I started writing when I was 10. From what I remember, we got an assignment in the fifth grade as part of which we were all supposed to start writing a journal. I don’t know for how long we were supposed to do that because I never stopped.
You’d say writing a journal doesn’t necessarily count as “writing”. In some ways, I agree. I never focused on the form and the language and the grammar and the vocabulary. Whatever I was writing in my journals was for myself. Maybe even a future version of myself. Writing those diary entries as a little child somehow paved way for all of the writing that followed. A few months after I started writing my first journal, I started writing poetry. I wrote poems about whatever felt important in life at the time. I wrote about the struggles of a 10-year-old who was often annoyed with her mother for not being the mother she wanted her to be. I wrote about books and plants and friends and family. I wrote about feelings. That was what I named my diary of poems. “Feelings”. I wrote in English and I wrote in Hindi.
Soon after, I started submitting my poems for writing contests. At school, every year we could send our writing and our art for a country-wide Child Art competition that I took pretty seriously. There were multiple categories – about 10 within creative writing. So, to increase my chances of getting certificates and medals and awards for writing, I started submitting short stories as well.
I wrote about twin sisters and boarding schools – maybe because I loved Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s book series and wanted to replicate her style and her themes. I wrote about teenage girls trying to fit in. I wrote more and more about fictional narratives that were based on some aspects of my non-fictional life. And every year, I hoped I’d win a gold medal. Sometimes I did. Other times I won silver and copper medals, state awards, and certificates of appreciation.
Now when I think about those days and my writing at the time, I realise I wasn’t a good writer. But I was a writer nonetheless, and that was important to me. I named all my diaries. I had a series of “Happiness” diaries and I had one called “Dreams.” I guess that’s how simplistic you are when you’re a child. Those are the things that matter.
As I grew up, I continued to write. I wrote about boys and crushes and best friends and school exams. By the age of 18, I probably had 10 diaries and at least three blogs. The internet gave me another space to fill my writing in. I took all of the spaces, all of the means, and I wrote. My journals acted like an oasis of my mortality, of the girl I was and the woman I was becoming. It felt necessary to record it all, to sit with myself and pour out whatever I was feeling, in any form possible.
I know many people don’t take to writing journals because they’re worried that one day someone would read them and they’d be exposed. I didn’t worry about that because my parents didn’t read English. Their language of comfort was Hindi. I felt fortunate that I could write all I could – even the fact that my parents were conservative and unsupportive and didn’t express their love, which I thought meant that they didn’t love me at all.
But I was wrong. Not about their love for me at the time. But about the confidentiality of my writing. My mother had started reading my diary and she read most of the things she wasn’t supposed to read. I had just turned 18 when she confiscated my journal. She was angry. She was hurt. I was infuriated. I was wounded.
It won’t be wrong to say that I was addicted to writing. I couldn’t stop. Every paper and pen spoke to me. Every time I felt things, I wanted to write them down. All of the anger and pain and fear pushed me to write in pages of college notebooks hoping my mom wouldn’t find my writing in between math equations and science experiments. But she did. Somehow. And writing ended up becoming the reason for much of the trouble that I was writing about to feel at peace. Writing had failed me. Everything that happened as a result of the words she read jolted me. (That’s a story for another time). And just like that, I stopped writing. That desire to find words for everything I was experiencing on a daily basis faded. It felt like I was grieving the loss of words in my own way.
I couldn’t stay away from writing for too long. Over the years, I made secret blogs and found some solace in the existence of the internet, a place where it was easier to hide. I never wrote when I was home. I stayed for extra hours in college sometimes only to be able to go to the computer lab and write the odd entry on a blog. Reflections on pain and on loss. Letters to God. Random musings. Short poems.
Even when I first started this blog, which somehow changed the direction of my life and pushed me to become a journalist, I was too scared of sharing about my personal life. Slowly, it became easier. But writing in a physical diary did not. That still felt terrifying. In some ways, it had become a sacred act, until I experienced an unmanageable bout of anxiety about four years ago. That’s when I went back to a pen and paper. I found my comfort in writing just like I did when I was little. I wrote every time I felt anxious. I wrote every time I felt alone. And so, I wrote a lot.
I’ve filled about six diaries ever since. I don’t name my diaries anymore. I use them as innumerable portals into my existence. I often wonder how long I’d be able to keep them with me. These physical objects that define me and shape me but can’t really be concealed. And I don’t have an answer.
When I came back to my childhood home two years ago, I looked for my older diaries everywhere. Apparently, my parents threw them out when they were getting my room renovated.
“Weren’t those just old school notebooks?”
“Um, no they were not.”
I felt like that one action tossed away all those childhood and teenage years. I still feel that. I guess that’s why I continue to scout multiple drawers and cupboards and boxes every time I’m back in their house in the hope of finding one of those 10 diaries to spend time with just a snippet of my older self.
In one such attempt last week, I found those medals and certificates that I had accumulated for my writing. And I smiled. Not because I felt proud of who I was in those early years but because I realised how much worth I attached to external validation. How I didn’t realise at the time that none of those awards would matter in life. None of it would stay. Except for the act of writing itself.