In the India of the eighties, where I grew up, “rank” in class was important. Rank meant one’s academic position in class, an index of one’s score in the progress report. It meant stature. It probably still does. The title of “first boy” or “first girl” was a badge of honor, a halo of prestige to inspire awe – in students, teachers and parents. Rank was inflated to be a measure of one’s worth.
However, it wasn’t a realistic measure. Creativity, for instance, took a back seat. Tests were not designed to gauge one’s organic ideas, rather the ability to learn by rote and apply it to a fairly limited set of patterns. In the subjects of languages and literary arts, where seeds of original thought are probably most easily sown, a tendency to rehash clichés and opinions of others were the norm. Few liked creative writing, in the form of essays or short stories. I was likely in the minority when I inevitably chose to write a story in our language paper, an option we were allowed in place of an essay. It was possibly the only thing I didn’t consider a burden during exams. If not pleasure, it gave me an escape from the humdrum of routine, the thrill of not having to write something from recall, from a pattern hardened by habit.
Here I was free to let my thoughts flow, craft something vague into a concrete form without fully knowing the final outcome. As I wrote, unaware of the mysterious process that let my words push the story forward, I was sometimes awed by the strangeness of not knowing the precise direction I was headed. It was as if the story had a life of its own, and drew me into writing it. Though I had a general idea of the denouement, rarely did I know how it would exactly conclude. Nonetheless, I was always keen to attempt it.
The fact that one can find hitherto unknown ideas during the process of writing is quite amazing in itself. Like Luke’s training with Obi wan, it’s akin to discovery of new things, new abilities, while rummaging inside a box with eyes closed.
“…let go your conscious self, and act on instinct”
But it’s a discovery accessible to all, not just the Jedi. For me, those times when I could suspend my conscious self to let my inner voice latch on to the unconscious and take me on a journey, however brief, into uncharted waters felt like an elemental step. A step closer to reality, to life itself.
Years later, I try to rediscover those times when I can. And hope to continue doing so for as long as I live. For during these moments, I am able to forgo my concern for rank.