29 Oct 2020 – “I keep writing shorter stuff to allay the hunger of my writer soul… but snacks can never stand in for full meals!”
I wrote this to Saikat Majumdar in one of our earliest, and longest, conversations to date. The original context of it was Saikat’s highly sensuous novel The Scent of God and my initial response to it in an email to him… from where we drifted to the writing life in general. Only I didn’t seem to have one: my maiden collection of shorts had been accepted for publication for more than a year then, but I still didn’t know when it would come out; and a work-in-progress epistolary novel on which I had worked for two years had been shelved for the next two (as I just couldn’t manage to get back to it). Trying to find a toehold in Kolkata professionally after a decade abroad and settling my daughter down in a new environment had taken more time than I had imagined; whatever was left of my energy was invested wholeheartedly in a dream initiative – the Kolkata Partition Museum Project. Hence, my writing suffered. Since I was unable to work on the novel, I settled for a blog: snack for a meal!
I have survived on that snack – KOLKATA DIARIES – for two years now! I started it in early February 2018, with ‘Back to Presidency’, which dealt with what I felt about coming back to Presidency as a teacher, 25 years after I left the institution as a student. I was still relatively new in my coming back then. Just 6 months. Soon after, even my new reality would change irrevocably, as the person I most banked on in Kolkata – my dad – would be hospitalized, and then bed-ridden for months, never to revert back to his old self. The self, which at 82, still refused to be old! The next 8 months (after February 2018, that is), I couldn’t write anything. One or two FB posts, I felt retrospectively, could have been written as a KD post. But it was only from late-October 2018 that I started to write this blog seriously.
15 months into my return, I had realized that my new life would give me NO TIME for writing. But if I couldn’t write at least 500-1000 words a week, I would’ve died! So, I settled, initially, for one post per week. I did that for 5 weeks in a row, late-October to late-November, gritting my teeth. However, it was also something apart from determination that made it happen: I got to breathe first time in 3 months after joining a new University as the Head of a Department.
Since then, I have been writing, on an average, twice a month. Though there have been months I have not written at all, while in some others I wrote as many as four posts; once, in June 2019, I pulled off a memorable hat trick, writing three days in a row!
Blogging the personal
I have been blogging since 2014. I first started blogging about films (Hindi and Bengali cinema), and then gravitated towards writing about my personal life (‘Life in the Netherlands’) in early 2016 – which I continued for about a year (Feb 2016 to March 2017). It would be another year before I would commence with ‘Kolkata Diaries’. While both are blogs about my personal life, there is an important difference between them.
My life in NL was what it was. Kolkata came in, for sure, in the posts I wrote then. (How can one escape or forget the past)? But my life there had a rhythm of its own, that was primarily grounded in the present. When I started writing the blog, I had been living there for almost a decade; and my life had developed its own memory in that place. But ‘Kolkata Diaries’ I started writing after relocating back to India. The “back” is important. In fact, it is the most important thing here. I had come back to my home city, with a child. The memory now was not just that of NL, but of an earlier self in an earlier Calcutta/Kolkata: the city that was no more, whose signs and streets had changed irrevocably. My ‘home’, too, had changed irrevocably, with my mother gone, and me settling down in my natal place, 18 years after I had left it (for what I thought was) for good.
I have mostly written about the lives that surround, and impinge upon, mine (‘Meshomoshai and his New Neices’, ‘An Aspirational Family’). And, of course, about my daughter (‘Srishti’s Summer’, ‘Experiencing Pain at 7’, ‘CIS-EYP 2019’). Being a working mother defines my experience at the moment, and I’ve dealt with that more than my work, though the latter also featured sometimes (‘My Peers at SNU’, ‘An Intense Semester in 2018’).
Living with a widowed father has opened my eyes to the vulnerabilities of old age in a way I would not have otherwise (‘Doctor and Patient’, ‘ICU Stepdown’). I have paid many tributes: to role models (‘Kajaldi’); people I admire (‘The New Fotolab’); friends I cherish (‘Anna’, ‘Brototi’, ‘Mome’, ‘Runa’). I have also looked back a lot: on special occasions associated with my mother (‘My Matrilineal Inheritance’, ‘Waiting for You’, ‘Hajar-Buti’); on childhood memories (‘Chumki Maima’, ‘Shyambajar-er Mashimuni’); my life in Amsterdam (‘The Sky above Us’, ‘Gorom Bhaat’).
From late-March this year, however, unwittingly, my “Kolkata Diaries” became more like “Lockdown Diaries” – as I wrote about my experience of being quarantined at home, totally engrossed in the here and now (‘When Home is Not Home’, ‘Exhausted’).
This blog has been a long desperate bid to be able to write at all. For the most part, it has varied from 500-100 words; but there have also been much longer posts, standing anywhere between 1200 to 2000 words. My usual method is to type on my laptop, and once the post is ready after several drafts, to copy-paste the final version on my FB wall. But I have deviated from my usual method very often.
I’ve written in all manner of places and times: early morning, before class; late night, in a dark bedroom, with a sleeping child beside me; in a doctor’s clinic, waiting my turn; at Inox, before a show began. (There was also this one blissful instance, when, on a lazy Sunday morning, I typed out a post first thing after the morning tea. It was winter & the sun was soft on my feet as I lay them out on the cold floor).
These exercises could only be possible with a smartphone: I drafted in my Samsung Notes & then copy-pasted, as usual, on my wall. The accompanying photos were mostly from my phone ‘Gallery’, so that way, this strategy worked well.
A third – and the most desperate of all strategies – was when I wrote directly on my wall, with the setting, ‘Only Me’. These were for posts that I was procrastinating for way too long. Writing ON the wall ensured that they got written. The remaining process was the same: drafts, and then posting the final version with a photograph (or several of them).
The Facebook posts have been important for me. I am not on Twitter & still figuring things out on Instagram. When I make a submission, in my Bionote, I write: “She writes reviews and features for online portals, and blogs at http://www.royrituparna.com/.” But actually, I don’t post on my website. Not at first, anyway. I post directly on Facebook. Because, I found out at some point that, those that I post directly, people read. But when I give the link to my website, people usually don’t. (I have no idea why). Now, I’ve settled for posting first on my FB wall & then updating the post on my website.
I would like to take the opportunity today to thank all those who have read my blog, especially to my regular readers. They know who they are! J Some of them are among my closest friends; but there are also others whom I’ve never met in person and have never shared any phase of my life with. We met on FB, and our relationship has been nurtured primarily on our walls, in the ‘Comments’ section of our posts. I feel particularly blessed with these connections, because they allow me to reach a wider circle of readers who are yet familiar. Their feedback has helped me gauge the overall reception of my blog over 24 months.
I hope they continue reading it!!