Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On writing a column

January column for AZIndiaTimes


Technically, this isn’t a column, The word for the form stuck, probably, from around the time when regular writers were just confined to a column. But the idea survives; That the writer will talk about something that he’s been thinking about since he wrote the previous column. That he has a way to transform thoughts, that everyone gets everyday all the time, into a real entity that will shed light on something universally human but also in such a way that it isn’t mundane or obvious.

I’ve been racking my head for the past few days for this month’s column but to no avail. So I’ve had to resort to something I vouched never to write in this space- A meta post. I’m sure I had the knowledge of self-referentiality before but I really found a concrete expression to this feeling only after I bumped into Douglas Hofstadter. The idea of meta. The instance where an object, with enough intelligence and imagination to be self-conscious, directs its thinking to the idea of itself. That’s the place where ego is born. That’s when the object questions its intent and purpose.

What is it like to have to write a piece every month come rain or shine. What are the travails and pleasures of writing a column. 800-1000 words, any topic of your interest. Sometimes it’s a joy. When something eventful happens and I’ve wrestled with the idea for a while, I have quite a lot to spew. Not necessarily good but I have something to submit. At most times though, it’s a burden. Facing a blank page is facing my incompetence as a writer and a person. I wait for divine intervention. I wait for some idea to leap out of an essay I’m reading. I bore my wife with random thought experiments, anything to kickstart the engine. I pretend to ignore the nagging deadline and tell myself I won’t let an arbitrary force control my freewheeling imagination. When all else fails, and I’m past the deadline by days, I sit down and start writing about my inability to write. It’s not easy and yet I persist because this is the only thing I’ve done with any discipline. I tell my mind, even if it’s bad, give me something, anything.

The cliches start tumbling out. Stuff I’ve read or heard or seen. Other people’s thoughts, my voice yes, but their thoughts and ideas. A part of me instructs to blindly transcribe, relieved that something is coming out, convincing me that originality is a myth and perfection a mirage. All I can do is listen to the voice in my head and pray at least some of it isn’t worthless. Another part, now getting stronger, tells me to jot it all down but then sit with it for drafts, one, two, three, four, until all those thoughts take a wonderful shape and I’ve polished them with the craft I’ve learnt. To create something beautiful, that only I can, with conscious effort. And while I’m writing all this, right now, these two parts of my mind are bickering with each other, each presenting me with a completely valid but incomplete point. Suddenly, at this stage, another voice, with shallow knowledge of psychoanalysis, bellows, with a thick German accent, that the other two are just imaginary voices in my head and my subconscious has created them to help my conscious deal with specific but contradictory advice. And then an image of me is projected in my head, mirroring my current posture and dress, and that image of me looks up at the heavens wondering where all these voices are coming from until it sees an avatar of itself doing the same thing, ad infinitum. Image Credits: Charlie Kaufman, whispers another voice gently.

“Quare scribo vos facite?”, you may ask O Noble reader. I do because I like the sound of my own voice, because I think writers are sexy and I’d like to be identified as one, because I want to leave some proof of my existence, because there is pleasure in giving shape to amorphous thoughts. I write because I want to quieten the incessant monologue in my head and for a few moments after I finish a piece, I am in a state of thoughtless bliss. Only after I purge these thoughts, can I acquire newer, shinier once in this unrelenting cycle of consumerism.

I write because it’s the only activity I do with genuine, unselfish love. Writing doesn’t tell me much about what I’m right now but it tells me a lot about what I want to be. It gives me vision. Everyday, in office and traffic jams, shopping malls and movie theatres, in front of television sets and in long queues, I plough on; Petty and self-preserving, scared and nervous, self-conscious and clueless, like an automaton, unthinking and programmed. Yet, amidst all this, there are some moments where I give into goodness and kindness, courage and liberation, imagination and grace. Writing gives me those moments. It reinstills my belief in life, in the infinite possibilities of being human.

I write, therefore I am.