I used to walk up to the liquor store near my place, and buy myself, a bottle of rum. I wasn’t addicted to drinking, but I liked a couple of glasses of rum with coke. Maybe I was trying to emulate a low-life, but I’ve never worked odd jobs. Hell, I’ve never worked 9-5. Most of my work takes place after I read; after I clutch inspiration and gather my thoughts before letting them spill onto a page.
I live in an industrial area. I don’t wake up to the aubade of songbirds and the cool breeze. I wake up to the sound of the pneumatic drill, the sight of blue-collar workers wearing yellow helmets and barking instructions to their contemporaries, and the dust that stings the eyes.
I wake up to the roar of traffic. I wake up to people rushing off to work: Men and women skirting yesterday’s pools of rainwater and walking on barely cobbled sidewalks. I see a hollowness in their eyes and wonder how difficult their lives must be. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but here nobody smiles and says, “Hello.”
In this country, it’s difficult to make acquaintances, let alone friends. It’s a hard place where the divide between the rich and the poor, and the educated and non-literate is enormous. It’s a place of political theater and lawlessness. It’s a land populated with people who only pretend to be liberal. It’s a land of staunch fundamentalists and zealots. It’s a brutal country.
But in spite of all that, there are a few who seek change. There are a few of us who use the little talents providence has gifted us to try to change lives. Most people ignore and often ridicule us, but we use our instruments to make music for the broken. We play our arpeggios with zeal hoping someone will listen, and yes, there’s always that one person who does. And that’s the beauty of human existence. There’s one person who loves you even if you don’t know much about them. It’s that thought that helps me keep dreaming; it’s that thought that makes me write again, and it’s that thought that tells me that all the pain and shame I’ve endured is worth it.
Society both attracts and frightens me. I’m comfortable when I’m in the company of a few friends, but once the conversation becomes tedious, I get visibly tired. I dislike long telephone conversations, and I don’t like anybody intruding on my personal space. I enjoy reading, coffee, and cigarettes. I like thinking, but I tend to overdo it. There are times when there are at least four streams of thought running through my head at the same time. And then, I try listening to music to make myself stop thinking, but my efforts are often futile.
I’m never comfortable around large groups of people. I end up sitting silently as a rock while all around me people drink, boisterously laugh and gossip. I try to force conversation out in such situations, but I only end up making a fool out of myself. I can enjoy society as long as there is a minimalist charm to it. But the moment things become raucous, I’m riddled with angst, and I need to run away.
When I started writing, I had dreams of becoming someone great, even though my work was full of mistakes. But time has taught me that though it’s nice to hold onto the inner child in you when it comes to being playful or charming, clinging onto idealism can destroy you. I now write solely for myself, and I feel a deep unease when someone projects themselves into my lines. Often, when I’m harsh, I’m harsh on myself, and I don’t have anybody in mind. I wish people would get this and leave me alone.
I disdain arguments and feuds. It troubles me when someone is especially belligerent or hostile. I used to react aggressively, but I’ve learned now that life only gives me a handful of moments, and wasting it by being bitter is the worst thing I can do. I mean, what’s the point? It isn’t mature, and I’m looking to add depth to my art, and not fight like a petulant child. There are places to go; things to see, and wonders to experience with and without the help of literature, and I want to grab life by his shoulders, shake him and say, “Look at me! Look at me! I’ll follow you and learn from you! Now show me everything!”
There is so much knowledge in this world. So many books that I’ll never finish reading. From the descriptive essays of Mary Oliver to the poignant portraits of a working-class America by Philip Levine to the harrowing, disturbing inner reality of Plath, there is just so much to know and such little time.
But then again, one cannot always read or write. Every life is a portrait that needs a few brushstrokes of experience. Experience can be both beautiful or terrifying, but it nonetheless teaches us. When I led a happy life reading Robert Jordan, I tried fashioning my identity by emulating traits of characters in his novels. It was only after a period of suffering and trial that I finally managed to see people for who they are and see myself for who I am.
In Fitzgerald’s novel, Gatsby organized some of the most elegant parties that all kinds of people attended. Attending his parties was like wearing a badge of esteem. Merriment, music, great food, and drinks made each party a hit. But none of those people attended his funeral. And that’s life. That’s the greatest lesson we can learn. Never let go of the people who stand by you when you’re down. They are ones who care. The rest will jump on the bandwagon as long as you’re in the limelight but will leave you trampled with a blood-soaked garment, the moment they can.
© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)