Burnt at both ends
There’s a diary of mine that my mother has kept aside. In it, my six year old self wrote poetry on a plethora of topics that included a teddy bear that I don’t think I owned, the concept of birthdays, and the anticipation involved in opening presents on cold Christmas mornings. At eight, my school told me I had to participate in some form of extra-curricular competition, something that I had steadfastly ignored thus far. I enrolled in the poetry writing one for no reason in particular. It seemed like a good excuse to not do that week’s yoga lesson, which was taking place at the same time. I had no grand delusions regarding my skills in writing, but I did enjoy the opportunity to skip a dreaded lesson. As far as I can recall, I wrote something on the passage of time. It also involved the sea, because I liked seas. The first bit of acknowledgment I ever received was during that competition. The invigilator read my poem over my shoulder, then asked me if I really did write it or if I’d memorised it from somewhere. A bit miffed at this blatant accusation of what I now recognise as plagiarism, I told her that I absolutely did not steal the poem from anywhere, that my memory is like a sieve anyway and that I just didn’t want to go to the yoga lesson. She left me alone at that, but whispered conspiratorially to the other invigilator which I resented. I was already aware of scrutiny and I felt that they were possibly discussing me – which I absolutely did not appreciate.
I won that poetry competition. A cousin told me years later that it was my ability to convey the ephemeral passage of time in concise rhyming verse that cinched it for me, but at that moment in time, I was merely looking forward to a trophy. I had few of them and indeed, this would be the very last trophy I won in my life. It’s still there, sitting inside the bookshelf in my room.
When I was twelve, someone asked me what I wanted to be in life and I said that I would like to be a writer. By this point, I’d grown confident in my skills as a preteen wordsmith. I read voraciously, I wrote with sincerity, and I had also incidentally moved on from poetry to prose. This development coincided with the need to craft creative essays in English lessons, a happy instance of things working out for me. I did well in my English lessons, much to the annoyance of the gossip mill in my school, which churned out a tale or ten of the various private tutors I apparently employed to ghostwrite my essays. It was untrue, but then the gossip mill in my school is also infamous for its pettiness, cruelty, and ultimately it wasn’t worth a whit of attention.
It was, of course, the ‘great grind’ of Indian school education in the final two years that killed off whatever little creative outlet I had. And while we seem to devolve into misery Olympics every time this topic is so much as broached, my personal experience left me with no time and turned me into a bundle of nerves and irritability wherein I lashed out at all, family, friends, and those who were more. It took me a while to realise that finally the ink of my pen had run dry.
It’s been empty cartridges and dusty notebooks ever since. One would think having got out of the school system, thrust into a pandemic where we’re all in different stages of being homebodies, would’ve been enough for me to successfully put words to paper again but that’s not been true. I have very little to say about fictional worlds any more. Read Terry Pratchett instead, he had a lot to say and he said it all with humour and finesse. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, watching my candle burn out at both ends.