‘Write Here’ takes us into our authors’ writing spaces across the globe, where they tell us about how they go about their craft. We mark each location on the map at the bottom of each post. Today we travel to Pune, India, where Anjali Joseph writes amongst Banyan trees and pi-dogs.
South Main Road, Pune
‘In Guwahati, in Assam, where I have been sort of living on and off for the last year and a half, one of the things I hear most when someone answers a phone call is an urgent, ‘Kot asa?’ or ‘Where are you?’ I’ve taken to saying it myself. In practical terms it means all sorts of things, like, Where are you right now, What are you doing, Why aren’t you here, What are you doing with your life, Whatever is going on with you, etc etc. It feels nice when a friend asks, kind of like having someone grab you by the collar just as you were rushing off. (The other question people ask those they feel close to is, ‘Bhaat khalla neki?’ or ‘Have you eaten?’)
Where I am as I write this is an armchair in the bedroom I stay in when I am at my parents’ flat in Pune, Maharashtra, the other side of the country from Assam; these days I spend much of my time here. Much of that time is spent in this chair, in fact, writing or doing something else on my laptop, which is balanced on one leg, stretched out onto the bed, while the other is folded up. My posture is bad. Sometimes I sit on the bed, cross-legged in a half-lotus, and write, still on the laptop. I am in my pyjamas. My mother just came in to discuss with me whether I’d be at home for lunch. Vaishali, who comes every day to clean the floors, is cleaning the floor of the room.
Sitting in my pyjamas in my parents’ house makes me feel that I have done little else in my life, except for brief, dream-like interruptions, although in fact that isn’t true; I’ve lived away from my family for more of my life than I’ve lived with them. When I am in my pyjamas, which is quite a lot of the time, I also feel that all the non-pyjama’d parts of my life are vaguely dream-like. I have done various things, had many jobs, got a few degrees, taught, appeared on stage, paid my taxes somewhat on time, gone to the bank, spent a month in the Himalayas learning to be a yoga teacher, etc, but it’s all a bit hazy. And I like this. I would like, and sometimes manage, to do everything in life as though I were still in my pyjamas, busy with nothing so much as being me.
In the lanes around my parents’ flat there are many old banyan trees. I walk there every day and keep company with the trees, who have an expansive and consoling presence, a different scale of time, a different sense of life. There are pi-dogs, too, our local strays. They belong to no one and everyone. One I often pass in the afternoon sleeps contentedly in the middle of the road. As I pass and blink at him, he lifts his head, sighs, and lets it drop back onto the tarmac, which is his pillow. His diary, if he had one, would be solidly blocked out with one activity: Be Pi-Dog. Zzz.
Uzan Bazar, Guwahati
The whole mythology of writing is such that sometimes people ask, ‘As a writer, how do you get inspiration?’ or, ‘As a writer, how does x or y feel?’ It’s a question that’s both funny and sweet, and makes me feel as though I were some sort of special hen that should be followed about suspiciously in case it suddenly secretes a golden egg somewhere behind the furniture. Luckily that’s not the case. For one thing I’m too middle-class and well-brought-up and would never dare to lay an egg in someone else’s house.
The truth is that being a writer is sort of special and not special at all, a bit like the way in which, to ourselves, each of us is special and also (if we’ve remembered to grow up) not special. A few days ago I was chatting to a friend who’s played classical guitar for years and now, taking a break from his corporate job, wants to take his music more seriously. I suggested he make a habit of playing every day, mainly because doing so takes the drama out of whether or not to play, just like writing every day takes the drama out of whether or not to write; it turns into something regular, a bit like taking a bath or brushing one’s teeth, which are things even pyjama people do. And so, although I’ve written in lots of places – at my dining table in Norwich, at a desk in Guwahati, in a chair in Pune, in cafes, airports, hotels, in bed, in a notebook during lectures and while working in an office, as well as in my head while doing other things, even during some of the most intense crises of my life, I really don’t want to overthink it. Pi-dogs are born good at being pi-dogs. For some of us it takes a little longer.’
Anjali Joseph’s novel The Living is published today.
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