Reading Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Travels with Herodotus (which I hope to review here later) has brought me back to an age-old question: Why do I write? Kapuscinski connects Herodotus’ desire to write his Histories with the need to preserve memory — of cultures, and peoples, events, and experiences. Today, unlike in Herodotus’ time, we have institutions such as universities, libraries, books, and the Internet to preserve these memories for us. All the things that we learn are from those memories that recite histories of peoples. These histories were originally passed on by word of mouth, and story, and believed to be true because they came from our ancestors.
For me, though, that still didn’t answer the question of why I write. Because what disturbs me is the feeling that I write because I have no history. Or said another way: I write to create my history.
Why should this be? Much has been made about the immigrant experience and the loss of identity when people move from one country to another. But less commented upon is the phenomenon not of losing one’s identity during the journey, but of never having the opportunity to possess an identity in the first place. What is the identity of a person who moves from one location to another without ever having experienced the country of his birth? Many Indians who grow up in the U.S. call themselves ABCDs — American Born Confused Desis. The first two words in this acronym are powerful and weighty and defining. American Born. It implies that in some way American is what they are. And if you listen to most ABCDs, you’ll realize that 99.9% at the end of the day identify themselves as American.
But what about those who don’t qualify as American Born? It’s facile to call them, as in my case, Indian Born Confused Desis. Isn’t it possible that some people are something vaguer than that? That they may be the few who are indeed truly trapped in-between something and nothing?
I write my memories and my history to describe that in-between. To describe the understanding that I will never be connected to one or the other, to ABCD or IBCD. Just CD for me, and even that is inaccurate. Maybe just C. That C, too, is convenient and melodramatic, I agree. But if the purpose of Herodotus’ writing was, as he said, “to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time,” if I don’t write, who will prevent the traces of me from being erased?