A Writer’s Life

Why do seasons go beyond their realm of preferred action and end up as metaphors in lives? She looked around to see heaps of un-raked autumnal leaves on the school ground. Zeal and fervour were soon becoming words people flinched at. As if their several layered fleece protection clothing spurned words so strongly associated with better seasons. Summer, when you were encouraged to slap sunscreen and gumption onto your entire body and spring, when assumed weather-induced happiness spelled productivity.


The project she had meant to complete needed more assistance than usual from the concerned faculty heads, some uppity permission letters to behave busy and look important in places that swarmed of busy and important people. Research in arcana was already tedious without the incessant simpering. Sycophantic lines expected from a member of an institution lesser than their own. Oh yes! Space Law you say? No perfunctory catalogue checking. The librarian names a number where he thinks books on that topic are found. Probably. Research involves searching no? It’s a different matter that the real section is on a different floor and number. Prestigious institutions supersede (and precede) half-knowledge and the latter must be confidently eloquent accordingly. Having exhausted all her snob-shield battery, she had now taken to reside in the faceless haven of the internet. More focused and less dog-eared, she now focused on the topic better.


It hadn’t always been like this. This intuition, a quiet, white-hot passion for what was being pursued. There was once an attempt to grasp at fragments while pretending to know the whole. The Indian CBSE board makes sure you forget who you are by rote. They make you memorize what you would never consider important in the (often successful) attempt of squeezing out all creativity, capacity for application and free-thought. In those years, unbeknownst to her was this conspiracy. And so she really believed that what she was not good at, actually determined the worth of all that was in her head, or wasn’t. It affirmed and negated the bad and possible good. Blending her weaknesses within her person to form an image of herself in everyone else’s eyes.


A lack of ‘aptitude’ displayed in Maths would thus lead to being infatuated with the math whiz of the class, tongue-tied debate auditions would position the winner as The One to Be Like and like. It didn’t matter what the other attributes of the person be. No matter how scummy, if he or she outdid her by a huge margin in a certain field, he or she was her new confidant or object of never-ending affection. While the consequences of this were several, the major ones’ included a constant sense of inadequacy and self-searching. Tasks undertaken to improve. Constant introspection at how recessive genes could be inflamed into sudden competency and woken from deep slumber. As libido made his ungainly presence felt in the gawkish teen, there started to be more men than women who she idolized. One unrequited puppy love affair after another, she relentlessly worked on her flaws and never seemed to be making much headway.


An entrant to law school by accident, she was now open to a world that thought her funny and smart. Virgin vistas stretched themselves in front of her eyes and feelings of low self-worth were replaced by a receptive cup of knowledge. This was around the time she had started to notice her ability to entertain. The useless trivia that nobody cared for in high school was now the harbinger of many a back-pat. Riding high on this surprising wave of pride, she read up on all the trivia she could get her hands on. Every sentence now a witty axiom and every person either witty or undeserving of wit.


So enchanting was this new binary world that her heart wounded for every cute quizzer she met or read about or had even heard of. Sustained initially by her own vast repository of useless knowledge, they gave up on her when she started to behave normal, like girls her age are wont to. One after the other flew away from her courting nest, now littered with tripe about authors, painters, independent rock musicians, silent films and everything the heart couldn’t care less for. Learning for the sake of learning, or learning for the sake of dating? No bells rang and no buzzers buzzed. Her visits to online quizzing sites faltered and she started her slow and overwhelming journey to doing what we all eventually must: living her own life.


There was no overnight leap to objectivity, no jump from madness into method. It was slow and full of relapses, every fresh start stronger and clearer in vision than before. Inch by inch, she jostled for a vantage point to observe the world, no erudite shoulders to stand on, just her own green, growing lonesome self. Revision: Alone. Not lonely.


Interests ran from the darkest corners of academia and coagulated to form her life’s future work. Having gotten a good base, she proceeded to cement the rest of the building on it. Like before, life answered, corresponded to her in ways she had never imagined. One long six monthly project translated into a fruitful long distance relationship, a quick one week project, an unforgettable fling. Whoever told you to not mix work with one’s personal life was crazy and didn’t wish well for you. Your work was your personal life. Revision: it was life. What you did and didn’t do forecasted what you would gain or lose in your love affairs. With pearls of unheard wisdom wound around her typewriting fingers, she ballet danced her way through what others her age suffered serious heartbreak from. In a minefield of love-hate dynamic, she concentrated on completing her work. A labour of love really.Hah.


Our heroine though, didn’t live in the world of fictional short stories. Oh no. Reality bit her and turned her into a control freak. The books she wrote were as good as voodoo dolls of her current lovers. The chick-lit for the younger romantic one, a War and Peace tome for the serious industrialist who would soon propose to her, a sci-fi veering novella for the geek (old habits die hard…) and spam filled pages for those she had to do away with, typing that substituted the painful bullshit one often has to verbally relay to the dumpee by the dumper. She killed, she maimed, she entranced and charmed, all in the confines of her cozy penthouse.


Her most recent acquisition was a charming professor, they shared similar tastes and had started to complete sentences for each other in their second meeting and first proper conversation. He seemed so different from all the others she had been seeing of late. People look for women of substance so much now-a-days that they forget and don’t notice anything about the man’s. He didn’t disappoint, they spent entire days holed up in a room talking of this and that. The more they delved into the story of their lives, the more uncanny and serendipitous started to seem their alikeness. In an inverted world, he would have been her brother. Gazing a possibly incestuous gaze, she decided to tell him the truth about her. What she did, her baton wielding power in the lives of those wretched men, where she discounted their slights, where she ignored good turns they had done…he was sweating! He seemed to convulse silently at this piece of information she was giving him. He got up and dressed with a surprising athleticism she hadn’t witnessed before and mumbled something about his wife coming back from her business trip. When he had got to her door, he bolted and ran without once looking back to see her. Running down the staircase at break-neck speed, he didn’t slow while crossing the road. And then, WHAM! He came under an Innova. From her window she saw the ambulance come to take him to the hospital.


After her initial bout of guilt for the first few days following his accident, she started worrying about his reaction at her secret. Would he divulge it to the police on regaining consciousness? Chewing nonchantly on thoughts of being found out she sat at her table and looked at the new book she had started to write. A change from all her previous stories, this one was to have a happy ending. Stereotypical man meets woman and permanent conjugal bliss material. Only the ending remained. With one hesitant pause, she wrote on her unfinished manuscript in block capital letters: ABANDONED. A life support system would serve well for her conscience too. She had, after all felt the first inklings of love for this man. A rarity in all these years. The least she could do (and has done! she mused.) is to let him live.


She awoke the next morning feeling safe and light-headed, bordering on happiness. She recalled her actions of the last day and smiled a grim smile at her stunning reflection in the mirror, tilting her head, she started to drink in her own beauty. A modern day Narcissus, she was jolted out of her reverie by the sound of the doorbell. The peephole showed khaki uniform clad police waiting outside. No matter. Perfunctory questioning amused her, she would play around with them, tease their sleuth sense perhaps. Opening the door, she let them in. Waving away her questions of “Tea? Coffee?” the mustached senior took out from his bag a tattered diary. He said that the professor’s wife had found it while cleaning his room the other day. It had her name in it. Did she know why?


Shaking her head, she asked for the diary to read the page(s) where she was mentioned. “Handle it carefully,” said the policeman, “it looks like it has been in use for very long now.” Turning the pages to the diary’s most recent entry, she came across a letter written on the thesis propounded by Elaine Scarry, titled ‘On Beauty and Being Just’. The letter, as she surmised, spoke of his absolute abhorrence for a thesis so abstract in its hypothecation, so irreverent in its reasoning. He had (according to the letter) torn to shreds this paper by his sound counter-reasoning and hoped such rot would never surface again in the world of academia. At the end of the letter’s main body he had scribbled a new citation for the paper: “Elaine Scarry, “On Beauty and Being Just”, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Yale University (25th- 26th March, 1998); Co-authored by Nandita Sharma.”


She shook her head and told the policemen that no, she had no idea why her name had appeared in this form, she was sorry she could be of no help to them and hoped that they would find more substantial evidence the next time around. Bye!


She shut the door and held it for support. Clutching her stomach in what she plainly knew was the first convulsion she would feel in many to follow, from last night’s poisoned crab meat. Meant for a stray dog. “I knew I had forgotten something!” she said, just as her next spasm made her keel over onto the floor.


Shruti Ravi