Books, I was once told, are akin to armchair travelling. Having travelled a fair bit in the course of my life, I can attest that this statement is true, but only in the hands of a skilful writer. Good writing can show you a desert: the bright sun blinding you from the sky, the sand dunes shimmering in the distance, a caravan of camels walking single file, their cargo in colourful bags slung over their backs.
Great writing will place you slap bang in the middle of that desert. You’ll be assaulted by the fiery heat, you’ll feel your feet sink into the hot sand, grains sneaking inside your shoes even as every step seems to be an enormous effort, your footprints a testament to the distance you have travelled determinedly. The sweat will drip from your brow to your cheek as it makes it way down to your neck, with you too fatigued to wipe it off your face. You’ll smell the pungent odour drifting your way from the camels as you walk alongside, your nose still not accustomed to these unfamiliar smells but your journey only half-done. Everywhere you look, the air will coruscate with the mysteries of this strange and ancient land, whispers upon a sudden breeze urging you to stop, cautioning you against your mission. Yet, you’ll drag your foot out of the sand, placing it forward, one ahead of the other, knowing that you need to go on, you have to go on, there is no other way …
Do you want to know what happens next? Well, so do I. Except that this excerpt was nothing but an illustration of what writing can do. It can reel you in, it can transport you, and sometimes, it can transform you.
Writers always start out as readers. From tracing the alphabet to Grimms Fairy Tales, teenage sleuths, murder mysteries, hunted assassins, family sagas, romances and the myriad genres that might catch their fancy, readers submerge themselves in the words and worlds of others. Books are the portals that allow them a multiplicity of visions and imaginations. In Austen, they celebrate the English country, in R.K. Narayan the Indian village. In Tolkein the fantastic, in Rowling the magical. Through all of these doorways, they ultimately arrive at their own destination, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that they are meant to be storytellers.
Yet, the very act of reading is submission. It is the submission of your spirit, the allowing of someone else to guide you through the recesses of their mind. Sometimes the journey is easy; a light and breezy read would enable you to glide through, enjoying the pleasures of the vistas around you. Sometimes the journey is arduous. A book that does not reveal its innermost secrets until it is ready, a journey that has you gasping for air, flailing to understand, grabbing at the corners of a greater truth. Each one has its place in your life, each one teaches you something about the world and in particular, about yourself.
Then, is the act of writing one of power play? Are writers dictators asking for that submission, demanding it even? Ah no! Writing is its own kind of journey. Truths, half-remembered, are revealed in words that spill from the soul, philosophies are explored, retained or discarded, wisdom percolated through fictional people, guilt assuaged, alternate lives explored. Not even the writer can tell you what he will write until the narrative is complete. No amount of plotting can preempt the capriciousness of characters or the unusual segues of a tale insisting on being told its way.
There is an undeniable symbiosis between reading and writing. One feeds the other, while the other ensures that stories will always be told, in one form or another. At the very heart of it, we are chroniclers. From the time we drew stick men in caves, to being oral raconteurs to writing our histories and penning our deepest, darkest desires, we have never shied away from preserving our pasts or baring our souls. Our heritage lies in our DNA, but our legacy lies in our storytelling.
Poornima Manco is an alumnus who graduated from MIS in 1989. Always in love with books and reading she found in herself a writer interested in telling stories of her own, stories that had a strong connection to India, even though she had long moved away from there.
Always a voracious reader, Poornima started writing at the age of eight and never really stopped, although there were many dry spells.
She found her writing voice in 2009 when a short story of hers placed in an online competition run by The Guardian newspaper. Having re-discovered her first love, she started an online blog where she published many of her short stories, thoughts and musings to begin with.
In 2018, her stories were compiled into two separate books subtitled the India series. She has subsequently written another book of short stories to add to that series, as well as a novella. Her fourth book of short stories has just been released and she intends to write a novel in the very near future.
Most of her tales are set in India as her formative years were spent there. Born and raised in New Delhi, she moved to the United Kingdom in her twenties. Yet, she has never been able to sever the umbilical cord that ties her to her birthplace. She loves reading, travelling and the company of good friends. She is married and has two teenage daughters.
You can find more about her and her books at www.poornimamanco.com