Author’s Note: I wrote this little piece for a submission in a magazine two years ago. The theme was Letters To My Inner Child and I took this prompt a bit literally, choosing to write a letter to the girl I used to be. This little blue notebook you see in the picture is what I use to write the first few lines before moving them to the keyboard. Today, as I sit here trying to remind myself why writing stories matters to me, I thought it would be apt to pay homage to the childhood days spent in my Nani’s courtyard. I hope, Dear Reader, that it touches a part of you, and brings a smile to your face.
Saturday, 19th September 2020
My Dearest Little-Old-Me,
I can see you there, huddled at the threshold, reading or scribbling by the trickle of sunlight streaming through the gap where the screen-door doesn’t quite latch. A piercing solitude cloaks the veranda, thick floral curtains the color of faded-yolk banking the sharp, oppressive heat of an unremarkable July afternoon. The old, dented fan’s wobbly groans compete with Nāni’s deep snores, but you’re too engrossed in the story to notice. Forehead scrunched, glasses slipping down your nose, your eyes desperate to read quickly past another chapter, plot one more soon-to-be-discarded fanfic (spoiler: you would learn that word some ten years in the future).
Your eagerness is a direct manifestation of wanting more.
More vision to see which lucky person would stumble on a fantasy land by walking through a cloud resting on top of a tree, see who finds a magic cupboard, or a door in a mountain…
If I were to go back and see you again, what would I say to you?
There’s so much to tell you, I don’t even know where to begin.
I’d be better, saner, I suppose, to start with a warning. I ought to tell you that this year’s probably—read, definitely—going to make it into the history books. Don’t believe me? Here’s a case in point: Ginsberg just passed away as I was editing this. Moreover, the planet’s dying, the world’s not really a better place and there’s a deadly pandemic making daily house calls, forcing everyone to hide indoors. Say nothing of the mental health crisis, ableism, the women’s movement and your future-self’s dastardly habit to skirt close to deadlines. Trust me, today’s real-time news far surpasses the stress-inducing nightmares of your past (sorry, present?) Hence, I want the chance to explain how the perimeters of your narrow, sequestered streets at the age of nine are far brighter, safer, more vibrant than you think. And that the skies of the time ahead are adamant to allow precious little space to encompass, embrace all your imagined dreams and freedoms, much less of all of womankind.
But my heart loathes to confess such dull, unmitigated greys. Like putting a cloak over a rainbow, don’t you think? There’s time still for your meet-cute with these shiny, twinkling insecurities. Years before you look in the mirror and find your skin, your strengths lacking. It’s a marriage I wish to prolong for as long as possible, though I know that come it will, and without the courtesy of consent.
And so maybe, I should tell you to read, write faster, yes? Any minute now, Khāla could wake up, and finding you absconding the dreaded after-school nap, ambush your awfully obvious hiding place. The notebook, or novel, could end up out of reach, locked away inside one of the many rickety wall cupboards or the dented blue box perched above the almirah sans cookies. You’d then spend the following two days empty-handed, some unfinished stories, Vatāyo Fakir’s humorous anecdotes and Jagjit Singh’s ghazals reverberating your consciousness as you tiptoe the edges of the whitewashed adobe walls that enfold Nāni’s courtyard; a space which is both playground, prison and a palace, depending on the day.
Perhaps then I should advise you to cherish this blissful, undisturbed seclusion, hai nā? Silence is a privilege in a large joint family, and books, a small-town luxury. That you have a quiet moment to do nothing but read is a divine indulgence. It makes sense to force you to bask in the absence of memories for now unmade, relish the smooth planes of your yet un-rendered being.
On a second thought, no, I shouldn’t say that either. Your lines haven’t been breached yet and the story’s still yours. It’s cruel to make you cradle a loss that hasn’t yet been felt. As foolish, if not more so, as sorting out buckets to collect rain under a sun filled sky.
Well, in that case, you tell me, what do we talk about? How does one offer reassurances when they aren’t, so far, required? What to do with an ache when it’s neither been felt, nor yet voiced or warranted?
The answer, I suppose, lies in that pause.
Perhaps, maybe then, I should say nothing and just listen. Listen to your anxious gasps, the quiet sounds of laughter you try to suppress. Listen to your soft sighs over a sentence well-written, your muffled sobs for a pain not yours but just as deeply felt. Words that have for so long been your joy will soon become a solace from grief. In mere two years’ time, you will be ripped too deep for crying, eventually deeming yourself too big for tears.
Thus forth, prepare you I must.
That much, at least, I can claim to know how to go about…
It’s a quiet night here, in my present, your future. The room’s cool, the apartment still. The stars appear absent through my bedroom window, the moon off doing whatever she does when not visible. I can hear the neighbours’ fighting, a crowd of children playing riotously in the building compound. Sounds as familiar as the walls feel strange.
It’s been years’ since we left behind Nāni’s courtyard but I can still see you there, my little-old-me. Huddled at the threshold, reading, scribbling by the trickle of sunlight streaming through the gap where the screen-door doesn’t quite latch.
So if we were to meet again, I’d greet you in silence, and sit with you to read.
Perveen is a South-Asian Muslim, an introvert who daydreams about love-myths, monsters, and magic during my day job and occasionally binge-watch period dramas at night. Most of her time is spent reading, writing & talking to the cats in my backyard.
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