I am spending these days of lockdown at a certain kind of pace, a rhythm that has established itself over the last month. I have helped conceptualise and bring live our new digital platform, Brave New World. It is comforting to continue with the familiar tasks– to think of speakers, curate session ideas, and share them with book lovers, friends of JLF, and all those who, like me, are struggling to make sense of the disruptive times. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays I spend the evenings with my iPad, watching the sessions as they stream across our various JLF handles on Insta, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It’s a virtual treat, something to look forward to.
I read when I can. I try to keep pace with my two younger grandchildren, through photographs and videos as they learn to walk, to speak, to say ‘Nani ‘. It feels strange and wrong that I can’t meet them, hug them, even though they are not so far away. I chat with my older granddaughter on FaceTime, sometimes listening in and helping out with homework. I massage my hair with almond oil and observe with curiosity and delight as it finally gets to go grey, transforming the contours of my remembered face.
Deep down, I am at peace with myself because in the midst of all this, I am finding the time and the focus to write. I began on a novel I had been thinking about for a long time when I was in Kathmandu in February. I had taken notes, I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and in the quiet of my hotel room I found I was able to write those crucial first lines, to find the voice, the rhythm of the narrative.
When I had already gathered pace, the world as I knew it was upended. Even then I had something to hang on to, a private place to retreat, where I could still pretend to be in charge, to tell my own story. I manage to write most days, and I don’t feel guilty when I don’t. I’m processing the disruptions, letting things brew and simmer inside me, as I watch with disbelief the way every certainty is being challenged.
I had been working patiently for over a decade on a play about the tragic life of the poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt. My co-author Dr Malashri Lal and I have managed over the last month to go through the final edits. It has given both of us great joy and contentment to see this labour of love at last ready to go to press, to find its way in the world as a published book.
Each of us has our own draft and template of lockdown diaries. Low bandwidth? Netflix fatigue? An inability to focus? The struggle with housework? There are those who are battling starvation and not boredom, those for whom the sheer act of survival has become even more of a struggle. There are those who are facing violence on the streets or at home with an abusive domestic partner. People have lost their jobs, their livelihood. Soon they will lose their savings. Then there’s the everyday anxiety that has descended like a blanket of fog over so many of us.
In a recent session of JLF Brave New World, Pico Iyer spoke of The Art of Stillness. His concluding words made a deep impression on me. “What the lockdown teaches us is that we have much less control over the external world than we realise, but much more control over our internal world than we suspect. “ I am still contemplating this thought, and it brings me solace as like all of us, I try to carry on.
(Lockdown Reading is a series where authors will enlist the books they are reading (or not) during this time. This week, Namita Gokhale shares the way she has been spending her days)
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