Every morning I wake up to the rains. It is green outside my patio doors and beyond that are high rise apartment buildings in every direction but one. Builders are working hard and quick to rectify that lapse. Pune is green. Beneath, beside and under all the upcoming high rise buildings are patches and sometimes stretches of greenery. This is what differentiates this city from other Indian towns. As a hub for Information Technology, it has money, as is visible in the cars on the road, the numerous malls and the ubiquitous high rise apartments with names such as Galaxy and Paradise. People I have met are more laid back, and life is comfortable here due to the availability of jobs, the gentle weather and a landscape that is flecked by hills, lakes and open spaces- still.
As I have written previously in other pieces, author Amit Chaudhuri, my writing instructor at the UEA workshop has started a campaign to preserve the fading architecture of Kolkata. The architectural history of a city being replaced by the monotony of modern high rises. If you have not signed the petition, please consider doing so, for the sake of beauty, if not for the unique nature of a time in Kolkata as recorded and witnessed by the architecture under seige- www.avaaz.org/calcutta
In the month that we have been in India, I have been watching his movement gather momentum. At the very least what it is doing is waking us up to the onslaught of all that is cement and concrete, banal and uniform- a modernity that around the country is gradually edging out India’s beautiful. The heritage of architecture- a metaphor. As I look around me at Pune, at the possibilities of beauty, its natural landscape, alive but gradually getting buried under blocks of cement, I think of Amit Chaudhuri because I wonder whether the city of Pune will need a writer with the zeal of an environmentalist to save it.
Today is the last day of the writing workshop. I feel a sense of a loss I can’t define. Amit Chaudhuri and Ian Jack shared in degrees measured and unmeasured parts of themselves with us writers published and unpublished. We were workshopped like metal or pieces of wood using words of praise, words of censure, erudite criticisms in colorful ink. Two groups created through an alphabetical coincidence (Our parents were solely responsible for this). “Why were we here? Why did we come?” Words used to discuss and analyze, “The austere is beautiful, restrain admirable, writing is thinking…”
The roads are filling up with water inch by inch. With one hand I have held a paper and pen, with the other I have held on to this family of five. Some said, “I like what you say.” Some said, “I do not like it.” Some said, “You should have used this word.” Some said, “You should have packed and unpacked.” I wrote these down on a piece of paper and this morning I made a paper boat. I set it floating down a rain clogged road. I have spoken of anger, I have spoken of race, I have spoken of being a woman in my own ways. I have said what I have, I hope, with candor and grace. Off to the world now to do our work, I carry some words, I carry some people and some of both I must leave behind.
I love to smell in books. I imagine myself addicted to the smell like a glue sniffer. It goes to my head, makes me heady and giddy with the possibilities. I am in the British Council Library in Kolkata. It has been a while that I have visited a library. I am an Amazon book buyer and in fits of anxiety about the future of book stores, a spontaneous book store visitor.
Getting into this library was going through airport security-almost. We were separated from our bags and our phones. Some of my friends even had their bags confiscated. I was lucky to have entered along with Ian Jack, the moderator of this evening’s author conversation at the British Council library along with Amit Chaudhuri so I got to keep my bag with me.
I walked through the rows of books and calmed myself. It always upsets me to see how global suspicion has seeped even into the rows of bookshelves. The smell of the books comforted me and I walked by them gently touching them with my finger tips. The last frontier of sensuality in a mechanical world.
(Above: Amit Chaudhuri and Ian Jack in conversation at the British Council Library, Kolkata.)