Last night, I woke up from this dreary dream where I couldn’t fathom the identity of fear that has lived with me for a long time. A fear to lose and to be lost are mostly relative. A fear can be almost as old as our own life if it has its roots in childhood trauma. But the fear that stems out from nowhere like a ghost – how do we familiarise ourselves with this fear?
Can fear then be a stranger itself?
How do we name a relationship where we are both absently present? For more than a decade, I have lived with this book written by a writer who taught me to read. Read not just the words on the page but to sit with her imagination and dwell in the fiction of prose that felt like poetry. To be introduced to a book that makes you a reader is the sublimity of returning from Plato’s cave.
I wasn’t the person I was before, when I started becoming a reader. The language I had known for years but used only to write exams and official letters was now a language in which I could question and think.
When you finish a book, a writer becomes more visible. It is as if, when all the characters find their endings, you find yours as well. And that ending is you now identifying the writer unfolding and invading your psyche. You speak their words in your tongue as if it is yours now. How many times have we mentioned, ‘Here, I would love to quote…’? Why couldn’t we finish a conversation or an argument with our own words? Is quoting your favourite writer to relatives and strangers a way of introducing your love for them? Is it the genius of our memory and how it works? We mostly forget everything that is unimportant. But memory keeps what it loves. So, if we can quote a paragraph at any given random moment, is it an act of loving?
How do you outgrow a book that blurred the boundary between imagination and reality? How do you forget fiction, when you know it always tells the truth? How do you live, when you know your dearest writer is dying?
Walking back to the dream, there I was – in a room that appeared like a void, I could not see a thing, I was invisible to myself. But I could hear my own sobs. It was as if I was a part of an artist’s sketch, a shady sketch, where sadness was darkened with a blunt pencil. In my dream, I was aware of who had died. There wasn’t any corpse, only the haunting memory of war she had written about.
But even in my dream, I wasn’t prepared for her death. Was it because I wasn’t taught how to mourn a stranger? Who she was after all to me but a writer I had read all my life? But how can a writer be a stranger, whose words I follow like a map, when I am lost? Whose words I have memorised like prayers and chanted in difficult times. I have not met her physically, I know. And yet, we have known each other through sentences. I have read her words in my voice, and formed a language in which lovers love.
But in my dream, she was indifferent to her own death. It was as if she was taking pleasure in my agony because she knows a writer never dies. This might clarify the idea that maybe I am not anxious about her physical death but what death does to a writer.
The dream ended with nothing but darkness. I woke up with a heartbeat in my mouth. And then I was again left with a question, how are we supposed to imagine a world without a writer who taught you to be brave? Whose words will console us for their loss? How do we get over an epitaph, which is nothing but an unfinished sentence written by another hand? Is this fear, an outcast, because it isn’t rational enough for the romantic world? I do not have the answers. I will never have an answer to this dread I carry with me but only questions. So, tell me, in what language do we love a writer so they know they are loved long after they are gone with the wind?
Komal Thami is an Assistant Professor of English Communication in International Institute of Advanced Studies, Siliguri. She is also a part of an anthology titled With Love published by Penguin Random House.