I’ve been a runner for over a decade now. Owing to my physiology I find middle distance, from 5kms to 15kms but no more, to be my optimal range. Nevertheless, even when I’m running, stretching and exercising regularly, the first ten minutes is always an intense struggle. My lungs gasp and legs tense up. My arms flap in not entirely a unison fashion. The best period is after twenty or thirty minutes. The mind and body begin to realise what is at hand and focus on the immediate task of the next footstep. At peak fitness everything moves along effortlessly.
And yet, my fastest times have always been, always, on those occasions when I feel like I’m really struggling to continue. Much the same could be said for my writing. I’ve been sitting on a few pieces for a while now. Partially because I’m waiting for that special little morsel of information – that quote from a village woman, the image of an angry trade unionist – to intersect and bind the different messages I’m weaving into each article.
Travelling at great length has not helped the situation either because I feel mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I left Lahore last Monday morning for Multan, a rural population centre in southern Punjab. Little did I know that it is also the hottest region of Punjab. For the remainder of the week I was coated in a thin film of sweat, even soon after taking a shower.
A day after Multan I went to Faisalabad, an industrial town slightly further north east, on the way to Lahore, followed, on Wednesday, by Toba Tek Singh, an area known for its fertile soils and small, largely poor, land owners. By Thursday afternoon I was in Islamabad.
The experience was an inspiration. The images, the sounds, the smells. All of it coopted my senses like a giant, saga of a dream. Almost as if to confirm this, I was in something of a daze the entire time.
There is something paradoxical about living in the moment. Whenever you do, it is as if you are only partially conscious to the reality you are experiencing and, hence, unable to fully comprehend everything that reality lays before you. In the instant what you see and feel is already in the past by the time you register what is happening. If ever there is a better postcard for the fleeting nature of existence then I’d like to hear it.
Writing is very much about recapitulating that which has already been experienced. Paradoxically, this usually means sitting in silence or writing aimlessly until the right neurones start firing harmoniously. Like the runner, the writer writes best when feeling least able to continue. When locked in his or her private universe, the message becomes clear. Even if, like all of us, within that universe there is as much inner turmoil, doubt, questions, lax perceptions and other distractions to contend with along with the flowing page.
That is a long and pretentious way of saying my next few stories are coming along well. Slowly, yes, but surely too.