An Artist's Date With Writing

Less than a week into my determination to write a post a day that will meet your and my approval, I am blessed with an excuse to not write. Discomfort. Not sure it has anything to do with anything, but from yesterday, I have developed a not-nice physical sensation made worse by sitting at the computer. When it struck me last night, I experienced a secret moment of relief, that I can take today off from my writing challenge without any sense of having let me down. I happily occupied myself otherwise, helping Hyderabad poetry lovers to get to listen to Neal Hall and Rochelle Potkar read their political poetry on June 21, and it wasn’t till now, early in my afternoon (it is just past 10 a.m. IST), that I sat to take a look at my schedule for the day and what’s left of the week. I almost crossed out my artists’ date item, when it struck me I was actually pleased I didn’t have to write. So I sit, Dev in arm.

A few years back, we made the acquaintance of a talented poet whose obsession with the art rapidly made us friends. Expressive and vocal, able to draw us quickly into deep and meaningful conversation, not an easy task, it made for a fun friendship. At one point, this poet was traveling on work, and after a couple of days silence, there was an update on social media. It was something to the effect of “I feel like dying.” Of course, poets say it very differently. Knowing obsessive nature and the depth of this person's struggle with expression, we were naturally concerned. There was a storm of “whys?” and “what happeneds?” from friends. When the poet finally did respond after several agonizing hours, the explanation was not having written anything in over three days. Come on, now!! I don't get to play my organ every day, ever heard me complain?

Like most good Bengali boys, I read and wrote poetry as an adolescent. Almost every day, or more accurately – all the time. In Bengali and in English, more English, but wrote many years in both. I was fortunate to have a mentor in my father, who guided me to the masters, and by the time I was a teenager, I had read a lot of what I wanted my writing to measure up against. I struggled till my early 20s, and by the time I was in my late 20s, I gave up. I gave up writing altogether because I realized I would never be able to write what I wanted to, the way I wanted to, that it was beyond my abilities, especially so in my mother tongue. I resigned myself to the fact that I was not the guy I wanted to believe I was - in Bengali, English, Dakhni or Esperanto. Additionally, I discovered material success could buy you purpose and meaning faster than poetry could. Or so it seemed then.

I did not write anything of consequence for the next 15 years. I felt awkward whenever friends and family would ask me if and what I was writing. I would write the cursory one or two poems a year, on birthdays or when great change took place in my world, more habitual wordplay than true poetry perhaps. The important thing here is in all those years, I never felt the urge to write, or experienced any distress about the fact I was not writing. So when I read my young poet friend’s social media SOS, I realized how differently the call to write affects different people. Anyway, let’s return to what we were looking at.

So one day, a few years back, I awakened to the fact I had lived my years without making any difference to the world I enjoy so much, a world rapidly degenerating into the very opposite of all (I believed) it ought to be, and I wondered what I could with what was remaining of my time on earth. I am neither a warrior, nor a yogi. I am basically a coward, a lazy bum, a Polonius. After several months of reflection, I came to believe I needed to use my being, my abilities and skills, and my influence to make people think about why they did what they did. I thought about this over several months. The easiest, softest way I could think of was through writing. I say easiest, softest without any reservation.

Writing by itself is perhaps the easiest thing to do. It does not even require you know the language. As long as you can string words together, voweled or without, you can write. It doesn’t even need to make sense. In case you make it, you can always pass it off as obscurantism. Then you have the blessings of post modern deconstructivism by which you can call yourself a writer even if you don’t write anything.

Yet, writing is also linked to the human desire to read, remember and reflect. Rejoice, all ye!! Writing survives because there are people out there who are driven by a need to read. That need does not necessarily lead to judging but often acknowledgement only. This need to write and the need to read are difficult to understand or to explain. I hope to be able to revisit this idea, along with that of the creative process and neurosis at some later point. In case I forget, do remind me. So, I figured I could use my writing to make people think about what they were doing with the gift of life. But while on one hand, I see writing as easy and soft, on the other, there is the ego within me that would like my name to be associated with a specific kind of writing. This bit I know well. Let me take on another dare right away to see if I can explain what “that” kind of writing is.

Mark Knopfler from their third and watershed album, Making Movies, a good example of what can happen to one's art

The use of language as a tool of accomplishment is sacred to me. When it is used to sustain or further survival, it is even more sacred if such a hierarchy is possible. When it is not, it is not. The writing I wish to be consumed by, whether as a writer or as a reader, is the writing that points me to the greatness we are part of, the writing that fills me with hope and courage that the human race will be remembered for ever as a just destination of evolution, not a mistaken spike. I wish to be able to write so my readers will grow as human beings for having read me. I wish to be able to put on the cover of my book, “This Book Will Change Your Life,” and be assured it is the truth and not a marketing ploy. I wish to never write a book. I wish to write with my life so my readers will not be able to read my writing without reading my life, and so those who know my life will feel incomplete without reading my writing. I wish to write so as a species we will be saved from our selves. I give up. Join me at 8:00 a.m., Sunday, June 28, as we walk the talk somewhere in Hyderabad.

This writing, unlike the other, is neither easy nor soft. It is the result of disciplined effort and study. I do not just mean study of the art of writing or reading the masters. Those are important too, but more important than those is the study of the heart, to see how thought and word and feeling and speech hold together. Studying the self, and the endless theater of the relative and the absolute, arising anew with each breath, and knowing that regardless of whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, we are all part of the same theater, participating in it as audience and as actors, as playwright and characters. This writing cannot be summoned by will, skill or even discipline. They help, but they cannot dictate. This writing seizes you and writes itself. You become an instrument of such writing. You realize all you are doing is keeping a promise you made in the past.

This writing is what laughs back at you from the empty page you struggle with. This writing is what overrides physical needs and discomfort. This writing is what makes you forget you put rice to cook, and ooh! that smell is the smell of burning rice. Tea you tomorrow.

In the series so far:
An Arist's Date With Self Doubt
An Arist's Date With Laziness
An Arist's Date With Great Good
An Artist's Date With Writing
An Artist's Date With Tea
An Artist's Date With Reading
An Artist's Date with Good

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