One from the Desk
Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a status message on Facebook about her desk. It had been usurped by her husband, but she finally had it back and found it most inspiring.
I identified with her. Not that my desk has been usurped by my husband, but my inspirational desk remains in Calcutta, while the one I have in Bombay is merely a desk – a large, chunky piece of furniture with a deep drawer and a locker and a long and wide flat surface that my computer sits on. (This is a massive desk. Remove the drawer and locker and it could be a dining table for four.) That’s where I work when I have to work at home, but I can’t say it’s inspirational.
My desk in Calcutta, however, the one I miss, is more than a desk. I can’t say it’s beautiful. In fact, it’s an ugly piece of furniture, formica-topped and fairly inconvenient. It has just a single shallow drawer and a narrow and not so long flat surface, that’s it. But something always happened to me when I sat at that desk. I enjoyed my work and wanted to do more.
I think I was about 12 or 13 when I got that desk – inherited from my sister who had finished college and moved to Bombay to work. Before that, I had a deep and abiding hatred of all forms of study. I was a big reader, which I suppose made me seem studious, but textbooks were my enemy.
But after I took over that desk, something happened to me. While some textbooks continued to be the enemy (no prizes for guessing – maths and sciences), others became my best friends. Not only did I look forward to doing my homework at that desk, I read further. I read entire textbooks from start to finish at that desk, finishing them long before my teachers had even begun the next chapter. And I pulled out all the reference books my parents insisted on having at home (thank heavens for parents like mine) to read more on the subjects that interested me. All at and because of that desk.
I did a lot of stuff at that desk. In those pre-computer days, I wrote essays and stories and poems by hand because I couldn’t stop writing them. Not for school assignments; I just had to write, so I did. I also painted with poster paints (I can’t draw to save my life, but I love colour, so I did what I referred to as ‘modern art’). I also sat at that desk and planned and created handmade birthday cards for my friends – small pieces of embroidery (I enjoyed sewing) pasted on chart paper, with a poem and painting on the side.
In college, I loved sitting at my desk in the evenings, sipping cold coffee from the pewter beer mug my dad had given me (which is now a pen stand), and making and updating notes. All the lights in the room would be off except for the one lamp just above the desk, and I’d sit there, absorbed in my work, writing my notes – that is, organising my thoughts. (There’s nothing like making notes to organise your thoughts, and once your thoughts are organised, all that’s left before exams is a single revision. I highly recommend making notes, even without exams.)
And when I started work, and was unused to writing on a computer, I’d always write my stories at home, by hand, at my desk. Even 3,000-word cover stories. The desk made it easy, even though I was just a trainee.
Sitting at my desk, absorbed in whatever I was doing, I was sometimes conscious of my absorption, which sounds like an oxymoron, but didn’t feel contradictory. I had a strong sense of being, I don’t know how to describe it, but I suppose Zen Buddhists would call it ‘in the moment’. It felt as though I was outside myself, watching me watching myself thoroughly involved in whatever it was I was doing. It was an eerie feeling that sometimes caused goosebumps and butterflies in the stomach, but it was pleasant nonetheless.
That desk, for me, is associated with nothing but good things, the most important being, I think, a sense of complete fulfillment in myself. Sitting at that desk, I needed nothing else and nobody else. I think that is what made it inspirational for me.
Every time I go to Calcutta, I give that desk a pat. I think it made me.