11 March 2020

Reflections on shameless writing

You’ve wasted your life. That’s an observation about those who have passed a certain age. You are wasting your life — that’s for the young. The world is full of ‘should’. You should do this. You should have done that. 

Usually it comes from parents, teachers and other elders. Sometimes from well-meaning friends. Sometimes out of love. Underlying are a couple of assumptions: we know better or you just don’t see. 

You have missed your calling, people have told me. Should have been an actor. Should have been a clown. Should have been this, that or the other. Maybe there’s something there. Maybe I missed a bus, here and there, now and then. Maybe I didn’t get too far. Maybe I went back. Maybe I was on a roll and still am. 

Rolling in wrong directions to worthless destinations, perhaps. Maybe, just maybe, I am so immobile that out of sheer disbelief, people see movement where there is none. 

But here’s something from a well-meaning friend, who may have got it right or, who knows, was dead wrong! 

‘What a shame. You are wasting material for quality creative short stories on “articles” or “blogs.” Weave stories into them and publish a book of short stories. Today’s article in the Daily News is a case in point. After one month the people would forget the article. However, if it was a short story it would be in the people’s minds even after one year. Have you thought of the shelf life of articles as opposed to creative work like short stories and novels?

I don’t about words and shelf lives. It’s good writing that lasts, I believe. Good words, rather. Good deeds too. They remain with us long after source is forgotten. Long after the titles of the stories have been obliterated by narratives that came later. One part of the story is the question, ‘why does one write?’ Does one write to educate, to inform, to clear one’s throat or simply because that’s all one knows to do?

The answer would vary from writer to writer. The effect depends on the reader. The should and should-have-beens are for observers, framed by outcome preferences, audience-assessment and subjective worth attached to the word(s) at hand.  

For me, it goes back to a question that I have on many occasions pondered, ‘where do words come from and where do they go?’ I’ve felt, more than once, that the final resting place of a poet is a dusty shelf at the back of a dingy used-books store. Not talking about the greatest writers of all time, but even they sometimes end up in such places. However, on the way to such dismal destinations they are seen by someone whose life will never be the same again simply on account of encounter.

And if word is metaphor for expression or example of being, then, those ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust journeys must unintentionally generate a matrix. I like to think that this is what you find left on a leaf whose life and green and even flesh has been sucked out by sun, wind, rain and time. Threadbare and yet an intricate telling.

Some stories cry out for transcription while others defy narration. Some inspire in good ways and bad. Some are meant to be told and others are like breeze and birdsong, the dance of leaves and the tricks of light and shadow. They don’t get told, but they are telling. 

Some people tell good stories. Some can write them well. There are others who talk of stories they’ve heard, the epics that are the lives of those they’ve met. And some are silent. Who can tell who is wise and who is not? 

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [March 11, 2020]

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]