Sustaining

I’m writing differently now. When I first got to college, I remember how I would agonise over the first sentence of any piece. It had to make an impact, it had to be different than anyone else’s first sentence, it had to make whoever was reading it remember that I had written it.

For a long time, much of my writing would ramble. It would be flowing, then it would bubble and gurgle, and suddenly it was spilling all over itself. I was excited about writing; I was excited about explaining everything that I was thinking, every process of thought, every connection had to be written down. If anything was remaining or left behind in my mind, I hadn’t written authentically; I hadn’t been honest.

So when I went to college and was a part of serious writing classes for the first time, I couldn’t ramble. I had to contain myself, I had to contain the words that struggled to burst onto the screen through my fingertips – I had to structure, and acknowledge a reader other than myself, someone who cared about what was on the paper, not what was left behind.

I wasn’t unhappy doing this, but it also meant that writing was now difficult for the first time – it did not flow anymore, and I knew that a writing assignment announced in class meant that I would go back to hostel and sit at my desk for an hour, figuring out the best way to begin a piece. When I did find that beginning, the agonising was always worth it.

But I also began doing something else. Instead of coming to a piece with the intention of opening something, I was now coming to it with the intention of closing it – of structuring it perfectly, of feeling around for its paragraphs, of tying the piece up so that I could put it away, and disengage.

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to undo that. It takes consciously telling myself not to decide what the writing will be, before it is, letting it go where it wants to go. This is not easy in the beginning. I hated the things I wrote, and was sometimes embarrassed about posting them on the blog. I kept at it, because I had to find a way to open with writing, again.

To some extent, I think it has worked. When I open MS Word, I am not terrified anymore. The whiteness is not intimidating, and does not demand that I fill it, then leave it alone. I’m starting to see each piece as a part of a process, not a part of a place that will keep it. My stories are beginning to leak into each other, and some days, I actually stop writing before I have finished all that I want to say.

I don’t know how this is going to work. But my writing is stretching, spreading its arms and yawning and laughing. It is not crouching somewhere, hugging its knees; it is not compact anymore, and I am less scared than I used to be. It is learning how to sustain itself.

She Was Not Polite

The short girl just stood there with her hair falling over her eyes. She shifted from foot to foot, and squirmed endlessly as her teacher unloosed shaft after shaft from memory and accumulated grievance. Her classmates stood around, their lunchtime football match featuring a bedraggled butta quite forgotten. One boy picked up the butta and chucked it at her in an experimental sort of way. It bounced off her head, and then hit the teacher in the nose. Miss Ramamani stopped in mid-flow, her mouth now opening and closing wordlessly, and goggled at her and at her by-now shamefaced parents, as if this were all their fault.

It all began three fortnights ago, when Miss Ramamani had stormed into Rani’s sister’s class, and declared, “There is a girl in the fifth standard who has just informed me that I (and here, her palm swooped emotionally to her heart), am STUPID”. The class had gasped and looked at each other excitedly, and Nayana sunk into her seat, for she knew, then, that it had to have been her sister.

You see, Rani was always doing things like that. Nayana remembered how Rani had said to their mother after her very first day of kindergarten, “My teacher didn’t know anything about it, so I had to tell her!” Another time, Rani got into a bad fight with a boy from her class, and when he had said, “But Geeta Ma’am said it”, she had replied, “So what! As if she knows anything!”

Their parents tried talking to her. They tried to explain that sometimes teachers were wrong, and that there are teachers who are wrong and will never admit it. “And when you encounter a teacher like that”, their mother had said, “You must still be polite”. But Rani was not polite. She was opinionated, and loud, and most importantly, she was not in the least afraid of telling people exactly what she thought.

After the Stupid Incident, Miss Ramamani had called Rani to the staffroom, and had said to her, “If this kind of behaviour continues, I don’t know what I am going to do with you”. Unfortunately, Rani smiled when she heard this. It was a delighted smile that had flitted across her mouth, and settled into the corners of her face, and when she tried sucking in her cheeks to look solemn, the effect was rather terrifying, and quite, quite, unsuccessful.

Reports Day had come and gone, and Rani’s teachers all said the same thing to her mother, “She’s an extremely intelligent child…”, and then Rani’s mother would smile hesitantly, because she knew that there was always a ‘but’, and she was right, because then they would add, “But she needs to be more disciplined. We are all having trouble with that”.

If you ask Nayana, she will tell you that they had another conversation with Rani after Reports Day. But Rani had only answered that the teachers were stupid, and the classes were boring, and did you know that they punished one boy by making him stand in the dustbin? They’re all crazy!
If you ask Nayana’s parents, they will tell you that they secretly agreed.

Of course, her parents weren’t actually there to meet Rani’s teachers when the Butta Incident occurred. And for years after they will wish that they hadn’t been there. You see, they were only there to drop off Nayana’s costume for the play, when an exasperated woman had flown out of a nearby classroom.

Then, they heard her announce to the staffroom, “I have had it with Rani! I don’t know what I’m going to do!” Rani’s parents looked at each other, then braved a roomful of wrath, taking a few steps in. There they all were, perched like birds on the edge of their seats. Some were old, blinking owls, others were crows with curious noses, and Rani’s parents nervously introduced themselves.

I know that you’re wondering about what Rani did, but what she did is not important. Some say that she pretended that she didn’t have her English textbook, and said that she would be reading Oliver Twist instead. Others say that she stood in front of the dustbin when Miss Ramamani asked a boy to stand in it. When she was threatened with dustbin time, as well, she is said to have first dropped her English textbook in, then stepped in over it. There are many stories. In some, the butta hits Miss Ramamani in the face, but Rani’s classmates were busy playing football with the butta. Maybe there were two buttas. Maybe there were none.

I hear that Rani became a writer. Maybe she’ll tell you the story one day.