller. Because, I’ve always loved listening to you.
I know, in all my letters I keep talking about moving from one city to another, from one country to another. And I keep telling you how difficult each move would have been had you not been there looking out for me. Every word of it is true. Meeting new faces, getting to know the city, walking the alleys, roaming the bazaars and spending hours in bookshops admiring your latest books. Do you remember me telling you that during my first summer in the desert city, I had actually had a dozen books couriered to me from Kolkata, because the foreign city did not have a decent bookshop? And do you remember my hilarious encounter with a new neighbour who claimed that the sight of fat books made her go faint, because reading was not her cup of tea? I have lived in such cities and survived such neighbours, only because you smiled and showed me your world of pain, anger, joy, terror, lust and envy and I cried and laughed with you. Because, with you I found friends who loved books and the written word.
In one of your letters, from a long time ago, you had told me that “Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself” and “Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” And everytime I asked you why you wrote, you had said, ” We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.“‘ I hung on to each of your words, from your letters, your essays, your poems and your prose. Every time you took out time to write back to me, I was encouraged a little more to ask more questions. On asking what is that one essential thing that is of utmost importance for your wiriting – an inspiration, a muse, paper, pen, thought, idea; you had mentioned “I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ – that wouldn’t be enough – but like a dead man.” And I had thought all was well between you and your solitude, by your lofty window in Ivory Tower.
And then, suddenly, one day you stopped speaking to me. Your stories told tales of distant lands, strange creatures, magical maidens and voyages, but none of them spoke to me any more, none of them told me stories. My hours were no longer filled up with you or your quirky characters. Your stories now left me empty. You seemed distant and withdrawn.
And of late, I see that a lot of things have changed as have your priorities. You seem to have started to keep busy with a lot but writing. Settling down in your new address in the chaotic city of Babel among us lesser mortals, attending lit fests, speaking at august gatherings about evolved issues, opining about worldly matters, launching your books, marketing yourself, managing your image, lining up for long lists and short lists of awards and writing. Writing book after book, but writing in tune with what the publishers think will sell like hot cakes, books that will fly off the shelves overnight, genres that the new generation will identify with. Books that reviewers will love to review and critics will critique gently. And books that someday will be immortalised on the silver screen by some award winning movie director. And none of that is wrong. Because after all, you are human, aren’t you? A mortal, just like us, but immortalised by the words that flow through your pen.
But what about me, dear writer? And more like me, who had thought that it would be a life-long journey with you, sailing through your sea of stories, exploring new vistas with your idioms and metaphors? Have you forsaken me and my friends? Forever?
Your devoted reader
“God knows; I won’t be an Oxford don anyhow. I’ll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I’ll be famous, and if not famous, I’ll be notorious. Or perhaps I’ll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing. What does Plato say is the highest end that man can attain here below? To sit down and contemplate the good. Perhaps that will be the end of me too.” – Oscar Wilde
Other quotes in paragraph 5 – courtesy : http://www.goodreads.com/
Quote 1: Franz Kafka
Quote 2: George Orwell
Quote 3: Anais Nin
Quote 4: Franz Kafka