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Archive for February 2010

Diary entry

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“And what is more dull than a discreet diary? One might as well have a discreet soul”.

I saw this quote on a BBC show called ‘Dear Diary’  last night – on famous diarists in the UK and  people whose diaries are records of their times and valuable as an index of history and so on. (The quote was by Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, diarist, author and politician (1898-1958), who wrote extensively as a Member of Parliament, as did many after him.) The show talked about Samuel Pepys, whose detailed diaries, (from 1660 – 1669) have been invaluable ‘eyewitness’ accounts of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London; it talked about The Mass Observation diaries – diaries of people recording their everyday lives in Britain from 1937  – because 3 friends were interested in ‘An Anthropology of Ourselves’ and hundreds and hundreds of people wrote about their lives for years; it talked about the diary of Sir Robert Scott who led a British expedition to the South Pole and never returned and his diary was found under his hand nine months after his body was discovered.

Somewhere else I read about the things that diary writing do not include.

” a good diary is not necessarily literature; for of its nature it must be free of most of the disciplines and tests of a work of art. Vision, imagination, passion, fancy, invention, scholarship, detachment and the steely constraints of form and design – none of these have a vital place in diary writing. ” [Quoted in Robert Fothergill’s ‘Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries’]

I decided I wouldn’t journal a couple of years ago. And when I read this list I think the reason is that journaling can’t be detached. Ofcourse one makes decisions to write in any which way – but there is something about diary writing that has to not decide. So when I write:

A few things happened on the way to Kings Grove:

On the 436 the other night –  the bendy bus from Paddington all the way to the top of my street – two men got into an argument where one of them said : I will fuck you up man, don’t talk to me! You don’t know me and I’m not having a good day.

I stared out the window, got off the bus where I had to, and walked really fast back to the house.

The young guy who works at the corner store said to me : Lekin yahaan life nahin hai. Mai soch raha hun ki mai Manchester shift ho jaoon ..

The store from 2 weeks and a new jacket ago, is being renovated and there’s no trace of it. I walked past it three times yesterday and it was like it had never existed.

I looked around me at Madame Jojo’s in a moment of perfect sync because I had never met the people I was with before, and the DJ said – you can breakdance to anything. She looked like Angela Davis.

There’s nothing worse than opportunistic people who are flaky.

Looking at all the art in ‘The Empire Strikes Back – Indian Art Today’ made me think of how looking at art requires an attention span of 20 seconds in such big, important art venues. How meaningless time is to big art. Exposition is everything.

I think I need different material and different textures. I think I should never diary again.

It sounds too much like how I would say it. And it feels discreet. I don’t want a discreet soul, even if I have one..

Should diaries only be read as chronicles? I was going through a booklet from the Mass Observation Archives and a few people’s diaries have been published and there was a kind of summary of what was in them. What is clear is that it is a subjective reading of a person’s life – and chronicles of what the reader would choose to find interesting.  And at the end of 12 such summaries, was a list of references to events, places, things, organizations.. So that if one were to look at war time accounts of peoples everyday lives – one would be likely to find..

Air-raid shelters: 5342, 5246 Amateur dramatics: 5246

Animals: cats: 5323 dogs: 5323, 5342 goats: 5434 poultry: 5434

Family businesses: garage: 5323 Gardening: 5342 Hampshire: TB sanatorium: 5269 Hoarding: 5 342

Mother’s help: 5434

Music: 5399,5246 Nanny: 5246

(I’m not sure I’m supposed to be putting this out – the numbers stand for the diarist, and the list is much much longer.)

The details in my grandfather’s diary of the most banal, the most repetitive and the most mundane – make me think of how he would write his diary twice a day, standing at his dresser. He used to be a policeman and I believe he dictated stories of his days in service for my cousin to write down when she insisted. He never wrote about them. He never mentions them except in passing reference to a place or a person. His diaries are crammed with details – of illnesses, of phone calls, of car repairs and plumbing, travel plans, documents, noise pollution and deaths in the extended family. He writes in bullet points almost. He doesn’t dwell. Once in a while he expresses a point of view.

‘Manish Sen and his wife came and gave me a magnifying sheet. Very good of them though it does not help to see better.’

He has a line he ends each entry with. In one of the dairies I have now, It says “the same”.

I am trying to find ways to read diaries.

Meanwhile, here’s where my studio is!

Written by Priya Sen

February 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized