Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 12/21/98 2:57 PM

Humour: The write choice

                                                     The Write Choice

The moment I gave notice of my impending relocation to the Nilgiri hills, people set my future agenda for me.

`Oh, going to write a book, are you,` they asked, looking incredulous when I denied such intention. Everyone goes to the hills to write a book, they said, reeling off a list of luminous names.

No one paid any heed to my litany of protests about downshifting, about relaxing in healthier environs (I’m now convinced Delhiites are secretly proud about living in such a polluted place), about just chilling out.

` I see a future Booker-winner in you,` e-mailed a friend from California. `What else will you do there anyway,` jeered someone. `Nothing ever happens in the hills.`

The point was, I did not have a book in me. `Nonsense,` scoffed someone. `Everyone has a book in her.`

`Go seek your inner book,` advised yet another well-wisher, confounding me with the profound potential of that statement.

Call it the power of thought transference.

A few days after I’d settled into my wisteria-fronted cottage, I decided I might as well write a book. The setting was ideal. Here I was, perched atop a steep hill, watching the swirling mists weave patterns in the emerald valley below.

The house was hedged by eucalyptus trees, the garden was abloom with late summer flowers; all I needed to do was sit in front of my computer  and let the ideas flow.

The first sitting was a no-go. Even as the screen stared blankly back at me, the peace and quiet was rent by loud intonations.

Investigations revealed that the sermon, for sermon it was, came from one of the many steepled churches dotting the surrounding hills. When the sermon ceased, the hymnal music began. When that died down, someone played Carnatic music at top volume from the tea stalls on the main road below. And it’s true what they say… the smallest sound carries a long way in the hills.

When I next sat down to write my potential Booker, the gardener  came to tell me Boss, my retriever, who invariably followed his own drum, had eaten all the gardenias and was starting on the hyacinths. By the time I finished commiserating with the man, remonstrating with the dog, the mood to write a literary tour de force had gone.

Every time I sat to write down my book, a series of incidents put paid to my resolve.

The weather played hooky, forcing me to do 40-metre dashes to bring the already soaked clothes in. Plumbers dropped by to look at the Victorian plumbing and leave, shaking their heads in wonder. New leaks in the tiled roof would necessitate new buckets at strategic places. Outsized spiders, three monkeys, a rat snake and six women from the local women’s auxiliary group came visiting.

This morning, even as I punched ‘Chapter One’ on the keyboard, I was told Senthamarai, my maid, had eloped with a man from the next village. His wife wanted to meet me, Senthamarai’s husband wanted to meet me, a couple of policemen wanted to meet me.

Maybe I should just head back to Delhi to write my book.

Just how did you manage it, Arundhati R?

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 21 Dec 1998. 


sylvan surroundsthe Nilgiriswriterswriting

Sheila Kumar • December 21, 1998

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