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Friday, June 05, 2020

Home is where the work is: Writers and their workstations

As the COVID-19 pandemic makes work-from-home the new normal, a look at the workspaces of people who have always functioned in isolation -- writers. For Sumana Roy, the bed is her home and studio.

Written by Sumana Roy | Updated: April 29, 2020 11:39:58 am
“I often think of my ancestors whose lives had once given birth to the phrase ‘being at home’. I do not feel the urge to leave home.”

A writing desk wasn’t part of my education. In the frugal middle-class life of the late 1970s and ’80s, it wasn’t considered necessary. I read and wrote sitting on my bed. It changed slightly when I worked on mathematical problems – for this favourite subject, I sat on the floor, using the bed as a table. That is why examination halls were unbearable to me – sitting at a desk, writing, recollecting whatever I knew on the subject, looking out of the window, while my feet hung from the chair for hours, was punishment.

When we moved to a slightly bigger house, and my brother and I were given rooms of our own, he accepted a writing table – he used it not to study, making it, instead, a home to his growing collection of audio cassettes. I had no use for a table. It was, in my consciousness, as specialised and functional a space as a kitchen or bathroom. I could not think of reading like that – living with a book was as much an unconscious part of my existence as daydreaming. In fact, holding a book while reclining against a pillow was a ticket to daydreaming. As I grew older, and my body had to move houses, I did not get a writing desk for myself. Just as I have no separate notebook for writing – any will do, and I make notes for classes, essays, grocery lists, to-do lists in one notebook – I have no writing routine or a separate writing space. If I did, I would feel foreign to my self – as if writing was akin to performing surgery, and that I needed to be conscious of it, like a doctor with mask and gloves. My temperament, I now realise, moves away from genres – in writing, and in writing spaces.

Read about Roshan Ali’s workspace here.

I often think of my ancestors whose lives had once given birth to the phrase ‘being at home’. I do not feel the urge to leave home. “He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all …” “And makes one little room an everywhere …” I think of (Henry David) Thoreau and (John) Donne’s words when I’m scolded for my attachment to home, to the room where I spend all my time, to the bed where everything I need is, and which allows me everything: sleeping and waking, crying and desiring, reading and writing, and which also allows me to do nothing.

Read about Aanchal Malhotra’s workspaces here. 

I have heard of Ashapurna Debi writing from under her bed in the afternoon, after the family had been fed, Jane Austen sneaking away from the breakfast table to smuggle in a sentence into her notebook; I’ve seen a few women write on buses and bus stops. I have written in toilets, escaping there silently, to protect the sleep of the other person in the room, and I have written even when I haven’t had a notebook with me. This bed has been my home and studio, land and water, and sometimes, also a bed.

Sumana Roy is a poet and writer

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