Any other day, I would have used the title above, and ranted about the compelling need I feel, to write. And then perhaps dissect and analyse this emotion, or gloriously abstract it away. I know of many other who feel this compulsion. But the knowledge is only a feeling, really. What does it really mean, to want to write? While I never gave it a thought, somewhere, I always believed that the need to write could be expressed only through words; spoken or written.
I was recently proved wrong. I saw the compelling need to write. I experienced it with someone.
I met him on a sunny morning, the first of 2016.
We were at the cenotaphs of Orchha, and had stopped right outside, at a makeshift tea stall, slowly waking up to the new year. While the lady, perhaps my age, but seeming far elder, was brewing the tea, I sat at the platform, and opened my diary. It was, after all, the first day of the new year, I had to write something. Needless to say, I had no idea what to write. Half-clear memories were still reeling from the party last night. I had some important things churning in my head, but they were too metaphysical, for me to deal with, right now. Some words, reluctantly, made an appearance. I started writing.
A snotty little kid came and sat quietly beside me, looking at my writing. We looked at each other, smiled. He had one of the broadest smiles I had ever seen. His face was marked with vitamin deficiency, but that did nothing to diminish the warmth of his smile.
“I can write ABCD,” he said, just like that.
“Very good,” I replied with a smile, and returned to writing what lessons in life I have learnt and the ones I have ignored.
“Here, let me show you,” came the reply and without warning, my passionately guarded Moleskin, was snatched from my hands. “Give me the pen.”
I couldn’t think very clearly, at the time. The surprise element was strong. My compulsion to write, was weak. I handed over the pen.
“A for Apple,” he told me and wrote it down, and the alphabet continued it’s journey, double-spaced, no less. We reach G. He doesn’t recall what G is for. Funnily enough, neither do I, i.e. what the nursery G is for. Groggy came to mind, but I was projecting. Glock came to mind, because of a conversation, yesterday. Yet, the word gun, didn’t cross my mind. I kept my mouth shut.
“It’s ok, let’s go ahead,” I said, and we continue. At O for Orange, I wanted to tell him, how the “r” should be written. I think better of it. Tea was served around Q for Queen, and as you see, I wasn’t paying attention, so that slipped through. (Yes, the Monkey also escaped). I take time to check if knows the meanings of the for words. He does. The pressure he uses on the paper is much. At least four pages down, the alphabet will be embossed, I imagine.
I remembered my English teacher from Class III; No, Atul, there is no need to dig into the notebook with your pencil. Hold it lightly. We will need the other pages in the notebook for the rest of the year.
It was a lesson for me in letting go. I did, though mildly upset. At Z for Zebra, he was all done, but wasn’t letting go of the notebook. I politely snatched it back from him, praised him for the wonderful work, wished him all the best, and joined my friends in touristing. He smiled back.
It was the broadest, happiest, toothy smile I had seen, in years.
The cenotaphs are a photographer’s paradise. Come sunset, we returned, after visiting a couple of grand palaces. The same lady was there at her open-to-air tea stall. We had finished our photography (of the cenotaphs) and it did seem like a very good idea to have some more chai-biskoot (Tea & Biscuits).
Tap on the shoulder. “I know ten colours,” same sweet mumbly voice. Without a word, I took out my notebook and pen, and handed it over. No snatching business this time. He listed a few, in his own inimitable style. Saying out loud everything that he wrote, letter-for-letter. I was more interested, and more curious, now. We were now having a sort of conversation. Mostly, I was being a spelling Nazi, but gently.
“I also know ten animals.” The list continued, after a line that separated the colours and the animals, so that they don’t get mixed up. He finished the animal list. It’s a bit of a quandary for him, I imagine. I will want my notebook back. But he, very clearly, wants to write more. He doesn’t look up from the notebook. Starts re-writing some of the things he has already written. The left page is full.
I congratulated him. His mother, the lady making the tea, is quite proud at our conversation. I ask him some questions about his life; the conversation goes on in Hindi. Then, I ask him to sign his name. Boom. He didn’t not know how to write his name in English. He wrote it in Hindi. I spent some more time with him, and taught him to write his name in English.
That’s when, I met Ram Ravat, who can now write his name in English. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed that quick breeze of pride, that passed me by.
But Ram Ravat was not done. He now wanted to write questions and answers. Sentences. The right page is his resume. I could see he was desperately thinking of more things to write. He was at a loss. I did get my notebook back, with much, much, much reluctance.
I spoke with his mother later, apparently he is not to write in his school notebooks anything other than classwork. So, if Ram Ravat wants to write more, and more and more, he has no way. I imagined, the happiest time of his day, is when he is in class, and gets to write. Amongst managing other things, Ram Ravat’s mother cannot afford another notebook. I give her some money. I ask her to buy a notebook and a pen for Ram Ravat. I tell her to let him write as much as he wants.
Because I have known writers who have the best notebooks, papers, pens, and gadgets, at their disposal, but cannot write. And they go through their own fire in hell before they can write again.
But never, never should a writer not be able to write, for lack of paper and pen.