Typefaces and Other Faces

I don’t know anyone who writes anymore and writing here does not imply the use of softwares with pre-determined fonts which allow people to be extremely productive (the irony of this is not lost on me). I refer to the old way — the one with pens, pencils, paper and such outmoded contraptions. I don’t know anyone who writes for the joy of penmanship anymore.

For me it is akin to magic; a transmutative process that converts an ordinary, expressionless page into individualistic ideas, dreams and fears written in a hand specific to the writer. The yield is utterly distinctive. Signatures become incidental as each word carries its creator’s identity. It allows to opt for understatement and shift the focus entirely on what is being said. No ornamental computer or phone does as much as easily.

Two people got me thinking about the art of drawing words on paper — a cheerful five year old girl practicing cursive and a cynical, angst ridden twenty-one year old contemplating calligraphy.

The young girl is my niece who recently started going to school and is learning to write. I saw her hunched over her activity book, concentrating hard, her tongue stuck out, struggling to master her tiny fingers to her will so that they would replicate the short words typed in the lines above. She took an unusual pride in managing to complete a column of words perfectly (the kind of pride I had forgotten long ago) and each time she didn’t, she would erase her mistake with energy and have a go again. Watching her work made me slightly proud of her. I like to think that writing teaches her to not give up easily and to try and strive for perfection in everything she does.

The other person is absolutely different. He is a business economics graduate from a Delhi college of considerable repute (not in his eyes though). He is the typical cynic — the kind that is created because of constant bewilderment at how the world operates, because the world he is inhabiting is never as beautiful as he would like, as the inside of his head is. It is the productive kind of cynicism that causes people to eschew a well paying career in exchange for a design degree (and hopefully another comfortable career. Hope is a strange thing).

He is a guy who loves art and constantly thinks about art and consequently all of his work usually stands out. As I saw him brooding over his extremely descriptive calligraphy book, slightly daunted by the task of mastering everything inside, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons with the little girl. Writing was still challenging him after all these years, forcing him to push himself out of his comfort zone, question his own abilities and try to improve them. It was still as good a teacher as that cursive writing book was sixteen years ago.

So I know two people who are trying their hands at handwriting. They are two of the very few people I know who are looking for beauty in life (children, I think, tend to do this by default). These are the people who don’t take anything for granted, who are always trying to improve, not for visibility but contentment. They want everything around them to be enchanting and happy and are willing to work for it, the kind of people making the world a slightly better place everyday.

Writing does similar things for me in the same unspoken, invisible way. It lets me perfect what I think needs to be perfect, makes me focus and strive for beauty. It allows the benefit of glorious reminiscence by transporting me back in time to see how I have grown. How I write and what I write will always be a testament to the person I am at a particular point in time. Writing prevents me from distorting my own reality like we unconsciously end up doing far too often. It doesn’t let me autocorrect and it doesn’t let me delete. My mistakes are evident as extravagant scribbles reminding me to not make them again the next time.

Writing helps to maintain coherence.

I think we will all need our pieces of paper, pens and pencils to make sense of this mad, virtual world we are trapped in.

Scratching sounds in middle of the night
A huddled young boy, straining his sight
Drinking words like water
For remaining alive
Water that lets eyes glow
Water that lets dreams flow
Where parchment people prance
And quills quell fears
Through solitary bursts of laughter
And wandering, dampening tears

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Originally published at coherencerepository.wordpress.com on January 20, 2016.