A Pen, some Ink & Magic

©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved

‘How does it feel to be the granddaughter of a famous author?’

I was at a dinner party a few weeks ago, and was asked this question by an elderly lady as we both stood side by side helping ourselves to the scrumptious buffet. Holding the serving spoon in mid air, I pondered the question for a few seconds. I didn’t want to give a flippant answer. And yet, it was one of those rare occasions when the right words simply did not occur to me.

‘Have you read her books?’ I asked instead, with open delight. It always tickles me when I meet someone who has been an avid fan of my grandmother.

‘Read her books?’ she gasped, practically trembling with disbelief. ‘Kumudini Rangnekar was one of the best novelists of my time. I have read every single word she has ever written’.

We smiled at each other….

‘So…’, she continued amiably, placing a roti and some carefully chosen vegetables in her plate, ‘ Which novel of hers is your favourite?’

That was the defining moment! A moment of lucid realisation. With a dull thud of shock, the amazing truth hit home for the first time ever. I had never till date read a single novel written by my grandmother. She had been an icon of Marathi literature, and yet I could not recall the name of a single book.

I returned home that night deeply disturbed. Sitting at the computer, working dejectedly on character sketches of the main protagonists in my half-finished novel, I found it difficult to concentrate. There were a million questions milling around in my brain. I am and have always been a voracious reader. My fondest memories of childhood are of being curled up on the sofa with a thick novel. I have read all the Agatha Christies, every single James Hadley Chase, a fair selection of P.G. Wodehouse…and yet…and yet….not one single book written by the novelist in the family itself. I had all the excuses and reasons for not having done so neatly lined in my head, like soldiers standing at attention during a parade. My grandmother had written in Marathi. And although I speak the language fluently, my marathi reading skills are beyond dismal. It would be impossible for me to read a single sentence without first trawling through a dictionary. This had always seemed a painful method of enjoying a novel, and had always dissuaded me from reading Marathi literature.

As I sat staring at the cursor blinking accusingly on the blank computer screen, memories assailed me from every direction. Flashes of childhood images spun before my eyes. I remembered her sitting at her round writing desk, with sheets and sheets of lined writing paper piled neatly in front of her. I would sit at her knee and watch in admiration as she put on her glasses and stared for a few moments into space. There was total silence. Neither of us spoke. As a child, I wondered what she was staring at. Decades later, the writer within me now recognises that the blank staring into nothingness was actually a brilliant author at work. She was gathering her thoughts, assembling the plot, shaping her characters, outlining her scenes, pondering the novel’s central crisis, planning the denouement. A tiny gleam would slowly awaken in her eyes, and she would lean forward and dip her pen in a bottle of ink. I watched mesmerised as she folded the sides of the sheet vertically, equivalent of the modern day page margin, and began writing a seemingly effortless string of words. She wrote and wrote and wrote with barely a pause. Her hand writing was beautiful and always slightly at a slant. ‘Grandmother of mine, how could you write such brilliant novels with such apparent ease?’ Even today, when I am stuck for words while writing my novel, when the literary Muse has deserted me, when the ideas just don’t flow….I think of the era she wrote in. Back then, there was no Google, no internet research, no thick thesaurus nestling devotedly by an author’s side. And yet, she wrote novel after novel after novel. What were you thinking in those moments before you put pen to paper? How could a few precious seconds of staring into space and gathering thoughts result in such brilliant literature? A few decades down the path, your granddaughter struggles with plot development and character sketches and often finds herself staring at the blank computer screen, engulfed in literary despair. I have Google and every form of internet research at my finger tips….And yet…and yet…..If only I had asked you back then to share your thoughts. As I sat watching you write your masterpieces, did you ever wonder that I would some day want to write a novel of my own?

In conclusion, all I can say is :

‘It has been great knowing you, Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon, Mr Wodehouse. You are, without doubt, the great and eternal stalwarts of literature. But it is time now for me to move on and read what my grandmother wrote so many years ago. Even if I have to slave over it for months, glancing every few seconds in confusion at a dictionary. I grew up watching a great author at work. It is time now to finally read those very words’.

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