Of Lochs and Castles in the Air

I spent late spring and part of the summer of 2010 on the University of Stirling’s picturesque campus working on a draft of a second novel. My first month in Stirling was fairly cold and frosty though the shops were optimistically displaying “summer” clothes. I concluded quite early on that in Scotland summer is something that occurs solely inside people’s heads.

After the hustle and bustle of Chennai, Stirling felt unreal and once the students had left for the summer, the campus turned into hauntingly beautiful acres of empty space. Too quiet sometimes for those like me who have just left behind a densely populated city. But the quiet time helped kick start my work. The other thing that fed my writing was the “objective” frame of mind you acquire about things you have left behind.

I spent my mornings and afternoons writing – either in my apartment or in my room in the Department of English Studies. The staff and faculty at the department were very welcoming and friendly and I got to know quite a few of them over coffee or lunch.

In the evenings, I would take off on a long walk around the loch, passing the swans and their signets and yes, an eighteenth century Italian style castle (the Airthrey castle) which now houses the Department of law. I would return to my apartment and spend a couple of hours reading fiction borrowed from the University library.

As an academic and a mother of two school going children, I often tend to forget for months at a time that I am a writer. That identity melts and disappears into other roles – more pressing and urgent. At Stirling, no one was aware of these other roles – they knew me only as a “writer from India” and so, for the first time, I felt as though I was walking on the right side of the road – not against the flow of traffic but with it! I didn’t have to steal time from anything or anyone to write and that was lovely. I had vast stretches of uninterrupted writing time – especially precious when you are working on longer narratives where it is so easy to loose the thread of words and ideas.

Sometimes though I missed the happy chaos, the small talk and the constant interruptions of my life back home. In many ways, it is this that makes up the “stream” of my consciousness, I think.

As with anything, there were a couple of not so nice things about the experience. One was the apartment itself which – though convenient – was not a pleasure to live in. The other was the fact that nothing much (by way of literary events) happens in Stirling itself. Edinburgh is the centre really and as a visitor from India it is not very easy to connect to/with local events and writers. These connections take time and three months is just too short for all of that to happen.

I gave a reading at the department which I atleast thoroughly enjoyed! I read from my short story “These Things Happen if You Don’t Watch It”, an excerpt from my forthcoming novel Table for Four and a couple of poems. Towards the end of my stay in the U.K, I also participated in a reading held at Lauderdale house, London. I shared a platform with three other poets and translators.

On the whole, I felt as though I was back to being a student again and I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there were no “official” demands on my time. That freed me up in ways too complex to explain.

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