Ink is the purest of all Poisons, says Pallavi Rebbapragada, Journalist & Author
‘I am indeed amazed when I consider how weak my mind is and how prone to error.’ Rene Descartes, the author of this sentence isn’t speaking in the context of our varying ordinariness. He’s charmingly distant and was destined to live on as a theory in yellowing books before we learned about him. Yet, we align Descartes’ acknowledgment of his own weakness, and how likely it is for him to err, with our own obvious flaws. Writers, thinkers, creators of ideas and books make us believe stories that become universal in its width and intensely personal in its depth. What may look like a carcanet of words is actually a string of thoughts and us mere readers are reading the minds of the writers.
For the last seven years, I have called the printing press my home. I started my career at the India Today office in Connaught Place, Delhi. Over endless cups of lemon tea, a small team produced three lifestyle magazines. The opposite of breaking news journalism is feel good journalism. Away from the crush of reality, in a blissfully deluded space, I remember writing about shoes, bags, paint, tea and coffee, anklets, tattoos, and several other things that can space in a beautiful world. But, it is hard to engage readers with content so glittery and happy and it won’t inspire a conversation of recall value. But then this made me a storyteller, writing pieces around a water cooler at work or say while having a bowl of lentil at a middle-class family’s square dining table. My thoughts synced with my readers.
Work took me to sleepy Swiss valleys where memories are measured in clocks and cocoa dust, to the dreamy ramps of Paris and Milan, to art studios in Japan and the golden deserts of the Middle East where big business finds a mistress in luxury. On one day I’d find myself talking about the one child policy with a Chinese girl along the Hau Hai lakeside in Beijing, yet another day would be spent at the Playboy Club in Macao discussing feminism with Playboy Bunnies. From architects to dancers to Shah Rukh Khan to the Dalai Lama to AR Rahman and Arvind Kejriwal, each person I have interviewed was living a life so different than the world seemed like it’s broken into a million pieces. Gladly, while I narrate the realities experienced by others, fiction writing happened on its own.
In 2013, I moved to the Middle East to work as an editor at Forbes. One of the chapters in my book Upon a Bright Red Bench revolves around the life of Indians who migrate to the Gulf for work. Here’s an excerpt:
Dubai was like that candle. A thousand palms from around the world were caressing its glow. A couple of palms were pouring in oil, slowly, from a height, to keep the flame alive. They were silhouetted in the candle’s long shadow, and they couldn’t be seen. Whenever the fire would dim to a cool blue, other palms would labor hard to pile on new layers of scented and glittered wax. The old wax would freeze in shavings around the candle’s spherical pillar. Nobody thought about this used wax, not even those palms that were here only to draw pleasant warmth. The rest of the world believed that the oil this candle drank would dry out one day, and the hands it ate out of would soon gather hideous burns, and that stringy wick beating at the center of its heart would die a black death. Like the candle, Dubai compelled viewers to see only the present, and called itself the “center of now”.
This is my first work of fiction & was assessed at the Yale Writers’ Conference in 2014. It’s a collection of stories narrated by a red bench. From the awkwardness inside a young marriage to the silent evil called marital rape to marriages without conversations, the book spins words around modern day relationships. There’s grief, greed, envy, friendship, nostalgia and a wide of emotions that fall upon a bright red bench.
A couple of years ago, creative writing took a back seat and I dedicated myself to investigative reporting. From death workers inside mortuaries to the drug-addled in de-addiction centres to Syrian refugees struggling for survival & issues in environment and health, I now put together ground reports on the way policies are lived in India. To say, I have so far covered two extreme sides of journalism. But as I see it, human emotion alone connects these opposites. If happiness is human and belongs to us, so does suffering, so does loss and injustice. Earlier, life was simpler, prettier, but I don’t regret that I chose to jump over walls in search of addicts in urban villages or walk into small town police stations to help women register complaints of sexual abuse. There is a lot that needs to be fixed in the world. The pen is my weapon and ink is my poison, my friends, for which I can give up my comforts. In my reportage, it is not politics but policy that I chase; as oneness & strength of the constitution is inspiring.
I hold a Masters’ Degree in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics. I have a tender heart that breaks silently, somewhere within. My message to women who are reading this article -”Life is tough and it will be difficult to pick up the pieces of your heart and some dreams will break and some dreams will change. Keep yourself cozy, love yourself (not just on social media) but when push comes to shove, don’t be afraid to fight wherever and with whomsoever. Having a tender heart may look like a weakness, but it is actually a big strength. The one thing you can learn from a writer is that innocence can remain intact in a gilt-edged world.”