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Madhurima Vidyarthi

  • Writer's pictureMadhurima Vidyarthi

From Drought to Flood

First published in Saaranga Magazine English


Disbelief is an old friend.

I meet it wherever I go, lurking in innocent addas and gushing cocktail parties whenever I open my mouth to say “I write –“

Polite disbelief. Like a semicolon, overcome in the next breath by curiosity, “Oh! What do you write?”

Many things, I want to say, stories and dreams and poetry and scintillating dialogue and sparkling wit and more.

“This and that,” I reply in apology.

There is more polite disbelief. Some invisible nudges. And the inevitable next question, “What have you had published?”

I find the toes of my sandal very interesting.

“Oh nothing published – printed –“ Too polite to prolong my shame, they move on to the next topic or perhaps they’ve lost interest by now.

“You’re a doctor, aren’t you?” says one tenacious type. I nod; it is the final nail.

“Oh, so a hobby!” they say, pleased to have that puzzle solved, “otherwise I’m sure you have to do a lot of writing anyway – lots of prescriptions, eh? Lots and lots?”

Relieved to be able to cast me in the perfect stereotype, the pack joins in the general hilarity.

Sometimes there is a kindred spirit. In part, at least, looking moodily down their unshaken martini or thickening masala tea who asks, “How long have you been writing?”

You recognise that perhaps they are mad too, but like you, very good at hiding the madness. That, depending on how you reply, they will advance one half-step or retreat completely into their locked soul and throw away the key.

What do I say? Shuffling my feet, I whisper my guilty secret, “Since childhood,” I wait with bated breath, but their eyes brighten, the drinks are forgotten and I have met a fellow lunatic.

Scribbles, scraps of paper torn from obliging notebooks, frenzied jottings all part of a grand dream, woven into a secret fabric over time.

You must have written in school? they ask. I nod. For the school magazine, I reply. Stifled expression, formatted neatly into model essays on blue-lined notebooks. Creative diversions not permitted, all subversive activities forced to remain confined to the night.

It is in senior school that Grace arrives, clothed in newsprint. And takes the form of a young couple. Enthusiastic sub-editors who embrace the madness. Even celebrate it.

They like what I write. Egg me on with lavish praise. It is only indulgence, I console myself, a fragile teenager, her self-esteem in tatters. But I sleep soundly at night, my dreams full of phantasmagorical imaginings and tendrils of hope uncurling in my breast.

The scribbling increases, the writings become more frantic, my imagination soars.

Exams and adolescence intervene. Life-changing decisions come to pass. Make-break-earn.

Nudging their way through a deluge of subjects, the words continue to flow. Much before my noble career makes me money, my ‘hobby’ pays my bills. Medical texts, public transport, college canteen, exam fees, occasional petrol fills, presents for self and parents. Here is a pastime that pays for my career!

Enter Vanity. And Ambition. They conspire well together. They spit on their hands and strike their palms together and lead me smilingly towards temptation. From the safe monotone of freelance journalism to fantasies of fiction and fame.

Six sparkling chapters, one after the other. Through the night like unrelenting cyclonic forces. The ultimate historical fantasy that will catapult me to instant fame. Like instant coffee. Boil, mix, fix.

Without remorse, I turn my back on newsprint. Without a second glance or a by-your-leave.

And bump straight into Rejection.

Notebooks – gifted by a loving spouse – lie untouched, unpacked, pristine.

Finally, after long years – too long, says a voice in my head – it is time to sail home; all things are possible in the land of the sun. The October sunshine seeps into my bones; the welcome of autumn trips blithely through a warm winter into a light-hearted spring. Even the inexorable summer with its sweltering heat and cracked earth is welcome after years of leaden skies and apologetic, damp sunlight.

Come the rains. With the warm smell that I must remember to call petrichor. Beating the roof in triumphant cadences and drenching my upturned face with dreams.

The drought ends. The words gush out; hurtling, tumbling in torrents of joy in which I gladly drown. After nearly a decade, I set pen to paper and stay awake late into the night, the rain my only companion.

I write.

Not prescriptions, not examinations, not sparkling research papers. I write ‘The Homecoming’. A story of love and grief and lost souls coming home .

Another ten years pass. Lifetimes come, go, double back.

And I write on. Blessed words that flow and shape themselves into myriad narratives.

After many years and many tears, the drought ends. Nursed by blood and ink and sweat, the first fruit tree grows to fulfillment. My Grandmother’s Masterpiece, a little book about tender everyday things, of passions nurtured through stormy passages and aspirations defying time and age, takes shape,

Life comes full circle, the story catches its tail.

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