It began with an unwillingness to lug my laptop across the city to a workshop. Almost whimsically, I carried just a notebook and pens. It turned out to be delightful: because of my predisposition that a computer is for “serious work”, paper for messy ramblings, I found myself writing in a unpressured, riskier way. Doing the co-ordinators’ exercises took on a meditative quality, free of the tap-tap of keys and tic-tic of mouse buttons, and the practiced way my body and mind’s subtle rhythms usually respond to the same.
Even though I work on computers, I’ve always loved the physicality of ink and paper, the felt intimacy of the word “flow”. So I own an avalanche of preferred pens and handmade notebooks, which I fill with dreams upon waking, lists, desperate releases of raw emotion, questions that have no answers that I can’t keep myself from pursuing, repetitive doodles of intricate paisley and arabesques, wishes, articulations of the unsaid. But not since adolescence, when word processing software became my best friend, have I really written this way.
But before that, my hands had touched the memory of trees each time I spilled my heart on paper. Among my most vivid formative periods was this: when I was 12, my classroom was a converted chapel located just outside the main building of my school. The bus dropped me off almost an hour early, so I was always the first to arrive. And I would sit there in that quiet room and compose lyrics, every single schoolday morning. It was my ritual and my sanctuary, my way (though I did not know it then), of building selfhood against quotidian loneliness, disappointment, confusion.
Our handwriting, rarely seen by anyone else after the end of examinations, have become such private things. Mine is more mood than calligraphy. When I don’t care, when speed is the only consideration, it is nothing but squiggles. When I do care, when I give myself to the visceral experience of muscle, eye, instrument and journal, there’s something to admire in the curvature of my cursive. I like black ink.
I’ve written this column by hand, in a notebook with a cover into which glossy tamarind pods have been pressed, a gift from another writer. Between this inscribing and your reading are many tap-taps and tic-tics and machines, but there are also the sounds of the very early morning and the smack of the newspaper against your front door (what gets delivered first at your house – milk, news, puja flowers?) and the rustle of pages of newsprint being turned over, still resonant somewhere with the sounds the city made deep into the previous night when my editors finally got to go home.
This ink, this first draft in my notebook, makes no noise as it spills. And I’ve decided that when I travel next, I won’t take my machine with me. I hope the words I send back to you will carry with them all the sounds that accompany their penning: seasprays and birdsongs, translations, homesickness and belonging. And the silences: of falling leaves, of smiles, and of things better read than said.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on July 14th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.