Mrs. Rai, our Class 10 English teacher, once advised the class in her low, humming voice to “keep a journal”.
I didn’t start keeping a journal back then, nor did I for many years following Mrs. Rai’s advice. The idea of journaling hardly made sense. Why would one re-live life’s events twice when instead one can go on experiencing newer avenues? As Sophocles wrote in the tragic play Oedipus Rex, “I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality, and then in retrospect.”
True, journaling is more than a re-telling of events or epigraphs of personal suffering. A journal can have entries of late-night dates or a birthday bash on a beach. But can’t we then simply take a picture of the events and digitise them forever in multiple high-definition megapixels? Isn’t the exercise of keeping a journal after all just that – to take snapshots of the present only to return to them?
Two years ago, I learned that a journal is more than just a diction of the past. When my grandmother died, all I had of her was her old photographs. I tried to recollect my childhood experiences of living with her, but I failed. And I was then forced to look back at my own life, and to my utter dismay I realised that I moved from my teens to late twenties without once pausing and reflecting on the time that had passed by. All I had with me were photographs, vivid but void of stories.
Journaling isn’t about the freezing of the moment, it’s about picking the many threads of your lived experience, scrutinising them through our heart and our mind, and placing them back gently on the journal. It allows us to zoom out from the events we lived and observe ourselves acting out the events from across the street. As we observe ourselves, we see both shame and pride, love and loss, how bravely we tread through tough times, or how tamely we took a step back when the storm struck – something which a high-definition camera lens could never capture.
Since my grandmother left me, I have kept a journal to write my life’s highs and lows, to scribble down the daily ordinariness and coffee table conversations and more, so when I look back 20 years from now, I wouldn’t just reconnect with the forgettable moments in my life, but reconnect with something much more precious: myself.
In Class 10, we couldn’t see the value in Mrs. Rai’s advice. Perhaps she knew herself that reasoning with us to keep a journal wouldn’t work. And so when one of the students asked Mrs. Rai why one should keep a journal, she simply replied, “Just keep it, you’ll know.”
Gaurav Moghe works as a credit analyst weekdays, and on weeknights and weekends he resorts to reading and writing.