On the day after the former president of India, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam passed away, I lifted my pen, as I must every day. Thirteen years ago, when I got married for the first time and was ready to go to America, my mother’s professor- a freedom fighter who had been beaten up by the British and jailed several times had asked me sadly, ” For whom did we fight? What will happen if the future generations of this country, the educated citizens leave India? How can this country prosper?” I remember holding his hand, I remember looking into his eyes and I remember wondering, how many men like him remained in India? My mother’s professor, Kapila Chatterjee passed away ten years ago. Yesterday we lost A PJ Abdul Kalam, a man who once said about himself that he was made completely in India, a man who was proud of his Indianness. He died doing what he loved most- teaching.
Somewhere on the other side of this world, in a storage container in America I have his books. Ian Jack who was my writing instructor at the UEA writing workshop, once told me that he believed people bought more books than they actually read. He was right. Today, I will go buy again “Ignited Minds” by Kalam and finally read 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Amit Chaudhuri and Ian Jack shared in degrees measured and unmeasured parts of themselves with us writers published and unpublished.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.)