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Why writer Daribha Lyndem has two very different workspaces

Author Daribha Lyndem on the spaces she can and cannot afford an attachment to, and how her desk is a perch for her cats to communicate with pigeons

Writer Daribha Lyndem
Writer Daribha Lyndem (Courtesy Daribha Lyndem)

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For writers who had their debut books come out during the pandemic years, the experience was a strange one — some hadn’t met their editors through a large part of the process, some hadn’t met them at all; a few others had online launches, even as they and others weren’t sure of the fate of their books given lockdowns and logistic challenges.

Daribha Lyndem, a customs officer based in Mumbai, had a similar experience. Her debut book,  Name Place Animal Thing came out in exactly a year ago, in April 2021. “My book came out during the pandemic,” recalls Lyndem. “It first came out as an ebook because it was not viable to print hard copies during lockdown. It was disheartening and there were many delays.” she adds.

But things finally eased up, and soon the physical copies of her book made their way to stores and readers’ hands. In October, the book even made the shortlist of the JCB Prize for Literature, one of India’s most well-recognised literary awards.

Lyndem was at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), finally making up for the earlier lack of on-ground events and in-person meetings with editors, readers, and fellow-writers. “This was my first time talking about my book at an on-ground event,” Lyndem says of attending her first JLF as an author. “It was great to finally meet and interact with people who had read the book. I never did any sort of physical event after it had come out — everything was always through a screen — so the whole thing was very new and exciting for me.”

Now, Lyndem is back to regular programming, in Mumbai with her husband and cats. As she gets back to her everyday work after a great run with her debut book, she talks to Lounge about inhabiting vastly different work spaces, inspiration, and more. Edited excerpts.

What sort of books and writers did you read growing up?

I read a lot of Hans Christian Anderson stories as a child. I also had this beautifully illustrated book of Russian folk tales that belonged to my father that I still look through to this day.

Is there a genre you love but cannot or do not want to write. Why?

I love reading fantasy and sci-fi but I do not think I would fare well writing in these genres. I just lack imagination, I think.

Have you started thinking of writing anything new?

I am trying to but it has been very hard at the moment. My day job is extremely hectic and takes up all the space in my head unfortunately.

Lyndem's writing desk at home
Lyndem's writing desk at home (Courtesy Daribha Lyndem)

Can you describe both your desks? The one at home, where you write from; and the one at your day job as a civil servant?

At my day job I have a mid-sized cabin, where a Brobdingnagian desk takes up half the space. There are colourful glass paperweights, a computer, a printer and a small Indian flag on the desk. Two large plaques hang on the wall behind the desk, with details of my predecessors etched in gold, people who had held the charge prior to my coming. There is a swivel chair with the ubiquitous white towel draped around it. It is old and musty, as most sarkari offices are.

At home I have a neon green mid-century modern study table with a cat-shaped lamp on it. There are three shelves to my right where I have placed bric-a-brac, plants, and a few books. This room also serves as the guest room, as there is a spare bed and a wardrobe. Pigeons perch outside the window and my cats occupy most of the table, chattering at them. It is colourful and bright and sunshine floods the room in the morning.

Have these spaces always been like this?

At work, the mustiness has collected over time. At home, the dust collectors, as my mother calls the objects in my house, have also been collected over time.

How would you define your daily relationship with these spaces?

My office at work is just that— a place I do my work. I have no great fondness for it. It is clean and that is enough for it. It is not permanent either. It changes as I get transferred so there is no point getting attached to this space.

At home, the space is mine. And although I do not have the time to sit at that desk as much as I do the desk at the office, it gives me great pleasure to work on my neon green desk. It is as close to permanent as I can make a space.

Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.

I do not think I have eureka moments. With the space I take my time, I weigh my options, as it is with my writing. I look for inspiration and try to emulate.

If you were to trade in one of these spaces for another, what would it be?

I wish the window of the study in my little flat overlooked a lake, or a forest. Right now all I see is construction and it is uninspiring.

What's the one thing that has always been at your workspaces over the years. Why?

I always have a little plain notebook in which I scribble thoughts that are absolutely illegible when I go to read them a second time. I love a good notebook with pliable binding and a plain coloured cover.

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces

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