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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

01 March, 2005

The Business of Ink

Just what does it mean to write? Or be able to write? No, I’m not initiating a debate: this is a reflection, a contemplation, a quiet look at one’s own progress in a journey. The ruminative thread had one of its ends in something as trivial as my morning coffee, cigarette and accompanying book: actually the last named, one of Colin Thubron’s travel books. It was as I exulted joyously in his prose, tears of pleasure stinging my eyes, that my mind wandered to my own excursions into the world of the written word; and to the questions which I had so far not asked myself (for the simple reason that one was too busy writing to think about the whys and wherefores thereof).

One was no Somerset Maugham or Conrad who, rather early on in their lives, had decided that their vocations lay in writing (Conrad’s going to sea was merely a necessary concomitant to his writing, albeit certainly the most significant). But the urge to write, the compulsion, the being impelled to put pen to paper, to craft and mould language – the spiritual home of one’s adoption – was perhaps no less than in those distant forbears. And how did this come about, this state of perpetual unrest, this strange hunger that grew on what it fed?

I cannot say at what age or when I was bitten by the creation bug. Suffice it to say that it was early enough to give me a long and fruitful apprenticeship in the study of the craft and style of others. There was no dearth of masters: the richness of a forty-year literary feast while pleasantly embarrassing and overwhelming, was nowhere near cloying. One never said “Enough!” and there was no depletion in the plenitude: the guest was greedy, the host untiring.

It must have been as a callow (why is youth forever damned with that adjective?) pre-adolescent that one first tentatively – and timorously – wielded the pencil for purely private exultation (fountain pens were the earned luxury of later years). That fragment (like much else in the years after) mercifully didn’t survive; although I must say, if only in fairness to myself, that it was long before my first rapturous reading of Conrad’s Preface to The Nigger of the “Narcissus”, whose arresting opening line has, ever since, been my guiding light.

But even without avowed literary ambitions, one was clearly aware that first drafts were anything but final: one was no Mozart to manufacture ready-made scores, no Oscar Wilde to speak in finished epigrams of wit. The whole business of random ‘free flow’ was not just alien, it was anathema: the torrents of language had to be controlled, checked, channelised like any other torrent. For like any other torrent, unbridled unchecked excess could only lead to devastation and ruin. It was a lesson learnt at the feet of gods, under divine scrutiny and censure, as it were. One had to be worthy, or else be condemned to the stables.

And so one read, read profligately. Read the spendthrifts, and the thrifty. Read till one knew by a fine instinct who was a god, and who a crass pretender.

And read till, finally, one read only the gods. Life was too short to waste on tripe. Besides, the urge to create could no longer be denied, no longer be withheld.

I cannot speak for others, but for me, my own writing, the act of creation was akin to the actual act of lovemaking after a long, infinitely pleasurable foreplay. Staying with the metaphor, the first time – the loss of one’s benighted virginity – was not very different from its inspirational example. A little shuffling, some frenetic groping, and at the end of it one didn’t really know whether one had been there or not. The only testimony to the act were a few telltale signs which winked good-naturedly, as if to say, “Well, not bad for a boy, but it gets better as you grow…!”

And it certainly did. The language became a fond mistress one doted on, loved to distraction to the exclusion of everything else, whose every quirk and whimsy was a special spot to lavish love on. Foreplay and consummation danced stately gavottes over the years, quickened to the occasional minuet; and all the while I got increasingly drunk on her myriad delights.

It is, to me, a permanent state of intoxication. I view my delicious mistress in the vestments my gods, her fabulous former lovers, gave her. Now and then I make her some of my own, taking care that her wearing them wouldn’t disgrace her. And I know I’ve earned her love by the splendid release of her luscious yielding.




Blogger Pragya said...

Your prose is as exquisitely sparkling as your poetry! Loved every word - especially the conclusion!

01 March, 2005 22:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May the angels hold your hands and guide them, forever.

02 March, 2005 00:49  
Blogger khuto said...

a delightful romp through a theme of discovery that has as many answers as there are writers... but your analogy with a lover is interesting - there is a high in a creative act which can be related to love making - sort of a tantric approach to creative writing...

what I found particularly striking was your analogy with the "act of lovemaking after a long foreplay..." In fact researchers like Geoffrey Miller (Mating Mind, 2000), are making the point that creative art may in fact be actually the act of foreplay more than anything else, right up there with birdsong and the peacock's display.

03 March, 2005 04:21  
Blogger Dan Husain said...

Isn't it orgasm and bliss that we chase for? What good are an assembly of words thrown on paper if they do not rise up to our heads and throw us in a state of trance...Suroor? :-)

03 March, 2005 08:29  
Blogger Pincushion said...

Very interesting this! Your analogy of love-making brings home the personal nature of writing, and the intensely private reasons as to why one writes except that the 'final act' is on display !!


06 March, 2005 22:17  

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