How My Pen Emerged Mightier Than….Well, Fawad Khan
There wasn’t enough Fawad Khan to go around. Around the pandemic, that is. And that was the problem. I scoured Netflix, Amazon, YouTube. Even some seriously questionable streaming sites. But no more Fawad than I’d already consumed.
How else do you survive a lockdown that goes up momentarily only to slam shut all over again? I needed chocolate eyes and a quirky smile. No, not even SRK could fill the hole in my brain right now. Which was fixated. Obsessed.
Amazon offered a ray of hope. I could get one Fawad serial if I signed up for a free trial of Eros. Not the God. The entertainment platform. So, I signed up. Only to find they had episode numbers one, three, five, six and twelve. What kind of God – sorry, platform – does that? I signed out.
Getting caught on the wrong foot
I made it back to Wales in the nick of time in February. Not the last flight out of Delhi, as claimed by some friends. But close enough when you consider that I was weighted down by the six-and-a-half kilos of cake that had been consumed over the double birthday celebrations shortly before. I swear that plane took that much longer to touch down in Heathrow.
The signs had been there. If you chose to read them. The friend who’d bailed out on Amma’s big birthday. The constant injunctions by the husband to wear a mask. Which I’d promptly crumpled into my pocket once in the plane.
I was relieved to be back in Swansea. The solitude of our little flat. Families are good, useful even, but a little of them goes a long way. I may be wrong. But am yet to discover that.
Laziness took over. Sheer inertia. Errands got postponed. There was all the time in the world to get things done. Except there wasn’t, was there?
Which is why I got caught on the wrong foot when lockdown was announced. As the world disintegrated around me, and the TV sobbed every evening, I sweated the small stuff. The stuff that didn’t matter. To anyone. Except me, in that moment of bald escapism. I could have cried when theCosta Coffee outlets shut down. Not even a drive-through open. For God’s sake, that coconut vanilla latte was my fix. I’d gone cold turkey in Delhi for the most part. Except for one glorious cup in January.That would have to do me now. Forever, it seemed.
The coffee rush was replaced by a stillness. Of the spirit. Which was shell-shocked by this turn in its being-ness. It’s more accustomed to being rushed around like a headless chicken by the motor centre I call a brain. Eons of counselling had not quite quelled the whirlwind of anxiety and depression that I had lived at the vortex of for several years.
But now, suddenly, everything was hushed down. At peace. Maybe I was in the eye of the storm. But I loved it! Loved getting up in the morning and knowing there was nothing to do. No urgent browse around the charity shops for a new frog. I collect them. Frogs, I mean, not charity shops. No rushing around to the crochet club, coffee morning, walks with the gents, all the diversionary tactics that my anxious head had deemed necessary to keep me from falling out with it altogether. It was extraordinarily liberating. I even had time to ponder on how heroes in novels always have crisp white handkerchiefs to offer beleaguered heroines. No man in my life has ever had a handkerchief ready for such imperatives, let alone a freshly washed one.
Filling the vacuum
I’d chosen – voluntarily – to live in a cocoon once I’d ended my life as a journalist. I’d had enough of bad news to last a lifetime. And there were too many bad things happening out there to make me want to know more. The husband and the son presented me with occasional highlights of the day. I thrived in the vacuum of my cocoon.
But vacuum is not a sustainable state of being. It needs to be filled. Not even the book I was editing on the Thucydidean brink was quite cutting it. Not even when the world itself was poised on that very brink.
I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge. To read 36 books in 12 months. Reasonably doable, I thought. By April, I’d upped the challenge to 48. By September, I was six books ahead of the game. Thank you, Amazon!
I began knitting scarves. This is not a good time to ask why. But I’ll tell you anyway. I was still in a good Fawad Khan place. So what if Humsafar had run out? Zindagi Gulzar Hai was still on its second run. Armaan was waiting round the corner. Scarves seemed a reasonable accompaniment. Mindless enough to enable many swoons over chocolate eyes. Christmas presents for the family this year would be scarves.
Wool was one thing I could buy online. On sale. Yarns I could never have afforded otherwise. The pleasure was sensuous. Palpably. And relief-inducing. Anxiety over the parents chafing at the lockdown reins in Noida. The son in solitary splendour in Geneva. All woven into Knit 2, Slip 1, Knit 2 together.
The other option was baking. Which I was not very good at. Easy two-step process towards that Covid stone we were being told we could expect to gain. Except that I’d already gained it. Maybe even two. The birthday cakes, remember?
But those bananas were rotting on the sideboard. Crying out for a new life as banana bread. That’s when I discovered the UK was on the Great Flour Run of 2020. Not even in the five weeks of The Great British Bake Off had there ever been such a run on baking supplies. A single bottle of vanilla essence graced empty racks. I grabbed it. Routed out some expired flour. The banana bread got made. But it was the last time the oven was called upon to render such service.
Image credit: Pixabay/pexels.com
Lockdown had shut the husband down in my company. I mean, imagine Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor if they’d been released from that locked room three decades later – the expressions on their faces? You could extrapolate here.
The husband began living in a mysterious world of online supervisions and Zoom meetings. Things I’d never heard of before. Room had to be made for all this frenetic online activity. Seriously. It does apparently require room. Especially for the right kind of background to appear against in a Zoom call. The second bedroom did a 60-minute makeover. And re-emerged as ‘Dad’s Office’. Aka Man Cave.
It wasn’t long before the Zoom siren sang to me as well. Some school friends set up a Zoom group to right the wrongs of the world. Another enterprising schoolfriend – or, more probably, a bored-out-of-her-mind school friend – who’d had some previous experience in medical lockdowns, got together with another school friend and set up a Zoom Book Club. Yet another offered a Zoom class in drawing mandalas.
I now needed a Zoom background of my own. A 2018 calendar of impossibly cute puppies was pressed into action. Every time I’d tried to throw it away, I could swear I’d seen their eyes glisten with tears. They were happy now.
I was also happy. The Zoom experiences were most enjoyable. If you discount the fact that I was now seeing more of my schoolmates than I had done back in school.
Meanwhile, Fawad had to take a backseat as the husband wound down his Zoom day with murder, gore and mayhem. Many of them in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Netflix and Amazon seemed to have a softer spot for him. I went with the flow.
And the lockdown went on. And on. Till a brief window opened when virus exchanges hotted up. And brought back the lockdown. My hunt for distractions continued. Interminably, it seemed sometimes.
Nevertheless, I continued to wallow in inner peace. And Fawad Khan. Then I ran out of Fawad. I had to resort to long walks (not cold showers, thank you very much!).
Wielding the pen again
It was on one such solitary walk that I was overtaken by gestalt. No, that’s not a synonym for Dementor, it’s something more explosive in terms of brainwaves. This gestalt was provoked by the realisation that I was missing the smiles. Swansea is so far removed from most of the world that complete strangers still smile at each other. It alarmed the Delhiite in me at first, but over the years, I’ve learnt that all I have to do to feel fuzzy and warm is go for a walk. And be smiled upon.
But now all I could see were masks. And eyes above them. Unreadable eyes. Impossible to say whether they were smiling or glaring at me.
I came back home and wrote about it. As in I. Wrote. About. It. The words bear more significance than their bare meaning. Cheesy stuff like the muse had been missing in action for the last six years of my life. I would like to say that the sun now shone from under the clouds, birds started chirping, flowers began blooming… But this was Swansea, where, for roughly 355 days of the year, the weather forecast reads ‘Cloudy’, ‘Showers’, ‘Thunderstorms’. Well-nigh impossible.
I wrote my first poem when I was six. At least, that’s what the crowing parents tell me. Honestly? It brought them more joy than me. For me, it was more embarrassment in a short life spent trying to avoid precisely such embarrassments.
From that moment, I became The Girl Who Would Write. For a living. I remember an ill-fated viva voce at the university in which I told my French teacher that I wanted to be a journalist. Apparently, I chose the wrong set of verbs. ‘To be’ instead of ‘to become’. The teacher was kind. I passed. And became a journalist.
The son arriving at an inopportune moment sealed me on the copy desk for all time to come. I didn’t mind. Neither the latent maternal instincts that were welling up, nor the bustle of the newspaper desk. I love the English language more, perhaps, than I love above-mentioned family. But during those long hours of editing news stories, I found I had to move my funny bone. Or fossilise forever. So, I wrote humour. Even garnered a fan club of stockbrokers in Satara. I know. These things happen only to me.
Many years later, I outdid my own expectations by writing a bodice ripper. And I mean finishing it. That was the big win. Beginning a novel has never been a problem. I earned 200 pounds from it, a book club reading at Kingston and a credible number of fan mails and reviews.
So, absence of aforesaid cheesy muse had definitely been an empty place at my table. Somewhere at the beginning of 2019, when most people make new year resolutions, I made an un-resolution. I would not think about writing, would not stress about it, would not think of jumping into the river about it – you get the drift? 2019 was a peaceful year. I think the world will agree.
But here I was now: writing. The words were flowing in rapid spate. As if the stream had never been choked. It was unbelievable.
But there was nowhere to write it. A platform? Forum?Where would I put up this piece where people other than my (still) adoring family would read it? I’d gone off social media with a bang when the muse pressed Disconnect. There was nothing to post. Quite literally. Not in the abyss where I was lurking.
I went back. As they say. I shook the blog off my shelf and dusted it. Made my peace with Facebook. With Twitter. I’d remained on cruising terms with WhatsApp, so that was all right. And began posting. Every week.
It took the world coming to a stop to start me writing again. Not quite what the doc would have prescribed. But who cares? I was finally a person again.