Written word in our times

This morning, I read a very tender story – of a woman named Lois who fell in love with Kerouac (story via Brain Pickings). Their relationship continued on and off for several years. After several years, when Lois was under depression and grief from losing her mother, Kerouac turns up at her doorstep only to play a song. He had walked five miles, after a long journey.

Lois penned this poem on what she lived that night when Kerouac turned up and played a song for her, spent time with her and perhaps left. The poem is called Universe – One Song

UNIVERSE — ONE SONG
a letter to you Mr. Kerouac

how my mind was winter swept
bumped the spring time bud
o my god it could be quick
tho i will not attend —

in the middle of the night
my father answered the door
with great annoyance
i followed

you were there with tears in your eyes
you had walked five miles
with a heavy reel-to-reel
tape recorder on your back

you said
“i brought
St. Matthew’s Passion for you to hear
so you won’t commit suicide”

you had walked five miles
in the middle of that long dark night
to bring me your passion —

how my mind was winter swept
bumped the spring time bud —

i am still here Ti Jean
but wonder where you are on cold starry nights
my eyes as ever, tear bright!

For those who value words, this is a moving gesture. I wonder if everyone who receives words as an expression of a moment spent together value it the same. At least, if not value, shouldn’t people not try to trade it away as though something shameful was written which must be known to rest of the world? It is appalling to see books and newspaper articles emerging from letters that were at some point too personal for individuals involved. Yet, either one of them or someone else grabs them and lays bare what was meant for only the two involved – sender and receiver. It is of course a different matter when he sender himself permits the use. So, I haven’t been an admirer of biographical accounts that rest on some ‘rare’ letters as one of them on Lady Mountbatten and Pandit Nehru which was published some years back.

On another front, it is crushing to see how in relationships, during estrangement, some people end up sharing letters (with others or make public) which were meant for them as individuals, only as an act of revealing something detestable. Why were those words not detestable when received? For all that one can do and must do, at least some dignity and respect to words that bring the writer’s truest self to the receiver, must be accorded.

I went on this tangent thinking about how people around me value words. There is this tendency to read what a ‘famous’ author writes and an effort to remember those to be later used in their own arguments. Yet, when someone else, not famous, nowhere near it in fact, writes something, it is not even granted the basic minimum dignity.

In these times, written words matter. They have mattered and perhaps will matter even more with the onslaught of communication technologies which favour a virtual presence and dispenses with real human interactions – the touch, the presence and the shared sense of the moment spent.

 

Torment of words

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Last evening at a book launch in the city, I was thinking about the drive that makes people write, and write profuse lengths at that! There was Ram Guha who has himself written with a flourish for most of his life since his doctoral days, interviewing Linda Hess whose book Bodies of Hope was being released. I imagine that it probably needs a burning desire to get experiences transformed into words. For Hess it did appear a bit of that when she spoke of her experiences understanding, translating and journeying through places where Kabir’s couplets are remembered and performed. That seemed reasonable. But how often is it that such a burning desires takes over and the written form begins taking shape as fast as a moth turns butterfly? I can hardly count such instances in my life!

The impetus that I find a bit more identifiable is Gorky’s description from a classic essay he writes on How I Learnt to Write.  He describes in the essay the moments when he writes to “get things off my chest”. That is an identifiable state and real in terms of possibility of the situation. He writes,

There were moments of torment from the tension within me, moments when a lump stood in my throat and I wanted to cry out that my friend Anatoly, a glass-blower, was a lad of talent but would perish if no help were forthcoming; that the street-walker Theresa was a fine person and it was unjust that she was a prostitute, which was something the students who visited her did not see, just as they did not see that the old woman Matista, who begged for a living, had far more brains than the young and well-read accoucheuse Yakovleva.

The burdened state of mind to let it out and write about the experiences, the upsetting asymmetries and ironies of life does have a profound effect on those who think the written word would be a partial relief from having lived such experiences. I do recollect bursts of lines that begin foaming up in my mind often as I coast through days in everyday life.

This is where the next part kicks in – the lack of skill and the torment there of. The words begin feeling inadequate. The feel of the writing too fluffy and posturing at worse. That is when the keyboard crackle stops. Escape from this rut? I haven’t found a way yet. But the raw material keeps flowing in from daily experiences. However, the writer can try to be cognizant of this dynamic and keep on with his work as Gorky did.

Until one has perfects the discipline to get down to a desk and plod through the task of writing, the realm of desire, drive or urge to write seems a reasonable way out. The bursts of writing or such binges appears to be a rather reasonable path to such discipline. As I write this, I have a largish report from an earlier field-work to be written. Also sitting still are the diary entries from the road-trips taken in the past two months. None of them have gotten anywhere for the want of the drive to get them down in words. It isn’t always the proverbial procrastination. Several of those times when I do not write it is about the want of a entry into that diffuse spread of observations and corresponding thoughts that streamed through. To this I recall, Joan Didion’s remarkable ability to write Year of Magical Thinking soon after losing her family. That is a tremendous ability, to write as one is grieving.

My travel notebooks sit piled up while I wade through scattered thoughts and read works by these authors. I guess that “urge” to write is an unfaithful thing. More often one needs to just sit down and start typing the mental chatter out. This is what I am doing this morning.

 

 

A Story – Contested Realities

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The idea of this blog is to be a sound board to how realities play out in our lives. These often  are competing realities emerging out of different narratives . And much of what I have written here are non-fictional accounts, observations and analyses. Diverging from that, here is a fictional account of how realities of two individual’s lives played out by the virtue of they being their own selves and a contest emerging there.  

He is like an absurd story you don’t know what to make of, much like Kafka’s stories which appalls you and excites you in turns. Why would he want to do a certain thing, you wouldn’t know and neither would he. In my attempts to know just who he is, to be able to live with him I have been certain of only one thing – that he is the sort of company you’d want to keep on the road, to nowhere perhaps!

His reading of the world is curiously optimistic. I have lived many splendid journeys with him on the road to be able to tell you that he is prone to excesses of every sort, only to ensure that he doesn’t let go off any opportunity in his life to live moments and experiences to complete satisfaction. You’ll find him reading authors of the romantic age and the beat generation and the variety who had not even the slightest regard for conventions and norms. Those with a mind of their own.

It feels strange to realize that I have taken a break from that road which we travelled, while he continues on his journey. The free wheeler in him goes straight out and does what he wants to do which I have always envied, and in fact felt enraged when he showed no care. His disregard for relationships and responsibilities, I always felt would become a concern very soon. And it did. He walks a high rope without a safety net and it is an intimidating thought for me. Why take my word? Look around him and you will find that almost all his mates from college graduated took regular jobs, settled down and are starting families now. And how about him? As I write this, he is on the same old bike, beating the dirt tracks living another journey he thought is worth taking, than be here… by my side!