with a lower case t

7 05 2008

By Pooja Das Sarkar

‘If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.’

– Virginia Woolf

Writing: a means of expression closest to my state of mind and being. When did writing become synonymous with my identity? I don’t know. I don’t even recall the time when I first started stringing words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and from there, suddenly sometime in early adolescence, the form of the essay started taking shape more consciously in my head. The act of producing an essay seems so seamless now; I can almost refer to it as something which comes “naturally” to me, but I admit that I have no vivid memory of learning the craft. This is not an attempt to create an aura of mystery around the process, but just another illustration of my infinitely poor memory!

My earliest memory of writing was of writing verse – just lines which rhymed and sometimes managed to make coherent meanings. Perhaps poetry is the first form of writing that many veer towards in childhood because it is most subversive and least ‘made to order’. Yet there was a form – the rhymes which came so spontaneously to me were not taught but were very a concrete part of my poetic imagination. In retrospect, did I ‘learn’ how to rhyme? And later, after exposure to poetry of the canon and other non-canonical works, did I unlearn rhyming and shift to blank verse? If so, when and why did this shift occur? At that time and even now, what kind of value judgment did I make about the two forms? Does more knowledge teach one to discard older systems of preferred, subjective readings to favour more ‘sophicticated’ forms of thought? Is this transition natural or coerced?

Coming back to writing, my elder sister had (till she got married), been the first non-judgmental reader of every piece of writing I would produce. Be it my first poem (which, as she recalls, I wrote in standard II) or the one I wrote for her when she was getting married, she has been the reader that writers dream of: the one who cries at whatever you’ve written just because you’ve written it.

She would cry at all kinds of pieces – the nostalgic ones, the ones I wrote for her on every birthday card, the ones which got published, the ones which (later in college) people thought to be unfashionably sentimental and even the ones I thought needed to be torn up to bits! But jokes apart, I must acknowledge that without her constant and unwavering support as a reader of my “aesthetics of randomness” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb), I would have never mustered the courage to show anyone my snippets of creative writing. I would perhaps have become a modern day version of Shakespeare’s sister if it had not been for her.

Virginia Woolf speaks about the vocation of writing in her seminal essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’. She talks about how the vocation of writing requires tremendous self-motivation. When it comes to the male author, she points out the sheer indifference with which he is met, but when it comes to a woman writer, the world asks with a guffaw: Write? She is met not only with indifference, but also hostility. Of course, we know now that it is not only one’s gender but also class, race and other factors which give rise to hostility from the world.

This world is a context and we are individuals caught in that context of the historical moment. The writer/researcher I feel is someone who has an insight into the location of the individual (or dividual, as Marilyn Strethern says) situated in this socio-historical context. The writer/researcher who looks at both the biography and history of the subject located in the complex web of relations between the past, present and future, and who, at the same time, locates herself/himelf subjectively within that web is, as Woolf would say, closer to truth. That is, truth with a lower case t.

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3 responses

7 05 2008
Manjula

At times it happens. ‘We encounter people, perfect strangers. And we realise they begin to interest us at first encounter, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken’. ( Brothers Karamazov ) So is your sister and she reminds me of my brother. Quite emotional.

World insists on a truth of two for one plus one. I am neither sure of my ones or twos nor of the lower/ upper cases. I am with Nietzsche, when he asks- truth is simple. Is that not a compound lie? Our culture esteems presence over absence. Wholes over holes. When one looks into the historicity of the socio-historical context, I am thinking about the phenomenology of the absence. I look into the presence, looking for the absence to look into me. History drowns absences. When will the absence be seen with the presence?

8 05 2008
Suchismita

You’ve probably forgotten this, but there was a time when you and I would exchange millions of letters every year, after you left school. And if today I can frame a single sentence it is because of all the things I learnt from you about writing. I even learnt the word “pageant” from you way back in 1994 !! Thank you for all the things you’ve done for my writing without possibly even realizing it.

It has been, is, and will remain a pleasure to read your stuff. And it is good to see that you find time amid projects and assignments to write such amazing stuff. Looking forward to more.

PS: not much a real blog comment, is this? I’m not very used to writing comments because I can’t be arsed to write comments on the crap I read elsewhere. But this, my dear, was a pleasure. Keep writing my love !!

14 06 2008
Aashish

You both are wonderful writers, I had to read your writhngs many times to really understand what you meant! but I felt like conveying my feelings. Good writing keepit up
Bye
Aashish..

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