Thursday, February 04, 2010

To Give You What You Want

To Give You What You Want
A writer's story

A long time ago, perhaps a year earlier, I wrote a mail to someone -- but I never posted it. In it was a tale too difficult to write, and yet so silly upon reading. 

I wrote it in the story of my deepest-entrenched dream: I wanted a room of my own. Not just any room. There would be, in my room,
bookshelves. Ceiling-high bookshelves, at least on two of the four walls. Filled with books, the only things in this world that I love. Books, books of all kinds. 

The days in which I first dreamed this, shelves had begun to carry more than books. They would have TVs and other multi-media accessories. Perhaps in some places in this world, this has been the case for long. Where I lived, however, there used to be only one TV in the house -- shared by the entire family in the lounge or an open courtyard. And all TV programs had to be friendly to all ages. 

One's own TV in one's own room was a unique thing. And modern bookshelves had come to incorporate that in my part of the world. 

Well, above all, I wanted a BOOKshelf. One with books. Paper books. Of all kinds.

I estimated, somehow, that the cost of such a contraption for both my walls would be sixteen thousand rupees. Perhaps I had seen a bookshelf at someone's house, covering one wall, and it cost rupees eight thousand. 

Mine, through simple multiplication, would be sixteen thousand. 

I was in my early teens in those days and I determined: I shall have this bookshelf. Not just that, I will EARN it. 


I decided that in a society where it was common practice for elders to dismiss the dreams of children -- or contort them to such an extent that nothing of the original remained -- I was better off not exposing my dream to adults. What would they do? Indulge in great mathematical details, arguments over proportions, and finally present an argument about the futility of all enterprise. 

"Something else will do," they'd say. As long as it is something I do not want, or naturally wish for -- that would do.

After all, the test of each absolutely sound, reasonable, and good idea was that it did not appeal to the heart. The more cumbersome, painstaking, and negating of all tender senses it was -- the more 'reasonable', 'long-lasting', and 'mature' it would be. 

And the society would approve. 

I would not expose my dream to such notions. For though they sounded frighteningly right -- they were frightening. And a child calls fright, fright. Not 'society', not 'God's will' -- but  just plain fright. I would not expose my dreams. 

Years passed. I excelled in school. I excelled in non-academic activities in school. I had dreams, dreams of being an artist, a designer, or an actor. I had dreams of making the world beautiful with my dreams. 

And through all these dreams, I held onto the little dream of my own bookshelves. I also wanted a writer's desk, a painter's table, and all forms of stationery. 

Some of the artwork that I created, like landscapes on eggshells, were routinely destroyed through negligence of those who visited or cleaned my room. Unfamiliar with the techniques of storing and preserving such art, I wished I had a way to secure them. A box, perhaps. Something. 

I also wrote -- and wrote honestly, perhaps naively. My teenage writings were influenced by pop culture and sometimes the angst-ridden rhetoric of rock musicians and art critics. That was fine. I poured all that on the page. Nothing came in between me and the page. Once written, however, those pages needed to be hidden. 

Because it was inappropriate -- nay, scandalous -- for a young girl to have such free thoughts. I had sense enough to not act upon all the wanderings of my mind, but I wanted to wander freely in the mind if only to.... well who knows why? It just seemed right. Letting the world that inevitably enters the folds of my being pass by was far better than to battle every thought, every influence, every guest who entered my being. 

I knew I'd grow out of it. That it was a learning process. One that may become rubbish in a few years, but one that was worth it. 

But I also knew it was not safe for my pages to be discovered. That I would warrant anger, punishment, or looks of concern if my writing and the hidden meaning of my art were discovered. 

I needed a place to hide it all. 

I never found any. And thus I carried with myself, over the years, a deep anxiety. A macabre little secret of a child who took to burying her journals in secret corners for fear of discovery. 

There was no honor, no nobility. No glorious bookshelf. 

And all I needed, I knew, were sixteen thousand rupees to make a bookshelf. In that, somewhere, could be a place where I'd file and store my art, ensuring that it was properly dated and chronicled so eternity would know how I lived my life and what dreams I dreamt. In that, I will stash away my journals -- 'cleaning them up' and selectively burning them some day when I have grown out of them. 

It was well-known that a woman grew up to marry a man who is intolerant of who she was, especially if she had any secrets or dreams. I thought I would not marry such an immature man. 

Certainly, there is a man in the world who is a human. Who knows that the world is here to be seen, not to be gnawed upon. And he would see me. He would see my dreams and my nightmares with just as much cool detachment and yet the utter fascination of a wondering, curious human eye -- as I do. That neither he nor I would own my history. Because I always knew, I always knew that my history is the history of a human, a female human -- and that eventually I have no 'right' upon it. Storing this history is to return that history to the world which endowed my being with these stories, this history. 

Yes, I would marry such a male human, such a man. He deserved me. He deserved participating in the history of the world as I was observing it, from my little viewpoint. 

It all tied up, this plan, this underlying sense. 


I grew up. I finished university, which was a difficult time for me. I went in as a bright, lover-of-life on one side whose few words would infect others with hope and light. I came out on the other side catatonic, frightened, and battling the now festering multiple inner realities. My writer, my reformer, my kind inner woman, my iron lady, my little dreaming girl, my priestess and teacher -- they clashed with the pathetic slave, the soon-to-be ruthless business machine that four years of abysmal business education tried to make me. Glimmer of life left my eyes. I saw the world with hollowness. 

Time for school was over. Time for lofty, tender dreams, for loving the world and its people with incredible compassion was over. Time to lift the head at night and watch the canopy of stars was over. Time to live and time to love was over. 

It was time to get out and get

As fate would have it, strange, sudden 'misfortunes' had arrived in my life. Death, dis-ease, loss of wealth visited our house again and again in rapid succession. 

Actually, if it weren't for the word F-A-I-T-H that I had once carved upon my inner stone tablet, I would not have survived. I said to myself then, "All things end, and there is forever a new beginning!" And I moved on. 

Yet the weight of duty replaced dreams. I got to work. 

Then I don't know what happened, for it all happened too quickly -- it all happened as if orchestrated by my many inner realities which fought with each other. 

I progressed quickly at work, securing one of the best jobs someone my age could have. I sought the prestige and yet I wanted to contribute through this job to the world, to all that I loved. I saw that as my passion, and my duty, and a form of love. I wanted to be a speaker, an actor, or a producer -- but fulfillment of educational degree came first. 

I became a manager, always brushing past the chance of being who I wanted to be. 

Such is the attachment that I would still call it 'a best job', and 'a degree from a prestigious school', and I identify myself, by a slip-of-tongue, as not the holder of my degree, but that degree itself. "I am an MBA," I say. Not realizing, in those slippery moments, that I "have" an MBA and that's not a problem. The problem was that the MBA had come to have me

Wait. Where did the bookshelves go?

Exactly my question. 
Where did the bookshelves go? 

Buried somewhere in the DNA of all my achievement was this li'l dream, with my tenacious determination that I would fulfill it myself. With my money. 

Yet all my life had shifted away from books and shelves. True, I had topped most exams in my university. True, my knowledge or rather the ability to acquire it became agile and formidable over time. True, that the more advanced form of' book', a computer, had entered my life and introduced me to the wondrous, dazzling world of Internet. 

But that damned bookshelf! That wooden writer's desk! That tilted painter's table! That freedom to write exactly what I thought, that ability to journal exactly what I felt -- all without fear of persecution, without critique. 

Where did that go?

I earned more than rupees sixteen thousand in a single month at my job. My dream was within my reach, even after inflation-adjustment and given the new styles of bookshelves, the IKEA knockoffs. 

But I was too busy, too out-of-touch. To be honest, I did not even remember. 

I forgot to dream, to live the dream. 


There is no conclusion to this story. I have written three 'epilogues' so far, and they are all but platitudes. 

I am a writer, I am not a liar unto myself. If not to be honest on the page, then where? Then when? 

Only now

There is no conclusion. 

For the record, I got my bookshelves. I designed an elegant set of twin bookshelves some three years ago, and got them crafted, fitted with expensive glass. They are beautiful. I never got to pay for them -- never fully, at least. My father paid the larger part when he discovered this project that I was carrying out privately. I felt a pang, but I knew that he had been aware of my wish to install bookshelves. It was his moment of fulfillment too. I don't know. 

I am a writer. I think about these kinds of things when some people would simply install a damn book case and get on with their lives. But then I don't think about the things they think about. And perhaps we all think about some things, some unfulfilled promises, some luring visions of the future until we 'deal' with them. 

These things, these feelings, these childhood wishes and plans -- they are guests. But they can reside in our hearts for month and years if unwelcome, unmet, unintroduced -- for time is of no matter to them. Once arrived, they stay. Until we meet them, acknowledge them, shake their hands, and then finally take our leave to set off, again, on the long road glorious of life. 

-- End -- 

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