I throw my heavy bag on the decades-old, mite-eaten couch. A weird ache crawls between my shoulder blades; the sensation of weight stays there long after I have put it down. I am twelve years old, and I just returned from the academy. One of my classmates is having a get-together at her home tomorrow, and she didn’t invite me. I don’t understand why everyone hates me but I must have done something to trigger it, right? (Wrong. Turns out I don’t have to take everyone’s choices personally). I brush the thought from my mind and pull out the purple notebook from my bag. My mom glances up from my brother’s Maths book and asks if I’m hungry. I am. I shake my head a little, then take my notebook and pen to the drawing-room. And then, I do what I always do.

Now it’s 12 AM, four hours since I’ve been scribbling in my notebook. I am writing a book about Russian kids who get stuck in a foreign land and devise escape routes. After hours of dressing my vivid dreams into fancy words, my eyes feel heavy, and the shoulder weight crawls back up. But this time, my heart swells with an eerie sense of happiness; I know my characters will make it. I’m not sure if I will, but something tells me that they will. 

The truth is, writing gave me the freedom that my real life never did. 

Six years later, I live in a different city. I use google docs and OneNote for notes on my laptop instead of colorful notebooks. But writing still tastes like idealism and smells like independence. Whenever the academic pressure feels overwhelming, I tell myself to hold on, look outside my window and pluck some words. Some from the sight of the little girl in neon pink frock standing next to her dad who is buying sugarcane juice. Some from the couple devouring ice cream in the cafe as their toddler wiggle his toes in the pram nearby. Some words from the graffiti on public walls (“I was here, remember me,” it says) and some from my friends’ faces when I ask them what their favorite color feels like. One of them said she loves the green in the sunset, and I always look for it. Another one loves the blue of calm oceans because it reminds her of the serenity she seeks.

And when I’m alone, I string the words together, like beads in a bracelet. I build myself some friends, a cozy home, and a loving family. I make emblems for people I love, and in my stories, I give us the endings that we deserved. I create an alternate universe where I lie under the canopy of Neem trees on the street and feel the golden glow of streetlights blending in the dark hollows under my eyes. 

No one tells me the monsters will come and that I’m not supposed to smile on the street. (Being a girl is a weird experience, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve suppressed my urge to just smile and wave at flowers or balloons by the roadside.) In my creative universe, I’m not battling a crippling sense of failure when I score an average grade in my exam. 

In my writings, the characters are not conditioned to chase the impossible pursuit of academic perfection, and they don’t feel like their friends are drifting away every passing day. But some of them work tirelessly because they have lived their entire lives in survival mode, and it’s the only way that they can go on. Some of them refuse to dissolve in the whirlwind of the bland reality and keep yearning for something beautiful. Some like to sit in public and observe people for hours, some paint, and some write poems. Some gobble up houses and gulp down rivers when they are frustrated.

None of them are good or evil people set in stone; they are complex and multidimensional-just like me and those around me. Writing influences me a lot because it is my way of connecting with this enthralling universe we live in. It is meditation amongst stress and transcendence from the ordinary. A lot of my being depends upon writing because when I’m doing it, I can open my heart to strangers and be vulnerable while responding to a prompt about writing.

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