I have never had a specific place or time set aside for writing. I began writing when I was very young. At that time, I would sit and write on a large boulder used on the threshing floor of our agricultural land (near Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu). It was wide and circular, with a small depression on one surface. During monsoon, it would fill to the brim with water. When seen from the top of a palm tree, it seemed like a strange animal crouching down.
During the harvest season, when the crops stood tall, it would feel warm, safe and nurturing. In the summer, after the harvest was over, I could experience the freedom of the vast outdoors. Be it at dawn, or, when the shadows of the trees along the borders lengthened at dusk, I would sit on that boulder and read; sometimes, write. Read this story in Tamil
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I wrote with my notebook in my lap; other times, I would lie down on the boulder, enjoying its pleasant texture. I had also placed a stone slab next to it that would act as a table when I needed one. When it was time to eat, my mother would call out to me loudly. I would continue reading or writing until, after several such calls, I would go home reluctantly.
Our house had no electricity until 1993. So, even after night fell, I would linger on on my boulder. There were days when the moon was bright — not enough to read, but just enough to scribble down my thoughts. Many a piece of writing in my youth took shape under the moonlight. That boulder was my perfect solitary space all the way through my college years.
After that, there were many villages, many rooms and many houses. Throughout it all, there was never a space that I found appealing. I bought a house of my own in Namakkal (in Tamil Nadu) in 2005. With it, I got a wonderful terrace. In the summer, even my bedding would be on that terrace. I have spent many a night writing there. Even so, I was never fully satisfied. I always felt the need to establish a permanent space in which I could write and read. After all, I couldn’t go to the terrace whenever I wanted — mosquitos, a torture so characteristic of cities — would drive me away on many an occasion.
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In 2009, an opportunity presented itself. While constructing a room for my mother, I decided to build a study for myself alongside. Half the terrace went to my mother’s room and my study. The other half, with a beautiful tin roof, became a space that was open to the elements from three directions. The study and the open shed became my writing spaces. There are tables in both the places, and, shelves, with books that I use regularly, within reach.
During this period of lockdown, my days are spent in the open shed, flanked on one side by a drumstick tree and a kadi-patta tree on the other. My laptop and its assorted accompaniments dot the table, alongside a number of books. I write while listening to music.The drumstick flowers attract butterflies and honeybees. Koels feast on the fruits of the curry-leaf tree with great relish. On the trees and the parapets nearby, crows and babblers sit and rest. A little distance away, black drongos call out while squirrels climb trees and leap across walls .Early in the morning, they can all be seen simultaneously. They go about their business while I go about mine. To them, I am a life just like theirs. That’s all there is to it. They have faith in me.
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They know from experience that this human being will not disturb them or drive them away. I, too, know that they will not disturb me in any way. We respect each others’ presence. From time to time, we raise our voices and speak with joy. At other times, we gaze at each other in silence. Sometimes, I read a few short stories that I have finished, out loud. Two ravens lower their heads and gaze at me with astonishment. Hidden amidst the foliage of the kadi-patta tree, koels fall silent as they listen to me. Squirrels chirp cheerfully. Encouraged, my voice grows a little louder…
Perumal Murugan is a Tamil novelist and poet
(Translated into English from Tamil by Ram Sarangan)
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