When you do something long enough, you get used to it. If you’ve done it longer than you remember, you can’t imagine your life without it. I guess that’s my situation with storybooks. A one sided love affair I can never imagine ending.
Growing up in a farm in the northern plains of India, where electricity was erratic and and internet connectivity nonexistent, the lack of alternative entertainment pushed me towards literature, more out of compulsion than choice. There was barely any television to speak of, and while climbing trees in the daytime was all very well, the evenings were unspeakably empty, and being shut up in the house to avoid snakes and insects meant that my mind would grow increasingly restless after 4:00 p.m.
It was then that I ventured into the unfamiliar terrain of my parents’ study, and lost myself in the worlds of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, (and out of competition with Matilda), even old man Hemmingway. Between the ages of 5 and 10, then, I grew up surrounded by scenes that seemed out of The Jungle Book .Our farm is near Jim Corbett park, and even today, my brother’s latest instagram photo features a python found chilling with our cattle. I had the privilige of having my own mare, before I learnt to spell the word “privilege”.
While I consumed greedily all the artistic world had to offer offline, I was also consumed with an immense desire to create. To be able to shape the sort of stories that made me travel through time and time zones – to be able to create characters like Hermione Granger and Harry Potter, and to evoke images of the kind that I saw in books about Aubrey Beardsley and to write poetry about cats to make Elliot proud.
But these are things easier said than done, and as a person who hasn’t ever stood first a creative writing competition in the 17 years that I have existed I realize that it is often simpler to dream than it is to do. Yet, despite numerous failures, first at the national level (eg, the Scholastic writing awards , ‘cause, go big or go home‘) and later at the school level ( where the highest I ever got was second place in poetry writing), the desire to tell stories, however ineptly, never quite left me.
While I shifted to lucknow and learnt how much my own writing lacked, I was able to enjoy the company of more human beings than animals.
Reading the gossip page of the local paper, which featured public events, led to my becoming, with my mother, a member of The Lucknow Book Club, a literary society for book lovers, where individuals of all ages between 7 and 70 gathered on a fixed date each month, to discuss a particular writer or genre over coffee and chocolate brownies. From being a regular at meetings when I was 14 to being one of the hosts who organize ( and sometimes mess up) the events of this group at 17 has taught me a lot, from trivia dealing with comic books that I’ve never read, to teaching me to accept the opinions of others. We often disagree. (Even though in our hearts, all of us know I’m right- I’m always right), we have learnt to co exist, without compromising on our beliefs, and in the India of today where facebook posts can lead to violence and whatsapp forwards lead to arrest, I cannot stress enough upon how much reading has helped me shape my identity .
But i realize, that the number of people reading that way, is dwindling.
The world wide web comes with more stories, more exposure, and more art than ever before. But it also comes with more distractions , fewer attention spans and instant gratification. I’m willing to bet that 80% of the people who saw this post, wouldn’t have come to the end of it. And it kind of says something about our expectations from life, doesn’t it?
I’m probably not qualified enough to speak about this , because I have, for the major part of my teenage, been a somewhat sedentary creature. Yet I have been able to, in the comfort of my armchair, read about Nigeria and Botswana, Canada and Argentina, and even peruse the contents of the restaurant at the end of the universe . These books have made me laugh, they have made me cry, and most of all, they have made me believe.
In the unknown and the promising.
In the idea that spatial and temporal concerns cease to matter when placed before the infinite expanse of imagination.
There are very few things that last in our ephemeral universe.
One such thing is the written word. The other, is of course, cockroaches.
I have also learnt that the best way forward is by listening, and even though most of this blog is the self indulgent silliness that teenagers like me get away with doing, some of it holds the things that have been the hardest, yet most rewarding projects of my life: conversations.
With the strangers who have kind enough to give me a little of their time and a little of themselves, as I seek out their stories in my selfish quest to find mine.
I hope they inspire you like they did me.
I hope you’re interested in being a part of this voyage, while we search in scattered sentences, in words, and stormy seas, hoping there to find afloat, our identities.
– Swati Singh
I identify as many things, but I’m mostly a reader. I’m also a wannabe writer, spoken word poet and shitty comedian of the future. I have heightened stalker senses and am often trying to email people like Cornelia Funke, Harry Baker, Dave Barry and Sorabh Pant for interviews.This blog began as a secret place for my poems, rants and book reviews. 2 years later, I’ve realized there is no need for anonymity, since barely anyone opens anything that doesn’t have a number in its title.
also, the header image isn’t owned by me. in case you know who made it, i will forever be grateful to you for telling me the source (i forgot who it was because i was too excited to write this).