Places that we inhabit 

Image courtsey: jimleggitt.typepad.com

My life has been divided by ‘places‘. There are stages or phases in our lives. And we measure life in terms of age. I do all this; only I do it as the places I have lived at, the places I have loved and the places that have challenged me to grow. 
Each place has a different memory. My earliest memory is of the sea, the sand in my toes and my hair; the brittleness of the wind and the shaded yet hot verandah of the house we lived in. 

The other childhood home in another city reminds me of the butterflies chased in the hot noons when the adults were taking a siesta. I remember the cool baths by the tap and plastic pouches that doubled as water carriers. 

The longest I have lived at a place has been the small town and the big house of my adolescence. The house was rambling and it allowed my imagination to wander in the huge grounds and the lawns, behind the trees and the bushes, in the sand pits and the annexe that was my personal paradise. 

Moving to a new town with a completely different character was disorienting after the lyrical paradise and it helped me find my wings. The red letterbox was the tenuous link that connected me to my friends and the shower of letters and cards in the driveway brought much joy as I ran from the terrace down the stairs in sheer delight. 

As I grew older, the places were painted in the colours of my emotions. I struggled for peer acceptance and for the cool quotient. I plodded along, trying to do better in everything and failing miserably. I picked myself up and found new horizons. I found people and I lost them and in the process lost many bits of my own self. Years later, I would be here again and the struggles would be different and the disappointments hardening into something unpalatable. 

There are times and places in life that come around to challenge and teach and help you stretch yourself. Then, there are places that are a balm to the soul. Life may be difficult and life may be giving you lemons but for every trouble, there is an antidote. These are the places that bouy the spirit, that help you take the next step and the next till you are striding away at your own pace. 

I have been fortunate to find many such places that healed me and gave me new hope.

I  have also come back to these places years later, to visit and to muse on them. I have come back to them so as to spend longer periods, making my home there once again. But, the coming again seems awkward and the connection seems lost. The impressions of the places in the mind seem false, garishly colored as if by a child with a vivid imagination. I take a long time to rekindle the familiarity and the love. 

Yet, the places I have been to have defined me and in bits and pieces made me what I am. Through a coming together of the elements of space, weather and people, the places I have lived at have shaped me. 

The Unseen Boundaries

Writing is my favourite form of creative expression. Yet, there are invisible boundaries that make me too aware of the lines that are drawn in our minds through our culture and the circumstances of life. What we experience, we crystallise within. We become what we have thought about and done. And the ‘thought about’ is governed in a large way by our demographic profiles and our ethnicity.

For a long time, writing was something I denied myself. It was a pleasure and it was tremendous potential and it meant limitless possibilities. It was also a mirror to my soul. I was busy untangling the knots in my consciousness and really, the tangles in the subconscious had to wait. Unbidden and unknowingly, the boundaries hemmed me in, without my really knowing because I did not let those influences be expressed or given wings to.

In trying to find my meaning, I embraced many places and people. I felt I was getting new eyes and different perspectives, but what was left unexpressed and unexplored was perhaps the strongest perspective of all.

And then, the writing happened. And the music. I started seeing cultural motifs everywhere. I felt that it was an anthropological interest that appealed to me intellectually, but I soon felt drawn to my culture more and more. Was I in search of my roots? Was I really trying to create an identity after all? Wasn’t an identification with mankind enough? An understanding of the basic human values were not shield enough for my culture to permeate itself in my consciousness.

Till today, I try to write in a gender, age and cultural background vacuum. But, am I not really how my culture has shaped me? Increasingly, I feel the longing to touch the silken strands of a paranda, a hair adornment that I have never worn in my urban lifestyle. When the poetess Amrita Pritam laments the loss of innocence, calling out to Waris Shah, I can feel her pain and of the numerous other women, who all are dressed in salwar kameez, heads covered with colourful dupattas, perhaps fleeing the murderers. Saadat Hasan Manto writes of the trauma of the partition of Punjab, something my generation never had to contend with. But I sit at my grandmother’s knee and listen to those horrific tales, their lustre dimming as her age and memory has. Increasingly, in my journals, I turn to a phrase that’s evocative of the cultural imagery I have encountered in my land of birth. I listen to a dirge, sung mournfully and I know I want to be reborn here.

My cultural limitations are pushing me towards delving deeper into the influences that have shaped me and prompting me to write from my soul. Unacknowledged, they make my writing voice false.

Witness

The witness to my creative process is also the reason for my block. One moment I might be writing, thinking over the words and the next I am engaged in an imaginary conversation with my reader. I explain this and that, things I might have wanted to elaborate upon but left out for the sake of brevity. Sometimes, in my writing I tend to ramble on; I love to digress really, for that is how the mind works but I cannot let the structure of the written piece be influenced by my whims.

There are times when the future reader is pushed back by the ghosts of my encounters with people talking of their own memories and experiences that have shaped them. It is especially true when it is a memoir I am writing and I am recreating events and places from snatches of conversations I have had with people.

The contributor to my stories turns into the reader in my mind. I remember his raw emotions as he talked, that kept bubbling up and how he tried to put them down, hiding behind a veneer of sanity and maturity. I can think of the way it would move him when he stumbles on my piece and reads and remembers that he told me all that. I hope then that I have done justice to him.

When I write or capture a scene, I know I am almost looking over my shoulder for a critical look from the masters looking at me trying to attempt what I am learning to be good at. I think and try to imagine the helpful suggestions and the critical explanations.

Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation with someone I have just met and getting to know through tentative questions, my mind thinks in a parallel mode of what I could really tell her about following dreams and aspirations. She, then is the witness to the hacks and the advice pieces I have.

My creative block also comes from the ways my witnesses expresses themselves. I compare myself to them and feel daunted by the ease of their expression. If I could express myself in a vacuum, being just at home with the muse and letting it flow, I might be prolific but I would miss a crucial link in the chain of my expression.