I have no recollection of what I had read or written for the very first time in my life. I have a sneaky suspicion that one of the first books that was read to me had a picture of a big bear with red tassels hanging from his front paws - he didn't walk on all fours.
But as far as what I first read on my own - the first string of sentence that made sense to me - that, I have forgotten. This, however, I don't worry too much about. After all, it was really long ago and I've put it down to be a bright but ephemeral star in my 'shifting landscape of childhood.'*
I wish I could find that scrap where I wrote my first coherent sentence. What was it? Was it 'An apple is red?' Did I write that I wasn't blase about the truth that an apple is indeedy red. Perhaps it was something else, like 'My name is Mukta.' Maybe the first sentence I formed was an assertion of my unformed identity - something I would use later on in life to introduce myself to friends, set myself apart from strangers, and correspond with bank people. I wish I could find that scrap. It feels like I've lost an old but precious photograph that recorded something that won't happen ever again in this lifetime. I feel sad because that piece of paper, that first sentence, somehow was the road map of where I would reach one day in the wordsmith territory. Sure, it would take a very deep kind of deciphering skill, but I'd know where the spidery road of writing would lead me....because, you see, I'm a writer.
Over the years, I've seen my writing change - from style and substance to subjects and composition. Sometimes, they are good but most often, they are marked with potential - 'if only it had been written better.' But the one constant that I carried with me through every single thing I wrote - a message on an anniversary card, a letter, an email, a book report, a note to
myself - was a deep joy in having articulated an idea. Everytime I wrote something, I just thought I was becoming a bit of a nicer person. There was no artifice, no labored desperation of being liked, no longing for reward. My thoughts, words, pen, and paper - that complete, idyllic world.
But something seems to have changed now. I no longer feel joy when I write. An idea first floats into my head and immediately grows tentacles into all the other ideas that I've stored away in my brain. These tentacles are thick and bristly. They connect the other random thoughts in a knobbly mesh and they are very uncomfortable. But because all my ideas are connected,
I see a picture in my brain that is very fascinating. It's like looking at a crystal that changes color wherever you touch it.
At first, I see that thought that had floated in - that's the sparkling white crystal. Then I see how that thought got affixed to another idea from a long time ago - that's when my little finger traces the edge of a crystal and it turns an icy blue. After that, the idea goes deeper and unearths a memory - my thumb touches the base and the crystal turns chartreuse. And so the saga continues. Finally, when I hold the crystal in my hand with all my fingers gingerly touching it, I look at a rich, exquisite, piece of jewel.
This is when I start getting excited. That feeling, that urge to write, to put in words the picture that I have seen, that craving to show that crystal- now floods those tentacles and they start throbbing. At first, it's a gentle throb, but later it gets worse. It feels like meningitis. It feels as if my head is too small to contain it. So these tentacles go even deeper and get hold of my neck muscles. There is a tight tension there. My muscles are hard and sore. All I want is for the pain to go, all I want is some relief - and that'll come only when I write.
And so I pick up my pen and write. The tentacles initially hold back that fluid of desire - I suppose they too are shocked at the sudden prospect of release. But then, it flows - easily and freely. The tentacles slowly loosen their grip around my muscles - I almost cringe at the pricks of pain. It feels as if someone has held on to me so tightly that their nails dug into my skin. Now the fingers unclasp, the nails withdraw and I am free but the welts and marks burn.
What I have with me on paper is perhaps not the unique masterpiece I had imagined. It is not the crystal that changes color when I touch it. It's a drab little sketch with craggy lines instead of smooth curves. It's a mundane, ordinary pebble with no strong form or distinct character. But the tentacles are not there anymore. There is no more pain.
Perhaps the first sentence that I'd written had foretold this about my writing destiny. Perhaps that simple sentence, if deciphered, could show that trajectory - that I would first write for joy, and later for release.
* This phrase is taken from 'Shadow Lines' by Amitav Ghosh.