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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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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Bhaskar's Corner

Oh, That Lovely Title: Politics

Bhaskar Parichha debuts his column with a witty collection of quotes that he has picked up with his wide reading, arranged in a way that they take the reader through a series of thought-provoking comments on contemporary issues

Cartoon by Mario Miranda in the November 8th,1987 issue of Illustrated Weekly.
Photo courtesy: Bhaskar Parichha

We, in India, are in the throes of a big political churning right now. No one knows who the victor and who the vanquished will be. But politics — and obviously elections in India — are as multi-hued as they are rancid.

Adore it or loathe it, politics has its own share of quotable quotes. From the funniest quotes to the dumbest one, here is an uplifting list of famous lines said by equally famous people. 

Niccolo Machiavelli, a fifteenth century florentine philospher, has a very pertinent line for the present day politics. He said, “Politics have no relation to morals.” Charles de Gaulle’s take on politicians is so sensible! “In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.” Two other famous literary figures — the Irish George Bernard Shaw and British novelist George Orwell — too were scornful of politicians. Shaw said, “He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”

Orwell remarked, “In our age there is no such thing as keeping out of politics. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” 

American comedian George Carlin had a terse remark on that country’s politicians: “Now, there’s one thing you might have noticed I don’t complain about: politicians. Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out.”

There is so much of coaxing and wheedling to take part in elections. Plato, the great Greek philosopher, observed, “one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Elections in India have become so expensive that ordinary mortals like you and me can’t think of fighting them even in our dreams. Will Rogers said, “Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.” Gore Vidal has a different take on this issue: “Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.” 

US President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Politics is not an end, but a means. It is not a product, but a process. It is the art of government. Like other values it has its counterfeits. So much emphasis has been placed upon the false that the significance of the true has been obscured and politics has come to convey the meaning of crafty and cunning selfishness, instead of candid and sincere service.”

What New York City writer Christian Nestell Bovee who relished the intimate friendship of Washington Irving, Longfellow, Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes believed politics is interesting: “Political aspirants make too much of the people before election, and, if successful, too much of themselves after it. They use the people when they want to rise, as we treat a spirited horse when we want to mount him; — for a time we pat the animal upon the neck, and speak him softly; but once in the saddle, then come the whip and spur.”

Finding the right candidate in elections is next to impossible. Cartoonist Kin Hubbard too had the same dilemma when he said, “We would all like to vote for the best man but he is never a candidate.” Edmund Burke’s caution on gentlemen despising politics is worth the while. Eighteenth century statesman and thinker Burke said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” NOTA (none of the above) has been added to the preference for voters in the EVMs (electronic voting machines) these elections. American comedian, WC Fields , once said, “Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.” 

Why there is widespread abhorrence of politics is easy to fathom. According to radio commentator, political commentator, author, columnist, Cal Thomas, “One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s aim. Election and power are.” Lord Acton’s famous quote hardly needs mention. He said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was Henry A. Kissinger who rather pithily observed: “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” Groucho Marx , a humorist, opined, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”  

What essentially should a political party have? According to Dwight D. Eisenhower, “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”

Winston Churchill’s famous take is worth remembering today ever than before: “Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous … In war, you can only be killed once. But in politics many times.”

American Novelist Edgar Watson Howe thought, “If you have sense enough to realize why flies gather around a restaurant, you should be able to appreciate why men run for office.”

According to the former US president Barack Obama, “We’ve come to be consumed by a 24-hour, slash-and-burn, negative ad, bickering, small-minded politics that doesn’t move us forward. Sometimes one side is up and the other side is down. But there’s no sense that they are coming together in a common-sense, practical, nonideological way to solve the problems that we face.”

And, finally, Columnist and Editor Doug Larson has this warning against the political class: “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL