Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. – Francis Bacon, ‘Of Studies’
I feel very, very old writing this. Like my soul is from the 1920s, but somehow it was transported into this lump of homo sapien, without any violent transmigratory process. The advantage of feeling this old inside, however, is that I can afford not to care. I can stand my ground, even if it is in my own head, and not buckle to current beliefs.
I never tell you anything about my actual life – I’ve spoken to many of you regularly over the years but you have no idea what I do, where I live or how I am when I don’t have the protection of my own blog to explain myself. It is a deliberate choice, because I don’t find any of that interesting. If I were a spy, believe me, I’d tell you all about it. Suffice it to say, this event that made me feel so very, very old, that made me want to defend writing itself – that sacred activity that has been eluding me for what feels like, and is, years, happened last week, and involved people who were 19+ of age.
I gave a random sampling of that age group a book to peruse. I asked them to make notes, illegally photocopy pages if they felt it necessary, and just try and make some use of it. They took pictures. They didn’t even bother to skim what they were taking pictures of. One of them loudly whispered in front of me that a colleague of mine provided them with Adobe Scans of reading material. Why was I bothering them like this?
I quoted the above Francis Bacon quote, explaining it in the simplest words possible, and trying to make a case overall of how knowledge should be consumed. How it is to be dealt with, to get the most out of it. How writing makes it real.
You might well imagine the resistance I received. It wasn’t even an impassioned one, one that could be called a protest. There were no arguments, for (some of) this generation is quicker in tearing you down with an emoji or an expletive than considering what you said before disagreeing with it. I was told there is no use in writing, or discussing, when so much is going on. So many links to click on, so much to process. In India, there is an epidemic of not making notes. On anything. Why would you, when you have to support one of the biggest, non-tax-paying cottage industries out there, which is getting private tutors to pass you below-standard essays bought off other, slightly older, private tutors? You don’t make notes, you pay for them and then spew them in whatever it is you need to do for society to certify you as an exact man.
am was so upset. My work situation doesn’t necessarily help increase my ego much, but there’s that imperishable enthusiastic part of me that still believes with youth there is hope. That young people are strong enough to change, clever enough to consider and brave enough to reject if they had to. That even if they didn’t believe in writing, they’d consider it as one of the ways of engaging with the world. Of understanding it, and of writing helping in fulfilling the necessity to understand themselves.
But, I guess those people are in the minority now, making or watching StudyTube videos. I was never a great student. Middling, at best. I was too anxious to balance everything. I barely supported the cottage industry of private tuition myself, not to any realizable effect anyway. I once hid behind a plant to escape someone who had come home to give me a lesson. It was a potted plant, by the way, and I was living in a flat then.
But, I always thought. And, I always wrote. I never considered things I was hopeless at, such as Chemistry and Computer Programming, as useless. I may not have a talent in it, but it is useful for the greater humanity. I never felt an expert with the things I was good at, for the mind is a sieve, and most things go out after going in.
But, I couldn’t deny the allure of knowing something new. Not necessarily learning, because that has an element of the academic, and I am frightened by academia because I feel stupid around it, but just discovering, experiencing and then sharing it with other people. I like to know, watch, listen, touch, feel, eat, drink, jump on, hide under, run towards/away, get out and get in of, most things I come in contact with that require fulfilling any of those functions. I believe it is called experiencing life.
I was laughed at by a major novelist and other participants in a writing workshop for saying this in response to his question about why I write: because writing feels primary to me. It doesn’t make me Hemingway (although if reading Hemingway made me write like Hemingway, I wouldn’t resist it), but it makes me more of Amrita. I’ve often been told, and it is true, that I don’t believe in myself. But, I do believe in writing. Even when it evades me. Even when I don’t enjoy it, which has been the case this year. I believe in it. As a craft, an activity, a history, and an art, if you will. It hasn’t exacted me as yet, but it is responsible for much that is of value in me and in the world.
Do you think writing (and by writing, I mean writing anything, from a grocery list to Shakespeare) is necessary?