Those three women strode in like empowered Goddesses and took the table right next to where I was sitting in the Indian Coffee House on Baba Kharak Singh Marg in Connaught Place in New Delhi. This was sometime in the early nineties and I had climbed the stairs to sit on the open terrace of the Coffee House wishing I’d meet some known writer or fiery activist or excited journalist there.

My friends had told me years back when I was in school, ‘If you want to learn what writing is all about, you just go and sit in the Indian Coffee House in Mohan Singh Place in CP.’ No, they didn’t tell me anything more, and so with this bit of vital information I sat there sipping a hot, very ICH-ish sort of filter coffee on a day that was cooler than any that summer month.

‘Can we join our table with this one?’

I looked up and was suitably flustered on being addressed by a big city woman who seemed reluctant to accept a ‘no’ as an answer any time in her life, so I mumbled, ‘Sure…’

Tables joined, I awkwardly sat with the three of them, not knowing whether to keep sipping my coffee or wait for their order to be served.

‘You look like one who wants to be a writer,’ said one, and then, as if realising something she continued, ‘I am Saraswati, and these are my friends Kali and Laxmi.’

‘Yes, I have always wanted to write,’ I said, and said that without a stammer though my mind was numb with some vague excitement to be talking to women. I paused and then asked, ‘How did you know I want to be a writer?’

Saraswati laughed, ‘I’m good at guessing, I guess. I imagine… and do that uncannily correctly most of the times. You too must improve your guessing abilities… and I’m forgetting but there is another word for it though.’

‘Intuitive abilities,’ murmured Kali, and then turning to me, asked, ‘You’re just having your coffee here and brooding. Shouldn’t you be writing?’

Instinctively, my hand reached for the dog-eared scratch-pad in the shirt pocket and was out with it in an instant. Saraswati asked, ‘This is where you write? what do you write in this?’

‘The names of the calls I’ve made during the day,’ I said, ‘and their orders… and also their phone numbers…’ The three women guffawed loud enough to draw a few concerned glances towards our two tables, and they said in chorus, ‘You can’t be serious!’

‘I am,’ I insisted, and then flipped open my scratch pad to show them the limericks and the short poems that I had been scribbling on it the past week or so. I generally ended up buying a new pad for myself once every week because of all the poetry and the snippets of observations that I kept jotting in it. ‘Every night,’ I continued to tell the three women, ‘I copy whatever is interesting and good, in my 1978 diary that I have at home.’

‘I think he is quite serious about his writing,’ this was Laxmi who had spoken for the first time, ‘though I like all these salespeople because I think they are the smartest ones after writers!’ I was flattered but was timid enough not to let out a joyful shriek. I was in sales and I was also one who was interested in writing, which made me some sort of a hero.

‘Writing to me,’ continued Laxmi, ‘is what I’d call a profitable venture. Give me money and I’ll write whatever you want. From product copy to snappy headlines, from radio jingles to board-room speeches…’

‘That’s lust,’ said Saraswati, and yet smiled indulgently at her friend, ‘yes, lust is also a wildly wonderful thing to have.’ I remembered the title of a biographical novel on Vincent Van Gogh and muttered, ‘Lust for life is so human.’

‘Even the Gods have it,’ said Laxmi. I never quite understood why she said that, but with the word ‘lust’ coursing in my synapses and three bewitching beauties sipping coffee with me, I was in no mood to go into how she knew that even the Gods have this utterly mortal emotion. So I did the next best thing that came to my mind and turning to Kali, asked, ‘What is writing to you?’

‘A force,’ she said without waiting to even think, ‘a force that catapults you into action, a force that pushes words out of you even faster than Valmiki or Tulsidas could write… and so they had to place all their creative output in the safe of their minds and then did a fair degree of cerebral regurgitation to give you all those wonderful epics.’ No, I did not even bother to mutter, ‘And how do you know all this?’ This was because Kali was looking at me like a conflagration just waiting to engulf my being, and I being a timid young salesman, prudently remained silent. But Kali continued, ‘Writing is all about empowerment, activism, fighting for your rights, and making people turn to you to be led. Great writing emerges out of fury and aims to successfully whip up tornadoes of fury everywhere. Fury is the keyword. Yes, fury it is. Writing is fury!’

I looked around apprehensively, half expecting to find that waiter with a Rajputana Rifles kind of moustache to come to us and order us to leave. Kali seemed to have read my mind, and growled… well, it did sound like a growl, ‘Fury. Fury has no place for fear. Fury enters where intimidation rules. And hey, just stop behaving like a postman at a dog show now. Dammit, you want to be a writer, so stop acting like a flea on a greyhound!’

Saraswati must’ve realised how difficult it all was for me, a young sales intern from a small town trapped between three intelligent and audacious women of Delhi, so she spoke, ‘Interesting perspective Kali. You’re always so full of passion.’ Then she looked at me and asked, ‘Don’t you think writing needs to have a lot of passion in it?’ I nodded my head and also said an inaudible yes which even I did not really hear. But I was glad that there were words coming out of me, however disguised in a cloak of silence they might be. I suddenly smiled a smile that was supposed to tell me that I was getting bolder and was no longer intimidated by a furious Kali or by the objectively lusty notions of Laxmi. And then Saraswati said, ‘You really need to get under the skin of whatever it is that you wish to write about. Let all your senses converge into the sensibilities of that person or object or idea or thought and remain comfortably entrenched there.’ She paused and I was actually surprised to find the other two also listening carefully.

I asked, ‘What if the idea or thought doesn’t want you to be there? Doesn’t welcome you? Doesn’t bother to reveal anything more than what is already known?’

‘Give it a hard smooch,’ said Laxmi. Kali added, ‘Push it into a corner, handcuff it, and give it the best gonadal massage you can give. Anything gives in.’

‘Well,’ said Saraswati, ‘they’re right. Everything works. But only to an extent. Real writers wait until the idea is ready to open the door and let them in. You cannot push and enter and then expect to get all the attention without any protest, without subterfuge, without intrigue, and without reservations.’

I was now actually getting a gist of what they were saying. The past few years of political turmoil in the country had given me enough insights into how bull-dozing can only lead to assassination of trust and of confidence and sometimes even truth. ‘So writers,’ I said, ‘need to wait for the right time. But wouldn’t that mean there will be plenty of aspiring writers who may spending entire lifetime just waiting?’

‘No, not really,’ said Saraswati, ‘waiting doesn’t mean a writer stops writing. Waiting just means a writer needs to wait for that brilliant understanding of an idea. It is almost like falling in love. You can’t do that with every girl you meet out there, can you?’

‘No, I can’t. I get your point, I think.’

‘Well, you haven’t,’ said Kali, ‘because if you think love, lust, and passion are different, you’ve a lot to learn. Writing is just another word for love, lust, and passion. Now write this mantra down in that scratch-pad of yours.’

As I took out my scratch-pad to jot that mantra and write a few other interesting turns of phrases that these women had used in our conversation, I also asked, ‘Who are you?’

‘We are one,’ is all I heard and when I lifted my head after a few moments, they were gone. The waiter with that intimidating moustache waved at me and smiled which meant the bills were paid and his tip given. I got up and walking to the exit slowly, thought what ‘we are one’ really meant.

As I write now in 2013, I wonder if ‘Teen Deviyan’ would be an appropriate title for this post… but I hear this furious whisper: ‘Don’t even think about it!’
This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda

Writing to me is…

Writing to me is…

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Arvind Passey
15 February 2013