Why I write: to connect the personal to the political
And also to articulate difficult feelings and blank spaces in my head
In an orientation workshop for parents in our youngest child’s Waldorf school, a senior teacher spoke to us about the relevance of learning to play a musical instrument.
“Knowing how to play a musical instrument is like having your medicine always with you," she said. “The process of learning and playing hones our patience, our ability to listen and get into rhythm. It is practice for life itself.
“There will be moments of happiness and grief in one’s life when words will not be enough," she added. “It will be the ability to create music, to grow a plant, to crochet a pattern or cook something that will offer us the expression that we need."
It made me think about writing. Writing isn’t only about communicating stories, information and opinions. It is a fallow ground where one throws seeds, tills the land a little and waits to see what will grow.
Before I first started writing here in June 2011, I had some plans and expectations from this space and these words. We will make it interactive, I had written to Priya Ramani, the then Lounge editor who had commissioned this column. It will be a two-way communication. Deliberately leave a question and a conflict here and invite responses. An alive column.
When I did start, I realized that I could not really write much when I tried to write. I had to find ways to reach that desperate place where my conscious, thinking mind becomes silent and the words begin to arrive in their own rhythm and for their own reasons. I had to mute the self that speaks and thinks all the time and let stories emerge from an unfamiliar space, almost like music. I have to deliberately make this act un-deliberate and then it works.
Writing this column is often like a weekly visit to a therapy group. I know I have to show up. I forget why it is necessary to write, I become convinced that it is pointless in itself, I resent the break in my structure-less life, I put up a fight right up to the last minute, but eventually I always allow that part of me to win which knows that I cannot betray this commitment. Whether I am prepared or not, whether I have neglected all else to be here or not, whether I am adequately covered up or not, I have to be present.
Writing a personal essay drawn from the stream of one’s own life as it is being lived, is a process with its own unique protocol. What may seem like a breezy, seamless retelling, are often paragraphs that have come together very reluctantly, with grave doubt and with a helpful, terrorizing nudge from being nose to nose with the deadline for submission. There is the vulnerability of exposing a personal story to the public glare and the fear of being dismissed or ignored that never really goes away for good.
I am going to keep doing this, till I do eventually outgrow the fear and doubt. It will take decades. It will take me to the end. The journey will be worth it.
Over the years, in its own way, this column has become very interactive. It has happened in many other spaces away from here. It has happened in the form of permission to share, to express and to grow. To love openly and tell one’s story to strangers one can trust. I read emails and keep them delicately to reread later.
Like most children, my early writing in my school years tended to focus on my family. When we went through hard times emotionally (shifting cities and schools and missing our father as he joined the private sector in the 1980s), I wrote thinly-veiled fiction for our school magazine. I wrote about the death of a sibling. I wrote about longing to belong and be understood. My stories seemed to upset my parents. My mother sat me down next to her, held the magazine in her hand and asked me to explain the meaning of what I had written.
I remember feeling like a culprit. I stopped writing. I felt lost and confused. I lied a lot. I lost my voice.
In my early 30s, I began to blog anonymously after our second daughter was born. After our third daughter was born, words burst out of the earth like spring had arrived.
I write to express happiness. My happiness demands space. I clap my hands and hop, skip and jump. I smile in my selfies. I don’t find enough space in the real world to express my happiness. I take photos of it, write fragments of poetry and post it online.
I write to make place for love in the clutter of disagreements. I write to be able to reach out to those I do not know how to speak to. I write to listen to those I have no other way to hear from.
I write at the risk of exposing myself to ridicule, so that the fear of ridicule falls away as we go along. I want readers to feel that their stories and personal experiences are important and sharing doesn’t diminish us. We can seek support. We can find a language that connects rather than tears us down.
I write to keep my own head above the water. To reiterate what is right and true and must be asserted. To remind myself to be gentle, humble and slow down. To honour the unsung, the ones whose voice is not heard. To connect the personal to the political.
I write to give myself permission to be myself. I write to travel the distance from timidity to braveness, from helplessness to efficacy, from apathy to feeling.
I write to offer you the same. Take these words and let them become your own.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. The writer tweets as @natashabadhwar