A Solitary Afternoon Drive

It would be presumptuous of me to call myself a writer. I like putting down some words every now and then. It makes me feel better. I know that the next couple of days and nights following the night that I’ve written something go rather well. I feel good; lighter somehow.

The muse is elusive if there is such a thing as a ‘muse’ for someone who claims not to be a writer. I shouldn’t need a muse. When I write it’s about things that make an impression on me. I seem to want to anchor these impressions somehow so that they never leave me, so I know for sure that I’ve lived through a time and not just skated past. Some folks like to get tattoos to commemorate an occasion, an event, a love, a belief…unless they’re doing it so they can feel the sweet pleasure of pain that convinces them that they are alive and in the here and now (I’ve heard that proffered as a reason once) …but perhaps I ground myself or find a way to get settled into this life my marking up empty spaces with my words.

Why I do this, I don’t know. I do it for the reasons noted above, but I still can’t answer why I feel the need to anchor an experience or impression with words in the first place. Nothing changes our status as a fraction of a speck in the universe, after all. I will never understand or be able to get at the roots of my compulsion to write but it does make me feel good and I have nothing against trying to feel good every now and then.

Back to the elusive muse…I suppose even non-writers need muses. Is the muse governing the words I’ve written so far? Don’t really think so, these words don’t appear blessed by a muse. But whenever the muse or whatever it is that compels me to write is absent or is sunning him/herself in the Greek Islands somewhere I feel miserable. That’s when ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ emerges and manifests itself in various forms, prompting me to recall the long forgotten words from some short story I read a long time ago, “Lie thee down oddity” (if someone remembers which story, which author etc., please remind me).

And so I make a promise to myself to find a quiet place, free of distractions, where I could play archivist to every thought I’ve had and every banal experience that seeps through my consciousness. I marvel at Kerouac’s writing his “On the Road” on a single scroll of paper…did he take breaks or did he fill up this scroll in one sitting? And what about the writers, who find a quiet place in their home where their desk faces the wall instead of a window, so they can write, or take undisturbed dictations from an intravenous muse?

Perhaps non-writers don’t need such arrangements or rearrangements of their physical surroundings, what do they need – a richness of experience, friends, dramatic lives, a purpose, some direction?

I am afraid I lack all of the above. I don’t know if it’s because of the way I treat life…the richness of experience bit. I think I never open myself up enough for the entire spectrum of colors to come flooding into my consciousness; a puritan at heart perhaps who looks longingly over a tall and insurmountable fence at all the life that’s being lived on the other side.

Friends…now I have no idea why that particular ship sailed by without unloading any passengers of note…acquaintances aplenty but friends…not sure. Of course there are certain acquaintances who feel like friends and I wonder why I am not being more wholehearted in calling them friends. Perhaps I am as mixed up about the meaning of friendship as I am of love.

I repel drama in my life, I like keeping things even-keel and inert; there are fewer disappointments and upheavals this way. Every now and then drama rears its ugly head but I greet it with stoic and stony silence until it beats a passive retreat. For instance in a certain car conversation with DH, my sanity was preserved with my non-reactive posture.

Lastly, direction…this one leaves me completely clueless and baffled. It implies a goal orientation, a sense of ambition perhaps or a smoldering passion that lights a path.

So what can a non-writer write about when faced with such emotional dearth?

Perhaps she can write about some random thoughts that pass between her ears, en route to the ether, about the solitude she craves every now and then, the time to be herself. Perhaps the solitude in her mind is like nothingness…no cares, no responsibilities, no demands on her time…so she can do what she wants.

She gets it, she gets her solitude and she takes herself on a long drive, listening, really listening for the first time, to the songs that she’s heard a million times before…the voice of Paul Simon talking about the train in the distance and the thought of a “happier” life being woven indelibly into our hearts and brains. She thinks of all the things she has and the things she’s desired, including this much anticipated solitude of hers and realizes that something is still missing that would make her happier. If happier is always the ideal then whatever becomes of happy?

The long drive still isn’t over and the CD changer in the car moves to the next CD in the line up of six CDs…her favorite old Hindi film songs in the golden voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. She wonders why she likes old songs so much, why she is so closed to the new sounds that emerge from the next generation of musicians, why does she refuse to yield. The image of Frankenstein comes unbidden to her mind…a lot of the new music is a remixed version of the old and no one ever thought reanimated death was beautiful. One wants to preserve memories in their pristine form and not taint them and warp them into something barely recognizable.

As the drive continues the conversation with DH is still fresh in her brain, after all it happened during a car ride. She thinks about a dinner with ‘acquaintances’ ten years ago at an outdoor restaurant in Cannes with a childless couple who had long since decided they didn’t want children and one on the brink of expanding their family and in the throes of associated decisional dithering. The childless couple, especially the lady, liked to punctuate her sentences with the word, “why?” This interrogative stance usually left the people she was conversing with progressively dumbfounded until they were left blubbering, “Because!” like an ornery child. The question at the heart of our conversation was, “Why should one have children?” Her belief was that it was out of selfishness that one had children.

Ten years hence and one child later, the words, “It is selfish”, still echo in her head, especially in the context of her recent conversation with DH…one where it does seem that the reasons for having a child are selfish; an assurance of some form of illusive and minor immortality; a way to leave a mark…once again, like getting a tattoo, like filling up empty spaces with words…a way to convince oneself that one was present, one was around…even if the brain that benefited from such a form of convincing will be as extinct as the convincing and determined action one took.

And then the drive is over, she arrives at the destination of choice…a bookstore/café…where she’ll try to observe people, overhear snippets of conversation, sip a latte, leaf through some new-fangled magazines and the ‘classical’ section of the music aisle, looking for something to be passionate about or finally a direction in the jumbled mess of crossroads she faces.


  1. If this indeed is non-writing, then you have invoked the muse albeit unknowingly and undesiredly and it's here to stay. Writing IS about bringing alive those very observations one makes at random places, molding those snippets of conversations one is privy to at quaint bookshops or even elevators, and infusing one's own experiences, into a fabric of words that one cannot otherwise call one's own. And maybe if you open your mind and start to accept that your life as it is does have much to offer you in terms of perspectives, rich experiences, true friends, and is being steered towards a destination with some purpose, be it to satisfy your desires or to quench your thirst for knowledge or attain peace or even materialistic gains…then you'd see that there is, deep within, a writer in you, whose muse has been found again 🙂 Good luck with believing in yourself and your muse! Ronj

  2. Dumbstruck, speechless at this magnificent piece of writing, an eloquence matching the clarity of ideas, a condition, a state of mind exquisitely unravelled.Haven't seen such rich, and enriching prose – or is it poetry, one wonders – in a long, long time.

  3. Hi Pragya,Loved this long, sensuously meandering piece. And, who says you aren't a writer. Only a writer can write such stuff.John

  4. If not a writer, a philosopher. Your pleasant eloquence surpasses that of many so-called "authors," which seem to find complacency in only pretending to create.

  5. Just a little too wordy for me, but Paul Simon and 'Train in the Distance' struck a chord. The right music for this mood.

  6. To lift disjointed, incoherent mental meanderings to beautiful prose was indeed awesome to wade through…Bala

  7. Of all things I believe writing needs so peace and quiet wherever it takes place.

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