These days my room is crowded with authors. There is Shreelal Shukla sitting on the couch, Olga Tokarczuk on the chair, Paul Theroux pretending interested, few others overlooking my computer screen nodding in disdain . There are a few poets infiltrating with a collective laugh at the array of anthologies they see on the shelves. Perhaps, they have figured that there are more words in this house than experience. Among the printed words, they are surprised to notice other authors whose books have been tucked in the array next to their book, on the shelves. There is Hindi literature’s lesser known gem Shivani, sitting above two volumes of journal notes of an outstanding adventurer Freya Stark. How different could their worlds be! Then there is Wade Davis’ Into The Silence sharing space with William Dietrich’s The Final Frontier. Each of these couplings are incidental. Yet, the space of contrast and connections they open up are limitless. This gathering of authors leave little space in a day to know each of their experiences and perspectives in a sufficient measure. I explore pages of Aldo Leopold’s biography by Curt Meine, especially those pages on wilderness. As I get off the couch, I notice Ta Nehisi Coates’ Between the World. A lifetime seems easy and short when gathered between two sides of a book cover. It is the ocean of the sentences which introduce the vast expanse life experiences and the depths of human endeavors that mark living.
Then, I see Ray Bradbury pacing along the length of the room in disdain about these diary entries that I have been writing. He must know that it is on his proposition that I took up writing every day. Everyday! You can not be writing bad prose for 365 days of your life, he once said. I am giving it a shot. But I see him reading these forty three days and nudging me to quit being courteous and restrained, to write the fuck down…whatever is on my mind. Surely there is so much that triggers excitement, joy, anger, frustration, sorrow, surprise, grief and the million other shades of emotions as the colour shades outside the balcony every evening. I look at him. He will have none of it. I want to remind him of the essays he gathered in Zen In The Art Of Writing. The preface he wrote which has been a trampoline for me for several years now.
And what, you ask, does writing teach us?
First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is gift and privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favoured us with animation.
So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Second, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course is that.
Not to write, for many of us, is to die.
We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory.
I tell him that I am trying to survive too. He laughs. He laughs harder wondering if the crisis is big enough to make it a question of survival. He asks me to read further. Perhaps he wants me to know what it does to him, to not write. I continue reading –
If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, lfe, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.
I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flox in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles and yelling for a clean pair of spats.
I tell him that at a rate of at least one hour a day even I have spent forty two days writing the days out. I think it is my tonic too. The little victories I feel each day after writing have powered these days as a locomotive does. From a distance I see the world and its conditions and humanity trying to get past these times of disease, distress and panic. Concerned, I turn to him. There’s a rogue virus out to get us, I tell him.
That is when he pulls his book out of my hands and points me to his lines, instead of reading it out to me –
The horrors are not to be denied. Who amongst us has not had a cancer-dead friend? Which family exists where some relative has not been killed or maimed by the automobile? I know of none. In my own circle, an aunt, and uncle, and a cousin, as well as six friends, have been destroyed by the car. The list is endless and crushing if we do not creatively oppose it.
Which means writing as cure.
Have you listened to him lately? He walks away leaving me to deal with the current horror. I imagine he is regaling another world with his stories as I walk this world trying to find my cure.