By Ketaki Dutta
A fresh morning with a generous sun awaited me on the balcony outside. It was flooded with birdsongs — the caws of the crows, the chirps of the sparrows and the continual trills of a magpie. As my south-facing balcony door opened on a pond and a meadow that stretched up to the street lining it, leaving at least 90 feet to 100 feet in between, I had no dearth of morning breeze or late afternoon gusts of wind in summer. The time of this corona-scare was quiet and soundless. All these birdsongs, whoosh of a car-engine on the road 70-100 feet off my balcony were soothing to my ears.
As I stay alone, there is no one to talk to me. Sometimes, just to feel companionable, I talk to my nephew, imagining his presence beside me, mostly the ‘little nephew’ who was my constant company almost 10 years ago, when he was just 4-5 years-old, a wisp of a boy. You may regard this as a sign of being an inmate in bedlam, but this conversation refreshes me, keeps me healthy and going. This does not however mean that I crave company. On the contrary, when after my usual hours in the college, I come back to my apartment, I love to enjoy my own company, clicking away on my laptop — a story, a poem, a personal piece or just scholarly writing.
I do not even have the need to call anyone up and while away my private hours by talking my heart out. That I hardly do. I sit with a mug of coffee by my writing desk, a wheeled one, which I love to drag to the balcony, especially on peaceful Sundays. It overlooks the greenery of the open space, facing it and whiffs in the pleasant presence of the feathered beings with whom I have already struck friendship since the last four years. In fact, I chose to buy this home, only because of this south-facing balcony and this open space. A few of my friends objected to my buying this flat, as I would be staying alone and this serenity, they felt, could compromise my security[!] and again, this tranquility would give a fillip to my solitariness. I could not make them understand that I am a private person and I love to commune with the calm nature outside my balcony. My solitariness is not ‘so-called loneliness’ but my aloneness, which I love madly and would never compromise with anything, however precious that may be.
I am just trying to say that this imposed isolation, during lockdown, is something I love. I feel cocooned in the warmth of my home. In the afternoon, I gave in to an occasional siesta. In the evening, I get up fresh, have a cup of tea and go into meditation for some few minutes.
The glow of the evening outside is really alluring, and hence, I to stand in the balcony for some time. One day as I returned to my bedroom, adjacent to the balcony, I found a gecko-like lizard, hanging from the wooden beam on the balcony door. I was so terrified to see its enormous size that I rushed into my bathroom and came armored with my mosquito-repellent spray. I sprayed it and to my utter surprise, found the creature giving in to its poison. In an hour, it writhed on the floor and breathed its last. I felt so guilty! However, I had a skimpy supper and went to my desk to read a few pages from Literary Occasions by V.S. Naipaul.
Lockdown is really a blessing in disguise to me! I am getting to read so many books, which I kept aside for reading but could not read as my regular schedule on a work day with all the commuting left me fatigued. I was really disturbed to find Naipaul’s take on R.K. Narayan, one of my favourite authors. I love his narration, his way of describing things, his making inroads into the hearts of his characters. I love him blindly. In my class too, I praise Narayan to the skies. Even some years ago, I taught The English Teacher by him! But times have changed, old three-year-graduation structure has been replaced by semester system. And, UGC (University Grants Commission) is keeping an eye on the ‘quantity’ rather than quality of teaching. Everything said and done, I cannot downplay ‘quality’ of my teaching. Hence, be it Narayan or Lewis Carroll, I try to put forward my best. Anyway, let me stop the digression and give you Naipaul’s observation on Narayan is something I will share with you.
To Naipaul, he (R.K. Narayan) ‘appeared to be writing from within his culture…He truly possessed his world. It was complete and always there, waiting for him.’ But that world proved on closer examination to be static. Narayan’s characters seemed to Naipaul ‘oddly insulated from history’– a history of defeat and subjection that was so oppressively present in India that Narayan’s fictional world could only reveal itself as ‘not, after all, as rooted and complete as it appears.’ As Naipaul saw it, the novel in India, and specifically Narayan, could ‘deal well with the external of things’ but often ‘miss their terrible essence’.
What do you think?
Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English at Bidhannagar Government College, Kolkata, India. She did her Ph.D. on Tennessee Williams’s late plays and later it was published, titled, “ Black and Non-Black Shades of Tennessee Williams”. She has quite a few academic publications along with two novels, two books of poems and quite a few translations. She had been interviewed by Prof. Elisabetta Marino, University of Rome, archived by Flinders University, Australia. She won grants for working at American Studies Research Centre[1993,1995], Hyderabad, India. She presented academic papers at IFTR Conference[Lisbon], University of Oxford and University of California, Santa Barbara. Her debut collection of poems, Across the Blue Horizon, had been published from U.K. with the aid of Arts Council, England. Her latest poetry-book, Urban Reflections: A Dialogue Between Photography and Poetry has been published by KIPU, University of Bielefeld, Germany, with Professor/Photographer Wilfried Raussert [photographs of Street Art of Americas]. She has interviewed American novelist, Prof. Sybil Baker, recently for Compulsive Reader. She is a regular reviewer of poetry volumes with Compulsive Reader, USA. She interviewed poet Lucha Corpi of San Francisco, in 2018. She is the Regional Editor, India, of thetheatertimes.com, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Emerson College, Boston, U.S.A.