I saw my first horror movie when I was nine. In it, I witnessed a scene of domestic violence I shall not narrate here for the sake of privacy. But yes, expletives were exchanged, blood spilled and glass shattered. But the next morning the only evidence was a broken window.
In the middle of that accursed night, at my grandparent’s place, I wrote it all down in a leather-bound diary that had a picture of a soaring eagle on the cover. The silence was only punctuated by the occasional flick of torch-light, the steady turning of the page and muffled sobs that were either mine or my mother’s.
Some strange nine years later, when I reread it again, my skin prickling at the jagged knife-sharp misspelt words etched in an untidy childish scrawl, I thought it might just pass off as an essay written by a junior student on a topic like “The Nightmare “or “The Worst Day Of My Life” or some such similar variant. But on that terrible night, I hadn’t really tried to write an essay. I had tried helplessly to contain the first primeval suicidal thought, the dark
emotions threatening to strangle me. Yet, since then, I later realized, essay writing for me had become almost like therapy.
In my high-school years, when academic essays comprised the bulk of coursework, we were given certain guidelines to adhere to. The importance of introduction, body and conclusion was elaborated upon and tips were provided on developing a successful argument. “Critical Thinking” was the latest buzzword in the corridors. And although I didn’t realize the necessity of structure back then, my turbulent childhood interspersed with frequent forays into domestic violence was ample subject matter for my daily therapy sessions with paper.
At first it was almost shameful-this utter depraved loneliness of talking to paper. But for a natural introvert with a tendency to stutter, journaling became the obvious and the only way I could communicate freely, without fear. Unlike conversations with grown-ups or friends where the wrong could trigger spanking or bullying, my paper-therapist was non-judgemental and infinitely patient. A misplaced word could be cut out, written over and replaced. A dull sounding essay could be polished. Secrets did not have to come tumbling out or be stammered into everyday speech, but rather, neatly recorded in well-controlled
staccato paragraphs, lending a fluency I could not master in talking.
It was easy. I would briefly detail the issue or the grief in the introduction, then depending on the extent of my depression, would elaborate at length in the body, approaching the situation from different perspectives, so that when I finally came to the conclusion, I had a list of feasible possibilities to consider and suitable actions to undertake.
Writing thus offered a freedom that the real world had always denied: the freedom to be myself, or rather, the freedom to be whoever I felt like. In those secluded hours spent writing, I did not have to be suffocated by a fixed identity, compelled to conform or perform to predicated ideals. Instead I was free, finally free, to explore new possibilities or wild theories and map undiscovered territories of the imagination. Apart from being the child gazing at the mountains from the window, I was also the eagle soaring past the snow-capped, sunshine-encrusted peaks.
Unknowingly, I had acquired two interrelated skills that seemingly unlocked a glorious future both in academics and in life. One was, of course critical thinking. And the other was the life-altering quality of detachment.
The former’s benefits not only included securing the top grades in literature but also extended to other fields of study, be it planning a science project or by-hearting history chapters in a single night. I could now read faster, quickly assess a text and summarize it for easier study. Being adept at structuring my thoughts, I could apply the same principles to any reading material, no matter how unorganized or cluttered, sniff out the important points, and fit it into a familiar, coherent structure. Naturally my memory and study skills improved and so did real-life communication with both elders and peers. Lectures were no
more a struggle, and I was even attuned to the fine nuances in conversation. Close introspection thus paved a way out of my introversion to extroversion.
Meanwhile my attempts at cultivating a Buddhaesque-detachment had tremendous benefits in my daily life. Paper was my outlet for all the teenage angst and alienation and soon enough, instead of scribbling suicide notes on the sly, I was transmuting my sorrow into poetry. In course of writing regular essays, I came to view my frustration and my loneliness as separate, as foreign ailments that had besieged me. The doctor was my inner-consciousness that I awakened the moment I too pen to paper after a detailed introduction and further discussion in the body, my essays became prescriptions, offering me optimism and unlocking new pathways I hadn’t considered before.
Writing about personal problems, therefore became a vital tool for self-growth and to improve my writing skills. When the present Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy was asked whether self-revealing ever made her feel vulnerable she replied “I haven’t felt vulnerable in anything I have written so far. There have been subjects that I haven’t written about because of the feeling of privacy, vulnerability, in the first sense that you wouldn’t even begin a poem. But once I begin a poem it becomes a literary problem rather than a personal one.” Writing thus may not potentially solve a problem, but change it to a form that is more manageable and easier to cope with. Thus, instead of viewing obstacles with pessimism, I learned to take it as a challenge, as a necessary impetus towards self-actualization.
Essay writing of course has now become second nature. It has taught me to come to terms with myself, accept myself with all my flaws and inadequacies, and embrace and celebrate my own individuality. It has helped me to be more empathetic and less judgemental towards others, to view them as individuals, different and yet not so different from me. It has offered me newer, richer perspectives of the world, the capacity to analyse objectively and to see beyond the surface. Ultimately, it has shown the way to a more successful and fulfilling life, and for that I’m ever grateful.