UnlockDiaries: Writing through Covid-wrought change by Sudeep Chakravarti - Hindustan Times
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UnlockDiaries: Writing through Covid-wrought change by Sudeep Chakravarti

Hindustan Times | BySudeep Chakravarti
Jun 04, 2020 10:49 PM IST

Now more than ever before, writing cannot be pointless because there is more censorship and more fear. But writers must write

Lockdown can unlock strange memories. Like this gentleman who arrived in my life without headlights one stormy monsoon night, as such people sometimes tend to: on alcoholic fumes and a prayer. He had driven into the front of my old, cherished car.

In the churn: The Naruto whirlpools by Hiroshige Utagawa (1797-1858).(Heritage Images/Getty Images)
In the churn: The Naruto whirlpools by Hiroshige Utagawa (1797-1858).(Heritage Images/Getty Images)

“Are you driving your mother’s bum?” I asked as we both stood, angry, adamant, soaked. “My car is lit up like a Christmas tree. Can’t you see?”

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“Are you Santa Claus?” he asked, somewhat defensively.

Blessedly, I edged back from the abyss of violence to the humour of eccentrics. We went our separate ways.

In early lockdown days compelling memories crowded frantic to-do memos. Get supplies. Share supplies. Worry about child’s education. Sweep house. Clean cobwebs of every sort. Resume martial arts. Review black book. Write frenetically. Update CV. Start over. Go away. Go away where? Then I calmed, realizing that, as a recluse lockdown is my everyday. Deliberate pace, relative peace.

As ‘lockdown’ changes to ‘unlockdown’ in a frenzy of horror and hope, such pace and peace are ever more imperative. The world — rampaging disease, overwhelming dislocation, death by the callousness and deliberate cruelties of runaway emperors, a country and world gone quite mad — remains a scene outside my window. And in my mind’s eye. As earlier, home is a refuge where I return after hunting and gathering stories, bringing with me the anger, impoverishment and indignity I see and feel; alongside happiness, wealth of knowledge and simple needs and dignities; and alongside understanding of the stunning wealth and power of a Croesus and the irredeemably, inhumanely crass. It’s where I return with all the beauty I can find on my travels. There’s still a lot of it: nature is too busy dispensing magic to be thrifty.

Author Sudeep Chakravarti (Sumangali Bhaduri)
Author Sudeep Chakravarti (Sumangali Bhaduri)

Then I lock down, soak in the world. For days, weeks, sometimes a month and more. It also reminds me that I am just a writer, a teller of other people’s lives and longings as if they are now my own. It’s a sobering interlude between being too full with a review, too bronzed with spotlight at a literary gathering, too plump after giving a talk to people who wield real power, too yearning of streams of consciousness, and streams of sponsored red. All of it of course as divine rights of a writer.

This is now largely ended. But there is life beyond dais and delusion. Now my audience, my readers, come home. We ‘Facebook Live’. We ‘Zoom’. We talk about the Battle of Plassey, about communities and communalism, about history and politics, about conflict and conflict resolution. The festival of books and ideas continues without frills. It’s comforting. We all seem to have the humour of eccentrics. ‘Unlockdown’ won’t change it.

I write through Covid-wrought change. Because for me talking-words are communication, writing-words are soul. Ever more, writing cannot be pointless, like the reminder of a phantom limb in winter. Because there is more censorship. There is more fear. Empty promises are ever more the opiate of the masses. For writers there were never many safe havens, and now there are ever fewer ports to visit. But writers must write.

Review: The Bengalis by Sudeep Chakravarti

Yes, there’s churn. Publishers are reprioritizing. Some pre-Covid books won’t make sense post-Covid when seen through monetary lenses. Reading habits, tastes and needs are changing — have changed — and publishers duly follow readers. ‘Backlists’ are resurrected. This is economical. Mumbo-jumbo is thriving. This is profitable. Printed book sales have resumed. This is necessary. Not everyone can afford a backlit reading device. For most, a tablet still means pharmaceuticals. Here, e-book is still limited infusion even though in the future Kindle and Kobo could cut paper.

In this churn I’ve begun writing a book. There’s preparation for another, also non-fiction. A long-delayed novel is visiting; it spends a lot of time in the study. I’ve begun to share poetry, some old and defensively bound in notebooks, some new and brazen — take it or leave it. A play is maintaining social distance. It’s patient.

400pp, Rs 799; Aleph
400pp, Rs 799; Aleph

In the ongoing madness I’m among the relatively fortunate. Our village is as it has been for decades. Our lives have changed in significant ways, but our days, our homes are still decorated by the sights and sounds of jungle, fields, gentle hills, quiet rivers, remote fishermen, church bells. At night there is now cooling breeze, some rain, soothing quiet except for the occasional cry of a nervous lapwing. In the morning you can almost hear a lotus bloom.

And tomorrow? Ah, yes. Tomorrow.

Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of ‘Plassey: The Battle that Changed the Course of Indian History’; ‘The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community;’ ‘The Baptism of Tony Calangute’—a novel; and several other books of non-fiction and fiction. He is also a columnist, and marine conservationist. He lives in Goa.

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