The Attic and the World


Photograph by Surajram Kumaravel

by Aalooran Rahman Bora

A few months back, my poem was selected as a finalist for the Berfrois Poetry Prize. One of the co-finalists was Jessica Sequeira, a poet from Argentina. She is an American who had moved to Argentina, seeking something unknown to her and was falling in love with the language among other things. (Did it remind me of a Graham Greene novel?)

She was traveling through Bengaluru, the city where I live, on her journey home. When she emailed me about a meeting, I had to ponder for sometime before deciding to meet her.

It has been a long time since I had met someone. I had retired into a self-imposed solitary confinement over a year ago when I quit my job to work on my novel. My interactions were limited to working just enough to pay the bills and to occasional social media. I had so come to love my solitary cell that it was a breach to even think of going out. I felt unease about how I was going to return to the routine of seclusion. And not to mention, the passing thought that in the meantime I had forgotten my social manners of interaction, of polite conversation.

On my way to meet her, the city was pretty much still the same. It looked the same to me. The same IT mobs out for their 11 o’ clock morning tea (I was one of them sometime back), the same government buses, the same traffic, the same younger crowd at the mall entrances. It was still the same city. The world has not changed while I was away. Only I had. I was no longer a part of this. My world has shrunk; but what a magnified world it is for me.

When we met, we talked. It started off easily, talking about books, about writers. About Marquez and Rushdie. All the other usual names. She talked about the exciting new authors, published from the smaller independent presses in Buenos Aires, making me realize with a pang that it is a certainty that I won’t be reading most of these books.

We meandered into our writing in general, broad terms. I don’t like to talk away my writing. She too didn’t elaborate about hers. In passing, she mentioned her affinity with longform non-fiction pieces. But she talked about the exciting little magazines over there, and those informal poet meets. We talked about the excitement of languages, pushing its limits, finding newer depths or heights.

Talking about books, about the prices of books, about the availability or not of foreign books, made it natural that we visit a couple of my favourite book places in the city.

The first one was this attractive showroom-part of a bigger retail chain, quite well stocked with Indian and foreign authors. Here, we roamed round, picking the new Indian authors I am fond of. Then, we trudged, heavy under the book packets, to my favourite small bookstore, kind of out of the way but where I was seldom disappointed. And we weren’t disappointed that afternoon too.

Those few lovely hours – of talking books, selecting books, buying books – consisted our brief encounter.

I left her, holding her thick unholdable bags of books, wishing the rest of her stay was pleasant.

I don’t have ambitions or desires.
Being a poet isn’t my ambition,
It’s my way of being alone.
— Fernando Pessoa

Somewhere when I started thinking of writing as my life, these lines became my mantra, the refrain of my life. I could not remember when or where I read these lines for the first time. They just appeared in my life at one particular moment and just stayed with me, travelling along side me. Though I have a distinct impression that it was months, if not years, after I had accepted, embraced, absorbed these lines that I actually read The Keeper of Herds, whose first poem carries those lines.

Over time, some things have changed. Though writing still is a solitary preoccupation, now I have few people, who come in and brings in a little light, a little understanding into my attic. They are there, when my writing is not going great or when I add another rejection email. They are there: it’s a strange sense of comfort and encouragement to continue the next day. I am not as lonely as I used to be when I started off. And meeting Ms Sequeira was another brief moment of companionship in a lonely writing existence.

Cover image ‘Yellow Pages’ by Nishanth Jois

About the Author:

Aalooran Rahman Bora is from the Indian state of Assam. He is employed as a freelance Instructional Designer while he works on his first novel and a string of short stories. He was a finalist for the 2015 Berfrois Poetry Prize.