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Of Readers, Writers and Life

by Anupama Krishnakumar

Anupama Krishnakumar writes three pieces of flash fiction that show how the written word is a subtle and indispensable presence in the lives of many people, often being the catalyst for uplifting, memorable and life-altering moments.

#1 My First Moment of Love

It is interesting how he fell in love with her. It was the moment when he saw her hunched over Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, sitting at a desk in their classroom, oblivious to the world around her. Warm morning sunlight streamed through the golden yellow panes of windows, illuminating one side of her face, as she sat, absent-mindedly twirling the lonely curl that dangled by her right ear. What a beautiful way to be lost in a world of words! He loved everything about the moment – the ambience, the stillness, the faint movement of her lips as she read, the ease in her posture, the gentle way in which she flipped the pages. He, the avid reader, sincere writer and the admirer of the moment, standing by the door, hands crossed, was the insignificant addition in what seemed to him, a beautiful painting. He wished he could freeze the picture and moment for posterity. He wrote a poem about it, and titled it ‘My First Moment of Love’. A year later, he gifted her the poem, and after a few more, along with a ring. She said yes.

#2 A Dream for Akshara

When he held his little daughter, soft as a cotton ball, in his arms, barely an hour after she was born, the first words that he uttered to her as he trembled with excitement were “Here, my writer is born!” He had waited for this moment for so long, that the ten months had felt like ages, longer than the three-and-a-half decades that he had lived on this planet. “Hello, little one,” he muttered softly, “This is a magical world, you know. Full of books and amazing writing. Wait till I show you how beautiful it is!” He named her Akshara, the letter, the basis of all language – written and spoken. He began to meticulously draw up lists of books that he would introduce to his daughter. He loved this exercise, did it with so much love and care, often opening his three tall bookshelves and sifting through books, carefully noting down book names and their authors and classifying them according to age-appropriateness.

At two-and-a-half, when she began to recite ABCs, he shivered with pride. He read ‘Matilda’ to her when she was three and it felt so surreal. How much he had waited for this day!  He didn’t know how much of it she understood but he just wanted to give her the experience of a beautiful book. He was over the moon when she declared that the book belonged to her and designated a special corner for it in her small cupboard. He didn’t know when that one book grew to a heap. When she put her pencil to paper and wrote wriggly capital letters, he waited with bated breath for the day she would write her first word. When she wrote AKSHARA for the first time, he admired the little fingers that managed to write that. As time flew, the book pile grew, and she began reading. There were some she read by herself and some that he read out to her: Dr. Seuss, Ruskin Bond, Roald Dahl, AA. Milne. Dickens, Kipling, RL Stevenson and more.

At four, she wanted to tell her own poem. But she couldn’t write big words yet. So, she ran up to him and asked, “I’ll say it, can you write it for me?” He would remember that instant as one of the most precious ones in his life. He cleared his throat and said, “Oh, of course dear.” And so, she began telling and he began writing it down on the first page of a beautiful notebook. She titled it

“The two dragons and a girl” and it went thus:

There were two dragons
They stood by the window
Of a little girl’s room
She peeped out
They breathed fire on her
She took her perfume
And sprayed on their face
And they ran away.

“That’s it!” she exclaimed as she finished and asked, “Is it nice?” In response, he hugged her tight and kissed her tender forehead and said, “So beautiful!” At the end of the page, he added “Poem by Akshara, dated 15th July 2015.” He soon filled the notebook with the stories she narrated, just the way she told him and promised to himself that he would be her earnest listener, never judging her, never correcting her. He knew that there couldn’t be a better way for a child to pick up a language and the skill of expressing herself in it, than letting her follow her own course of learning and unlearning it.

On his 42nd birthday, when she was seven, she gifted him a hug, a kiss and an envelope. He opened it with trembling fingers and found a piece of paper which bore the neat cursive writing of his dear daughter. It was a poem. Her poem. Full of love and affection for him and talking of all the wonderful things they did together. But it was the last two lines that brought tears to his eyes –

You are my best book-friend, Papa

And I love you so much!

He didn’t mind growing emotional, he let the feeling overpower him and at that precise moment, he knew the journey he had dreamed of for years had taken a definitive direction. His writer had indeed arrived!

#3 The Writer at the Café

She sat at the café, sipping a cappuccino, nonchalantly staring out the window, looking at nothing in particular. Her writerly mind though, registered the little details of the goings-on outside – fodder for a possible story or verse sometime. The beverage wasn’t fabulous by any measure, but she was there for the atmosphere; this place inadvertently, and for reasons not very clear to her, soothed her nerves, calmed her restless mind. The café was more or less empty at that hour. It was four in the evening and barring a group of friends chatting away at a corner table and a family of three in another, there was no one around. Five minutes later, two young men walked in and settled down at the table opposite hers. One of them was tall, lean, had deep brown eyes and dressed casually in a white T-shirt and deep blue jeans. The other was shorter, had a mop of curly black hair, a sharp profile and looked every bit worried. They quickly settled down, ordered something in haste and fell silent. The silence persisted for a few minutes before the tall man held the hands of the other very gently and pressed his fingers. The shorter man sighed and shook his head.

Sitting there as a passive observer, something stirred in her as she watched the scene unfolding in front of her. The gentleness of one and the sadness of the other pierced her soul. A flash of inspiration struck her. She had to write it down somewhere. She hurriedly pulled a pen out of her knapsack. She desperately searched for her notebook. “Damn,” she thought, “I left it behind at my desk!” Quick, she told herself, think of something soon, an alternative, goddammit! And then it struck her! “Excuse me,” she called out to the lady who was on her way to the men’s table with two mugs of hot chocolate. “Excuse me, please! I’m sorry, but could you give me two tissues, please?”

The lady, a little startled, obliged, and handed her couple of them. “Muchas gracias,” she muttered gratefully and in an inspiration-loaded few minutes, scribbled away furiously into the white tissues, the seed for her next book. You see, such is the life of a writer.

Anupama Krishnakumar is an engineer-turned journalist. She co-edits Spark and is also the author of two books, ‘Fragments of the Whole’, a flash fiction collection and ‘Ways Around Grief & Other Stories’, a short-story collection. Her website is www.anupamakrishnakumar.com.

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