Editor’s note: “Letters from Leeds” is an ongoing series of letters between Atticus Books publisher Dan Cafaro and writer Jayeeta (“Joy”) Ghorai. Joy initially approached Dan about writing a column about epiphanies, journeys, readings, films, and other random observations — and Dan spontaneously decided that Joy needed to become his pulse to the broader world of literature. The following letter is in response to Dan’s initial correspondence.
I was about to march off an army of question marks in rescue mission to your Attic, when your letter arrived.
(The leafy suburban loft sounds too seducing a wood to not get lost in. Or lose Time in.)
Shooting off to the surgery for routine blood tests I was — bloodsucker, put into perspective, that — but the phlebotomist need not find me early, humming a restless tune in her waiting room this afternoon.
Breathless, I scanned it, unable to put off reading at leisure, which would regretfully have to hold till return. Resisting temptation was never my forte, Dan, it is the single thing one is better off not guarding against, as I tell my boy.
Dangerous mother to grow up around, it makes me, a virulent menace to civil society and all paradigms of orthodoxy. Like the moss-crusted trees I love to climb, my ancestral genes call out from a high perch, swinging its collective tail at any who dare to pass below.
(The view is as serene as from your upland, brother, we are twins in more ways than one.)
That free hanging appendage with a mind at its other end is the carrot I’d offer to anyone tempted to be me. Few give in to the juicy wager, and civilization is saved for another day.
Humankind will not die on my beat, it is resolute. Much cheer, and as much chagrin, in that awareness.
Several moons have passed since that afternoon of your arrival through the letter slot. Illness with a turn in weather, dysfunctional plumbing that had groaned in protest for long then gave up all signs of life, dying noiselessly in sweet revenge upon our continued neglect of it, exams, and a wedding had grinded the rest of my life to a halt.
Rather, occupied my usually limited energy with dervish whirlwind.
But first, there was Spring. Ah, for one glimpse of the cherry blossom, bursting into diaphanous pinks straight from twiggy hibernation, I’d gladly face the next sniper.
Wordsworth, that self-admitted pantheist, could not have been born anywhere but England. Daffodils, narcissus, daisies, pansies, bluebells, cowslips — how delightfully rustic its sound, like the soft plop of bovine pat — phloxes, admit it, my darling editor, you cannot grudge their charming me away, can you?
Aristotle’s theory of art being imitation of an imitation, came from the quill of a deeply frustrated artist, mark my word. Till academics digs up evidence in support, my skipping steps searching for every excuse to walk through the park … and dry inkwell, are all the proofs I need.
We are no match for nature’s song, my dear. The sniper can stand weeping outside my park gate. That, which you say, compelled you to pay attention, had tucked its ears below my knees, delirious and gawky, incapable and defeated.
No words would come. No words were necessary.
Unlike you, I offer no apology for this distraction. My keyboard surrendered; wise to know when it was outmatched, savoring the silence. You can expect to stop hearing from me every Spring, and Fall, henceforth, blot your calendar — that utterly useless device conceited enough to think it can control Time, as if the primordial chaos can be redistributed at its will — get out of the loft, take a stroll among the brambles as you wait.
Would do your lungs good, too; that Attic with its dust motes, however dazzling, would welcome the fresh air I shall bring, when I arrive to storm it again.
How do I manage, you ask? Poorly, my friend.
Your “Global Renaissance Woman of the Year” award would go to a slob of a housekeeper, whose kitchen sink spills over as she giggles into a series of used books — I prefer ‘pre-loved’ — she found for a penny each next to the provision aisle.
An intermittent cook, who whispers a prayer upon finding leftovers in the fridge post-midnight.
Someone ill-reputed for not answering her mobile which she often cannot find within her geeky junk because it is always on silent.
(Another necessary nuisance, which ventures to assume it can own my attention, at its shrill polyphonic call, right in the middle of an expertly orchestrated cranial cross-traffic.
SMS is my chosen path of everyday communication, reserved for sparing urgencies. It satiates my need of visible words, noticeboard, checklist — sending reminders to be sent reminders, casual forgetfulness is corollary to an otherwise highly evolved frontal lobe — and in true doing unto others’ spirit, not jangle hapless busy bees out of their wits. If the receiver keeps a message alert, and a power-guzzling smartphone, switched on at three a.m., that is not upon my conscience.)
My social diary has close-knit scribbles thinly sandwiched between pages of blankness. I absolutely love travelling, and meeting the exciting, demented circus of humanity. How else save by near observation would we even begin to know, Dan, the faint smudges of difference in our sameness, and the delicate threads of commonality in our perceived otherness? But thrust upon me a daily gossip with my neighbor across the clotheslines, I’d rather pick her cat. Remind me, when did I last hang up the washing?
I manage, because my small band of intimate friends is armed with fortitude, bless them. Their capacity to forgive brings teary thankfulness. As does yours.
I manage, because my companion, now husband — that shiny circle, the only feminine frippery I have a soft touch for, looks pretty as I type, adds oodles of allure to the essentially relentless, heartless action — is one of those friends, the most hardworking, and foolhardy, of the lot.
“Do you have patience?” the only question I had asked in initial courtship.
“Like the Pacific,” he replied, none the wiser.
Do lean over and ask the ocean how it’s faring, my good fellow.
The pertinent query would be to ask him how he’s managing.
Politics? Don’t read newspapers for over two years and don’t care. You really think my grey matted backyard has space for tuppence trinkets?
The television has had its plug ripped off — not for me, good heavens, no — so my son would, in desperate boredom, pick up the book for entertainment. An obsession to appear learned is a fallout of my colonial legacy, Dan, and being a lit geek like you, can be credited for, at the very least trying to, sow the swooning draughts of literary poison.
In my living room I have drawn the frontier, cussed stubborn determined to win it, too, against the incursion of technology.
“A strong, steady internet connection” is a fine thing when put to the right use; in my case, it fetches me world news, and views, lifts me spiritually above my indolent keyboard and cushion, brought me peeping into your Attic, my dear, can that be a bad thing?
The internet murmured one lazy dawn, India is twenty-nine states strong now, with the addition of Telengana in early June; much to the discomfort of school children burdened with rote learning geographical bits and bobs, which is more futile to the intent than trussing a backpack.
One more division, to the utter bewilderment of footloose crazies like me who are this minute writing a petition to the UN to make ‘living without borders’ a cardinal human right.
Down with the visa fees! Down with the barbed fences and checkposts! You cannot keep us from swapping eccentricities! About the only picketing I care to lend voice to.
But the news in the literary scene is deliciously chutnifying, as Rushdie would have put. I will fill you in in smaller doses, so the ambrosia not trip and toxicate you.
And no, print, will not go unfashionable, not so long as I keep purchasing pre-loved books from Amazon and Abebooks. Our tribe isn’t extinct.
The cloying lavender from the wedding bouquet grows faint, but rules my space yet. Can you smell it not, packed into these crowded sheets? Unfurl it gently, my friend, may it sooth the corners of your bustling loft without making you giddy.
Yours from this side of paradise (sniper sent hiding, in tearful shame),
Photo By: Troy Tolley