Writing is My Breathing

As an only child, I loved reading. It did not matter if it was Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Little Women, Malory Towers, the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, or the Oxford dictionary. I pored over all of them diligently, and thus, words became my biggest friends.

I read to understand new cultures. I read to build empathy. I travelled to countries across centuries while sitting in my sultry living room. I always came out of a book feeling like a whole other person— more empowered, less judgmental. Reading is like a sea. If we’re pushed into it, we learn to survive — just like Pi Patel. If we jump into it willingly, we swim. Either way, we change significantly.

Growing up, my grandfather was my only friend. As a result, even as a child, I was more an adult and less a child. His death rocked my core. Suddenly I was alone. I turned into a quiet teenager who cloaked herself in words and wrote stories to fill the void of his absence. I read to grieve. I read to write. Writing came naturally to me. I sought solace in it and found joy in sharing what I wrote. Today, writing has become a way of life. I push myself to do better. I get better. I want this so badly that I do it without hesitation. Without expectation. Without agony or fear. Of course, there’s self-doubt, but I brush it aside. What matters more is how well I treat the art I know and believe that I’m good at. Writing is not a mere escape for me. It’s an entrance to myself. A way to get to know myself better. A way to grieve. A better way to build hope for myself when everything around me crumbles to dust. As writers, we judge ourselves harshly and pursue perfectionism. But if we don’t stop judging ourselves, we’d forever be afraid to move forward. At some point we need to save our document and hit the send button, because ‘perfect’ exists only as a view of what someone else believes perfect is and this ‘perfect’ is different for different people — one way or the other. I believe it’s always only our best work.

Over the years, I’ve started preferring memoirs, and fiction with strong women characters. I seek stories that are similar to my life as a writer, a griever, and a woman. When I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I learnt how words helped her hike the Pacific Crest Trail, how one journey led her to another journey of self-discovery. Reading her book was a meditative experience. Reading Tara Westover’s Educated was also a similar experience. It was hopeful and terrifying at the same time. It brought perspective. I held on to my dreams more tightly and believed in myself more fiercely. Amrita Mahale, Elif Shafak and Christy Lefteri are some writers whose works have deeply inspired me.

I’m also drawn to nature writing and reading. Madeline Miller’s Circe made me fall in love with the sea. Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things is a masterpiece in nature writing. Anything about the nature grounds me and gives me a sense of direction. When I’m stuck for words, I walk around my neighbourhood. In the winters I inhale the chillness in the air and in the summer, I draw the energy from the ridges on the trees and from running my fingers over the mottled spots on fallen leaves. I collect petals and greedily press them between my notebooks and books as a way to marry all the worlds I cherish. It roots me to who I am at my core — a writer who loves reading, writing and nature.

On days I cannot breathe comfortably, words are all I have and hold on to. Writing is my breathing.