Written in the Stars ~ Anushree Srivastava

They say “Find what you love and let it kill you.” To them, I say “I found what I love and through it, I have lived multiple lives.”

You know how people often want to tell a story but in order to bring in the cool quotient, they start with the phrase “So a lot of people have been asking me how…”. One can almost always vouch for the fact that it’s an obnoxious tactic. Why, you ask? Well, because in most cases nobody asked them anything that required a response in the form of another post flooding the vast nothingness that is the ocean of literary world. You see what I did there linking ‘flood’ and ‘ocean’? Or should I say “You ‘sea’ what I did there?” And with that, I have exhausted my quota of ‘dad jokes’ reserved for this piece.

Anyway, I digress. I am writing this piece because a lot of people have been asking me how I came to be a writer. Ha! No, I am not talking about my vocation as a writer in the medical field. This is, instead, about my interest in writing as an avocation. It is but a journey that I relive several times in my head as I think back to my formative days when, unlike right now, I was untouched by life’s frivolities and believed in hope and happiness in the world. Of course, I am happy even now. Don’t believe me? Scoot over to my Instagram wall and see just how happy and exciting my life is. Isn’t that the whole point of having an account on it anyway?

To bring you to a starting point in my journey into writing, I have to first transport you to my early days in the quaint city of Bareilly where I spent a big chunk of my childhood running around tall eucalyptus trees and getting bitten by baby monkeys (that topic is off-limits for this post). For the sake of humoring the Muggle in me that still patiently awaits her Hogwarts letter, let us pretend that I am transporting you the same way Tom Riddle took Harry to the time when the Chamber of Secrets was first opened. For added dramatic effect, it may help if you could jump slightly at your current spot. Why, thank you for obliging!

Alright, so while in Bareilly, although I studied in a CBSE-affiliated English medium school, it was quite uncommon to have enough emphasis on spoken or written English. With an over-imaginative mind at my disposal already, a crucial barrier to even tilting my head in the direction of writing was the medium through which I could express myself. Seeing that my knowledge of the English language was limited to reproducing answers that I learnt by rote in class, I never developed an affinity towards actually understanding the language. Why not write in Hindi, you ask? Well, speaking it at home and actually sitting down to write it were worlds apart, which is why this piece focuses on my relationship with the English language. Even today, if you were to spend enough time with my mother to gain her confidence into telling you isolated embarrassing tales of our family members, one of the top 5 stories would be about how I laughed at anyone who would ask me to speak in English and told them that I would not join one of the most reputed schools in the city because I would then be required to converse in the dreaded language. It is safe to say that this incident had left a deep, second-hand embarrassment imprint on my mother’s mind which is why it secured its spot in the family tales.

I was happily dealing with this language in my rote way when one fine day, my father sat us all down and informed us that we were leaving the city to move to Bombay. Anyone reading this who happened to think “it’s not Bombay; it’s Mumbai.” To you, I would say what the cool kids do “I will call it Bombay, don’t at me.” Anyway, there I was, new to the city and gearing up to join what I could only think of as a school that would put all my inhibitions to test. I had suddenly gone from being surrounded by Hindi-speaking folks to those who looked down upon conversing in anything but English. Yes, looked down upon. School kids are perhaps the nastiest things God made and I say this while being fully aware that we live in a world with garden lizards. My school days saw me as a nervous wreck, forever worrying that I would be spoken to and would have to respond in the language. Thankfully, the first few days were limited to squeaking “Yes, ma’am” during roll-calls. I distinctly remember one day when I had worried myself sick all day, trying to frame the right sentence to tell a classmate that I no longer needed her Geography book but wanted the Science one in its place. “What’s that word”, I wondered, “which is used to say that I need the Science book ___?” After a whole day of mental labor, a proverbial light bulb turned ON in my head and I broke into a smile. I had successfully reminded myself that there was a word called ‘instead’. As the class ended, I walked up to the classmate and proudly announced that I needed the Science book ‘instead’ of the Geography book. My chest swelled with pride at my little accomplishment and I found myself thinking that maybe, just maybe, life wouldn’t be too difficult here.

Welp, how wrong was I! As if the mind-numbing midterm and final exams were not enough, we also had periodic unit tests. As Joey Tribbiani would say, “Why God, why are you doing this to us?” I prepared for the exams and apart from the language barrier, I was pretty decent at school work. At last, the dreaded day was here and I walked in for the English test. The only part of the test that I distinctly remember is that we had to write an essay and a letter. I thought to myself “okay, this cannot be difficult, just use your imagination and make a nice story for the reader.” I started with the letter that was to be addressed to a railway official. The objective was to inform him about an incident that had occurred during a recent trip undertaken by the letter writer- me. The incident was, and I quote, ‘the loss of a piece of luggage upon alighting from the train’. Quite simple, right? Now, try to think from the perspective of a girl who was struggling with the language and had decided to be creative. I read the word ‘alighting’ several times until the proverbial bulb lit up once again. See what I did there again, with alighting and the bulb getting lit up? It was a bonus dad joke right there. As I rode high on my creative wave, I used logic and thought “lighting means to light. Alighting must mean its opposite.” With that accomplishment, I quickly wrote down a letter to the official, explaining how I was traveling between a pair of stations when there was a power failure and the lights went out. When the lights were back, I noticed that my bag was missing and rest, as they say, is history. I must say that my letter made for a very strong case against power outages in locomotives. I was surprisingly proud of myself. As for anyone confused here, the actual meaning of ‘alighting’ is ‘descending from a train, bus, or other form of transport’. I was, in fact, required to write about how I had descended from the train and found my luggage missing. And here I was, drunk on power! Haha, these dad jokes don’t stop coming, do they?

Once done with the letter, my creative wave stumbled upon the essay topic. And to my joy, the topic seemed too simple to be true. I was required to describe a scenario where I had gone camping when at night, I had heard a sound and looked out of my tent to see a flying saucer overhead. The essay was to focus on the flying saucer and my surreal experience. I chuckled softly because Bollywood had prepared me well for all kinds of unrealistic scenarios and I prided myself in cooking up cock and bull stories. I quickly wrote down a 3-page essay on a trip to the countryside and how I was asleep in the tent when I heard a rattling noise. Upon stepping out of my tent, I saw a flying saucer. And it was not just a flying saucer, I even saw cups and plates flying about because, wait for it, spooky supernatural things were happening around us. I carefully weaved a horror story, describing objects flying around and humans huddled in fear wondering what to do. I am pretty sure I also provided some background on the campsite being built on an ancient burial ground because I took movies very seriously.

All done with the tests, I went back to my daily lessons until it was time for the test results. We were given our graded answer sheets and also the score cards. I noticed that my score in English was terribly low but I quickly placed the card inside my bag. I was not going to dwell on it too much and ruin my day. When I returned home, I showed the card to my parents who were also seeing my elder sister’s scores. Needless to say, she was always at the top of her class while I was good but not the best. While waiting for my turn, I noticed something weird. In the ‘Result’ field on her card was the word ‘Passed’. I casually looked at my own card and my eyes doubled to their size as I saw that the same field was populated on my card with ‘…’. Call it my optimism or sheer stupidity but I laughed and told my mom that they had made a mistake and forgotten to write ‘Passed’ in my card. My parents looked at each other and decided to humor me by asking me to check with my teacher the next day. And so, I went hippity hoppity to my teacher at the end of the class and innocently declared that she had forgotten to write my final result in the score card. I spent the next few minutes patiently listening to her explain that my essay and letter made sure that I did not secure the passing score. This being the first time I had not passed a test; I broke into a cacophony of embarrassed sobs. Was I going to have to repeat the year? Was I going to be expelled? Was I going to be demoted to a lower class? Thankfully, I was informed at once that as long as I did well in my midterm and final exams, I did not have to worry about these tests.

Therefore, with a motivational music playing in my head, I decided that it was time for me to conquer my fear of the language. Shoutout to all ICSE school kids who will know what I mean what I say that I bought the Wren & Martin book and immersed myself in it. Along with it, I also bought the Indian quintessential English learning book, Rapidex, to learn the basics of sentence structuring and grammar. The next few months, I did nothing in my spare time except taking in every word of what was written in these books. With every new academic year, I focused more and more on the language and tried to get better at it. I had slowly transformed from the girl who had once looked at a drawing sheet and asked “Who draw this?” to the girl who no longer considered it a stupendous feat to remember words like ‘instead’. I wish I could say that I turned into an English whiz overnight but that would be a lie. I was still toiling every year and doing my best to learn everything I could in this language. In Grade 9, when we had to select an optional subject, I decided that I wanted to learn French, a prerequisite for which was to have an excellent command of the English language. Imagine my surprise when I was offered the French course without any concerns from my teachers. My true happy moment in this regard, and what I still consider to be one of my proudest achievements till date, came in Grade 10 when the school Principal, a brilliant but intimidating woman, was instructing us for the board exams. After scoring my pre-board answer sheet, she came for the weekly lecture and asked me to stand up. She then said and yes, I quote again, “If there is one person that I am not worried about scoring well in the grammar section, it’s Anushree.” I remember going home and telling my parents that it was one of my happiest days! I had finally realized that I was not just good at English, I had even started to love it! My love affair with the language started when I was down in the dumps and it turned me into a person who loves it just so much. Funnily, this was the exact opposite route to what my romantic relationships generally take.

Once I fell in love with this language, reading and writing it came naturally to me. I finally had a suitable outlet for my thoughts. I started by jotting down poems and slowly progressed to writing pieces inspired by my own life. If anything, I am thankful for having this outlet that does not always need me to be creative as long as I am honest in my writings. With a love for the language and my ever-creative edge for story-telling, writing became something that merged my vocation and avocation. I would like to believe that this was something that was written in my stars.

They say “Find what you love and let it kill you.” To them, I say “I found what I love and through it, I have lived multiple lives.”