September 24, 2015

Dawn Gifts and Writing to Bird-Song

Mogra from my mother's garden, freshly plucked at dawn

The other day, I awakened just before dawn and could not slip-slide back into sleep, no matter how much I tried. I am currently visiting my parents in Oman; I instead decided to go outside, wandering into my mother's garden, inspecting the sprawling neem tree, the frangipani and peepal plants, and my favorites, the mogra [Arabian Jasmine] bushes, still blooming even though it's already nearing the end of September. I have waxed eloquent about my all abiding love for mogras often enough and it's now become a new favorite game of mine to spot the buds in various stages of bloom hidden inside the bushes, a bud treasure hunt, so to speak. My mother tells me these mogra bushes growing in the garden are called haathi mogra, 'haathi' meaning elephant, the name probably due to the comparatively large-sized blooms that these bushes produce. I personally love marvelling at the intricate mint-green origami perfection of their journey of blooming as much as witnessing the actual bloom itself. 

The bloom I saw that morning though was enough take my breath away: I could not imagine a more perfect dawn gift. As I gently cradled the mogra in my hands, the apricot light tinting its famously fragrant snow-ivory white petals, I realised it had been a very long time indeed since I had voluntarily been up and outside at this hour.

I am not a morning person, period. I forcibly had to get up at 6am during my school years and the only thing that made it bearable for me was glimpsing a spectacular sun-rise from my bus windows as we drove to school every day. During college, though, I gleefully embraced my night owl avatar; thanks to my particular roster of classes which began either before lunch or during the afternoon, I was free to wake and sleep late. I was pursuing a degree in creative writing and I would only work on my assignments between midnight and three am, even later, at times. It was singularly the most peaceful time of the day, or at least, what constituted my day, anyway. Everyone else was asleep, the phone would not ring, and if I needed company, there was always MSN Messenger (oh god, how long ago was that!), where I could pop in to chat to other nocturnal kindred spirits or friends living in different time-zones. I would also often find my friend, D awake and online then; she lived in the flat next door and told me that this was the time of the day she too liked the best, whether to read or relax. I still remember those nights: the silence, the feeling that you were absolutely the only person awake in the world, the sensation of almost like being inside a meditative vacuum. Is this what space sounded like? If I became particularly immersed in writing or working on an assignment, I found myself only pausing to stop writing when I could hear birds singing. The sound of bird-song was a sign, to me, at least, that the night was over and a brand new, tooth-paste smelling morning was upon us. I would shut the computer and crawl into into my bed, finally ceasing to write, study, think. By the time I woke up, the sun was rudely poking its stubby bright yellow fingers into my eyes and there were too many other noises drowning out the birds singing.

This particular nocturnal writing routine persisted long into my working life, when I was working as an independent writer and journalist, unbound by office hours and strictures. After a while, I realised that I just could not write during the day, no matter how much I tried. I conducted interviews, called interviewees, or completed work and personal correspondence but the meat of my writing, slowly cooking words, ideas, and voices into articles or stories, only occurred in those inky post midnight hours. If I wasn't writing, I was either painting or collaging or journaling or something or the other. Now that I reflect upon it, it seems as if I was only truly myself in the night, my performance during the day literally being a day job.

The routine changed once I got a job and had to turn up to office at suitably early hours and of course, afterwards, when I got married to my surgeon husband, who would be out of the house at 6am or frequently placating an incessantly buzzing pager and phone often all through the night, shredding the night silence into smithereens (and unfortunately depriving him of a good night's sleep!). I still stayed up till midnight, however, only mostly reading though. As time went by, I just couldn't fathom writing late into the night anymore. I found myself too burdened by the day to write, its stories and events and attendant physical and mental exhaustion over-crowding my mind, making it impossible to voyage into the world of my writing. I increasingly preferred writing during the day, particularly during the afternoon, when I had yet to decide what was to become of the day, what adventures and conversations and memories awaited me, thereby leaving me free to focus on my writing.

When I was in college, our tutors recommended that we regularly read Paris Review. I eagerly consumed interview after interview of both known and brilliant but obscure writers in which the journalist usually questioned them in detail about the architecture of their writing routines. I always enjoy learning more about the rituals and process of writing - or any kind of creation, really - whether it is about the rooms in which they write or the objects inhabiting their desk - and so I loved that portion of the interviews. Many of them mentioned that they often arose early in the morning to write, commenting that it was that pocket of time during their day, wonderfully devoid of distractions as well as the fact that their minds were so fresh and well, emptied. It reminded me of a painter friend who once told me the same thing, also adding that the remarkable quality of dawn light made the experience much more joyful.

It was unimaginable to me then as a student to subscribe to a similar routine. However, as I grow older and becoming decidedly less and less of a nocturnal creature, I thought of it: writing at dawn, absorbing the molecules of purity and silence and above all, the optimistic quality of that roseate dawn light.

Dawn conversations between the tree and the clouds

I once used to stop writing at the sound of bird-song; now, I can imagine myself - just a little bit -  writing to the dawn background soundtrack of bird-song, perhaps weaving their joyousness, a contagious zest for the unblemished day ahead, into the textures of my work. 

Perhaps, I should try it some time.

What about you? Do you have a time of a day when you feel you are the most inclined to create? I would love to hear!