Textual Allure

Ever since I remember, words have had a certain grip over me – not the unhealthy kind, but the healthier one. One that makes me happy, leaves me curious wanting for more. I don’t have words to explain this exactly, ironic as it seems – words escape me, but it is a warm feeling – a feeling of homecoming. It feels like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter evening. A fuzzy sweater to keep you warm, the mug of cocoa warming your palms.

A short history about my romance with words and the English language

My earliest memories of a full sentence from English – although I know three other languages native to where I come from, my heart leans towards English – come from the song ‘Nelson Mandela’. Released by the ska revival band The Special A K A in 1984, it was a war cry to protest against the imprisonment and a demand to free the then imprisoned freedom fighter. This was circa 1989 I think. The song played multiple times on television. Come to think of it, my parents must have had a hard time explaining the fact that a four year old was howling this war cry in the loudest possible pitch as a homage to a great world leader – just because he fancied it. There began my love affair with English and its words.

From there on I would participate in everything involving English – spelling, essays, elocutions, or debates. I took to it so much I’d begun conversing only in English back at school. It had to be dialled down a notch and I had to converse in the other local languages too. Later on I realised the value of learning other regional languages and I enjoyed them wholeheartedly too (this is for another post), but English would be my first love. It would snatch at my feelings time and again and always leave me wanting for more.

The impact of words

A little later on I picked up reading; some of my first short stories were those of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Treasure Island. I was drawn into the explicitly mentioned details about the scenes, the expressions the characters gave off, and particularly towards how characters played out in given a situation. I then moved on to read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series – a point where I seriously started stealing words. Also, in this series of books I came across food being described eloquently – sometimes salivating. I never knew words could be as delicious as the food themselves.

I’d begun to understand – although in subtle ways – words would exercise a power on me like no other medium could. The Pied Piper would begin to play his tunes and I would immediately become a rat dancing merrily unbeknownst of where I was headed – I’m glad I didn’t end up jumping off a cliff . Of course I pay homage to great musicians, artists, and cine-makers – but authors for me personally are at the summit. The kind of effort one puts to capture the world into words is incomparable for me. Reality is fleeting; you can never get it back, but with words you can capture some essence of it. I don’t feel this happening with either photographs or videos. Especially in this age where everyone is snapping away casually forgetting the moment they are in, words have the power to linger on. It almost never happens either with audio or video. I can listen to a podcast or an audiobook, but i can only retain so much – where as I can read the transcript or the book and retain stuff for extended periods or in some cases permanently. Words have a certain allure to them – otherworldly, unexplainable, even addictive. They leave a searing impression on my mind. The ink on paper is indelibly tattooed on the skin of my mind.

This seems true while communicating with other people as well. Short messaging on an instant messaging app is disconcerting to me. Although they come with their own share of benefits, I like to stick to the longer prosaic form of communication – sending longer, detailed, nuanced letters. Although postal mail is a bit of pain in the rear these days, I enjoy writing long emails to people who enjoy reading them. Or I don’t bother at all and send the same in an Instant Messaging app probably leaving the person on the other end of the screen balking at my message which beyond reasonable doubt takes up the entire screen space or more. I find pooling together all the details I want to tell someone and sending them as an email a more enjoyable activity compared to the short incoherent messages we use frequently. Also, when you send a long letter to a loved one or a friend, it points to a few things – you care about them, and you are willing to go the extra mile to spend time and effort to talk to them. Technology wreaked havoc with this wonderful aspect of communication. Technology made the world smaller, but it made our communique smaller too. And when you say less, you feel lesser.

Words have had this magnetic effect on me. They draw me in, like a bee drawn to nectar, and make me an inseparable part of where ever they are, like nectar becomes the honey itself. When I read, words are a source of joy and when I write, words a source of contentment. Laborious though they may appear at times, they are the best tools available with us to describe how, what, and why we feel at any given moment. While words are often blamed to inflict harm, using the right ones also act as a salve. Words don’t just burn bridges, they build them too.

Rarely do people get a chance to experience something that grabs at their core repeatedly – drowning in a sea of words is impossible, because you will always find the right ones bobbing like a sea-buoy, in stark contrast to the sea. Once you grab them, you are saved. Till the next storm hits.

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