Finding the truth about myself

Published: Aug 24, 2018, 06:05 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello | Mumbai

How do you engage in the sanctity of writing when there is so much out there that occupies your mind space? The answer: concentration

I don't begin eating until I've found the perfect piece, something that will really uplift me. Representation pic
I don't begin eating until I've found the perfect piece, something that will really uplift me. Representation pic

Rosalyn D'MelloThe greatest charm of living in the aura of an itinerant domesticity is evolving a site-specific morning routine. Because, for the last 22 days I have been inhabiting a house by the Anjuna River, it is inconceivable that I should spend my morning hours doing anything other than sit by the table in the out house so I can watch the raindrops collide with the surface of the river and absorb the monsoonal glow of swaying leaves, their multiple shades of green glistening and contrasting with each other. I have been waking up early every day, on my own, without any alarm clock intervention.

I sleep wedged between Barfi and Cleo, who arise with me. You would think that for someone unaccustomed to sharing a bed with cats, the fear of hurting them while asleep, unconsciously, of course, would be enough to keep you half-awake. But we seem to have fallen into an intuition, which makes each of us ever conscious of our parameters. I am being constantly reminded of the beginning of the late Eunice de Souza profound poem, "Advice to Women" — Keep cats if you want to learn to cope with the otherness of lovers.

The first thing I do when I get out of bed is feed Cleo and Barfi. Then I heat water in a kettle and let it boil while I brush my teeth, wash my face, open the back door and gauge the river's tide. I have haldi with warm water while I do household chores; dishes, tidying up, sweeping; then I take an empty stainless steel container, hop on my scooter and head towards the Siolim church to a quaint little cafe run by three women. I ask them for paatad; the Goan equivalent of the Maharashtrian ussal. I bring it back, heat up some bread, make myself some coffee and sit on the table in front of the river. Where in Delhi I usually sit on my writing desk in front of my laptop and watch something online, here I play music on my laptop, usually Philip Glass or Bach, leave it indoors, while I read. I don't begin eating until I've found the perfect piece, something that will really uplift me, speak to me as if it were written just for me.

A few days ago, I found a phenomenal essay by Patricia Lockwood titled "How Do We Write Now?" It was almost serendipitous, finding it on the Longform website, considering the evening before I had called up my friend in Delhi to tell him how I had been feeling both defeated and helpless, and how it was difficult to focus on writing when someone you know and respect — Shahidul Alam, the celebrated Bangladeshi photographer, has been unjustly imprisoned for speaking the truth about how the country's governance has become increasingly autocratic.

Then there was all the news pouring in about the devastating floods in Kerala. How do you engage in the sanctity of writing when there is so much out there that occupies your mind space? How do you enjoy the paradise that is this sublet house by the river when at the back of your head you feel almost guilty for having the privilege of a self-imposed retreat? Do you even deserve it? What has been the cost of it, financially and emotionally? Will you even produce something of merit? How to exorcise this demon of self-doubt that follows you wherever you go like a creepy stalker?

Lockwood had some answers in her essay. "That your attention is in one sense the most precious part of you, it is your soul spending yourself, to teach you that there's always more. That your attention is a resource that can be drafted, commandeered, militarised and made to march — like youth, passion, or patriotism." It's a poetic essay that is part self-help guide, part female writer manifesto. This sentence resonated with me, assuming the force of a dictum: "The single best way to give the morning back to myself is to open a real book as I drink my first cup of coffee. I'm not sure why real books are best. I think the pages remind me that I have fingerprints. I think I like to see what I have read lying sweetly by the side of what I'm about to read, like a wife."

In a few hours I will leave for Delhi to apply for a Schengen visa once more. Susan Miller turned out to be quite spot on about my house of international travel. I hope to return to Goa in a few days, even if only for two more weeks, and then to return again, after I'm back from Europe. There is some grand truth about my self that floats in the current of these waters. I am still learning how to fish so I retrieve it.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to

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