My first short story, written at the age of 14, was pornographic. There is no other way to describe it.
I wrote it on a naval calendar-notebook. Its pages were glossy as were the photos of tanks and helicopters above them. I disregarded the assigned lines for to-do lists and dates and scribbled all over any white space I could find. I wrote frantically, imagination racing and fingers hurting – smooth felt tip of pen soon losing its point and becoming more paint brush because it was pressed too hard against the paper.
It was a great secret, this story, because it featured heaving bosoms and turgid loins. There was a fat man, bearded, hairy and uncouth – and a beautiful young woman taking an inexplicable fancy to him. She left her ordered world of the day to explore the dark side of her sensuality in his bed. She let him take advantage of her body, revelling in what can only be described as physical abuse because it turned her on.
So, ladies and gentleman, at the age of 14, I was on to something. I could have written something like 50 Shades of Grey and become the first millionaire author of my time.
If you require proof, I would relate excerpts here, except I can’t.
There are two reasons for this: the second more important than the first.
- It was badly written. I remember I used the word “desperate” a lot. Every second line involved a lot of grunting and neck grabbing. There were deep sighs and fervent feverish embraces. It seemed that under the images of machine guns and destroyers, I romanticised rape. Perhaps that is what I learnt about love from watching Bollywood movies.
- That calendar notebook doesn’t exist anymore because my mother, suspicious of my desire to hide away in my room for hours on end, conducted a raid and found and read my piece, all the way from January to November. April was the most incriminating month, because it featured the The First Night, when my heroine first experienced the first painful embrace of her sadistic lover. The next month was another night and a different manner of intimacy that I fancied only I had imagined. (Later, I found out someone else had already dreamt all this up and inscribed it in the Kama Sutra). There was vulgarity and cursing. Words I hadn’t been allowed to say at home and in the classroom, were sprinkled liberally among the love-making (if you could call it that) One day, I came home from school and rushed to my bedroom to find my notebook in her hands. She threw it at my face and declared she hated me. I’m not sure if she hit me, but what I do know is that she told my sister and my father about what I had written and refused to talk to me for several weeks. I heard her crying to my other sister on the phone, “I didn’t think she even knew what sex was!”
The thing is, two months before this short story was penned, I didn’t know anything about the mechanics of the process.
My friend, two years younger than me, explained that, contrary to what I had previously assumed, we weren’t brought into this world in a basket. Our parents “did it”. And then I looked sex up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and didn’t sleep for a week because I couldn’t live down such sordid beginnings. When trauma receded, the imagination took over. I raided my sister’s Mills and Boons collection and soaked it all in. Then I began to write.
I didn’t know why I started my creative career with pornography; nor did I understand where such vividly disturbing images came from. I was a well-bred convent girl who only wanted to pass her math tests. But now I realise that my writing coincided with puberty – I was growing up and sex was a heady drug I couldn’t get enough of. And while there were no avenues for my body to experiment, my mind more than made up for that fact. In retrospect, my mother was rather lucky because writing kept me from doing things that could have landed me in very serious trouble. If the creative and sexual urges are interlinked, mine happened to combine in this one very sordid, desperately written short story.
The first words we write are powerful ones, because they represent the forbidden. I don’t mean to raise the standards of my narrative with an ambitious comparison, but Winston Smith, in 1984, also reaches for the unreachable in his diary when he writes “Down with Big Brother”. The Yellow Wallpaper shows what happens to a woman when she is refused self-expression because writing was seen as a shameful pursuit unsuitable for respectable women. Time and time again, I am reminded how important these minor rebellions are. For me, they allowed me to express a side of me that was human, that needed an outlet in an atmosphere where it was always violently suppressed.
I eventually mended fences with my mum who started talking to me again, pretending that I had never written stuff that violated her sensibilities so. And her violent reaction to my writing meant that I didn’t write again until much, much later. But looking back, I realise how writing that piece in a calendar note-book rescued me by allowing me safe space to rebel in a claustrophobic environment. And that is what writing is all about.
Shazaf Fatima Haider’s latest novel is A Firefly In The Dark.