‘The bluebook: A writer’s journal’

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He says that we are surrounded by chaos, and art helps bring order to it. The same is true of diaries — there is a reason why therapists tell survivors of trauma to write down their experiences…reports Sukant Deepak

A look inside an author’s notebook/diary can be enigmatic — there are alphabets, landscapes… and soundscapes too if you are willing to hear. These are snatches you don’t want to escape from for they are a network of trusted spaces — warm, safe — oscillating between genres and styles but intimate at every turn.

Writer Amitava Kumar is present in his absence in his latest ‘The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal’ (HarperCollins India), an outcome of his diary-keeping during the lockdowns owing to the Pandemic.

He says that we are surrounded by chaos, and art helps bring order to it. The same is true of diaries — there is a reason why therapists tell survivors of trauma to write down their experiences.

“We need words to guide us out of the forest,” he adds.

The idea of compiling the art came from his friend Hemali Sodhi, founder of ‘A Suitable Agency’ who wanted to use the drawings he was putting up on social media. “When I was painting, I was slowing down the news, and the writing of captions or providing diary entries as the caption for the images went well with the idea of providing a frame for whatever was happening in our lives and in the world,” he remembers.

Not formally trained in art, Kumar says the exercise was a release from the burden of being a writer and partaking of the joy of doing something that he is not an expert at. He feels that this art and the act of sharing it with a wider audience is the triumph of the amateur.

“A person on a green cricket field during a weekend is not necessarily trying to get into the Indian team-he or she might just be enjoying the game, the pleasure of playing with bat and ball. It is the same with me and art,” says Kumar, a Professor of English at the Helen D. Lockwood Chair at Vassar College in the US.

Ask this Bihar-born author of ‘Husband of a Fanatic’, ‘A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb: A Writer’s Report on the Global War on Terror’ and ‘A Time Outside This Time’ among others, who has written extensively on immigration, if he feels ‘belonged’ to any country, and he asserts, “I am stranded in the barren land between longing and belonging. No, if I were to be truthful, my main allegiance is to language. As a writer, my identity is tied to the marks on the printed page. To put it more dramatically, my passport is The Blue Book.”

Kumar, who wrote on fake news in his last work ‘A Time Outside ThisTime’ feels that the way fake news and hatred has spread, our whole cultural landscape has changed. “Just the other day, I was comparing it to climate change. I was telling my friend that the glaciers of our understanding are melting fast. All these changes are not just monumental or catastrophic, they are irreversible,” he adds.

For someone who believes that self-censorship is death for a writer and once said that rulers tend to think that they will rule forever, which can be dangerous, he elaborates, “I was commenting on the way power works. It goes to the head of those who are powerful. They cannot imagine defeat. They do not dream of death. They think eternal life is theirs. And I think that is their failing. Because, of course, the poor or the oppressed never cease to struggle. I don’t think the urge to freedom ever dies.”

While the mantra he offers his students is to write 150 words and walk every day, he has added the goal of doing a drawing each day. “I truly believe in the ethic of keeping a notebook in your pocket at all times and taking notes,” concludes the author whose next will be a book of drawings and diary entries called ‘The Yellow Book’.

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