Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Pleasure of Writing

I still remember filling up cursive writing books at age 3, page after page of running my pencil over beautifully formed, curlicued words that spelt little 3-letter objects. My tongue would stick out in concentration and I would impatiently erase any mistakes and try to get it right.

The transition from using a pencil to using a pen. We knew it came in the second semester of class 5. And how we looked at our seniors in awe of their ink-stained fingers and the blots on their white shirts! When I was taken to choose my first fountain pen I was excited beyond words. It was a Stic pen, with a red top and a green bottom, and Dennis the Menace on it! Much later I discovered that Dennis was tiptoeing around my pen with his bottom showing!!! I wish I hadn't lost that collector's edition of a pen!

It was around this time that I found a new friend who had a lovely handwriting. In fact, I liked it so much that I wanted it. So I took it. Trying for days, I began to copy her writing, the way she wrote the 'b' and 'p' in cursive, without joining it to the stem, instead curling the end towards the next letter. The way the letter 'I' looked like a budding tulip. The letter 'x', not often-enough used, I complained when I finally learnt to copy it's lovely quadri-directional existence on my notebook pages. The letter 'A', curving at the top and giving me infinite happiness each time I wrote my name.

Very soon, I had it to an art. And most people (except the 2 of us) couldn't tell our handwritings apart. I don't think we ever got to exploit that, if at all there was any way of doing so. I don't remember doing her homework for her. But once, when I was sick and missed school, she wrote out a separate copy of the class notes for me and all I had to do was stick it in my notebook. No one could tell the difference.

We grew older and older, writing not just class notes, but scribbling notes on the last pages of the notebooks as we ourselves sat in the last rows of the classroom. Code names for boys we liked and girls we hated, rude limericks and comments about boring teachers standing 10 feet away, all of these were scrawled in handwritings that were still fresh, new, and getting to know the world.

And we used that handwriting every chance we got. Cards were scribbled on, inside, outside, even the envelope! Autograph books were covered in minute handwriting to make optimal use of the space provided. A fracture covered in plaster cast was a way to show our creativity. Blackboards were covered with chalk dust whenever there was coloured chalk to spare and no teacher to stop us. My handwriting gradually took on some influences of my own self and soon it was no longer like my friend's, though I can usually still do a good imitation!

A one-year stint in an American school abroad meant that my handwriting, however neat, was unacceptable. On the chance that teachers may have trouble reading cursive where most American kids can barely string two letters together, we had to turn in typed assignments. Suddenly, all that I had worked years to cultivate was outdated. I had to learn to type! Painstakingly, again with my tongue almost sticking out with effort, I learnt to negotiate my way around the keyboard.

Back to India and college, and notes taken in class were no longer meant to be shared with the teacher, so handwritings changed, often for the worse. But best handwritings still surfaced for writing in yearbooks, in birthday cards, on tutorial essays. In my MA days I wrote four 10,000 word papers in 7 days, filling up reams on paper and leaving a little writer's lump on the topmost knuckle of my right middle finger.

Today, that lump no longer exists. It's smoothened out with time, just as fonts like Arial and Times New Roman have smoothened out the curves of my diligently-acquired handwriting. If I write now, it's lists for shopping, or occasional cards where I write ' Dear...' and a few more fond words and then 'Love, ...' and I'm done. What developed over years of growing up took only a few years of computer literacy to go away. Now I can't write much without my hands aching and my handwriting going all wobbly. And I am the person who wrote long long letters to friends and family, maintaining an even hand throughout.

With this loss, I feel like I have lost a human part of me. A part that says who I am and how I write. A part that no one can imitate (although I was a shameless imitator once). A part that jumps out of paper at the reader and says 'This was written by Anamika'. That is recognisable as belonging to me and me alone. That I can claim. That I can take credit for. That reminds me that words were once new, difficult and you had to work hard to make them speak for you.


eve's lungs said...

So true - I can barely sign my name and the less said about my handwriting now, the better . I remember the nuns at school turning back work that was untidily written. The lump on my finger has also disappeared and ala I no longer have the patience to write long letters where one even scribbled on the side flaps of the inland letter forms and covered every bit of surface on the notepaper .
On another note , The Chestry Oak and the Anne books are a great favourite with me and my older girl . I didnt think anyone had read the Chestry Oak - its such an onscure book

Suki said...

Interesting that you mention it at this juncture in my life... I was debating this very evening where to write an essay that's working its way through my head.

I think i'll go with my primal, childhood instinct and put it down on paper. However good and fast a typist I am, writing is an art that doesn't deserve to be lost.

Anamika said...

Eve's Lungs: I know what you mean about making the most of space on an inland letter---there'd be a PS and a PPS always :) And yes, The Chestry Oak is n old but strong favourite. I still thank the friend who gifted it to me. She was a voracious reader, mature beyond our years, and took it on herself to gift me one good book each birthday. If it wasn't for her I'd never have known it existed! Lovely to find someone else who likes it.

Suki: Thanks for dropping by! As for writing with pen and paper, good for you. Am thinking of starting a good old diary the handwritten way. Let me know how the essay goes!

A Muser said...

Anamika, I so identify with this. I still remember the thrill of writing with a pen after years of pencils. The anticipation, those awe-inspiring ink-stained fingers! Filling the ink from a bottle. My dad gave me a fountain pen for my 10th std. exams. I kept it for a long time. Wish I knew where it was.
Another fine piece of writing.

Anamika said...

A Muser: Nice to find a kindred spirit! I've restarted my journal habit in a notebook after this post! And am seriously considering getting an ink bottle and pen for some time travel!

A Muser said...

Good luck! I am also so used to penning my thoughts on a keyboard that it'd be hard going to write. Should pick it up some time and try again. Let me know how it goes for you!

Squiggles Mom said...

Do you think the next generations will never learn to write? After all the comp and mobile phones are ubiquitous...

Anamika said...

A Muser: Did my 4th entry in the journal today. Yet to buy an ink pen though!

Sq's Mom: Thanks for stopping by. That is a very real fear. And how tragic if it does come true.