Some of the most self-destructive people I know are writers. Vain, isolated and insensitive. Yet they are also some of the most interesting human beings I interact with. Prone to kindness, observant poignancy and witticism. A writer’s appetite to learn is often large, as is his/her capacity to love. But intelligent, emotionally-stable or even rational?
Over the past 11 months, I have spotted and photographed 200+ birds in South India. I have also spent the year working on two documentaries. It means that I was not gainfully employed. So, time was on my side. I got to watch birds every single day. I was on the lookout for bird poop that drizzled from above. The thin branches that swayed when all else remained still. Dancing phone lines, scissoring through cities and forests, on which they perched upon. Quick movements in shrubs and bushes.
But, it was mostly several gigantic strokes of luck. I saw them wherever I went. Soon, I started to believe that the birds found me as often as I searched for them.
A writer’s block can be infuriating. It isn’t a melody to go out of tune. Neither a slip of the painter’s brushstroke nor an itch on the sculptor’s wrist. It is akin to a difficult conversation with someone you love about where the relationship is going. If things are messed up, you must find a way to work things out. There’s just too much to lose.
But it isn’t easy. It can be paralyzing. A sharp blow to the eardrums. A lone whistle reverberates inside your head and seduces a series of dull aches. You have stared long and deep into the abyss. Now the abyss is staring at you and mouthing, “What are you looking at?”
Writing about social issues used to give me fake powers. Arms stretched out, I jogged across a building terrace – pinching the loose ends of my superhero cape. I was on a mission way to save lives. Tackle injustice. Analyze political quagmires. Make bold statements about societal norms. No fear of consequences. Always ready to fight the good fight.
When I reached the terrace’s edge, I put one foot up on a raised platform. I folded my left elbow and cupped the right shoulder with the center of my palm. I looked up to the sky before peering, heroically, at the city below. I saw all the people on the ground. So many of them needed help. They wanted to be rescued.
It is tough to pigeonhole Indian metropolitans. They are Dickensian by nature. Often, their identities shift, like tectonic plates, under the pretext of urbanization. All the while, they play a game of cat-and-mouse with the past, whether good, bad or ugly. They are works in progress or experiments in terror, depending on how you see it.
Similarly, citizens of metros can seldom be typecast. I figured it out a week after my city suffered from its worst natural disaster ever. During the chaos, we bonded together, like squealing piglets suckling on a giant loving mammary gland. Everyone talked about how brave and selfless we were. A mere week later, we went back to being weak and indifferent – with flashes of politeness. But nobody was paying attention to us, by then.
I was born, bred and fed in this city. I am a son of the soil, for all practical purposes. But I don’t like filter coffee. I have no memory of attending any Carnatic music festival. And maybe, I have been three temples throughout my life.
I am at peace being a writer. I have been in the business for 12 years. In hindsight, I wish I had picked another profession, preferably in wildlife conservation or goat-farming. I can’t complain though. It’s akin to choosing a mode of commutation. I would rather fly from one place to another. But I can’t fret over having to walk briskly until I grow a pair of wings.
From start to now, writing outside the realm of my career has been a more satisfying experience. Any writer will tell you that. However, getting paid to generate content is a crucial part of the journey. It exposes inabilities and then builds confidence. The secret was also out years ago that successful brands are eager to hire the really good ones. Hence it’s important for aspiring writers to learn the art of powerful storytelling, without googling for synonyms.