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Why I write?

By Basudhara Roy

Lest the title should endeavour to, and not illegitimately so, inspire grandiose expectations of an Orwellian figure articulating a significant thesis intended to shed historical light on a momentous body of work, its humble writer hastens, at the very outset, to clarify that the observations that follow amount to no pretentious authorial manifesto, constituting rather, humdrum, colloquial reflections on her overwhelming predilection for the written word.

Why I write, is a question I have often asked myself. And here, I refer to writing not merely in its grander and more serious manifestation as profession, passion or avocation but also in its immediate semantic sense of being exactly what it is, written communication. I would rather text, mail, or write in longhand to people depending, of course, on my level of familiarity with them and the kind of communication that is intended, rather than personally meet or call them. Neither voice nor physical presence succeeds in offering to me the warmth that a few written lines are able to evoke. Given that I can speak fluently, confidently, effectively, affectively, even attractively on a subject for that matter, why is it that I tend to gravitate towards writing, that universally acknowledged formal mode of expression?

To begin with, the choice, most inevitably, has to do with my fallacy that writing, somehow, is more personal than speech and, thereby, more articulate, more sincere, and more meaningful. It matters to me that written sentences are structured with more concern, written words carefully weighed and chosen, the act of writing itself more considered, less spontaneous, and requiring a degree of attention and premeditation that casual oral communication seems, sadly, to want. If speech is intended for quick communication, writing, I believe, makes way for more nuanced, more thoughtful and more pleasurable exchanges of meaning. Its texture ensures that empathy or irony or humour is not lost and that it is always rediscovered in every reading.

This brings me, secondly, to my faith in the relative endurance of the written word or at least the possibility of it, over its oral counterpart. While spoken words are obedient ghosts that, bidden, disappear into thin air, our written words are the unruly phantoms that inhere and haunt us as long as they please. This is not to say that writing, in its physical or virtual right, is immune to disasters. Note-carrying pigeons may fall exhausted in their journeys and fail to arrive; confessions may, Tess-like, be swept underneath carpets not to be found till it’s too late; poems may be lost to the winds; cards may be smudged and their greetings obliterated by spilled tea; letters may be delivered into wrong hands; newspapers may be used to line racks or dispose soiled diapers; and to top them all is the eternal threat by fire.

Technology has, thankfully, worked hard to ease one’s fears here but the threat to the written word still looms large. Recalcitrant CDs refuse to be read by unfamiliar drives; storage devices go corrupt; messages are absentmindedly deleted; mails may lie unopened for days at a time; and worse, network issues may inhibit the process of communication altogether. All this, notwithstanding, the fact remains that the spoken word, unless eminently memorable, is eminently forgettable. What is written is capable of being read as many times as one pleases and in tandem with its greater effect is its freedom to be paused at will and to be picked up, to no disadvantage, when one has regained the time or the appetite for it.

Thirdly, what excites me about the written word is that for it, the act of interpretation never ceases. Speech is lost eggresively with the breath and cannot be recalled or revisited for meaning in exactly the same context whatever one might do. Besides, intonation constitutes an important semantic factor in it so that words, often, are dressed in meanings not strictly their own. In contrast to this, the written word remains forever genuine, forever open, inviting one in the same way to linger, ponder, consider and re-consider.

But most of all, it seems to me, that my obsession with writing stems from the intimacy that is built into the verb, the intimacy of putting thought to word, pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. It matters to me that the word ‘writing’ etymologically traces its roots to verbs like ‘carving’ and ‘drawing’ and involves, thereby, a labour of love that seems absent in speech. To write is to pay attention; to carve a message thoughtfully in words that have been summoned exclusively for the act is to be personal. Again, writing is an act of survival in a bewildering world. It is an anchor to one’s sanity, an agent of existential signification, a promise of cathartic salvation. To write is to attempt to surface from the sea of anonymity and resignation. It is to protest against time’s transience, against life’s tyranny. It a world that losing all, one would rather win; a mirror in which one sees oneself as one is; a gift one bestows upon all those one chooses to write for.

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Basudhara Roy is Assistant Professor of English at Karim City College affiliated to Kolhan University, Chaibasa. She is the author of a monograph, Migrations of Hope: A Study of the Short Fiction of Three Indian American Writers (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2019) and two collections of poems, Moon in my Teacup (Kolkata: Writer’s Workshop, 2019) and Stitching a Home (New Delhi: Red River, 2021). She writes and reviews from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India.

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