I haven’t really blogged with my thoughts on here in a long time. There is an anon blog for that and also, I am a little old school with my pen and paper for things that I need not share on the internet. Yes, even those who know me, don’t really want to believe that I might have a whole lot of private and personal stuff in my heart. I cannot blame them ’cause I always do have a lot of stories to share.
Anyway, I felt like rekindling this blog to a more personal one as opposed to regular thoughts on the difficult realities in the world that we have created. I started reading a book called Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra who is a Delhi based artist and explores the partition through personal stories and reminders in terms of objects that people carried as they fled across the newly created borders back then.
As I go through the endearing accounts and stories (yes this isn’t a book review!), my head swims in a different space altogether. From what I have known, I had been a sucker for nostalgia and continue to spin stories and memories as if they were right in front of my eyes. I don’t know if it happens with everyone but, when I remember certain magical parts of my life so far, my mind actually plays a very mellow sound and I feel the same warmth and happiness that was felt when I was younger and would soak in the warmth of the winter sun with a copy of Harry Potter, undisturbed for hours. That is the thing about nostalgia, you start once and it plays an entire film in front of your eyes.
When I started working, I realised that my obsession with nostalgia was maybe keeping me somewhere close to a part of the past that was safe and warm, trying to keep me sane in the reality of my present or the clouds of the future. I clung to the toasty warmth of my memory blanket as I walked on ahead into what seemed like a long, dark tunnel with the only light that was there, within. There came a point that I had to drop the blanket midway, squaring my shoulders to walk straight into the abyss, without a care of what would happen. I kept going with my mind protecting the warmth for contingency expecting darker demons to confront me as I walked on. Then, finally, I found myself on the other end.
This time around, however, I chose my stories carefully, making sure that none of them had father in them. I was afraid of being labelled as the girl without a father, the poor soul that was still in remembrance of him, even after all these years ’cause maybe she has never gotten better. Maybe, she was still there. I shut my father away from all my memories and continued to remember the sunny afternoons from a decade ago. Only, this time, the sun seemed a little cooler and the blanket, a little thinner. Discovering the artist in me taught me how to isolate my mind that remembers from all the naysayers that whispered in my head. And finally, after 8.5 years of his passing, my mind has healed itself and the sun is warmer again.
These thoughts were churned as I entered the give – away contest for Aanchal Malhotra’s book where I had to write about my favourite object. Among many tokens from the past, I immediately had my answer ready. Only the reason was that the act of writing about it told me. Here is what I wrote (and got the book! :D) –
It is quite difficult for me to pick one favourite object. I have many tokens of memory from many stories in the life that I have lived so far. There are bus tickets, shells and stones and even paper bags that tell stories from my past.
However, my favourite, that comes to mind right now, is a bundle of pages that together form the photocopy of a Thai cookbook. My father was a writer and reader and so am I and that, and a love for food and history was what was common between us. Well that, and curiosity about everything related to culture. From an afternoon when I was 13 years old and browsing through cookbooks since I had started experimenting with food, I remember picking up a Thai cookbook that taught the basics of Thai cuisine – tricks and tips and tools needed for these.
My frugal father’s response was a flat no. I remember being surprised at the no since no matter what, I was never denied a book. I have never bought anything much in life as opposed to books and for the first time, he said no. I didn’t protest because I believed that he saw reason in not buying it and internet had slowly come into our small town by then hence, he suggested we find these tricks on the web. I agreed and we moved on.
Within a week, as I headed towards my study table – my study and his table were in the same room – I find a black and white picture of the same Thai cookbook’s cover! It was a bundle of pages all tied together. I flipped through it and realised that he had found the book and taken a copy of it. I have changed 5 cities till now and it still is with me safe in a plastic folder with all my important documents.
I had lost him 5 years later and this book lives with me as a reminder of the millions of stories that he has taught me through his actions.
Have you been home lately?
That place… do you remember?
where winter afternoons were spent
basking in the golden glow of the sun
as trees danced a shadowy dance.
Where summers were spent in the
cool recesses of the shade that home provided.
Where every time the skies poured, it felt like
the clouds too, were party to this bubble of happiness.
You have been, you say?
Isn’t it truly home? Wont you go back soon?
Wouldn’t it be lovely…
and right, to be home at last?
What? You say you’re home?
I am confused now.
Dont they say, ‘home is where the heart is’?
Isn’t your heart in the past?
Isn’t nostalgia home?
While some stories are hungrily devoured, not giving the characters a rest nor the plot, there are always those that are meant to be savoured one page, one instance at a time. Memoirs are such. They are meant to be enjoyed gradually, like sipping wine and reveling in the slow warmth that the liquid releases once inside the mouth.
Pamuk’s memoirs in ‘Istanbul’ of his having lived the city, identifying the characters of Istanbul as a collective entity rather than a sum of masses is what is the most striking style of writing. From what I believe, writing comes out best when it comes not from a superficial, pseudo-academic understanding of the subject, it being the city here but, from living the subject. One must note here that I do not, in any way, intend ‘living the subject’ to be a deeply philosophical insight but, merely as the writer’s style to note the simpler facts about the subject as opposed to glorifying the external. For one to write a more honest account like Pamuk’s, I believe one needs the time and openness to experience and immerse oneself in the colours (might be grey!) of the city one wishes to write about. Then, there’s also the fine difference between letting the city naturally, gradually, inundate the writer with its pace on the one hand and the deliberate attempt that many mistake to be natural in order to ‘save’ time and believe themselves to have experienced the city. Maybe the latter is the first step towards the former, more nuanced style of writing. However, I do believe that it is the ability and openness of one to really ‘see’ things that bring out such memoirs. Probably, its this slow-cooking of observation and experience because of which Pamuk’s analysis always has a lasting impression on the reader.
Anyway, the point behind this post isn’t to analyse the entire memoir on Istanbul but, to merely record the connection I draw between a part of Istanbul (both, the city and the book) and a poem I recently re-read. This is a poem by Omar Ali, who generally wrote poems on Bengal, reading which again today reminded me what Pamuk calls Huzun in Istanbul. This poem called ‘The Lonely Man’ is, in my opinion, one of those literary pieces that aren’t meant to be analysed from a strictly academic understanding (I’m sure they still will end up doing that!). Instead, Ali’s writing is meant to be just read and without any ‘expert’ analysis, the reader can understand what was meant to be conveyed lies in the simple words he uses. Reading the poem, all I was left was Pamuk’s huzun, re-emphasising the beauty of honest expression. Read for yourself-
He was sitting alone:
with a tear – stained face.
I asked him: why?
He looked at me silently
and kept quiet.
I asked him again: why?
again he looked silently
into my eyes
and said nothing.
Then he got up and went away
leaving behind his silence