I didn't think I could write anything interesting almost till I was in college. I've always been a voracious reader, something I need to be thankful to my brother for. But I had no illusions about my writing, or speaking, for that matter.
I remember it was in my eleventh standard that my English teacher seemed to have some extra attention reserved for me. I didn't do anything exceptional in class, and certainly wasn't the only student participating in elocution contests and such. For some reason, Mr. Singaraj picked me to edit the school magazine (or annual day digest or something like that). I contributed my own article too, which was kind of plagiarized from some source about the origin of chewing gum, and cats eyes! No, I'm not kidding. He also nominated me to compere the sports day function. I remember I blustered through the day in all my nervousness, a la Navjot Sidhu, cheered all the way by my classmates, some of whom, funnily enough, were envious that I got to do the compering. The envy was partially because I got to do the compering along with the hottest female teacher in the depraved-boys-only school.
I posed the question to Mr. Singaraj one day. Why me? Of all people.
He said he read my English exam answer sheets, and he loved my writing style. Well, at that point, I didn't know I had a writing style. But I was completely bowled over. I would prepare meticulously for every other exam, but for English, I would just read the chapters/poems/books/short stories and try to remember them. In the exam, I would do an elaborate critical review of the work/event/characters, and try to answer specific questions in that context - as a reviewer. Why? I don't know. It just was interesting to me and I enjoyed doing it. To this day, I have to thank Mr Singaraj for making me realize that writing was something I enjoyed doing. I started writing my personal diary, a journal of things happening in my life. Sometimes, I would attempt short stories, usually inspired by stuff I had seen or read.
In college, we had an English Literary Society, which was comprised of people who couldn't or wouldn't speak the native language. I was a geeky, gawky, dork then and of course I would never venture to speak to the girls in the club, which was kind of mandatory to be part of the "in" crowd. But I would discuss my reading interests in elaborate detail with my friends, one of whom, an ELS member, decided that I had a decent vocabulary. So he would pull me aside whenever there was an ELS contest on. I was least interested in crossword puzzles, but given the constraints, I could come up with the answer many times. Word spread a little bit and I became an invitation-only member in the club.
Somewhere along the way, there was a college magazine of some sort that I contributed an article to. I set myself a challenge. I wanted to write about nothing. There was no story, no genuine thread, no characters, nothing in it. And it had to be original. I did end up writing it, and it got published to mixed reactions - one well read girl in my class said it was an utter waste of time, some junior girls told me that they liked it a lot, friends were generally encouraging, but I was supremely happy about it. In my own mind, I had arrived as a writer.
I wrote articles. Long emails. Some short stories. Now the blog. And I built up this impression that I indeed am a good writer.
Recently, I read The Elements of Style
. If you have any aspirations about writing in English, read this book. Then there was this essay by Paul Graham
. Boy, am I an amateur or what. I have been doing all the things that typical beginning writers do.
On the bright side, my writing has improved after I started writing this blog. I am constrained by time to use a certain economy of words to say what I want to say.
So, here's to breaking the illusion. That I can write. And write well at that.