Words Keep Me Alive

I’m still the girl who pleads to finish “just one more page” before going to bed. From reading underneath blankets with flashlights, I might have graduated to reading underneath blankets on my backlit Kindle, but that urge to read a few more pages before the day gets over is still as strong as it was when I was five years old.

I was among those rare children who had to be forced to go outside and play. The setting sun, chirping of homecoming birds, the shouts of playing children, the feel of the prickly, wet grass beneath my feet couldn’t lure me outdoors. I’d rather experience all that (and more) while I sat on a wobbly chair in the corner of the dimly lit bedroom, with my knees tucked up to my chest, my mouth slightly ajar, as if I’m trying to gobble up the words in front of me.

Reading was my refuge, it still is. I was three when I lost my dad. As Ma got busy with work and taking care of my baby brother, books opened their arms and took me in an embrace that felt warmer than anything I’d experienced. Starting form Secret Seven to Malory Towers to Nancy Drews to Hardy Boys to Hercules Poirot to Sherlock Holmes. The adventures between the pages were real adventures inside my head. I’d share ginger ale and sandwiches with the Famous Five, I’d cry for the young Anne Frank, I’d cheer and hope and pray for all my literary friends with whom I found a deeper connection than I could ever forge with children my age. Reading felt like home when home was a two-bedroom apartment crowded with eight people, jostling for each other’s attention.

Books not only offered me friendship; they also spoke about tragedies that made my own loss seem bearable. From the Jewish concentration camps to the slavery in pre-civil war America, from the bloodshed of India’s partition to the genocide in Rwanda, the pain and endurance of people around the world imparted me with lessons on resilience and compassion. It made me understand how deep inside we’re all longing for the same things – love, security, a desire to belong. These are lessons that I draw from, when I create my own characters these days.

Strangely, my love for books was one of my biggest hindrances towards becoming a writer. For me, writers were superheroes conjuring magic on page, it felt sacrilegious to even think that I could tamper with such a sacred art form. This, and economic constraints at home veered me towards a post-degree in applied economics and then another one in international business. But soon after plunging headlong into the corporate world and fleeting from consulting to market research to equity analysis, I felt there was more to life than this career which felt like a loveless marriage of convenience. My life’s purpose seemed to be hiding just beyond my grasp.

One day, a friend (who happens to be the namesake of my protagonist in “The Atlas”) commented on a Facebook post, “Why don’t you take writing more seriously?” And that seemed like a message from the Universe. I started writing more often which eventually led to giving up on my corporate career two years back.

I don’t know where this life of writing will lead me. Writing is hard and that’s the understatement of the century. You can give it your all and still not amount to much in terms of recognition. But the happiness that I derive from punching out word after word after word on my laptop…that power and joy of being able to create is like falling in love every single day. Wanting to write words is what wakes me up every morning with a delicious sense of anticipation even as I wait for night fall to go to bed with another person’s words for company.