When I was a kid, I wanted to be a police officer. I remember wearing my dad's boots, carefully tucking a torch in the back of my skirt and walking from room to room yelling out CBI after quickly drawing my weapon (the torch). These were days when we just had 2 channels and didn't have to outsource our allegiance to intelligence agencies outside the country. As every kid, I did have the ambition to become a teacher at some point. But this one, and the next one that would come along in a few years - to become a doctor, has stuck with me. The first one manifests itself in my interest in all things detective and the second one in the overdose of medical dramas I indulge in. Also, I can call myself a 'fake' doctor once I get my PhD degree I suppose.
While all this was happening, I realise now, I always had a fascination for words. I enjoyed the real and fictional tales of crime and medicine. But I would also be listening intently to how the words were pronounced, how the sentences were framed, and how each one connected to the other. I loved how they argued and the way they argued. Each person had a different way of communicating his/her analysis of the case. Given the time limits, they also kept it crisp. How could they so effectively do that? In fictional renditions, one could always argue that the script writer must have gone over it multiple times. But when public officials or company executives or liaison officers were interviewed, they answered questions with a poise that I wanted to have. Whenever I was alone at home, I'd pretend to being interviewed by someone else. Of course, I played both the parts. And I would talk about my life as though I had achieved something of gargantuan importance. But it was never an ego trip. That premise was required to make it believable, for me to get into a character that would allow me such poise.
My relationship with words changed from the spoken word to the written word after an essay writing competition in my sixth standard. Till then, I had taken part in elocution and extempore competitions. One afternoon, a classmate of mine told me about the essay writing competition. Class 6 students were allowed to take part in the same for the first time. She spoke about how she had been preparing for it for a while and egged me on to try as well. I was hesitant at first for I had no clue about what an essay writing competition was. However, I decided to give it a try mostly because it involved us writing something which entailed lesser chances of public humiliation for only you and the judges (people you're kept in the dark about) would know what you had written. When we went into the room, there were a few participants who were reading from essay books. One of them even sneaked a book into the hall in the hope that it would be of some help when the topic was announced. Mind you, this was a grade 6-8 competition. A whole of three grades, each with 3 sections, would take part in it. This was indeed a big deal, for a few at least. I sat down. A teacher came in and read out the topic - The city which you live in.
I started my essay.
I live in the city of Cochin, the Queen of the Arabian Sea.
I didn't know that essays were required to have paragraphs. I was given a ruled foolscap paper. I remember having written on one side and almost a quarter of the other. There were no paragraphs. There were just lines and line about the city I lived in. When I came out I had my classmate and a few others discuss their essays around me. They talked about how they started the essay and how long this introduction paragraph was. I came back and told my parents what I had done. The sin I was told I had committed - I had written an essay with just one mighty paragraph.
A month or so passed. I had completely forgotten about it. Our school had a system to announcing the results to the competitions during the morning assembly. One such morning when all I had had before leaving for school was a glass of milk and the sun rays were constantly reminding me of my brother saying that one day I'd faint in the assembly and embarrass myself for not eating breakfast, a teacher stood in front of the mic to announce "The results of the essay writing competition."
It wasn't me. I would be lying if I said I had no hope for a prize. Hope is really free and readily available. If there's no hope in reality, we conjure us some from the friendly heavenly hand. But, at that young age, I had the maturity to temper that outrageous hope with a sprinkle of reality (though things have changed so drastically now). So I hoped for a third prize, neither second nor first. Now, all hope was lost. My mind went back to resisting any urge of my body to faint. Stand. Stand. Stand.
"Second prize". It was my classmate who had told me about the essay writing competition and the one who had written in paragraphs which she pointed out multiple times as though subliminally mocking me for my ignorance. Now this piqued my interest. She was well prepared and she came out very assured of the first place. Who could have got the first now?
"First prize - Vidhula Venugopal"
Say what? My classmate who stood in front of me turned around and mouthed 'Congratulations'. I smiled and said 'thank you'. I was very happy. I didn't understand it but I was happy nonetheless. My brother was happy for me for sure but while I was greeted with 'congratulations' for the rest of the day, my brother, who also studied in the same school, was being nagged by his friends for a treat.
I came back home and told my dad. He immediately replied "I knew you'd win a prize the moment you told me how you had started the essay." I was surprised. How could he have known that? Fathers. I think parents are given an unending supply of hope and faith and love when it comes to their kids. They don't need proof, or facts, or essays to evaluate their kids.
But what came out of all this wasn't the fact that I had won or that I had come off better than the self-proclaimed essay guru even though I got the stink eye from her for the rest of my stay in that school. I realised that I loved words. Even now I do not think of my writing as good or excellent. I think of it as essential - for me. It helps me feel happy.
I have heard people talk about how writing helps them vent, to think, to articulate, to emote. It also helps people keep a reminder of their lives - a written recorded memory in case the real one fails. For me, writing makes me feel like I am being hugged by a huge swarm of words. Many times I have found myself going back and reading what I had written a while ago and being surprised at the content. I only realise that I wrote what I felt when I read it afterwards. But at that moment, it is just me in this huge bubble made of words, trying to play with as many as I can. I have to keep them all up in the air so that they can engulf me. Each needs my touch, my acknowledgment. It is a wonderful bubble to be in. It may arrange itself in poetry about the warm fuzzies or prose lamenting the beginning of the crazies. None of that matters just then. I have everything I need. If there is anything that could come close to the degree of necessity of words for me, it would be music. But that's another post. I am just going to enjoy this hug now.