Fantasy for the faint hearted


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Category: Reflections Date: 23 Jun 02

QUIT. That was the one word in an anonymous e-mail.

Quit what? Smoking? Writing? Trinidad?


He/she could have wanted me to quit writing. Or quit Trinidad. Smoking not being applicable. My first thought was, ďWhat a relief!Ē My second was, ďIf only I could.Ē


In the background I heard the echo of that memorable aphorism, ďLife is not for the faint hearted.Ē

That formed my third thought: If I quit, Iím finished.  Because if there is one thing that is worse than criticism from others, itís disappointment at oneís own faint heart.


That hasnít stopped me (my one-word interlocutor will be glad to know) from repeatedly indulging in quit-related escapism.  I fantasize about faking my own death. I imagine what will be said about me at my funeral. I procure a fake passport and identity. I take a plane to the remotest part of the world, preferably an overpopulated country where I will be a dot, a fly, among the minions. I recreate my past according to my own whims, although no one will ask because no one will be bothered. I grow tea, mushrooms, flowers and live in a little cottage in a village perpetually hazy with mist. I surround myself with books and I spend my life making up stories which will be found after my real death. No more worries.


There are specific triggers to this recurring fantasy. It could be that occasionally these tiny islands that we inhabit begin reeking with turbid messes made by self-seeking public officials whose expensive shades and ill-gotten gains mock unemployed restless youths, who ignore illiterate teenagers, are unaware of impoverished families, forgotten communities, collapsed infrastructure. At that point these islands close in, threaten to asphyxiate me, and my imaginary country looms large and appealing.


It could be the frustration over having to take a day off to get a driverís permit renewed. Or the sad waste of many hours by an education system, and unimaginative governments that have failed to produce curious people thirsty for knowledge which is the foundation upon which civilisations are created. People sitting on benches, standing in queues waiting to see a doctor, catch a flight, whatever, with blank looks in their eyes, unaware that this time could be used to read, pick up information. It is a pathetic indictment of us as a people when art, music, drama, literature - the free expression of peopleís soul and intellect - have become an emblem of privilege. Here where there are few peopleís libraries, theatres, concert halls, intellectual centres, artists colonies.


The unseeing expression in so many eyes echoed by the unending sea, the immobile sand, can give way to a lethal lethargy, a boundless futility, making it easier to curl up and die, like a dried-up crab, than act. Now that makes me want to quit.


And writing, even journalism, brings its share of torture. Tolstoy, a great writer, believed that it is only when a piece of the writerís skin comes off in the ink is it worth anything.


But it also exposes the most fragile part of the writer, his or her spirit, the times when the words are blocked, come out wrong, the judgement off-kilter on an issue, the mind scraped out, when everyday ordinary failings permeate the writing.


When that spirit is prodded and wounded, and salt is rubbed on it, it is painful. It is easier to accede to my anonymous correspondentís exhortations to quit. Quitting would allow all writers a safe harbour. If you donít write, you will be secure, your weaknesses wonít be so publicly exposed.


Then why donít I, you must be asking, quit the country, quit the writing, quit trying. Because quitting is a death wish. It requires that you do nothing. Take no risks, endure no self-doubt. Quitting shuts out life. If I ever was mad enough to fake my own death and emerge somewhere else, I would have shed a country I love, the people I love, and turned into an empty shell.


I canít quit writing even if it is only for my eyes only, because if I stopped it would be like watering down life till it ceased to exist.  Then again, how can I quit anything when I daily witness ordinary people committing huge, extraordinary acts of courage, people who sit companionably with friends even if their hearts have been carved out with the pain of the loss of someone they love, people who even after losing the use of their hands and feet drag themselves along the ground, battle on, until they walk. Even fly again.


I look at the shell I could be if I quit. I look at the entire bundle and mystery of human life, tied up with loves and losses, risk, frustrations, the joys and boulders that we carry within us. And every time we push a boulder off us, to speak when our words are dried up, to work when we no longer can, to rise above our personal nightmares, itís about hope.


So for now, Iíll fend off that boulder. Quitting will remain a fantasy.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur