When I was about eight years old, I read my very first detective novel. It was a story in which five children and their dog find treasure on an island in a village in Britain. The story was from The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, and was set in a place about which I knew nothing. But the idea of five young children, about my age, going on adventures and solving mysteries appealed to me so greatly, that not only did I devour several such books one after the other, but also attempted to write a story of my own some years later, as part of an English assignment for school. The story, as far as I remember now, was woefully derivative, as I gained inspiration from whatever books were available to me in the school library. And so, my first whodunnit was modelled on a mishmash of writers like Enid Blyton, Robert Arthur Jr, Michael Collins, and Agatha Christie.
I write for the thrill of surprising myself with the twists and turns that my mind can make as I immersed myself in the act of writing.
I would say that over the years, through college and post-graduation, I wrote many kinds of stories, many of which I lost simply because I wrote them for indulging in the act of writing perhaps to unconsciously test the limits of my imagination, and to let my imagination control me. At that time, the idea was not to publish them, or even share them. But about two years ago when I finished writing a set of stories based in Delhi called The Rickshaw Reveries, which in many ways contained mystery if not in a conventional manner, I found myself writing very differently from what I had originally planned, and this time with the desire to share and perhaps even publish. Significantly, far from the derivative style from my school days, I tried to find a new method to write about Delhi.
The city simply required a different mode, especially if I was to explore the strangeness of/in urban spaces. It was a crucial exercise for me as a writer because as I wrote these stories, I came to understanding of myself as a writer and archivist – that I wrote mostly to make sense of what I saw, and to gain understanding of my experiences, to learn and narrate, and in some ways, to show and teach – in the recent case, about the city, Delhi. Perhaps I should admit here that I write for the thrill of surprising myself with the twists and turns that my mind can make as I immersed myself in the act of writing. The feeling of being the teller as well as the reader is worth savouring. Indeed, the strange moments of in-betweenness, as you recognise the narrative but are also surprised by it as it takes form, is probably one of the several reasons I write. It is the best form of intoxication.
The knowledge that one gains must be shared, so that both writing, as well as knowing the city, may be known to others who may be interested in the same themes.
Of course, in all this, the true privilege, for me, lies in being able to have others partake of my writing. Being a woman in a metropolitan city in which spaces are gendered to a great degree, it has always been a challenge to negotiate the city space as a female explorer. The knowledge that one gains must be shared, so that both writing, as well as knowing the city, may be known to others who may be interested in the same themes – especially because there is a kind of unique fluidity in a woman’s experience of city spaces.
Whatever be the subject, there are always too many questions to ask and find answers to. Sometimes it feels like a compulsion to explore these in writing, as I find myself obsessively pursuing an idea or chain of thought, unable to let go until I have exhausted myself.
Ultimately, I must say that about two decades ago, when I read the old hardbound illustrated edition of The Famous Five, I understood the value of imagination. I am aware how it is a gift that everyone has and must exploit. Writing is my way of exercising my imagination, all the more rewarding because stories can alter both, the reader and the writer. Writing has changed me as a person on various levels. What I write, how I write, when, where, why, all impact me. It is a process I hopefully will never be able to find a release from. Perhaps it can be called a fixation, a drug, a dream, or a delicious hallucination that can be induced even in the noisiest corners of the bustling city.
Ipshita Nath is the author of The Rickshaw Reveries. She teaches English literature at University of Delhi, and is pursuing her doctoral research with the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia. She has an abiding fondness for Victorian literature as well as early twentieth century American works. The views expressed are the author’s own.