A personal essay/memoir dedicated to my first tryst with writing alphabets, then gradually maturing into words, sentences, letters, love letters et al, which is a part of my book Woman And Her Muse .
First, a cursive a, then two swaying p’s, then an expectant l floating with a languid e; the luscious seed of an idea imbibed in my child brain, a succulent fruit, its crisp promise stuffed in our consciousness in a cluttered classroom of seven-year-olds.
“Ok children, did you learn your cursives well? What more words did you learn to write in cursive, starting with b, c, d, e?”
“Ball, Bed, Between, Carrot, City, Doll, Daylight, Early, Easy.” Enthused replies sprung up from various corners of the classroom.
We learnt our cursive letters and words in time. Words became sentences and childhood truths of all that we learnt and absorbed, the bonhomie of friends, their questions and answers spilling over the papers. The small notes, the ideas and constraints of the beginning of our journeys in school. The injunctions and contradictions we felt in classrooms and playgrounds, in the library hall and prayer room, in the little pleasures and monotony at home.
“Beyond, beneath”, the prepositions learnt in cursive letters that framed many a sentence I carved and desired to carve, in my fancy notebook.
“Cat, Cute, Circle, Circular, Circumstances”, the cursives in c started off with indolent animals and geometrical shapes and eventually trailed off to heavy, melancholic formations.
“Definitely, Exactly”, adverbs practiced in cursive letters turned into an acceptance of our fleeting illusions trampled by the immediacy of education.
One by one, the mystery of the alphabets, their intimate concoction that I felt in cursive writing unraveled in my consciousness, and the letter-writing, essay writing assignments assumed a place with enormous gravity.
The choice of words, the art of writing.
The grammar of feelings huddled in the mind’s storage.
The honorable and dishonorable usages of words in speech and writing.
The compulsion of calligraphy overpowering the cascading flow of the novelty of words and phrases.
The exam copies piled up on one another, testing our efficacy in spelling words, a testimony to the legacy of articulation.
“Aristocracy”, a word learnt first in cursive when I was eight or nine, and while the teacher seemed to be obsessed, trying to denote the power in its lexicon, in my child mind, the s and the t and the c and the y danced, swayed, hand-in-hand, like the half-witted girls I met during the recess.
“Bureaucracy”, a word written in cursive in the social studies class, a word that followed in the many alleyways leading to an acceptance of how the greater world around me worked.
“Oh my, what a beautiful cursive writing! Can you write a few words in a birthday card for me, dear? I want to gift it to my beloved.” A friend pleaded.
By this time, the myriad discoveries of learning began fighting in my head with the impulse to not write anything concrete, but scribble meaningless shapes, drawings out of the cursive alphabets.
The f’s became coquettish ladies with thin waistlines and seductive gait, the g’s churned in my mind as domineering mothers, claiming the reassuring silence of the i’s, floating around with their melancholy air, the little teardrop hanging over their slanting heads, the t’s became emaciated lovers wooing the dainty princesses, s and r, while the m’s and n’s watched over, as jealous voyeurs. The v’s allured with a promise of a love nest in its bottom, while the w’s flirted with the idea of intimacy.
“…….Dear _____________, sending you my first letter as the spring flowers bloom and the blue sky sparkles with tinges of the sun’s golden rays. Hope in this glorious day, a glorious friendship will blossom…”
My first letter, tucked inside a cheap season’s greeting card sent to a young boy was an opulent celebration of sentences crafted meticulously in cursive letters, claiming the supremacy of artistic expressions over the juvenile squirting of emotions.
“Dearest _____________, I am so glad to recive your leter and card. Hope this frendship grows more. I am realy happy. Can you meet me today after 5?
What a pity, a reply from him reached me in the evening, a montage of roughly strewn words, squinting at me with its glaring spelling errors, reeking of inadequacy.
The birth of new words and coinages.
Words that expired in the mind’s recesses.
The copyright of insane words and phrases.
The disorder of haywire words in a gypsy mind.
A palace, a palace with words cooked and served.
A road with words in its every traffic intersection.
It was with this exuberant design that poetry came to me, filling my senses with the sacrilege of letters and words carved in my mind like the embroidered flowers that my grandmother, my mother and aunt designed in plain white, yellow handkerchiefs.
The poetry where my cursive letters hid at the back pages of my notebooks like bashful last benchers in a class.
The poetry which let me see rainbows, whispering branches and ripe fruits when doom would be sensed everywhere else.
The poetry which later became a refuge in the fragrance of melancholy.
Today, in a sheltered nook, as I type this piece, my first letters learnt in cursive patterns pirouette around the keyboard like the dried leaves rustling in the pregnant autumn wind. I smell, I taste the quiet, furtive melancholy of those cursive letters that made me a sojourner in their unassuming world.
Extract from Woman And Her Muse by Lopa Banerjee
(Pics courtesy: Pixabay)
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