There are some questions which take you by surprise. You are surprised because you wonder how come you never thought of them. You are also surprised because you will have to think before venturing an answer. Such questions are not intrusions, no. They strike you like a flower dropping from a tree and onto your head. Your reflexes cannot hide the ‘What was that?’ but when you take in the question, it’s a beautiful thing you discover. Like the flower the tree let go of. I was asked something recently – If I could have any author – living or dead – write my biography, who would I choose?
I stood before the book shelves at home, ran my finger left to right on the spines, head tilted a little to the right. The books were throwing names at me, some popular, some not so. I could spot my favourite authors looking at me with a scowl, saying ‘traitor’, as my finger brushed over their names and ignored. I could see Sam Walton (Walmart?) bribing me with his smile, selling his biographer to me with offers attached. I even saw children’s authors of varied nationalities prattling ‘try me’, on books tucked secretly between the big people books, by my son.
I didn’t pick any first, and then I picked three. Yes, a combination would be good. Why not!
Let Mark Twain write about my childhood. Look what he did with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. You read about them as a child and you enjoy the adventures. You read them as an adult and you realize there is more here than meets the eye. Let Twain paint my childhood for me, for I too have climbed trees, had gangs of friends, tricked or treated them. Sought freedom from civilized society, created fiction and ‘some kind of a yarn’ (okay, lied) with ease that equals that of Finn. Like Sawyer I have domineered over my cousins, called pretend play adventures, thrown some style into it and how! And despite all “laws” that are supposed to govern childhood, sweet subversion has been my constant companion. And then, with characters like ‘Jim’ around, I too have thought ‘Human beings can be awful cruel to one another’. Twain would know, how the Finn in me grew away from the Sawyer. How, as children too, there were larger issues that we all handled.
But then, I am no longer a child. I am a mother and am married to a man who is married to the Government. Something like ‘The Mammaries of the Welfare State’, with an ‘and’ in between, is what my daily life is. Yes, Upamanyu Chatterjee would understand the comic fable that is a part of our pillow talk night after night. I want this part of my life to be put in the best, most savage satire which makes you laugh– exactly what my life comprises right now, and will for a little while. Who else will know from firsthand experience how opening your own car door is as anathema as cleaning your toilet with your toothbrush, or picking your own bag! That ‘Efficiency Bar’ that ‘Hubris Ascending’ and even that ‘Pest in the Corridors of Power’. Yes, no one can document this wifely stage of my life as Upamanyu can.
However, these are the external trappings of the person I call me. Stimuli which shape me, but are not me. After all, who am I, if not my thoughts? My streams of consciousness. Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am’? Should not my biography be about what is within me as much as what is without? There is only one author who surpasses all others when it comes to portraying the reality of her characters, and that is Virginia Woolf. Her novels have dealt with memory and her characters, like Mrs Dalloway, have been thinking minds, not just material beings. My reality is my thoughts, and Woolf will know how to pen them down. Put into words what was storming my mind even as I served tea in china cups, with a broad smile. Or waved good bye to my son leaving for school with a similarly painted smile, but a heavy heart.
I sit staring at these three books before my eyes. These three, together, will write my biography for me.
But something doesn’t seem to satisfy, still. Something is amiss. These people are masters at their craft but strangers to my life, my times. Yes, like most biographers are. But then, if I could I would want someone who saw me live my life to write about it too. Who was there when my tomorrows became yesterdays as the road-roller of time laid the path to old age. Who was a witness to the greying, and his own growth in my hands. Who will know how to fill in the gaps, of incidents and feelings, when my memory fails to sit by my side. Let my son write my biography, if my life is indeed worth a tale.
Let my biography be my son’s story of my life.
[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was: Ghost-writer - If you could have any author – living or dead – write your biography, who would you choose?]