Tucked away in the bylanes of Bangalore’s old colonial past is a quaint little bookstore cafe called Champaca. One day, a friend, who curates books there, asked me to follow their social media feed. I did, but I didn’t follow them. (Hush, don’t tell the friend). But because I had checked out their Instagram page, that app kept showing me Champaca’s posts on my feed. (There was a time when “feed” meant food for horses or pigs. But I digress).
And that’s how one day, in 2019, fresh from my walk across Spain, I came across Anukrti Upadhyay’s photo on Instagram, signing books at Champaca. I don’t take great photos, but I am good at reading some photos. I had never heard of the author or these books, but something in that photo made me go and check her books out. A certain quiet energy that radiated kindness. (Anukrti is always annoyed that I dare accuse her of kindness, a quality she denies she has). I read in a day or two ‘Bhaunri’ and ‘Daura’ – both novellas set in lush rural India. Neither of those books dramatized or exoticized India. They weren’t books written for a Western audience. No fancy publicity came in their wake. They were books written because the words made their way to the page. The kind of books we call home.
I fell in love with that author’s work then. A year later, she wrote ‘Kintsugi,’ and in this book, rural India clashed against the urban, and women shimmered with silken grace.
I was a fan. I shyly followed the author’s updates. And then, one day, Anukrti wrote something in a comment that made me pause. She spoke about doubt. That old monster. With honesty and the sort of vulnerability few authors express. That imp that makes you wonder why you write at all. Should you even try your pitiful yawp? I wrestle with that imp all the time, and usually, that imp wins.
I am super shy. But that day, after reading that comment, I reached out to Anukrti on Instagram. I told her why her words matter. That I was glad her words made their way to my world. She responded with warmth, and dare I say it? Kindness. It would be the start of a strange, small, beautiful, cosmic connection. Since then, we exchange little snippets now and then. About birds. Lizards. Words. Anukrti shared her forthcoming book of short stories and asked me (me!) for feedback. When I did, she rejected it, saying I wasn’t scathing enough. I would share an occasional piece I wrote with trepidation and would always receive the warmest, non-scathing feedback. And so it grew, this story.
We muse over spiders and craft stories over comments. There’s something kind about this exchange. Something humane. Something that makes me believe that the world is still the kind place I knew of.
And that’s how I wrote this little piece for her in Deccan Herald’s Sunday supplement. It wasn’t a story that wrote itself overnight. It took months. But then, aren’t the best stories like that? They take a friend’s friendly bullying, a random scroll, a handful of books, and a lot of words. Plus some kindness.
Excerpts from the original interview. Read the full interview here on Deccan Herald.
Kintsugi is the art of mending with gold all that is broken. This year and the last – a lot of things appear broken to us. How do we transform our brokenness and find the lacquer that holds the pieces together?
Breaking and mending – the cycle of healing, like nature’s cycles, is organic. It happens. We just need to get out of our own way most of the time to let it run its course and bring forth the transformation that healing entails. That, as we all know, is easier said than done. We are our biggest obstacles; we are our safest bridges.
“In a world in which you can be anything, be kind.” What’s kindness to you? How would you practice being kind?
Kindness is to soothe where needed. It is also to not hurt or harm, to accept and not force.
Ultimately kindness is to try to inhabit other lives, other selves. I try to do it through imagination and through not being afraid to offer help. A lot of times, unkindness is just fear of rejection or harm.
Tell us about the joys of everyday life. What moves you – the tiny things that give you sustenance?
Everything moves me. Birds, trees, rain, sunset, moon, night. The toad I encounter in the soft mold in a planter on my balcony, the swallows nesting under the windows, the child picking up leaves and seed-pods with fresh wonder in his eyes – aren’t they all moving?
And Mao, my cat, with her wilfulness, her waywardness, and unashamed seeking and wide-eyed wariness, she moves me a lot. They connect me to bigger networks of life. They sustain me.
Last year brought us closer to life, paradoxically, while taking so much away from it. What’s the biggest learning you could take, if any, from the havoc of this pandemic?
That when mercilessly slashed and denuded of flowering branches, the tree grows back so long as its core is intact. That’s my learning.
Keep yourself safe inside you; rest shall pass.
If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be? What would that letter be?
To choose freely and fulsomely, not be afraid of people, sun, wind, and societal disapprobation.
What does success in life look like to you, Anukrti? And failure? Is there a difference?
I don’t know what success looks like, but failure is to not pick up and soothe a crying child or a hurt animal.
What books would you want us to read, apart from your own, of course?
So many. I don’t know where to begin. Read variedly, diversely. Read translated works from all over the world, from underrepresented countries, classes, people. Read about them so they can survive.
Don’t read books you are comfortable with, don’t choose just on the grounds of familiarity or fashion, choose boldly, read that which no one recommends. And read books written by writers of your own country. You’ll be surprised by the variety and virtuosity. But above all – just read.